Music: Computer composes music

Gregory Sullivan (
Tue, 11 Nov 1997 19:45:54 -0500 (EST)

In early November, I posted to the list a set of predictions made by
artificial intelligence pioneers Herb Simon and Allen Newell in 1958.
Prediction number three was:

3. That within ten years a digital computer will write music that will
be accepted by critics as possessing considerable aesthetic value.

Anders Sandberg commented that composer David Cope had created a music
composition system called EMI

Anders also stated, "It is probably best described as computer assisted
composition, but it is not unlikely that it could fool at least some
people at a "musical Turing test"."

The prescience of his double-negated analysis is revealed in an article
that appeared in todays New York Times Cybertimes section.

Title: Undiscovered Bach? No, a Computer Wrote It
Author: George Johnson

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Begin excerpt:

In a low-key, musical version of the match between Garry Kasparov and the
chess-playing machine called Deep Blue, a musician at the University of
Oregon competed last month with a computer to compose music in the style
of Johann Sebastian Bach. Dr. Steve Larson, who teaches music theory at
the university, listened anxiously while his wife, the pianist Winifred
Kerner, performed three entries in the contest -- one by Bach, one by
Larson and one by a computer program called EMI, or Experiments in Musical

Larson was hurt when the audience concluded that his piece -- a simple,
engaging form called a two-part invention -- was written by the computer.
But he felt somewhat mollified when the listeners went on to decide that
the invention composed by EMI (pronounced "Emmy") was genuine Bach.

"Bach is absolutely one of my favorite composers," Larson said. "My
admiration for his music is deep and cosmic. That people could be duped by
a computer program was very disconcerting."

The cybernetic pretender, which was invented by David Cope, a composer at
the University of California at Santa Cruz, has been upsetting long-held
assumptions by people in the music world because of its ability to scan
pieces by famous composers, automatically distill some of their essence
and then churn out imitations of the work.

The cognitive scientist and author Dr. Douglas Hofstadter, who presided
over the contest at the University of Oregon in Eugene, calls EMI "the
most thought-provoking project in artificial intelligence that I have ever
come across."

"EMI forces us to look at great works of art and wonder where they came
from and how deep they really are," he said. "Nothing I've seen in
artificial intelligence has done this so well."

End excerpt