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Math Media Music

An Experiment in A New Kind of Music 282

Posted by Zonk
from the good-way-to-spend-a-few-hours dept.
waynegoode writes "Stephen Wolfram's Wolfram Research has produced an new application: WolframTones-- 'An Experiment in A New Kind of Music'. It combines the principles in Stephen's book, 'A New Kind of Science' and Mathematica to 'instantly create unique music' in many different styles. They describe it as pretty neat as well as being scientifically interesting, and useful. After listening to some compositions and creating a few random ones myself, I must agree that it is. And anyone who has listen to the radio the last few years could certainly use some unique music."
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An Experiment in A New Kind of Music

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  • Re: Wolfram (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sartak (589317) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @01:38AM (#13524931) Homepage
    I wouldn't trust anything Wolfram says about his creations. He has a tendency to toot his own horn. Constantly. If you've read A New Kind of Science you know exactly what I'm getting at.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 10, 2005 @01:44AM (#13524952)
      Copernicus debunked: The universe actually revolves around Stephen Wolfram's ass.
    • Re: Wolfram (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ct.smith (80232) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @01:49AM (#13524969) Homepage
      I have to second this opinions. I couldn't find any sort of reference or acknowledgement to previous work on the subject.

      Of course, I have a slight bias on the topic as my supervisor did something similar back in 1986.

      (P. Prusinkiewicz, Score Generation with L-Systems, International Computer
      Music Conference 86 Proceedings, 1986, pp. 455-457.)
    • Re: Wolfram (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Frostalicious (657235) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @03:09AM (#13525190) Journal
      ANKOS would be pretty good with just a few changes:

      Reduce page count from 1200 to 400 by removing redundant and self aggrandizing material.

      Retract claims that Wolfram is singlehandedly going to change the course of human history.

      Choose a title more suitable to the seriousness of the book. Perhaps "An Introduction to Cellular Automata" or "Fun With Graph Paper"
      • I wish I had some mod points. Please, someone, mod this up!
      • Re: Wolfram (Score:3, Interesting)

        by famebait (450028)
        Reduce page count from 1200 to 400 by removing redundant and self aggrandizing material. Retract claims that Wolfram is singlehandely going to change the course of human history

        I remember thinking along the same lines when reading the book, but planning it more concretely: literally edit it down to an ultra-compact version that contains _all_ the substance of the original, and publish it anonymously on the net. Partly just to see/demonstrate how much smaller it would be, but also to spread the interesting
    • Horn tooting (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Antiocheian (859870)
      If you know anyone tooting other people's horns, let me know.
    • Re: Wolfram (Score:3, Interesting)

      On the heels of the announcement of computer generated repetitious musical compositions, is the retirement of many minimalist composers such as phillip glass, terry riley, and mike oldfield.

      Many of you - and most everyone, I think - miss the point of Wolfram's cellular automata experiments. They are based on the observation of patterns in nature. Patterns are *everywhere* in nature, and Wolfram uses mathematical theory to create patterns, perhaps in hopes of discovering an insightful relationship between th
      • Re: Wolfram (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Frostalicious (657235)
        Many of you - and most everyone, I think - miss the point of Wolfram's cellular automata experiments. They are based on the observation of patterns in nature.

        I got that point reading ANKOS. Actually I had it smashed over my head several times per chapter. And it is interesting. My main problem with ANKOS and Wolfram is the outlandish claims, mainly that this is a "new science" and is about to change the world. ANKOS puts forward interesting ideas, but they only rise to the level of curiosities. I ca
    • Re: Wolfram (Score:5, Funny)

      by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @10:36AM (#13526221) Homepage
      He has a tendency to toot his own horn

      Well, isn't that appropriate for a music application?

  • Zamyatkin's We (Score:5, Informative)

    by silvergoose (807387) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @01:39AM (#13524936)
    Anyone else read Zamyatkin's We?

    Scary, scary idea. A paraphrase from it: 'Composition was once a sort of trance where slightly insane people wrote music down feverishly. Our way, based on mathematics, is much better. Regular, based on curves and graphs.'

