[Smt-talk] Aesthetics of Computer-Generated Music

matralab matralab at gmail.com
Wed Apr 13 20:23:10 PDT 2011

@ Stephen Jablonsky

Your question: "Why would anyone want a computer to write music?"
A possible answer: "Because it is there" (a stock answer in mountaineering
to the perennial question "Why would anyone want to climb the Mt. Everest?")

Artists use tools and technques that a) excite them aesthetically, b) serve
their artistic purpose...
Computer music is a huge intellectual and artistic challenge - and, as Eliot
has rightly remarked, it is a kind of modern-day cathedral, a
multi-generational artistic enterprise...
if nothing else, this justifies looking at computer-generated music

Would it be not a worthwhile task for a musicologist to go into that terrain
and sniff out the highly talented virtuosos and "geniuses" there ?
After all, it is not reasonable to assume that a musical genius growing up
in a culture that ubiquitously uses such a tool would wilfully NOT use it to
make music...
Music history shows a rather different perspective - most great composers
have made use of state-of-the-art technology of their time.

I think that a churlish and grumpy approach to any kind of art-making
technology defeats its purpose.
Imagine the following statements through the ages

   - *why use notation - my memory is much better than a piece of stupid
   - *why use polyphony - most singers can barely sing in tune properly...*
   - *why use an orchestra - an organ is louder and the musicianship is
   usually less watered down...and it is so much cheaper to have just one organ
   player instead of 20-100 hungry musician-servants*
   - *why write music for saxophone - there already is so much mediocre
   woodwind music out there...*
   - *why use chance in composition - is that not a cop-out...*

If composers had followed such trains of thought, a lot of the Western Canon
would not exist....
Thankfully, some composers just felt impelled to do something because "it
was there", even if it much of their work seemed boring or unripe in
I am grateful to all the experimental musicians through the ages who tried
out things and failed - and so in a very real sense became the humus for the
great breakthroughs and astonishing musical masterpieces western music has
seen in the past 1000 years. We need to explore in order to inhabit...

I totally agree, however, with you with respect to the well-crafted but
boring music we hear so much: there is too much of that around.
New tools do not make good music. But good music does not care whether the
tools it was made with are new or old....
Those composers who use the computer only to carry the water for them
probably are the same that would otherwise write exactly such well-made,
boring music.
The only solution: Make music theory classes optional for composers....and
never allow composers to write PhD theses about their own work.

Sandeep Bhagwati
Canada Research Chair for Inter-X Art
Director matralab <http://matralab.hexagram.ca>
Concordia University Montréal

2011/4/13 Stephen Jablonsky <jablonsky at optimum.net>

> All this talk about computer generated music begs the question, "Why would
> anyone want a computer to write music?" The answer is because composing is
> such a n arduous task that we want someone else to do it for us, which kind
> of reminds me of Mickey having the broom carry the water for him. The
> results are about the same.
> When a computer programmer comes up with an algorithm for musical taste we
> may expect something of value to result from these efforts. Until then we'll
> get more of the same, just more sophisticated. There is already enough
> well-crafted boring music composed by highly trained, moderately talented
> people.
> On Apr 12, 2011, at 10:37 AM, Eliot Handelman wrote:
> Passing the Turning Test suggests an already finished and polished
> musical AI. The problem is that computer composition is in its infancy
> and it's probably unfair to demand that 1st & 2nd generation programs
> perform at the level of established masters. The question is how to
> recognize an intermediate result that is perhaps not yet great music,
> but which suggests esthetic attitudes and theoretical stances that can
> be developed.
> For example, there's a huge problem in generating plastic and
> differentiated forms without following built-in patterns or
> established formulas and without noodling. The test of a system/theory
> meant to do this is whether it succeeds in generating a diversity of
> such forms. If it does then there is perhaps something to the
> underlying theory. That takes one step that can be built upon.
> How long should it take to develop musical AI? 2-3 months using
> machine-learning? Or rather, maybe, 50 years of concentrated research
> in which new styles of computational musicology unfold?  If there's
> only "success" and not "progress" then we haven't a chance. This is
> not a one-man or one generation job.
> -- eliot
> ---
> Eliot Handelman, PhD
> www.computingmusic.com
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>  Prof. Stephen Jablonsky, Ph.D.
> Music Department Chair
> The City College of New York
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