Re: Virtual Concerto

Subject: Re: Virtual Concerto
From: Eliot Handelman (
Date: Mon May 17 2004 - 21:35:14 EDT

Michael Rempel wrote:


Thanks, I'll look into this.


>Without a database and transition set, one must rely on algorithms. There is
>little to recommend algorithms over databases. Algorithms are harder to
>create, and in the final analysis rely heavily on human interpretation to
>decide what is 'good' or 'interesting' enough to survive as software.

It's a little misleading to speak of "algorithms," since the issue here
is more like
"problem description," which is about what, rather than how (which an
algorithm answers).

>Conceptualization of what is actually taking place implies a basis for
>judgment of the validity, value, interest, or (insert measure here) of the
>musical event that has been randomly or algorithmically derived.

I disagree -- it involves a representation of what, potentially, is
heard, or how it's heard. I don't see
"criticism" as part of this, although it was or is Rowe's approach.
Think of it more as
the problem of sustaining an intelligible conversation with a bot. Of
course the translation of
terms -- the musical equivalent of "intelligible conversation" -- is
something up to the metacomposer
to figure out. It's part of your job description. In the early part of
the 20th C, there were articles
published in esthetic journals purporting to supply formulas for the
calculation of "beauty" -- of
the form B = A + B + C/2. Of course this can't happen because b. is in
the ear of the
listener. And besides, any a priori critical principles could be
implemented in the generation
routines, so there's no point trying encapsulate any such principles,
assuming they exist. What
CAN happen is modelling of (your version of) cognitive process, or of
attentional models,
in conjunction with your best ideas about music "works." How do things
foreground or cohere
or transform? When your computer hits a note, will Jimmy Durante wish to
stop the music and
hear that note again, is it possible to work out the convening logics
that give rise to that highly
satisfying shove into the climactic register? Could your program
recognize this in a few broadway
tunes, computationally would it rely on the idea that such a note is the
"highest", or could
it trace through the delineation of confluencing factors? All you're
trying to do is to express
ideas about how your (not my) ear thinks along with the music, if I may
invoke Adorno's
"structural listener" (Socio. of music) here. Can that ear be
intelligibly simulated? Perhaps,
but can that ear be programmed to know what it likes? This I doubt.

>This is
>essentially a reactive database or algorithm set, rather than a pro-active
>compositional one.

If you take the approach you've just outlined, yes. In my program the
thing that tries to understand
works together with the thing that tries to compose. (The thing that
programs has a big
headache at the moment.)

>Either way human judgment is imposed, albeit at arms
>length with some programmer imposed degree of randomness.

That's ok. If someone ever gets to square one, maybe somebody will get
to square two in a few decades.

>If your objection is to simple combinations with little or no musical
>theory, then by all means your objection could stand. Except for the cases
>where music is interesting because the rules are broken or bent, and it
>still 'works' somehow.

Ok. But I'm not personally endorsing the idea that music is about
"rules," and that
good music is about "following the rules." On the other hand many
pieces of music
create their own particular law validated only by that single
composition. For instance
the patterns of Prelude 1 of the WTC I are unique to that piece, at
least as far as I
know. The idea of a symphonic movement saturated with a 4-note pattern
like a generalizable idea (eg, should symph. 6 have consisted of the
same idea with
a 5-note pattern?) Metacomposing is, I think, about trying to invent
conditions under which
something might recognize the potential of a vast material
simplification and arrive at
something potentially addressable only in its own terms.

>My fundamental assertion is that if it sounds good it is good.
I've changed my mind about a few pieces over the years.

>Composition by any means whether by algorithm, database or human, good sound
>can only be human judged.
Make way for the robot invasion.

-- eliot

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