Saturday, February 27, 2010

Nonhuman Music

I have four tracks of music on my computer that were written by something that wasn't a human being. This is not a surprise to me -- birds and some other animals use music for communication and whatnot, but it has disturbed some people who believe that music is somehow uniquely human.
Two of the tracks are by an elephant orchestra in Thailand. Elephants write rather strange music by human terms, with a jarring and chaotic sound. This doesn't disturb the critics, because they can easily proclaim it not to be real music.
The other two are written by a computer program, in the style of European classical music, as was popular from 1400 - 1800. They are indistinguishable from a composition written by a person back then, and that really bothers people. because they feel that only a human being can produce music that touches their emotions like that, and if a computer can do it, maybe their feelings somehow weren't real in the first place.
The program, EMI, has undergone a lot of evolution. It was first taught to write music according to rules, but that proved too boring. So then its author, Miller McCune, reviewed how classical composers wrote, and they did often break their own rules. So randomness and rule breaking were introduced. Many small improvements later, it was writing music that could fool all the critics.
In a way, it doesn't compete with human composers, because human composers can work with many different styles, and can even chose styles, while the program is limited to one style.
Personally I have dabbled in music, but I ironically seem to be some sort of hypothetical composer, being quite able to produce interesting scores, but unable to actually perform them. Strange. I like this idea, because people love music, and this ensures that there will be a lot of it.


ralleywolf said...

A very interesting post, It could have been better had you provided links to download these "non human composed" music tracks...

Since they're not actually composed by humans one assumes the normal copyright rules don't apply. Yes?

themadengineer said...

The copyright is held, in the elephant's case, by the owners of the elephants, and in the computer's case, by the program's author. Animals and computer programs being property under the law. You're responsible for things they make, for good or bad.
You can listen to select tracks of the elephants here and the article linked in the main post contains two samples of the computer's music.

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