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Top Five Computers to Outsmart Composers

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David Cope’s Experiments in Musical Intelligence

Computers have shown a prowess for chess and soccer, but composing music? The creators behind DarwinTunes have developed a formula that uses consumer taste to weed out unpleasant noises to essentially compose “aesthetically pleasing chords and rhythms.” DarwinTunes is just the latest in a string of computer programs that have made music, which we’ve listed below. You can decide whether they are as adequately skilled as their human counterparts.

1. Computer Program Finds the Musical DNA of Great Works

The composer David Cope’s Experiments in Musical Intelligence, EMI for short, has been called the Deep Blue of the music world for its ability to synthesize classical styles. In 1997, the program stunned culture observers when a panel decided it had better imitated Bach than a trained music theorist. Some academics called it the one of most amazing examples of artificial intelligence at that time. Meanwhile, EMI went on to have an enviable career; its works have been performed in concert halls, and released on a CD, Classical Music Composed by a Computer.

2. A Computer Tailors Music to Your Mental State

Has a poorly timed piece of Schubert ever darkened your good spirits or a triumphal Sousa march interrupted a meditative moment? In 2007, a pair of computer science experts out of the University of Granada in Spain developed a program matching moods to music. Called Inmamusys (which stands for Intelligent Multiagent Music System), the invention provides a listener with an endless stream of original tunes tailor made for their mental and emotional state.

3. 'Jiffy Box' Creates Music in the Styles of Famous Composers

A decade before EMI, Yaakov Kirschen, a cartoonist for The Jerusalem Post, created the computer program Just For You Inc, or “Jiffy Box.” By selecting elements such as tempo, duration and instrumentation and “parent” examples of preexisting music, the program produced a piece merging the parent styles and to specifications. Its product was good enough to produce a score for the BBC and become the first non-human member of the Israeli composer’s union.

4. An IBM Researcher Reinvents Bach

Another early digital composer came from IBM researcher Kemal Ebcioglu. The computer science PhD (who also had a masters in music composition) analyzed Bach chorales and came up with hundreds of rules to how the composer harmonized his works, Using complex algorithms, the computer was able to fashion works in the style of the 18th century master. Said Columbia University’s director of computer music at the time, Brad Garton, "If the computer were taking my composition course, I would give it an A."

5. The Mad Machines of Xenakis

The granddaddy of all computer music is the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, who started using an IBM 7090 to aid in computing his algorithmic compositions way back in the 1960s. The digital pioneer’s stochastic compositions used computers to determine complex variables and probabilities that he used to create works, which he wrote about in 1963’s Formalized Music.

Do you listen to computer music? What do you like or dislike about it? Leave your thoughts below: