Thursday, August 16, 2018

Losing The Story Behind Our Melodies

            Artificial Intelligence music (AIM) is based on the random combination and modification of pre-existing note patterns to create new larger note patterns that form a piece of music.  Sometimes, when humans themselves try to create atmospheric music for purposes of making an advertisement with a particular focus, certain kinds of music patterns will be specifically selected in order to work with these purposes.  But the key idea when working with AIM is more randomness.  Although a general music category can be selected as the basis for AIM, the specific music patterns that are the foundation for AIM are not selected by humans based on previously existing psychological grounding in meaning.  Meaning for humans is created by memories from a flowing blendable continual life narrative.  These memories are not simply isolated points on a mind scape, but overlap with one another in the same way that events in human life overlap with one another and are held together by the flow of subjective life experience.  A piece of music created by a human is done to evoke a memory, a series of memories, a flow of memories in a non-verbal way.  The connection of a piece of music to flows or fragments of a composer’s life experience is not always something the composer is conscious of when he is creating it.  But in most cases, in retrospective reflection, the connection can be made.  And it is this connection to the meaning derived from the composer’s life narrative that allows the composer to make and even preserve an important organic imprint on the minds of the members of his audience.  So from a different perspective, a composer has synthesized many different imprints made on his life within the flow of his life narrative and then comes up with his own unique organic imprint.  The notes that he puts together are not just a patterned series of audio markings.  Instead, they are a coherent organic imprint.

            Artificial Intelligence music can’t make an organic imprint, because it is not being created by an organic coherent sense of self.  The soul element is missing.  The flowing blendable continual passion is missing.  The flowing blendable continual stream of imagination is missing.  But people involved in producing different entertainment projects like using AIM, because it can be created more quickly and it costs less to produce.  In other words, expediency rules the day.  But what of the price paid for such expediency?  Not financial, but psychological.  What does it mean to have much of our modern music based on randomized patterns of notes that nevertheless imitate certain established styles?  And something parallel is being done with lyrics. There are songwriters who have really gotten into AIM, because it makes it easier for them to compose.  Notice how we are back again with the notion of making life easier, by making our tasks more frictionless and more mediated.  The key seems to be to avoid the irritation that comes with direct involvement in life through primary experience.  And yet if music is supposed to touch us through our senses and through our emotions, aspects of ourselves that are involved with immediate connection to both the external world and to ourselves, don’t we want to create our music on a foundation of primary experience rather than algorithms?

            Furthermore, what does creating much of our music through AI do to our perception and appreciation of the process of music creation?  First of all, if the boundaries of creation are blurred with regard to machines and humans, doesn’t that somehow diminish the special value of the music created in this way?  The magic involved in the process of creation is lost.  The creation occurs through the random combination of notes all within an experiential void.  It is devoid of organic symbolic connections, devoid of human meaning.  Without symbols and meaning, not only is the process of creating the magic trivialized, but the content is as well.

            Maybe this goes hand and hand with the growing attempt by some research scientists to control and dominate the process of artistic creation, by trying to understand it.  Perhaps by understanding it, they can control and tinker with it almost as if it were a machine process that needed to be fine-tuned and calibrated.  Perhaps they feel if they understand the components of creativity, they can turn everyone into a creative genius.  Perhaps it is simply that some people feel uncomfortable around something that doesn’t lend itself easily to understanding through measurement, through statistical analysis and through logical analysis.  Creativity is the ultimate psychological process that depends on flowing blendable continual stimuli and flowing blendable continual responses.

            It is difficult for people to control and dominate creative expression in other people.  It becomes much easier to control and dominate creative expression coming from machines, coming from AI.  The fact that so much gets lost in the translation of creative expression from human intelligence to Artificial Intelligence doesn’t seem to bother them.  Perhaps the computer scientists feel that the product from Artificial Intelligence is every bit as good as the product from human intelligence.

            The effects of this growing interchangeability of human and machine creativity in musical compositions are subtle, but, in the long run, are going to be very destructive.  If AI creativity can be, relatively speaking, manipulated both by composers as well as non-creative people, then the process of human creativity becomes devalued.  And to the extent that it becomes devalued, it becomes increasingly difficult for people in the music world to make a decent living at it.  AI strips music of its magic, and with the magic gone, the specially valued magic of the musician disappears as well.

            And as composers start interacting more and more with AI to produce music, the influences of the music will go in both directions.  Not only will AIM be based on musical styles created by humans, but humans will start to unconsciously model their compositions on music created by AI that in turn imitated human music.  Human composers will model their work on the work of AI composers which will, in turn, be modeled on the work of human composers.  But the layer of AI composition as a musical influence will break up the symbolic connections, the meaning derived from human narrative, and the organic grounding found in real human creativity.  The influence of AI will create a new shallowness, a new blandness, a new timidity in human music.  Not exactly the kind of thing needed to create rich vibrant audio experience.  The predictability of much of this new music will contribute to more human numbness.  More of a sense of being in a living death.  More of a sense of becoming robotic.  Music, which is supposed to be a source of our transcendent uniquely human sensations, becomes a vehicle to make us numb and insensate like a machine.  The blurring of the human and the machine in so many areas of our lives in today’s world is truly a very destructive phenomenon that is diminishing and diluting our humanity.

© 2018 Laurence Mesirow 

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