TD Ottawa Jazz Festival – Dan Tepfer – Natural Machines

Tonight the Ottawa Jazz fest streamed a live performance of pianist Dan Tepfer’s brain child, Natural Machines. In a world with so many technical advancements, this show fits right in. Tepfer defines his creation best as “ It’s a project where I explore the intersection, in music, between natural and mechanical processes. I do free improvisation at the piano, and programs I’ve written on my computer interact with me in real time as I’m playing, both musically and visually. I love it because it feels like very new territory, and it’s exciting to be exploring it.”

Host James Hale asked Tepfer about his inspirations when he was growing up and about the influence math had on him. Tepfer called himself a “science nerd” as he always had a fascination with math and science, he started programming at an early age. Working with this technology is truly second nature for him. He is also a big fan of fractals, which is no surprise as the algorithms he writes resembles fractals. 


The notes he plays are the shinny blue notes, and the other colours are what are generated from the program. He plays free improve with the algorithms he writes, so each piece has its own flavour.  At one point he turned off his camera and switched to the screen with only the visualizations created by the algorithm so that we can see how intertwined the music and the visualizations were.

The images and the music were simply stunning and were so fascinating watch. 

Some of the visuals looked like lines from a cardiograph and at other times it looked like he anticipated what they would be and he would follow the lines with his hands, which he often removed from the keys to let the computer play.

One piece I particularly enjoyed, was Triad Sculpture, where the visualizations were 3D meshes. Tepfer noted that his piece Triad Sculpture, is different in the sense that  “tones that sound good together their frequencies are related by whole numbers.”


He wanted to create something that would represent this visually. In this piece the visualizations were these 3D illustrated sculptures. The piano was generating a synthetic sound which represented the harmonic frequencies.

Ottawa Jazz Fest programming manager, Petr Cancura, joined Tepfer with his keyboard and sax. Peter’s Midi keyboard was connected directly to Tepfer’s piano and allowed him to send the notes he played on his own keyboard in real time. It was such fun to watch as the melodies he sent would play Tepfer’s piano.

If you are wondering how his piano is able to play on its own, it’s a Yamha Disklavier,  and even takes voice commands, where you could call out a chord and the piano would play it.  For the visualizations, he uses Processing and Unity, among other open source applications to create the effects.

Tepfer is extremely passionate about his work and it’s wonderful to watch how much fun he has with it. When something so innovative is created with so much love and conviction, it’s bound to be impactful and revolutionary!

Hit the links below if you want to know more about this artist and his upcoming projects:

Set List:
Demonic March
Triad Sculpture
Constant Motion