[Smt-talk] Aesthetics of Computer-Generated Music

Stephen Jablonsky jablonsky at optimum.net
Mon Apr 18 12:05:30 PDT 2011


You have touched on two critical points--what is music and why is is being composed? And, does music have to be good and who decides? Cage was an important philosopher, but not a good composer, so I leave him and algorithm junkies like Philip Glass out of the equation.

What, then, is the difference between competent music and great music? For me, it is what I call inspired improbabilities––those musical events that simultaneously surprise and delight us. They always come at just the right moment when the piece needs that special something to keep the listener fully engaged and continuously amazed. I suspect they come from that inner voice that resides within all creative people that says, “Do this now.” The rational mind responds, “Are you kidding? That’s crazy stuff!” The great artists have always listened to that inner voice because it is processing and juggling data in ways the rational mind cannot begin to fathom. Our inner voice is nurtured by all that it ingests while we listen and practice. It seems to have a genius all its own and exerts discretion and playfulness in equal measure.
I have always enjoyed the interaction between the composer and the composition I am writing at the moment. The farther I get into the compositional process the more the piece seems to take on a life of its own. There are special moments when the piece informs me of what it needs to do next. I always listen even though it seems to go against everything I was taught or thought to be correct practice.  I have to respect the needs of the piece when it wants to go in directions I had not originally planned for the musical journey.

Every composer learns his craft from studying with other composers and gleaning important lessons from the study of scores. What he does with that craft will be profoundly affected by his ability to go beyond what he has been given. By thinking outside the box he creates a new box where he may reside for a period of time before moving on. If properly constructed, those boxes will contain the inspired improbabilities that will elevate the piece from safe and comfortable to dangerous and exhilarating--from craft to art. There is a difference between a piece that travels along the ground and one that takes off and flies. The magic that creates the fliers cannot be fully comprehended, reduced to formula, or repackaged for future use.

There are no algorithms for taste. Taste is the ability to discern the difference between good, adequate, and unacceptable. If properly employed it guides us to never settle for less than the best. The taste of fellows such as Bach, Mozart, and Debussy was always operating at the maximum while other famous composers I can think of had good days and bad.  The joy of listening to great music derives from an indefinable awareness that what we hear is the product of a supreme talent operating at the highest level of output. The magic of the experience results from a compositional practice that is exquisite and an editing process to match. There is a truth in the beauty of the thing that cannot be denied nor defined. At the end of a great performance of a great piece there is an intellectual and emotional exhalation that says, “Yes, that is how it must be.”

On Apr 17, 2011, at 12:15 PM, Eliot Handelman wrote:

> That
> is,. composers are aware of the music they generate AS music, in a way that computer programs never
> can be. Moreover, this is probably necessary in order to actually compose other than in a Cagian idiom.
> The problem is therefore to simulate this awareness, and I'm saying this is essentially a poetic problem.
> When it is addressed by a poetically satisfying answer, one will be able to say "computer generated music"
> in a poetically committed way, rather than with the drab facticity of "computer-generated music," which sounds
> like a bad lunch.

Prof. Stephen Jablonsky, Ph.D.
Music Department Chair
The City College of New York
160 Convent Avenue S-72
New York NY 10031
(212) 650-7663

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