The human element

Published 6:27 pm Monday, April 30, 2018

We were in Mobile, coming home after visiting our youngest son Jim and his wife Dorinda. We stopped at our favorite restaurant — it’s on the causeway west of Mobile. Our waiter was a musician who told us that all the music that can be written has already been written by computers.

I’d always thought only humans could creatively string notes together to create music, but our waiter insisted that a computer could create every possible combination of notes.

It didn’t take long for me to find an article titled “Can Computers Artificially Compose Quality Music?” by Dr. Nelson Granados in Forbes Magazine. He’s the director of the institute for entertainment, media and culture at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School. According to Granados, Google created Artificial Intelligence Project Magenta to create music and art in mid-2016. Then last May at Techstars Music 2017 in Los Angeles, a competing program named Amber displayed computer-created compositions.

Then I found a post on Quora by Varun Deo about a computer scientist Francisco Vico and his collaborators at the University of Malaga in Spain, who in 2012, created Iamus. Iamus composed the score titled “Hello World,” a “delightful piece of chamber music,” according to Peter Russell, a musicologist. Someday, maybe the great composers might be Magenta or Amber or Pure Data or Keykit or Super Collider. They’re all music programming computer programs or programming languages.

Part of the problem is that music and poetry are conversations between the composer and the listener.

So, Granados disagrees with our waiter and says the human composer and the computer composer will collaborate to create music that “moves” the people who hear it.

“When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. … But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.” (Ezra 3)

One of my favorite stories has a world-famous vocalist singing “Amazing Grace” at a high society party and they gave her a standing ovation. An older pastor who was there, was also asked to sing it, and when he finished it, they cried. The vocalist explained that she sang it from years of training and practice. The pastor sang it from his heart and his faith in Jesus.