Finishing (off) the old masters !!!
Hello everyone 👋,
A couple of years ago, an AI program was announced to have successfully finished the "incomplete" 8th symphony of Franz Schubert :
Now, it's Ludwig van Beethoven's turn:
I have some opinion on the subject (quite a strong one, actually!), but for now I'll hold my peace. I'm interested to know your take!
What do you think about AI and the creative process? Is it worth it (or even acceptable) to use AI to complete an unfinished composition? Is that an interference with the natural order of things? An alternation of the course of history in some way?
Aside from being an academic exercise or a technology demonstration, why do this? It's okay for composers to leave pieces unfinished, just like artists often leave paintings half done for a variety of reasons.
What's the compulsion to finish these works? I don't get it...
Yes, I agree, it’s ok for the work of a composer or any artist to be left unfinished (Personally, I’m drawn to incompleteness, both aesthetically and as chance for me to learn something of the processes of an artist).
But I also think it’s ok for others to complete works if they so wish, as long as that can be done with no detriment to the original. Then I can choose whether I listen to Schubert’s Unfinished, or Brian Newbould’s (or others’) “Finished”.
And I have no problem with an AI completion, either - I regard AI as a tool (and perhaps a very creatively devised one), as valid as any other.
For me, the bottom line is: is the composer’s original still there to enjoy, and how good is the reconstruction (however it was done)?
Perhaps one of the most exquisite pieces ever written is Purcell’s tiny anthem Hear my Prayer.
It’s written for eight voices, and I love they way those voices crunch against each other: it’s wonderful to sing and sublime to listen to.
And it’s commonly accepted to be the first half of a work Purcell never completed.
There have been a few responses composed (although none that I know of by AI). Here’s my favourite, composed in 1988; it slips from Purcell to Sven-David Sandström after 2 and a half minutes.
Hear my Prayer, O Lord (1986) (after H. Purcell: Hear my prayer, O Lord Z. 15 (Idagio)
Baltic Voices 1 — Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir & Paul Hillier (Apple Music)
I wonder how controversial this ‘completion’ is? What are your thoughts? Is this a fitting second part to the anthem?
(It pleases me to note that there are six different recordings of this completion on Idagio. The link here is to the Estonian Chamber Choir with Paul Hillier, the recording I’m familiar with. But I’ll listen to the others this evening and update if necessary…)
First, thank you for this wonderful Purcell piece, I haven't heard it before. It's so chilling, in a good way. The layered intertwining of the voices, and their crescendo(-ing) until they reach a heartbreaking cry near the end... WOW!!
Now, in principle, I don't object to "composers" finishing, or completing (or whatever term we might choose to use) other composers' works. I mean, it happened, and will continue to happen, throughout the entire history of music. I'm quite fine with it, as long as it serves a purpose, and as long as the original is still preserved, and we know what and how and where in the score exactly do these "modifications/ completions/ alterations" begin and end. (Borodin's Prince Igor is always on my mind with regard to that).
While I appreciate Maestro Sandström's effort, I don't know... I'm not a music theory expert, but I didn't feel the later half of the composition matched its first original one! (I don't know how to explain it, but I felt a sort of disconnection!) It would have made better sense, to me, if he had set the next verse of the Psalm to a Purcell-style music instead of the repetition of the same verse?! Maybe my opinion was tainted by the fact that you told me where Purcell ended and Sandström began?! 🤔
A.I. is another matter altogether. Why would we "teach" a machine to imitate the human creative process?! Don't we have an abundance of wonderful artists, musicians, scientists .... to contribute to the human civilization?!
It's a tool, surely, and a very useful one. But, (I'll try to put it as politely as I can) would we want to listen to a composition of a half-talent who'd have relied on a machine for "help" with artistic creation?!
Wow indeed! That little anthem is probably the music I’d choose for my own funeral.
The first time I heard Sandström’s response, I wasn’t expecting it, and it took my breath away. It still does!
(As an aside, maybe we’ll have to agree to disagree on the subject of AI. In my view it requires an extraordinary talent to develop an AI algorithm to successfully complete a piece of music. That process is at the boundary between science and musicology, and is surely as creative as any other?)
In my view it requires an extraordinary talent to develop an AI algorithm to successfully complete a piece of music. That process is at the boundary between science and musicology, and is surely as creative as any other?)
Indeed, those engineers and scientists are geniuses, and I don't mean to belittle their talent in developing Artificial Intelligence in any way, shape or form. What I meant to say was something along the lines of "a place for everything and everything in its place" sort of!
A. I. is extremely useful (sometimes even absolutely necessary) in certain situations and fields of the human endeavor, but I prefer to reserve artistic creation for actual "human" artists.
I, too, regard AI as a tool. Something akin to photographers using digital tools to manipulate and enhance the photos they take. If it’s done honestly - that is, without the intent to fool the audience - I think it’s fine.
To create an AI program capable of “finishing off” a work of a great composer requires deep, deep knowledge of music and the composer him/herself, as well as very clever coding.
As someone who is both a writer and a geek, I love the intersection of art and code. It’s one of those things that can be abused or trivialised, but it can also be the place where creative boundaries are expanded.
read this as “the boundary between music and scientology” and got worried.