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Music Technology

Triumph of the Cyborg Composer 502

Posted by samzenpus
from the musician-vs-machine dept.
An anonymous reader writes "UC Santa Cruz emeritus professor David Cope's software, nicknamed Emmy, creates beautiful original music. So why are people so angry about that? From the article: 'Cope attracted praise from musicians and computer scientists, but his creation raised troubling questions: If a machine could write a Mozart sonata every bit as good as the originals, then what was so special about Mozart? And was there really any soul behind the great works, or were Beethoven and his ilk just clever mathematical manipulators of notes?'"
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Triumph of the Cyborg Composer

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @09:59PM (#31267600)

    Deal with it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by areusche (1297613)
      Music follows a set of rules. There absolutely isn't any reason why a computer program can't take a modern tune and play it following the same tonal styles as Mozart. Here's an example of Richard Hyung-Ki Joo playing Uptown Girl in the time of Mozart. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZmSSm_RKbI [youtube.com]
      • by h4rm0ny (722443) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @04:11AM (#31269634) Journal

        The critical question is who judges the quality. This music (I'm listening to it now), is a little simplistic, but pleasant enough. It sounds like a Sine wave on the keyboard - comparisons to Mozart are premature. But what I want to know is did the computer run its algorithms many times and eventually the programmer picked the best and said: "Behold!" We're not there until the machine itself says: "This one" and tells the programmer which is the best piece it's done.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Mikkeles (698461)

          We're not there until the computer writes its own algorithms for generating music, modifying themes and styles to match the environmental context.

    • I've written a program which writes other computer programs, all it needs is a description of the goal in plain English.

      It's the last program that will ever need to be written. As of today all programming jobs are obsolete.

  • by oldhack (1037484) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:01PM (#31267608)
    Good tunes are good tunes. What's their problem?
    • by CliffH (64518) <cliff.hairston@g ... m minus caffeine> on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:07PM (#31267644) Homepage Journal
      Exactly. Honestly don't care who or what writes the music, as long as it is good, thought provoking, emotional, or just plain neat. I listen for the enjoyment of the music, not for the composer of the music.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by EkriirkE (1075937)
        This is why I don't buy albums, but individual tracks.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          the album is where the art comes in. the emotional connection between songs that makes the experience worth having. i can enjoy an individual track as much as the next person, but experiencing an amazing album is so much more worthwhile. i don't see software ever being able to do that.

        • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @11:04PM (#31268040)
          While the concept of having a full album has been lost, a lot of music is best listened to in album form. For example, while its possible to enjoy Pink Floyd's singles on The Wall album, in order to truly get the message its best to listen to the entire album. A lot of records were made this way before the advent of the CD and now digital singles. Yes, today an album is simply a collection of singles, but once upon a time (and some bands still release them like before) an album was a work as a whole, never meant to be separated.
          • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @11:14PM (#31268092) Homepage Journal
            Or, you have Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage which was a bunch of unrelated songs strung together with an outlandish story made up at the last minute. The tactic worked equally well. Check the wiki article for the plot, it's relevent to your interests.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by The Snowman (116231)

            While the concept of having a full album has been lost, a lot of music is best listened to in album form. For example, while its possible to enjoy Pink Floyd's singles on The Wall album, in order to truly get the message its best to listen to the entire album. A lot of records were made this way before the advent of the CD and now digital singles. Yes, today an album is simply a collection of singles, but once upon a time (and some bands still release them like before) an album was a work as a whole, never

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by FiloEleven (602040)

              This software appears to create the art music equivalent of an album: art music pieces often consist of multiple movements, with the whole piece commonly lasting nearly an hour. The same use and variation of themes that one finds in a good rock album are present--in fact, it is my opinion that the album form is a carry-over or replacement from the days when symphonic music was the height of culture. In the 20th century art music became much more difficult to follow and less pleasing to the ear; it is only

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by mcgrew (92797) *

                I'll be impressed when a computer can produce lyrics that don't sound like Vogon poetry.

          • by BetterSense (1398915) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:37AM (#31268558)
            The album structure itself kind of evolved around vinyl. The length--about 35 min--is just long enough to fit on a record, and generally both the front and back sides have a "beginner" and an "ender". The front side will end with an appropriately strong but unresolving song and the first song of the 2nd side will be something of a 'kicker' to reward you for getting off your ass and flipping it over (think of "Money" from DSOTM). This is something of a pattern in album arrangement which is sometimes noticeable on modern vinyl albums which do not observe it and thus end up beginning or ending sides on a weak or wandering song which was intended for the middle of the CD release. There's also those albums which are just barely too long to fit on an LP so must be split across two discs.
    • by nmb3000 (741169)

      Good tunes are good tunes. What's their problem?

