Is the music of Beethoven, Mozart and Bach the product of incomprehensible genius, or can it be reproduced by complex computer coding and algorithmic models? Arguably it's the latter, says David Cope, a composer and "genuine polymath" profiled by Chris Wilson at Slate who began exploring computer-generated music "in desperation" after his own idea began to dry up. Cope is the "inventor of the world's most musically creative computer program," with whose help he has written several thousand new pieces of music. How did he do it — and could his program, known as "Emily Howell," replace the best human composers?
"Cope has been writing software to help him compose music for 30 years, and he long ago reached the point where most people can't tell the difference between real Bach and the Bach-like compositions his computer can produce. Audiences have been moved to tears by melodies created by algorithms. And yet, it's not exactly that Cope has created a computer than can write music like a human. The way he sees it, it's that humans compose like computers.
...It occurred to Cope that human composers draw on a huge amount of data when they sit down to write a piece of music. "We don't start with a blank slate," he said. "In fact, what we do in our brains is take all the music we've heard in our life, segregate out what we don't like, and try to replicate [the music we like] while making it our own." What separates great composers from the rest of us, he says, is the ability to accurately compile that database, remember it, and manipulate it into new patterns."