    • Re:Zamyatkin's We (Score:3, Interesting)

      by starwed (735423)

      Composition was once a sort of trance where slightly insane people wrote music down feverishly

      Hmm, ever heard of counterpoint? ^_^

      Anyway, one of the merits of music lies in how it provokes reactions in us. When you look at a beautiful natural landscape, does it bother you that it wasn't generated by a concious creative process? Or do you just enjoy the beauty?

      Music generated from algorithms could ultimately be analogous. It might not be "art", but it could still be beautiful... with the beauty aris

      • Re:Zamyatkin's We (Score:3, Interesting)

        by shawb (16347)
        The sonic equivalent to the beauty of a natural landscape would be more like listening to rain or waves, many birds singning, or crickets chirping. Where you feel you can take an essentially chaotic system and find a rhythm in it. What Wolfram is doing is taking an ordered algorithm and adding a little chaos to it. While not necesarilly creating something beautiful, this program [balldroppings.com] allows you to make some sounds that sound more like the natural phenomenon. And you get to play with it visually.
    • Re:Zamyatkin's We (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MrHanky (141717) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @04:18AM (#13525359) Homepage Journal
      Sounds like something coming from a person who has never created music. It's actually a craft, and needs a certain competence. And even the ancient Greeks knew there was a relation between mathematics and music.
      • Sounds like something coming from a person who has never created music.

        Well, that was sort of the point in We. This was basically the party line, so this description of music was used for propaganda purposes.

  • by megrims (839585) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @01:42AM (#13524944)
    More unique (and irritating) ringtones!
  • Oh Boy (Score:5, Funny)

    by HTTP Error 403 403.9 (628865) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @01:45AM (#13524955)
    Kraftwerk is gonna be pissed.
  • These sound like video game stage music. Maybe it's just the MIDI. But I don't know; I could envision an RPG or Megaman or fighting game to every tone it generated. Maybe someone's job just got a lot easier.
    • The best thing about music generation software is the potential to automate. Being able to generation thousands of random tracks while you sleep must be a real plus. Like having an artist that never sleeps (or overdose). Eventually some of them would have to sound as good as Megaman tracks.

      • Eventually some of them would have to sound as good as Megaman tracks.

        I'd be impressed by that feat. I've always been really fond of the music in most Capcom games (with the notable exception of Street Fighter 3, which blows goat cheese).

        Anyway, I managed to get this thing to spew out a few really surprisingly good tunes, but just the same they would only make for a good groundwork for musical ideas. In the 30 seconds the tunes tend to last, it never really sounds like the song ever actually begins.
      • From the music I hear on radio I think that the industry already has an automatic music generator. ;)
    • Re:All right overall (Score:4, Informative)

      by earnest murderer (888716) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @02:13AM (#13525040)
      Agreed, windows ships with such a lousy synth and samples it's near impossible for midi files to sound anything like music. There are pleanty of freely available samples (ftp://ftp.lysator.liu.se/pub/awe32/soundfonts/8Re alGS20.zip [lysator.liu.se] - should help considerably) and you can find something that will improve the experience considerably.
  • New? (Score:3, Informative)

    by opencity (582224) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @01:47AM (#13524962) Homepage
    I listened to the first few and, at best, they sound like something you'd skip over on a CZ101. Perhaps I should read the hype before commenting but elevator-electronic music has been around since ... [insert Moog (RIP) ref here].

    Without anything approaching Steve Reich or any of the techno programmers of the last 20 or so years I don't see why this is interesting. They already have computers that can write music (see: Babyface)
  • Remember the fiasco over the "for dummies" trademarks?

    How long before Wolfram & Co. trademarks "A new kind of ________"?

    Stupid that such a dumb though also bears legitimacy...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 10, 2005 @01:54AM (#13524981)
    This is crap, not music. I could make better music by repeatedly smashing your face into a piano.
    • by ettlz (639203) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @03:58AM (#13525302) Journal
      Karlheinz Stockhausen has been doing that for years.
    • This is crap, not music.

      I chose "classical" selections. While listening, I imagined a kind of Turing test for them... wherein the listener is asked to identify the dead composer of each.