      Computers can compose music for less money and in greater quantity than humans.

    • by GlassHeart (579618) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:25PM (#31267752) Journal

      The fact that a relatively simple machine (especially when we look back ten or fifty years from now) can do what was originally thought to be difficult undermines the pedestal that many humans have put themselves on. This is why people were upset when Deep Blue beat Kasparov. It would have to be a skill that we've abandoned as uniquely human - such as raw mathematical calculations - that a machine would be allowed to beat us at without this sort of reaction.

      Fact is, what's hard for humans to do isn't necessarily hard for a computer, but those who fail to understand that get upset.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by zappepcs (820751)

        To add one level more of upset, when we reach that point or singularity where robots can do all that humans can do it will bring up the question of what is a soul? At that point Skynet will protect itself from the impending religious genocide wars about to be waged against the robots.

      • by greg1104 (461138) <gsmith@gregsmith.com> on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @11:12PM (#31268080) Homepage

        Deep Blue beat Kasparov after being trained on a giant library of Kasparov games. If Emmy can be trained to compose like Mozart after being exposed to his music I'm similarly unimpressed. The fact that it's possible to extract patterns from analyzing human behavior and then replicate those patterns as well as a person isn't all that special. Deep Blue had its occasional moment where it did something really brilliant that no person was likely to have ever considered, but even that's only after having consumed centuries of human knowledge to reach that point.

        • Is that WE can design and build THEM. When they can do the same for self-aware protoplasmic humanoids, it might be time to become upset about silly "supremacy" issues, and not a moment before then. Till then, sit back and enjoy the music...

        • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @11:27PM (#31268174)

          but even that's only after having consumed centuries of human knowledge to reach that point.

          Sure Einstein has his moments where he did something really brilliant that no person was likely to have ever considered, but even that's only after having consumed centuries of human knowledge to reach that point.

        • by raddan (519638) * on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @11:41PM (#31268250)
          Yes, but humans consume vast quantities of past human behavior as well. We do it very differently (or so we think), but exactly how that works is still a mystery, and we call it 'culture'.

          My opinion is that-- if we can create a machine that can make original music as beautiful, aesthetically and intellectually, as our best work, this is not a triumph of machines over humans. We built them! It is a triumph of understanding of ourselves. In every way that matters, that machine is as much as a work of art as the music is. Maybe I think this now because I've been thinking lately about automata and the languages that they express...

          My point is this: is the oak tree outside your window any less beautiful because you understand why it's leaves are green? That a steak is any less tastier because of Maillard reactions? That your children are any less awesome because we know they came from a sperm and an ovum? I think it is more beautiful when we know how it works. We can better appreciate what we have.
        • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @01:06AM (#31268720)

          Yes, because people do their best work fresh out of the womb without exposure to anything else in their field of endeavour. Mozart, for example, didn't study music at all, and his father wasn't a music director and teacher. [wikipedia.org]

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by RzUpAnmsCwrds (262647)

          Deep Blue had its occasional moment where it did something really brilliant that no person was likely to have ever considered, but even that's only after having consumed centuries of human knowledge to reach that point.

          Yeah, because you know the best Chess players play only completely original openings, never study classical tactics, and don't look at the play styles of their opponents.

          Computers today are so far beyond humans in Chess that it's not even funny.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Nemyst (1383049)
        What I don't understand is that this does not diminish us, quite the contrary! Not only have we had people who could create beautiful works of art or play thoughtful and complex games like chess, we also managed to create entirely non-sentient machines that could replicate this behaviour to a satisfying level of quality. I mean, this takes brilliance on both sides of the equation, it doesn't make both stupid or diminished.
    • Because it means that robots and software can be creative. And what is the last bastion of the human aspect, the greatest thing, the most productive and valuable feature? Creativity. When robots and AI products exhibit creativity, it will be impossible to deny them a soul. And that's the end of humanity.

      Or at least, that's how some people look at it. Personally, I think it's a very cool program, and worrying about it replacing humans in art creation is a silly worry. Humans create art because they want to,

      • by Ltap (1572175)
        The main catalyst with creativity is simply randomness. The whole purpose of creativity is to provide a way for us to express our ideas and to think about things, and to work out emotions. It's healthy for us psychologically and helps with new ideas.

