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Is AIVA’s “Genesis” Genius?


Yesterday, I listened to an hour’s worth of music written by artificial intelligence. Take a listen to this clip from AIVA (Artificial Intelligence Virtual Artist), “Genesis” Symphonic Fantasy in A minor:

Regarding AIVA, a headline at the website Futurism asserts, “A New AI Can Write Music as Well as a Human Composer.” Is that true?

“Genesis” is impressive, even beautiful. But I think something that makes compositions great is the fact that abstract musical notation can somehow express a personality with its idiosyncrasies, what that person uniquely wishes to communicate from the depths of his soul. In this way, somehow, one soul can reach out to and touch other souls.

Knowledge of music theory is only part of it. The more of that you have, the better. AIVA has a lot of that — or rather, its programming reflects a lot of it. (The program itself, of course, doesn’t “know” anything.) But in literature, an expertise in grammar or other elements of English usage doesn’t make a great novelist. Similarly, music theory can’t substitute for genius, or soul.

In composing music, what artificial intelligence does is combine. AIVA and other AI composition programs distil what the program’s author feeds it. Added to that are choices by the person who does orchestration, assigning music to specific instruments, deciding which composers or pieces make it into the program, and how these ingredients should be combined.

But if you combine the musical styles of Bach and Beethoven, do you get the best from both? My own experience of working with other musicians suggests otherwise.

The way that two musicians work together to play a duet or make a composition is to compromise and come up with a new idea that borrows distinct elements of each of their styles, harmonizing with the other person. A duet I play with Abigail cannot sound like the duet I play with Timothy. And a duet they play will not sound like the duet I played with either. But the magic of collaboration is more than combining styles — it comes from the interaction of human personalities.

AI-generated music is great for people looking to purchase music for documentaries, etc., as it is inexpensive. It’s no substitute for the great composers, though, and never can be.

Don’t believe me? If you wish, compare “Genesis” to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

Image: Ludwig Beethoven, 1820, by Joseph Karl Stieler [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.