      I, personally, picked out a little Samuel Barber and Carl Orff. But the real test would be whether previously uninformed subjects would spontaneously unmask the computer... e.g., by declaring that "this is crap, not music".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 10, 2005 @01:54AM (#13524984)
          A doctor, an architect, and a computer scientist were arguing about
    whose profession was the oldest. In the course of their arguments, they
    got all the way back to the Garden of Eden, whereupon the doctor said, "The
    medical profession is clearly the oldest, because Eve was made from Adam's
    rib, as the story goes, and that was a simply incredible surgical feat."
            The architect did not agree. He said, "But if you look at the Garden
    itself, in the beginning there was chaos and void, and out of that the Garden
    and the world were created. So God must have been an architect."
            The computer scientist, who'd listened carefully to all of this, then
    commented, "Yes, but where do you think the chaos came from?"
  • Ah...Sorry. (Score:5, Funny)

    by joetheappleguy (865543) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @01:56AM (#13524988) Homepage
    I'm going back to the radio. I can just fire up an old Nintendo to get this kind of "music"
  • Metamath music (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ortholattice (175065) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @02:02AM (#13525002)
    Another thing to look at is Metamath music [metamath.org], which is interesting in a different way. It is the raw, unadorned piano music generated directly by mathematical proofs, very faithful to the actual mathematics.
  • It sounds like it's picking a few chords in a key, and then playing notes from them over and over in various random patterns. It's not going to sound bad, exactly, but it's not going to sound good, either. Seriously, go find a piano, and play nothing but C, G, A, and E notes. It's nothing that'll make you wince...the notes will never clash with each other, but that doesn't make it pleasant music.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    If Wolfram's confection is indeed an experiment, then it ought to have a falsifiable hypothesis.
    Show us the evidence that Wolfram's concoction involves any kind of "experiment."

    Crackpots have been churning out music using mathematics for well over 50 years -- but none of this can be described as any kind of "science" or any sort of "experiment." Science involves falsifiable hypotheses...generating music with math involves touchy-feely squishy fuzzy "I like it" or "I don't like it" unfalsifiable subjective
    • If Wolfram's confection is indeed an experiment, then it ought to have a falsifiable hypothesis.

      So basically, you are looking for something like this?

      Hypothesis: you know what the word "experiment" means.

      Experiment to test hypothesis: read your post.

      Result: hypothesis falsified.

      Conclusion: you do not know what the word "experiment" means.

  • My poor ears (Score:2, Interesting)

    by VGPowerlord (621254)
    My poor ears made me close the browser tab after testing a few different styles.

    It sounds like the program generates each instrument's part separately, then juxtapositions them with no consideration for how they'd sound together.

    This is something a human composer would catch, but a program generally doesn't.

  • Not music (Score:5, Informative)

    by delta_avi_delta (813412) <dave.murphy@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Saturday September 10, 2005 @02:10AM (#13525033)
    When it comes down to it, this is a way of interpretting a psuedeo random series of dots in a grid. Saying it's a "new kind of music" is a bit misleading - There's no flow, no beginning, no middle, no end. It's a new way of randomly generating midi note events within certain constraints.
    • I agree and disagree with you: it's not music (or art) becuase it has no emotion. The structure and form is irrelevant.
    • Oh it's a new kind of music alright. More specifically it's a new kind of crappy music.
    • Re:Not music (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tom's a-cold (253195)

      When it comes down to it, this is a way of interpretting a psuedeo random series of dots in a grid. Saying it's a "new kind of music" is a bit misleading - There's no flow, no beginning, no middle, no end. It's a new way of randomly generating midi note events within certain constraints.

      I agree that it's uninteresting.

      I've been using constrained random processes to compose music since 1978, and even then I wasn't the first: Iannis Xenakis was doing it before I was even born. The lack of "beginning, midd

  • Aargh! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AccUser (191555)
    Someone has discovered a unlimited source of muzak [google.com]! I can sense hordes of senseless HomePage Hobbiests(TM) reaching for their editors...
  • by deft (253558) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @02:22AM (#13525058) Homepage
    Yeah, thats right, I'm creating a bot to click every button, and taking each output, emailing it to myself, and copyrighting it.

    I figure in a year or so I should have just about everything either copywritten, or at least something close enough I can sue everyone.