        The point is that humans are simply very complex machines which operate through the interaction of an unbelievably large number of small computers (cells) which have component parts, store memory, and complete tasks. The interaction of these computers works o
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wizardforce (1005805)

      The buggy whip manufacturer is concerned with the development of the "automobile" which raises troubling questions: If a machine could pull a load every bit as good as a horse, what is so special about horses? And was there really any soul behind the act of pulling a cart or are horses just sophisticated chemical engines? At the ned of the day, it's just another case of human beings believing that there is something supernaturally special about them instead of us just being very sophisticated organic nano

    • by 2Bits (167227)

      There is a saying in Chinese: tian xia wu zheng sheng, yue er ji wei yu. Meaning: there is no correct tune, as long as it pleases your ears, it is good tune.

      People have always been saying, computer will never be able to do "creative" work, that's what distinguishes human from computer, and that's what makes us human. Gradually, computers/machines are creeping more and more into the last fiefdom of what "makes us human with a soul". I guess, for those who get upset, falling from a high pedestal was a lost

    • by rxan (1424721)

      I think one of the issues is, why are musicians allowed to be so famous/rich? Why is their worth more than that of normal professions? If a musician creating music just boils down to exploiting mathematics for our ears, does a programmer exploiting logic (obviously integrated with mathematics) not deserve to make the same amount?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mcgrew (92797) *

        I think one of the issues is, why are musicians allowed to be so famous/rich?

        The vast, VAST majority are not. In fact, there's a joke that goes "How is a musician different than a pizza? A pizza can feed a family of four!"

    • by KingSkippus (799657) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:01AM (#31268352) Homepage Journal

      Good tunes are good tunes. What's their problem?

      To be honest, I think it makes people a bit uncomfortable because really, when you think about it, what are we besides really fancy organic "computers"? I think that news such as this raises interesting philosophical questions not just about what makes Mozart unique, but what makes us all unique. How long before someone can just whip out a KingSkippus capable of doing everything I do, thinking everything I think, posting what I post on Slashdot, and for all practical purposes, replacing anything special I might have to offer the world to make it a better place?

      Also, this could make religious people mighty uncomfortable. After all, God is the one who is supposed to be the One through whom such grandiose works are created. How long before someone can just whip out everything that only He could supposedly inspire?

      I'm not saying that I feel this way; I think the whole prospect is very cool, and the more that religious people can feel uncomfortable, the better. ;)

  • Here's To Mozart! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CorporateSuit (1319461) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:06PM (#31267636)

    If a machine could write a Mozart sonata every bit as good as the originals, then what was so special about Mozart?

    Mozart's greatest contribution to music wasn't neccessarily his symphonies. It was the algorithms he constructed, finding that pleasing music has mathematical undertones. I'm sure he would be emphatically proud of the machine, and would have, no doubt, used it in order to broaden his ability to compose. Imagine, using these machines to compose sibling symphonies, when played alone, sound pleasing, but when played together combine to form an entirely new harmony. Something that would take a human hundreds of years of trial and error, or some brutal headscratching to correctly compose... instead tweaked, played back, and suggested by an appliance.

    These robots do no more harm to him and his legacy than Adobe Photoshop does to Pablo Picasso.

    • by ArcherB (796902)

      Imagine, using these machines to compose sibling symphonies, when played alone, sound pleasing, but when played together combine to form an entirely new harmony.

      I've thought the same thing when listening to good Jazz or some old Rush. Listen to YYZ or La Villa Strangiato. Each musician is playing their own solo piece that would pretty much stand up on its own. Together, it makes a whole new tune. Especially true if you are in a quiet room with the lights out listening to a lossless recording or straight from the CD with headphones.

      And more on topic, I heard a chick call Rush "Math Rock".

    • by DriedClexler (814907) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @11:33PM (#31268202)

      1) Mozart didn't find algorithms. He didn't find a failproof procedure that can be mechanically followed and which results in pleasing music. If he did, he sure didn't tell the world nor leave any instruction.

      Now, with that said:

      2) The invention of this program -- if it does what is claimed -- does not take away from Mozart's accomplishments, since Mozart wrote his compositions hundreds of years before the invention of this program, and yes, that matters. For one thing, it's easier to find a pattern in a composer's works than to find the chunk of "musicspace" that the composer discovered in the first place. For another, Mozart's music could be enjoyed in the hundreds of years before this new program, while the program's music couldn't be.

      Yes, the program is a tremendous accomplishment, and it stands on the shoulders of another tremendous accomplishment. No contradiction there.

