Morning in Málaga

Malaga

I deliberately woke up early to catch the sunrise in Málaga today. I’m not here for long, and I want to see a little bit of it, so I think a walk before breakfast might be in order. That view above is from my hotel room. You can smell the sea from here. It’s already warm and I can hear music, motor scooters and seagulls, despite being right in the city centre.

I’m here to do a presentation at a one-day symposium about computers in music. I’m not entirely sure how that happened, but I’m glad that it did.

My host is Francisco Vico, who for the last four years has been running a research project in which he has developed an artificial intelligence system that can compose music with no human intervention. That music has been performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, and has been recorded and professionally released.

This article explains the project well.

As you might expect – a computer composer can be prolific. Iamus, the non-human intelligence behind the works, is about to release its second album. The first, which contains the contemporary classical work ‘Hello World!‘, was the first record solely composed by a computer programme and recorded by human musicians.

I’m here with UK science writer Philip Ball, whose book The Music Instinct is one of my favourite works on the subject – up there with Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia.

There are just five speakers today, but they are from very different fields – ranging from respected composer Gustavo Díaz-Jerez to a media and cultural studies academic (that would be me). Our role here is to reflect on different aspects of what it means that computers can compose music. None of us, as far as I can tell, seem particularly averse to the idea.

Not that all music should be composed by artificial intelligence, of course – but that it can, and is being composed. I think that’s interesting, and I think it’s important that it’s happening – because that potentially changes our relationship with music yet again – in much the same way that the industrialisation of music production changes our relationship with it.

Our audience, however, might differ. For the most part, we’ll be talking today to a group of musicians from the Málaga Conservatory, and our brief is to be provocative. Not argumentative, necessarily – but provocative in the sense of challenging people to think in ways they ordinarily might not. I think I can manage that.

My presentation is about how music has fundamentally changed in terms of how we compose, produce, distribute and consume it with each major shift in the dominant media environment – from an oral society, to a print society to an age of digital media – and beyond. I started writing about that here on this blog a little while back, but I’ve since refined the idea somewhat – and this one-hour presentation today is my first chance to try the now slightly more elegant theory out in public.

Of course, it’ll have to be clear – and, since the presentation will be in English in a Spanish-speaking country, I’ll need to keep the pace significantly below my usual rapid-fire delivery – but I’m looking forward to presenting and defending my work, because this is what a lot of my research over the last decade has led up to – and there have been a number of recent ‘Eureka!’ moments that tie all the pieces together. And this reflection on the Melomics AI research project is the perfect opportunity to try these ideas out.

But first, I’m going to have a proper look at Málaga – as much as you can before breakfast, at any rate. And later today, I’m told there’s a very good second hand record store where I can pick up some flamenco music on vinyl. Because really – that’s the important bit.

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