Culture Information Intelligent Design

Can randomness produce music?

Spread the love

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.

Follow UD News at Twitter!

5 Replies to “Can randomness produce music?

  1. 1
    John S says:

    Ok let me try a more realistic one. Use some classical music phrases sure, then add some of different tempo, and in different keys, and some with multiple instruments playing different songs simultaneously.

    Then let’s add some other ‘phrases’ of heavy metal, jazz, country, new age, yodeling, animal noises, computer beeping, sounds of flatulence, Morse code, random piano banging, crashing cymbals, fingernails on chalkboard, et al. Of course you must put them together randomly with no forethought – so much fun for the listener!

  2. 2
    Virgil Cain says:

    This is just taking existing music and rearranging it. The only randomness is that we cannot predict how people will arrange them.

  3. 3
    Physteach says:

    Sounds like fun, but Victor Borge was much more amusing:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMMoB7hbL1U
    😉

  4. 4
    bFast says:

    Actually, I think that music is something that RM+NS could create (if you could find a natural selector.) The reason I hold this view is that there is an infinite scale between mediocre and amazing music. “A wee bit better” is always an available option. It is the lack of this gradual scale (at least I am convinced that it doesn’t exist) that has me hold to the ID position.

    I propose an experiment:
    Create a simple algorithm, one that defines a note by pitch, duration and volume. Generate some random noise. Stick it out on the internet for people to “rate” (selection). Every time somebody “rates” the music, replicate it and twiddle it randomly. If you could get enough participation, I bet that music would be the eventual result.

  5. 5
    Robert Byers says:

    No. Randomness can’t creat music because music comes from human intelligence only. Animals have no music. Too dumb. That is they have no language.
    Music is not a series of noises but is entirely organized sounds. Otherwise there would be no collective sense of it.
    Music is just in a spectrum of sounds just by people to express thoughts.
    Music is just our tones of voice without the words. Thats all it is.

Leave a Reply