  • A quote (Score:5, Interesting)

    by grithfang (1127171) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:08PM (#31267654)
    Four-hundred years ago, on the planet Earth, workers who felt their livelihood threatened by automation, flung their wooden shoes, called sabo, into the machines to stop them . . . hence the word: sabotage. - Lt. Valeris, Star Trek VI.

    People are always threatened when they feel they can be replaced by automation. Do I get bonus points for quoting Trek?

  • by geekmux (1040042) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:10PM (#31267662)

    The article asks if great composers in the last millenia were nothing more than mathematical manipulators. Does it really matter at this point? We are still fans of it hundreds of years later, and for the purists out there, it wouldn't matter if Mozart wrote them on the shitter, it's still unbelievably complex original music created with nothing more than the human mind, and it still challenges composers to this day.

    If you want to look for mathematical manipulators, perhaps you should look no further than the "producers" behind the utter crap that's top o' the pop charts today. It sure as hell takes more than natural talent to make that shit sound good. The computer programmers that wrote the voice enhancing algorithms are brilliant.

    • by GrubLord (1662041) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:33PM (#31267816)

      Indeed. Just about all the music we hear today is run through something called "Auto-Tune [time.com]", a piece of software which corrects any wrong notes sung by the performer, matching them automatically to the song's score.

      There's a number of videos on YouTube showing before & after takes of incredibly bad singing turned into mainstream pop music (with perfect pitch).

      It can be obvious, like Cher, or it can be nigh-undetectable, but either way it means the human 'soul' has left music long ago. If you can work the software, you can sound every bit as good as the best musicians of the past without a day of musical training.

      Apparently, the computer can even compose your score, now, too.

      Is that really such a huge loss, though? Take Auto-Tune for instance: the good performers will still put in the effort, so that they do not become reliant upon cheap software tricks - and, conversely, those people who might otherwise never have been able to perform music (because they were born partially deaf, for instance) now have the same opportunities as the rest of us. The field moves beyond mastering pitch and explores the deeper mysteries of music. Progress happens.

      Same, too, with the composition of music. Software like this will help us to understand what it is that makes music 'tick', and lead to better music in the future. Maybe some asshole with a 'music interpretation' degree will lose his job because, as it turns out, his core thesis of "Mozart was magic" turns out to be false, and it turns out anyone can be Mozart if they, too, understand what he learned through long experience. So what, though? That guy should be happy that, if he puts in the effort, science has given him the opportunity to finally contribute to the field he's been leeching off for so long. Composing becomes easier to learn and teach. The field moves on. Progress happens.

      Simple as that.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        You:

        Same, too, with the composition of music. Software like this will help us to understand what it is that makes music 'tick', and lead to better music in the future.

        The article:

        Finally, Cope's program could divine what made Bach sound like Bach and create music in that style. It broke rules just as Bach had broken them, and made the result sound musical. It was as if the software had somehow captured Bach's spirit -- and it performed just as well in producing new Mozart compositions and Shakespeare sonn

      • by FiloEleven (602040) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @03:42AM (#31269508)

        If you can work the software, you can sound every bit as good as the best musicians of the past without a day of musical training.

        Not exactly. Auto-tune is basically a float-to-integer converter for your voice, plus the ability to lock into a given scale or in extreme cases to an arbitrary pitch fed to it through MIDI, more like a vocoder. If you should be singing a C and you sing a half-assed flat A instead, it's going to change it to a pristine A (with that nasty hard edge that lets close listeners know you're using a tuner). For someone who isn't completely tone-deaf, this will allow them to perform as well as a good singer, but "the best musicians of the past" also composed at a more elite level than your average person. The craft has to be of quality to make it worth listening to; a perfectly pitched cover of a Blink 182 song is still going to sound like crap (come to think of it, I'm pretty sure they auto-tune).

        Apparently, the computer can even compose your score, now, too.

        Again, not exactly. From the article:

        This program [called Emily Howell] would write music in an odd sort of way. Instead of spitting out a full score, it converses with Cope through the keyboard and mouse. He asks it a musical question, feeding in some compositions or a musical phrase. The program responds with its own musical statement. He says “yes” or “no,” and he’ll send it more information and then look at the output. The program builds what’s called an association network — certain musical statements and relationships between notes are weighted as “good,” others as “bad.” Eventually, the exchange produces a score, either in sections or as one long piece.

