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       M U S I C          T H E O R Y         O N L I N E
                     A Publication of the
                   Society for Music Theory
          Copyright (c) 1994 Society for Music Theory
| Volume 0, Number 7      March, 1994      ISSN:  1067-3040   |
  All queries to: mto-editor@husc.harvard.edu
AUTHOR: James Harley
TITLE: Comment on Steven Smoliar's article
KEYWORDS: Smoliar, computer music
REFERENCE: mto.94.0.6.smoliar.art
James Harley
Faculty of Music
McGill University
555 Sherbrooke West
Montreal, QC, CANADA  H3A 1E3
[1] I have been working in the area of "composition with computers" 
for some time now, so it was with interest that I read Steven 
Smoliar's article on the subject (1).  I have not had a chance to 
see the publication that it originally appeared in (2), and therefore 
have perhaps read his work slightly out of context.  Nonetheless, 
I think it is useful to comment upon a few of the issues which Smoliar 
[2] First of all, the abstract for this article makes general claims 
that are not substantiated in the body of the article.  The rather 
ambitious opening, "this is an examination of the current state of the 
art in the computer composition of music," is fleshed out with a discussion
of just one application, that of David Cope's EMI Project, with a passing 
reference to a single issue devoted to computer-generated music of the 
IEEE Computer Society *Computer* magazine. Cope's work is admirable, and 
certainly worthy of discussion, but we are here given no reasons as to 
why it is that his work "best characterizes the current state of the  
art."  In fact, I would argue that his "recombinant" music is not 
"composition" at all, but "re-creation" or "style imitation," and hardly 
representative of original, creative work being done in the field, even 
by David Cope himself. In fact, there is an enormous range of work being 
done in the domain of  "computer composition," from Ames and Barlow to 
Xenakis and Zicarelli.  These composer-researchers are attempting to 
implement models of their own compositional "systems," such that the 
computer will be able to generate truly "contemporary music in a style 
which reflects the musical understanding or interests of the program 
designer (or, in certain cases, the user).  Surely, in order to answer the  
question of  "whether artificial intelligence has now solved the problem 
of turning a computer into a successful composer," one would have to look 
at the "creative" work being done, and not just the "re-combinant."  
[3] Smoliar also raises the question as to whether the success of 
Cope's EMI system is due to Cope's own practical experience as a 
composer rather than its own "theoretical" knowledge (as he puts it, 
"just *who* is doing the composing[?]").  It may be useful to clarify 
the distinction between "theoretical" and "practical" knowledge here.  
There is an implication in this that the experienced composer knows how 
to obtain effective results in the concert hall without needing to be 
concerned with "theory."  I think the real issue is whether one criticizes 
the computer program for not reflecting specific theoretical concerns or 
constructs, or whether one criticizes the musical output of the program 
for its musical-stylistic integrity.  The criteria which Smoliar seems 
to use to judge the alleged computer-composer is the presence of "deep 
structure," as opposed to merely "surface structure."  However, it is 
only possible to evaluate the work on this basis because it is "style 
imitation" rather than original work.  Other aesthetic and theoretical 
issues must be articulated in order to judge the output of, say, 
Xenakis's computer program, just as they would be to judge one of his 
"non-computer" works.  The real question here may be whether it would 
ever be possible to find "deep structure" in any "recombinant" music,  
computer-generated or otherwise, and whether that structure could be 
considered original rather than "borrowed."  If the answer is yes, then 
the Cope-EMI results must be judged as having failed; if the answer is 
no, then Smoliar's evaluation procedure must be brought into question.  
In any case, I find it difficult to see how it can serve us in looking at 
other work in the field, especially given the difficulties others have 
had in applying such linguistically-based concepts of structure to non-
tonal, or post-tonal music.  
[4] I would also briefly like to take issue with Smoliar's claim that 
"whether or not music *has* a deep structure, much of our response, as 
individuals, is to surface features," and that it therefore follows that 
"audiences listen to *performances* rather than *compositions*."  This 
is a bold statement, and is, unfortunately, unsupported in his article,  
apart, one assumes, from introspection as a result of attending live 
performances of EMI-generated music.  Based on conclusions drawn from 
my own introspection, I am inclined to agree that the quality of a 
performance can be very convincing, whatever the "quality" of the music, 
particularly for the first hearing.  It has been my experience, however, 
that repeated hearings of a piece (and for the sake of the argument, I am  
speaking only of live performances) tend to clarify the strengths and/or 
weaknesses of the music, and to build up an analytical-perceptual image 
of the music that would include something of the deep structure, if there 
is one.  Therefore (and thank goodness!), it is still possible to 
distinguish (if not right away, then at least with time, given patience and  
good-will) music which "has come from a struggling genius, a commercial 
hack, chance decisions, or even a computer program," not to mention music 
by that irreducible entity, Mozart, from the would-be's and wanna-be's.
1. Smoliar, S. "Computers Compose Music, But Do We Listen." mto.94.0.6 (January 1994).
2. *Multimedia Modeling.* World Scientific.
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