Beethoven’s Unfinished 10th Symphony Brought to Life by Artificial Intelligence – Scientific American

Teresa Carey: This is Scientific Americans 60-Second Science. I'm Teresa Carey.

Every morning at five oclock, composer Walter Werzowa would sit down at his computer to anticipate a particular daily e-mail. It came from six time zones away, where a team had been working all night (or day, rather) to draft Beethovens unfinished 10th Symphonyalmost two centuries after his death.

The e-mail contained hundreds of variations, and Werzowa listened to them all.

Werzowa: So by nine, 10 oclock in the morning, its likeIm already in heaven.

Carey: Werzowa was listening for the perfect tunea sound that was unmistakably Beethoven.

But the phrases he was listening to werent composed by Beethoven. They were created by artificial intelligencea computer simulation of Beethovens creative process.

Werzowa: There werehundreds of options, and some are better than others. But then there is that one which grabs you, and that was just a beautiful process.

Carey: Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the most renowned composers in Western music history. When he died in 1827, he left behind musical sketches and notes that hinted at a masterpiece. There was barely enough to make out a phrase, let alone a whole symphony. But that didnt stop people from trying.

In 1988 musicologist Barry Cooper attempted. But he didnt get beyond the first movement. Beethovens handwritten notes on the second and third movements are meagernot enough to compose a symphony.

Werzowa: A movement of a symphony can have up to 40,000 notes. And some of his themes were three bars, like 20 notes. Its very little information.

Carey: Werzowa and a group of music experts and computer scientists teamed up to use machine learning to create the symphony. AhmedElgammal, the director of the Art and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Rutgers University, led the AI side of the team.

Elgammal: When you listen to music read by AIto continue a theme of music, usually its a very short few seconds, and then they start diverging and becoming boring and not interesting. They cannot really take that and compose a full movement of a symphony.

Carey: The teams first task was to teach the AI to think like Beethoven. To do that, they gave it Beethovens complete works, his sketchesand notes. They taught it Beethoven's processlike how he went from those iconic four notes to his entire Fifth Symphony.

[CLIP: Notes from Symphony no. 5]

Carey: Then they taught it to harmonize with a melody, compose a bridge between two sectionsand assign instrumentation. With all that knowledge, the AI came as close to thinking like Beethoven as possible. But it still wasnt enough.

Elgammal: The way music generation using AI works is very similar to the way, when you write an e-mail, you find that the e-mail thread predicts whats the next word for you or what the rest of the sentence is for you.

Carey: Butlet the computer predict your words long enough, and eventually, the text will sound like gibberish.

Elgammal: It doesnt really generate something that can continue for a long time and be consistent. So that was the main challenge in dealing with this project: How can you take a motif or a short phrase of music that Beethoven wrote in his sketchand continue it into a segment of music?

Carey: Thats where Werzowas daily e-mails came in. On those early mornings, he was selecting what he thought was Beethovens best. And, piece by piece, the team built a symphony.

Matthew Guzdial researches creativity and machine learning at the University of Alberta. He didnt work on the Beethoven project, but he says that AI is overhyped.

Guzdial: Modern AI, modern machine learning, is all about just taking small local patterns and replicating them. And its up to a human to then take what the AI outputs and find the genius. The genius wasnt there. The genius wasnt in the AI. The genius was in the human who was doing the selection.

Carey: Elgammal wants to make the AI tool available to help other artists overcome writers block or boost their performance. But both Elgammal and Werzowa say that the AI shouldnt replace the role of an artist. Insteadit should enhance their work and process.

Werzowa: Like every tool, you can use a knife to kill somebody or to save somebodys life, like with a scalpel in a surgery. So it can go any way. If you look at the kids, like kids are born creative.Its like everything is about being creative, creative and having fun. And somehow were losing this. I think if we could sit back on a Saturday afternoon in our kitchen, and because maybe were a little bit scared to make mistakes, ask the AI to help us to write us a sonata, song or whateverin teamwork, life will be so much more beautiful.

Carey: The team released the 10th Symphony over the weekend. When asked who gets credit for writing it Beethoven, the AIor the team behind itWerzowa insists it is a collaborative effort. But, suspending disbelief for a moment, it isnt hard to imagine that were listening to Beethoven once again.

Werzowa: I dare to say that nobody knows Beethovenas well as the AI, didas well as the algorithm. I think music, when you hear it, when you feel it, when you close your eyes, it does something to your body. Close your eyes, sit back and be open for it, and I would love to hear what you felt after.

Carey: Thanks for listening. For Scientific Americans60-Second Science, Im Teresa Carey.

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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Beethoven's Unfinished 10th Symphony Brought to Life by Artificial Intelligence - Scientific American

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