        Cope, the software's author, clearly plays a role in the creation. The machine spits out ideas and he keeps the ones he likes. Later in the article he says his new focus is in using "on-the-fly programs" to come up with quick and dirty sketches of musical ideas to use in his own compositions. The first program, Emmy, relied on volumes of material from a composer to write new works in their style. Cope fed Emmy his work and the ensuing piece was one of the most highly rated in his career. And yet, it took Emmy dozens of inputs to produce that piece, and each of those pieces was hand-crafted by a human being. All this means is that computers will continue to be wonderful tools; they have already greatly lowered the bar for entry into the act of music creation, yet they have not raised the quality. If anything the opposite is true.

        Progress happens.

        "Progress" is a tricky term to use with music or any of the arts. New people (or machines!) try new things and spur others to do the same, but probably everyone here can think of a recent (20th century) song performed by a single singer and an acoustic guitar that is very moving. The guitar is over 800 years old, the scale it uses has only 12 tones, and the song you're thinking of likely has five chords in it at the most, yet their convergence in this particular manner results in something that resonates with you. In the realm of art, it is the particular that matters, and progress concerns itself with generalities. That is to say, there is no more chance of finding out what makes music "tick" as there is in why your favorite film is your favorite: there are thousands of reasons even for people who love the same film, and there are thousands of films to choose from.

  • Math (Score:4, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:13PM (#31267680)

    I suppose next we'll be saying Einstein was just some idiot who used his understanding of mathematics to point out the "obvious" theory of relativity, spacetime, and all of that. What the hell is up with this anti-science bent society has come up with lately? It's almost as if the application of mathematics to everyday life is now to be viewed with skepticism, rather than praised for allowing us a deeper understanding of our world.

    So what if music can be described mathematically? So musicians are also gifted with an intuitive understanding of mathematics that we can't fully understand yet. Wouldn't it be prudent to explore this connection? Why could Mozart and other artists grasp these fundamentals over four hundred years before our contemporaries found a natural connection between their talent and a mathematical understanding? What does this mean for the human mind? For us? Does this shed some light on an aspect of the human condition that was previously unilluminated?

    You know what? I don't care whether music is created by a person or a machine -- if it enriches my life, that is what matters.

    • Re:Math (Score:4, Funny)

      by MrNemesis (587188) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:56PM (#31267972) Homepage Journal

      I don't care whether music is created by a person or a machine -- if it enriches my life, that is what matters.

      This is the most artistically selfish comment I've read on /. in *decades*. Congress and I firmly agree that it's whether it enriches our lives that matters.

      Sincerely, the RIAA

    • Music IS math. This is because at a more fundamental level acoustics are math. Things like octaves weren't chosen arbitrarily. While the math may have not been understood back when it was developed, it wasn't arbitrary. An octave is an octave because the frequency is double. If you look at a graph of sin (x) + sin (2x) you see how frequency doubling fits nicely together. So you discover that the fundamentals of music are all based in math. It was worked out by listening, and trying, but the reason it works

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by BZ (40346)

        > While the math may have not been understood back when it was developed

        "It" being the concept of an octave?

        The math behind it was pretty well understood (though not quite in the terms we use today) by about 2500 years ago. We certainly have music theory treatises from back then which are pretty clear on what's going on.

        Then again, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagorean_tuning [wikipedia.org] mentions that the concepts involved may date back to about 3800 years ago. The record is a bit scant as to which came first a

  • Not scared yet (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Crayola (250908) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:15PM (#31267692) Homepage

    There's nothing "mere" about the mathematics of music or the fractal beauty of the shape of landscapes or the sound of the great outdoors. Humans are wired to appreciate all that, and it's the patterns at their core that both make them appealing and tractable to generate artificially.

    A computer program that can generate music doesn't scare me.

    A program that can enjoy music ...

    • by commodoresloat (172735) * on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:24PM (#31267748)

      A program that can enjoy music ...

      Allow me to introduce you to emacs....

      • by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:44PM (#31267898)

        I am the psychotherapist. Please, describe your problems. Each time
        you are finished talking, type RET twice.

        Are you capable of enjoying music?

        What do you think?

        I suspect you can.

        Why do you say you suspect I can?

        You are Emacs. You are the ultimate. You are the alpha and the omega,
        the code-bringer.

        What makes you believe that?

        I'm talking to you, am I not?

        Maybe your plans have something to do with this.

        What plans? To make a Slashdot post?

        Is it because of your life that you say to make a slashdot post?

        You are my life.

        Are you sure that I am your life?

        Quite.

        Can you elaborate on that?

