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A Robo-Symphony: David Cope Composes 'Human' Music With A.I.

Everyone knows that robots and computers, the heartless harbingers of the end of humanity, will play a pivotal role in the inevitable apocalypse. But, before that cataclysmic destruction of hominid life occurs, could computers, programs, and bots actually reinvent the artistic endeavors that are supposedly unique to humans? One California composer, who has spent 30 years creating artificial intelligence and artificial creativity programs, certainly believes that it's possible.

According to Miller-McCune, David Cope enjoyed the '70s as an accomplished composer and academician, but at the close of the decade he faced an insurmountable case of writer's block. To help combat that dearth of creativity, he embarked on an exhaustive and mentally taxing ordeal to create a computer program that would be capable of producing distinctly human-sounding musical compositions.

The result was Emmy (a play on Experiments in Musical Intelligence). It produced thousands of pieces, some of which were performed all over the nation. Critics, though, loudly voiced their displeasure. The most frequent dismissals of the value of Emmy's work were borne out of the belief that computers are heartless and soulless, and that true creativity is a uniquely human trait.

Cope decided to dismantle the program in 2004, but has now resumed his work with Emmy's successor: Emily Howell. Howell's pieces have also been performed for a wide variety of audiences, and some celebratory listeners apparently had no clue they weren't actually experiencing "human" music. Cope even contends that a well-known pop group has asked him about tapping into Howell's songwriting expertise [Ed. Note: Perhaps it is the Black Eyed Peas].

For now, though, the prejudiced cries of "heartless" and "lack of depth" still overpower the praise. Miller-McCune has a fascinating piece about Cope and his life's work, including two samples of Howell's creations. The current offerings may be limited, but they're definitely more appealing than the soulless, conformist tripe that so-called "humans" are currently regurgitating at an alarming rate. [From: Miller-McCune, via MaxHeel]

Tags: composer, composition, computer, david cope, DavidCope, electronicmusic, music, programming, top