Philosopher and photographer Laszlo Bencze writes to say,
The Wall Street Journal had an article today (28 Oct.) on a game called Compose Yourself created by a cellist named Philip Sheppard “who is passionate about showing people that they are fundamentally musical, and he wants to make learning about music, and composing in particular, more approcachable for children.”
The game consists of 60 transparent overlays sized about 4” x 6” that contain short musical phrases of a few notes. These are to be laid side to side to create compositions. The cards can be inverted or flipped over so each one codes for four separate phrases. Each variation is numbered. So when a series of cards are laid down the sequence of numbers can be entered on a website. There the compositions can be heard being played by a full orchestra or on a marimba by the virtuoso percussionist, Evelyn Glennie.
On the face of it this may sound as if random choices can produce beautiful music. However, that’s not at all the case. The groups of notes are designed to be pleasing in themselves. Therefore, any ordering of them into larger compositions are also quite likely to be pleasing to the ear. The designer of the card set has limited the options intelligently to allow for success in composition. I’d call this analogous to genes controlling finch beaks. The set of choices is limited to beaks that are potentially useful just as the overlays are limited to pleasing phrases. In both cases the designer allows for variation within useful limits.
Moreover, in the case of the music game, children will learn that certain patterns of notes are far more pleasing than others and the game becomes less and less random and more and more intentional. And that intentionality is called “learning to compose music.”
Some people are always looking for the Biggest Easy in the Universe: Information without intelligence. Their big enemy is the No Free Lunch theorems. A good time, therefore, to remind readers of the upcoming What Is Information? conference (November 13–14, Seattle).
See also: Data Basic, a lay-friendly discussion of information theory.
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