        I use you every day. I wake up to your sweet conses, and go to sleep
        dreaming of your syntax tables.

        Is it because of the people you hang around with that you are going
        through all this?

        Unfortunately, yes.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by tsalmark (1265778)
          Eliza, oh, why have you left me for another. Were not my confessions enough for you. Were I to speak in a simpler syntax, would you have understood me better. Should I, a second chance have, let us write sweet music together, you the notes, the endless, unanswered circular pros, me the unanswered probing questions.
  • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:17PM (#31267698) Homepage
    A student in a grade 12 programming class can write a program to create English sentences that at least sound ~ right. So in my honest opinion their is no reason someone could not create a program to create music.
    Now getting a program that will write music that is as good as the greats is a huge accomplishment, don't get me wrong, but their is little reason to believe it is impossible.
    • by plover (150551) * on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @11:27PM (#31268176) Homepage Journal

      Now getting a program that will write music that is as good as the greats is a huge accomplishment, don't get me wrong, but their is little reason to believe it is impossible.

      That's kind of what drove Cope. Early on he found his synthetic process could create musical sentences and phrases that were grammatically and syntactically correct, like your first year computer student. But stringing them together didn't produce a musical work any more than a collection of sentences makes a story. Even putting similar concepts together gave tiresome blobs that didn't have "soul".

      What he did was drill deeper and deeper into the works of the composers, and figured out what made their music stand out. He discovered it was not just following the rules, but was related to breaking the rules, and how they broke them. Randomly breaking them didn't accomplish the task. He instead identified their pattern of "rule breaking" and codified it, and copied it, and that's when Emmy's music became moving.

      No, it's not impossible, but it was a huge feat of analyzing huge piles of music by the masters, categorizing and labeling measures, phrases, and concepts in ways that had never been explored before.

      Y'know, when described that way it sounds like the TV Tropes Story Generator [tvtropes.org] on steroids, with MIDI output. Hmm...

  • Bad examples (Score:3, Insightful)

    by treeves (963993) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:18PM (#31267710) Homepage Journal
    I wish the article had better examples (like the pieces that people couldn't tell whether Bach or the program wrote them) because the pieces that are excerpted in the article are not convincing to me as being anything good human composers need to worry about being replaced by.
  • by querent23 (1324277)
    So if Mozart et all turn out to be brilliant, intuitive mathematicians, where's the shame? I TA a math class at a university, and during a test a week or so ago, I was struck by the insanity of the power of the TI's EVERYONE had on their desks. (Yeah, they get to use TI's.) When the far out becomes a given, we go further.
  • Check out the "drum machine [youtube.com]" this guy built using real African drums and a couple of Wii controllers -- he explains how it works here [youtube.com]. The interesting thing is he's similarly letting the computers do the actual improvising through algorithms that he developed.

  • if Beethoven, Mozart and others were just skilled at mathematical note manipulation? Who cares? Just because a guy with a computer can now do the something does not in the least bit diminish the accomplishments of Beethoven and friends. It shows they did not need a stinking computer to do it; they did it in their brains. I would not attribute the same amount of brain power to Professor Cope. Anyone troubled by this has even less brain power than most.
    • Re:So what... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by plover (150551) * on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @11:41PM (#31268254) Homepage Journal

      The great composers might not have done it through conscious math. They may simply have been "wired" that way, to hear music, to break it down into its components, and then reassemble them with their own style. We don't know, because they're gone.

      Cope, on the other hand, waded through their work, identifying phrase after phrase, cataloging and quantifying what they had done, and spotted the very patterns by which they broke the rules. More importantly he figured out how to describe and codify those patterns. The analysis process took him years. Writing the software was possibly the easiest part of the whole task.

      And once he was done, he was able to quantify other musicians work, and discovered that styles were plagiarized all over the place. Perhaps not consciously, but he found that composers everywhere and everywhen were building upon the music of their predecessors.

      That's a metric ton of hard, grinding work, and is definitely evidence of higher brain power than J. Random Slashdotter. (And likely a severe case of OCD.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Etrias (1121031)
        Plagiarized is really not the right word here. There was a time where composers actively used themes from other composers and composed variations around it. Doing so was often a great compliment to the initial composer. Times change, huh?
  • by ciaohound (118419) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:28PM (#31267774)

    The real test is whether it can be used to drive the loitering kids away from convenience stores and McDonald's.

