Can an Artificial Intelligence Compose Great Music?

Thursday, 07 August 2014 - 1:46PM
Technology
Thursday, 07 August 2014 - 1:46PM
Can an Artificial Intelligence Compose Great Music?

First we had computers creating visual art, then we had computers writing their own moralistic fables, and now we have computers that write songs. Once again, we're forced to ask ourselves the question: can computer programs create true or great art? Can they "create" at all?

 

Researchers in Paris are attempting to engage in this conversation, as they are working on programs that will be capable of writing music in the style of all the greats, from Johann Sebastian Bach to John Coltrane. "We are quite close now to [programming computers to] generate nice melodies in the style of pop composers such as Legrand or McCartney," said Francois Pachet, the head of Sony's Computer Science Lab in Paris. The program would use algorithms to analyze the tracks of whomever it was meant to emulate, and then output tracks with similar characteristics. The researchers have envisioned using this technology not only for a fun novelty, but as creative tools for human composers and commercialized music that can respond to stimuli, such as music in a shopping mall that switches to a more soothing melody in response to a baby crying. 

 

In response to this track by Pachet's AI that was intended to be a mixture between Charlie Parker and Pierre Boulez, jazz guitarist Pat Metheny said, "It's truly impressive. I sent it to Chris Potter, the saxophone player in the band I am touring with right now, and asked him who the player was. He immediately started guessing people."

 

Other researchers are also experimenting with robot composers; composer and artificial intelligence theorist David Cope created a computer program in response to his own personal case of "composer's block" called EMMY (Experiments in Musical Intelligence) that performs the same function as Pachet's AI. "Every work of music contains a set of instructions for creating different but highly related replications of itself," said Cope. EMMY has composed works in the style of Bach, Mozart, and Chopin, among others. 

 

[Credit: The Guardian]

 

[Credit: The Guardian]

 

[Credit: The Guardian]

 

These programs raise many philosophical questions regarding the definition of art and artists. Ray Kurzweil, author of "The Age of Spiritual Machines" said regarding EMMY: "When Cope's program writes a delightful turn of musical phrase, who is the artist: the composer being emulated, Cope's software, or David Cope himself?"

 

There is no easy answer to this question, but there are generally two schools of thought. Some believe that computers are simply incapable of creativity as we think of it, and that these algorithms only produce patterns that can be used to create "true" art, or they create art that is actually the work of the human controlling the program. Metheny said, "Instead of thinking of it as computer-generated music, I tend to think more along the lines of 'computer assisted,' since whoever writes the code or whichever user sets the parameters is already going to be making many of the decisions about what the result might be like."

 

On the other hand, computers may be capable of artistic creation as much as humans are, especially considering that the definition of "art" is so subjective. Some would argue that a piece of music can be considered art if it can elicit a meaningful emotional response, in which case it would be difficult to argue that a computer is incapable of art. Brooklyn-based musician and technologist Eric Singer said, "I'm sure there are people who cry to Taylor Swift; I'm sure there are people who would listen to Rachmaninoff and be like, 'dude, that is so boring. We can go deeper on this, like do humans actually have emotions or is it all just chemical and electrical brain impulses that are very complex?"

 

Via The Atlantic

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Artificial Intelligence
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