Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Iamus and the problem of soul

A new composer has entered the classical music scene, and not everyone's thrilled about it. Before you read further, give this short work a listen.

Is it the greatest piece of music written in the 21st Century? Probably not. Is it a coherent piece of music, though? Definitely. And one that seems to have a sense of motion.

It was a work created by Iamus, a computer cluster at the Unoversidad de Malaga. It was designed to compose contemporary classical music -- like the example above.

What makes this different, and perhaps less mechanical than other attempts at music generators? First, the algorithms used (melomics) are far more advanced than those of previous compositional computers. Second, the goal isn't to slavishly recreate the style of a particular composer, but take a small motif and develop it in different ways.

But perhaps the biggest difference is that Iamus isn't writing computer music to be played by itself. Its compositions are to be played by human musicians. Which allows for individual interpretation, and adds an important dimension to what could otherwise be a cold intellectual exercise.

As I said, not everyone's thrilled about it. Comment fields in articles about Iamus are filled with ragings against the machine. Will this put humans out of the composition business? (Hardly) Does it help us further understand the mysteries of artistic creation? (Perhaps) Is it music worth listening to? (You decide)

So what do you think? And more importantly, how much of your evaluation of the music comes from your knowledge of its origin? If Iamus was a human being, would the reaction to this music be the same?

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