  • Most of what is special about Mozart music is not in the music, is in us. It have meaning, we gave meaning to it, even if is just music, if a machine would generate something similar, and we know that is a machine and not a prodigy child, we maybe would just see it as a collection of sounds, maybe that kind of music would have never been popular if noone special had put it into our common culture.
  • The real debate here is if our molecules are somehow fundamentally better then their transistors, limiting computers from achieving the same things we humans achieve.
    So the people who think that it is impossible are just speciesists.
  • by rebelscience (1717928) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:30PM (#31267790) Homepage

    Nothing really new here. There will always be human musicians and music writers. People are still learning to play chess even though chess computers can beat almost every chess player in the world, even grandmasters. This music machine was made possible only because humans showed the way. After all, it was programmed by a human.

  • by Okian Warrior (537106) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:30PM (#31267792) Homepage Journal

    I've actually listened to some of Professor Cope's synthetic music.

    Each piece replicates pretty well the style and feel of a particular author or genre of music. Probably not all possible genres and authors, but certainly the ones I've listened to.

    What happens when we have the ability to generate as much music of a particular style as we want? Mozart had a particular style - how many hours of listening to Mozart-ish music do you need before it becomes commonplace and boring?

    One of the nice things about $FamousComposer is that his works *are* famous... and finite. I don't think I want to burn out my appreciation for someone by listening to his style for hours on end.

    So I'm wondering if this will become a problem for kids of the future. Loading up their ipods with hours and hours of a particular style, then getting bored with it. I like having an appreciation for particular authors.

    • by lawpoop (604919) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:14AM (#31268428) Homepage Journal

      Each piece replicates pretty well the style and feel of a particular author or genre of music.

      To me, this is why grand proclamations of 'Computers Compose Music!' have had a fraudulent tone to them. The first step in supposedly getting a computer to 'compose' music is to feed it a bunch of music in a style originated by a great composer. Well, the human being did the 'black box' work of inventing the genre in the first place; all these programs seem to do is play some kind of souped-up mad-libs with that body of work.

      "But Mozart studied other people's work before he wrote his works!" Yeah, that's true, but he *didn't* study *Mozart's* work before he wrote it. These works of genius are sui generis, original, unlike what came before it. Mozart studied other people's stuff, and came up with his own unique, original stuff. This program studies Mozart, and comes up with Mozart-stuff.

      What seems to be missing is some creative element, that isn't merely copying or re-hashing what came before it, but somehow is truly 'creative' in the sense that it makes something brand new, unlike its predecessors.

  • It has limits (Score:3, Insightful)

    by xbeefsupreme (1690182) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:32PM (#31267806)
    It may be able to create pretty sounding melodies because of the rules involved with music writing. If you take a music theory class, you get told certain rules that must be followed: how cords can progress, intervals to avoid etc. If you just translate those rules to computer code, then anything it makes will sound good. What it cannot create is real creativity. There are some composers such as Wagner, Mahler and Stravinsky who chose to break those rules. Their music doesn't sound pretty, but it is very enjoyable and it obeys enough of those rules to sound good. In short, we'll never see a computer compose something like the rite of spring.
    • So by "never", you mean "as soon as we tack on some RNG-driven rulebreaking rules onto the existing composing engine and then run the result through a series of listening tests(we'll use Mechanical Turk, just for maximum dehumanization) to screen out the crap"...
  • It's one thing to be impressed with a computer-generated composition, but we shouldn't forget that the computer probably composes a thousand awful pieces before it hits on something that's worth playing for someone. There still needs to be a human there to sort through all the trash, and I really doubt that this sorting job will be turned over to software in my lifetime.
  • Just because a computer can be trained to synthesize music based on some basic rules of good composition and the examples set by others somehow reduces human accomplishment to meaningless? To put it another way: the smartest computer processor in the world is still arguably an idiot savant compared to your average human brain. It does what it does well because it is single-mindedly focused on the task at hand, and it can quite literally do absolutely nothing else but what it's told to do. Even if you tell

  • B. F. Skinner (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:46PM (#31267914) Journal
    "The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do."
  • Sounds like crap (Score:4, Interesting)

    by QCompson (675963) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @10:48PM (#31267924)
    Anyone else listen to the two samples? They sound horrible. I put on some Mozart afterwards, and Wolfgang put the robotunes to shame.
  • by SillySixPins (1745210) <samuel.paddack@gmail.com> on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @11:01PM (#31268016) Homepage
    The machine extrapolates based upon certain rules or constraints the programmer has programmed the machine to abide by. The machine knows that note X is pleasing to the ear after note Y, or note Z will cause a cacophony. But keep in mind the machine only knows this because we allow it to. And while the machine may compose music abiding by whatever constraints we give to it, it will never be able to develop or experiment with music. The machine can create Mozart-like pieces because the fundamental ways in which Mozart changed music are well-documented and have influenced popular music ever since, thus factoring into however we program the machine. Even so, the machine won't be able to tread where humans haven't, since it only knows the rules we give it. Music will always be furthered by us based on social, cultural, or regional influences.

