Click above to hear something fairly amazing: Music created by a merger of Bach, artificial intelligence, and live interaction by a human audience. It's from the new album "The Eternal Golden Braid" by my pal adaptive music/sound artist Robert Thomas, who's been creating works of music shaped by virtual reality, digital interaction, and AI for well over a decade. (As here with Chris Nolan and Hans Zimmer and more recently here with the LA Phil).
This current project, as the title suggests, was inspired by the landmark book Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, and incorporates music from Bach himself. As Robert explains in his liner notes:
This piece started life as a collection of renderings from a machine learning process which was trained on a large database of works by Bach. I then curated some fragments from it and used them as a starting point for a composition for string trio.... We wanted to explore having the audience interact live with the music in a collective strange loop, so I constructed the piece in two "levels" which the players could move between at any time. Level 1 was calmer and more introspective and represented by Blue. Level 2 was more chaotic and extroverted and represented by Red. When the piece was performed the audience held up colored cards, which were recognized by a machine learning camera on the stage. This fed a signal to the players which told them which musical notation to read.
So this is, as Robert puts it, "music composed in collaboration with an AI, which was trained on Bach, then performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra, with the audience interacting, guiding the music. Aspects of the music were inspired by themes in Gödel, Escher, Bach, though: At the start and end you hear kinda shepherd tones played by the strings; these are one of the strange loops referred to in Marcus du Sautoy's talk about [Hofstader's book]."
The live performance looked like this:
"Really this piece is an exploration of what it means to incorporate machine learning into the human creative process and also into perception of music, and influencing music," Robert puts it to me now. "What was interesting at the event, is the audience all together decided to push the music from calm to intense and back again numerous times -- kind of a collective strange loop. That's the central idea of strange loops in a way.
"You can hear [a recording of] Hofstadter define it as that in the track 'Strange Loops'. I.E., perceiving the world, then that perception getting converted into concepts in the brain, then you influence the world based on that translation, then the loop repeating. Here we were doing a collective strange loop with music, but we also include AI within the loop."