Mechanistic creativity

Posted in Uncategorized by Mike Stay on 2010 February 25

Computers are better now at face recognition than humans. My brother Doug has written photoshop filters that can do a watercolor painting over a pencil sketch given a photo. And now, David Cope has produced really beautiful music from a computer; the genius of it is his grammatical analysis of music:

Again, Cope hit the books, hoping to discover research into what that something was. For hundreds of years, musicologists had analyzed the rules of composition at a superficial level. Yet few had explored the details of musical style; their descriptions of terms like “dynamic,” for example, were so vague as to be unprogrammable. So Cope developed his own types of musical phenomena to capture each composer’s tendencies — for instance, how often a series of notes shows up, or how a series may signal a change in key. He also classified chords, phrases and entire sections of a piece based on his own grammar of musical storytelling and tension and release: statement, preparation, extension, antecedent, consequent. The system is analogous to examining the way a piece of writing functions. For example, a word may be a noun in preparation for a verb, within a sentence meant to be a declarative statement, within a paragraph that’s a consequent near the conclusion of a piece.

This kind of endeavor is precisely what the science of teaching is about; if Cope can teach a computer to make beautiful music, he can teach me to make beautiful music. By abstracting away the particular notes and looking at what makes music Bach-like as opposed to Beethoven-like or Mozart-like, he has shown us where new innovation will occur: first, in exploring the space, and second, in adding new dimensions to that space.


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