Bach, Beethoven, Brahms–and Bits and Bytes?

Posted by AJ Harbison at 10:11 am

Slate.com has another intriguing article in their music section, this time a profile on modern composer David Cope, who wrote one of my college textbooks and works primarily in the field of computer music. He’s apparently created a computer program (christened “Emily Howell”) that takes input from the greatest composers of Western music, including Bach, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Barber, and Copeland, and composes its own music by recombining elements from the music in its database. Now Cope’s primary method of composing is to listen to Emily Howell’s work and tell it what he likes and doesn’t like–most of his music is created by the computer. As usual, several clips of Emily Howell’s music are included in the article, though unfortunately they’re too short to make any judgments of quality.

Cope’s case is that all great music is created by this process of synthesizing bits and pieces of music that the composer has heard before, which is of course true and seemed rather self-evident to me, though not (it appears) to the author of the article. But what do you think? Is there something “inherently distasteful” about composing through a computer–or rather letting a computer compose for you? Do you have any aesthetic objections to the process? Why or why not?

“I’ll Be Bach: A computer program is writing great, original works of classical music. Will human composers soon be obsolete?”



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    Roberta Harbison on 05.24.2010

    It is certainly distasteful to me. Yes, all music is made up of bits and pieces of other pieces but having a computer do it makes it strictly mechanical and mathematical. There is so much emotion, past experiences, etc in music that I think the human component is what makes music that resonates with the human-ness of a person. We are more than physical beings and so to touch every part of a human music needs to contain components that speak to each part. Of course, this is why I don’t like a lot of modern music too like John Cage et al.

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