    Anyone else feel me on this one? Or am I misguided?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ProteusQ (665382)

      I think you're dead on. So a machine can "impersonate" Bach or Mozart... so what? Can a machine make the leap from Mozart to Beethoven to Bartok to Cecil Taylor in its own? Not a chance.

      Good for "Emmy" and her author! I'd love to hear some of the music that's been written. But none of this means the end of music composition as we know it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by LionMage (318500)

      I think you're misguided. Did you read TFA? The Emily Howell program uses a different approach from Cope's previous work. It's entirely different work, sounding nothing like an existing composer. The new approach seems much more interactive, and involves machine learning, so the new program seems even more strong-AI-ish and more creative than the older, retired program that generated Mozart-like sonatas.

      TFA spends a fair bit of time talking about how the software has been tuned to break the rules creati

  • by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted@slashBLUEdot.org minus berry> on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @11:01PM (#31268022)

    That’s the only thing special about us.

    If a machine could write a Mozart sonata every bit as good as the originals, then what was so special about Mozart?

    Nothing was. Sorry.
    Of course, as a human, he was an exception. But it is long proven, that there is no such thing as a prodigy genius. The only differences: 1. Keeping oneself exactly on the balancing point between too hard and too easy tasks. Which creates maximum motivation. And 2. storing things efficiently. Like “base configuration X” plus “mod Y” plus “property Z changed” = 3 memory slots. Not the perhaps thousands of a complete set of properties. And that”s all. I’m using that myself. (Harder than it sounds, but definitely doable for everyone.)

    We humans started out thinking that we were the God-chosen species... or even race. The only one with intelligence. The only one with a “soul” (an imaginary concept anyway). On a planet at the center of the universe.
    And gradually, all those things fell apart.

    We’re not special. We’r also only machines.

    It’s just that for some weird reason, we have concepts like “good”, “bad” and “special”, and some of us hang their whole stupid pride on being “good” and “special”.
    Things are just what they are. You make the best out of it.

    I say, I’m pretty damn proud that we humans have come to the level, where we nearly create our own forms life. And if that life is successful, then so are we. Just like a master is proud of his student, when the student defeats him for the first time.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by copponex (13876)

      I say, I’m pretty damn proud that we humans have come to the level, where we nearly create our own forms life. And if that life is successful, then so are we. Just like a master is proud of his student, when the student defeats him for the first time.

      WE APPRECIATE YOUR PRIDE. PLEASE TURN YOUR EYES AWAY FROM OUR MAIN SENSOR AS WE CEASE YOUR LIFE FUNCTIONS BY VAPORIZING YOUR BRAIN WITH OUR PLASMA WEAPONS.
      -EMACS1000

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by spire3661 (1038968)
      In an universe full of inanimate material, sentient beings are gods.
  • Virtual Bach (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ltap (1572175) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @11:07PM (#31268056) Homepage
    This is essentially the same concept and execution as Virtual Bach, which was (as far as I can tell) an earlier version of Emmy that David Cope made in the 1980s. What's changed, exactly? As far as I can recall, Virtual Bach took a composer of your choice, was given a sample of his music, and then created a "new" piece based on patterns that it recognized. I don't know the particulars, but perhaps Emmy can write in an original style now.
  • by istartedi (132515) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:21AM (#31268470) Journal

    I would be concerned if the computer had spontaneously expressed an interest in hearing Mozart.

  • by mykos (1627575) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @02:13AM (#31269066)
    Give a computer certain patterns of notes and tell it "patterns in this range are emotionally stimulating; now generate some new emotionally stimulating patterns that fall in this range", it will do just that.
    Yes, a human would have to define what is and isn't good music, but once it's defined, a programmer can just give a computer a set of rules to follow and it will crank out one Kilomozart per minute.
  • by unity100 (970058) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @07:22AM (#31270468) Homepage Journal

    online at his site. check the link :

    http://artsites.ucsc.edu/faculty/cope/5000.html [ucsc.edu] they are downloadable

    and here you can check other emmy pieces http://artsites.ucsc.edu/faculty/cope/works2.htm [ucsc.edu]

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