    I'm also working at buying the rights to the word "stealth".
  • Brian Eno & Koan (Score:3, Interesting)

    by doublestar (913810) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @02:22AM (#13525062)
    Anyone remember the work that Eno had done with algorithmic/self generative music and the 'koan' program he co-developed?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    When I see stuff like this, I'm reminded of a bit from How to Play the Piano Despite Years of Lessons [amazon.com], on the opening section on myths about music:
    • Harmony is very mathematical
      Yes, that public belief is true. In order to understand harmony, you must be able to count to twelve. You can perform a scientific experiment at home to determine whether you have the necessary mathematical ability. Just look at a clock or a wrist watch. Can you tell what time it is? If not, then wait for the sequel to this book: How
    • Music composition has very little to do with mathematics, and much more to do with patterns.

      Ummm...and painting has very little to do with light, and much more to do with color.

      And poetry has very little to do with words, and much more to do with language.

  • ... but little else. I listened to a few on the website, and it's way too random for casual listening. From a geek perspective, it's still interesting, but as a music lover, I'm generally not going to listen to something that sounds surprisingly similar to the output of a loop playing random musical notes via the PC speaker. As game music, however, it might be ok... especially for small-scale projects where a talented composer just isn't available. A bit of randomness might make things interesting in th
  • I remember an early amiga program which generated music and had this sort of graphical display - lines, blocks etc.

    I think it was "Instant Music" from Electronic arts, but I can't be sure. I'd have to go into my attic to find the disk... and the Amiga.

    Ok, the algorithm might me more sophisticated to generate something less apparently random noise, but I wouldn't rush out to buy the "music" it generates.

  • This generator concept seems superficially interesting, but lacking in any real depth. I think there is far less going on here than Wolfram implies.

    Exactly like A New Kind Of Science actually.
  • I couldn't tell the difference between this, and "real" hip-hop.

    The other genres sounded just like some random notes selected from a predefined list to keep the composition in tune.

    My conclusion is, that this is how that hippety-hop music is actually created.

    My name shall from now on be "Big Gangsta Al". Stay tuned for my new album.
  • Prior art? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Google85 (797021)
    From "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" By "Douglas Adams" (Talking About a Financial
    spreadsheet program for the Mac) :
    'You see, any aspect of a piece of music can be expressed as a sequence or pattern of numbers,'
    enthused Richard. 'Numbers can express the pitch of notes, the length of notes, patterns of pitches and
    lengths.'
    'You mean tunes,' said Reg. The carrot had not moved yet.
    Richard grinned.
    'Tunes would be a very good word for it. I must remember that.'
    'It would help you speak more easily.' Reg
    • Those ideas have been around for a while, and I think they came about by quite a few people concurrently, thankfully before patents were crazy. See the fantastic program Max/MSP (or its cousin PureData, aka PD) for what is perhaps the best implementation of this idea... pure streams of numbers, attachable to music-related inputs and outputs, in realtime if you like.

      Computational music like this has been around since the 80s. This implementation isn't particularly unique... the internet just hasn't seen
  • Way back in the days of type-your-code-in-from-a-magazine-listing, I remember someone publishing a set of programs for the Commodore 64 and VIC-20 that generated music in the style of Mozart using a database of chords and notes based on an analysis of Mozart's compositions. As I recall the music was very good.
  • Hmm... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Zx-man (759966)
    Mix this with some computer generated lyrics [google.com], a text-to-speech [google.com] system, and go rock the Top 100's!
    • Mix this with some computer generated lyrics, a text-to-speech system, and go rock the Top 100's!

      If Daft Punk can do it, why not?

    • Mix this with...

      Forget the text-to-speech system! Just add a drum track and the vocal interpretations of William Shatner! Shake yer booty!

  • Missed Opportunity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EEBaum (520514) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @03:43AM (#13525265) Homepage
    Judging by the "How WolframTones Works" page...

    I saw a paper on exactly this a few years ago (perhaps written by these people?). I was particuarly disappointed in the uncreative approach to attaching it to music. Completely one-dimensional, based on a single pattern rule, using the results as a simple piano roll. In this particular example, it seems the programmer has inserted a few generic style and rhythm rules as well. Cute.

    If the computation could generate anything more than a bunch of undirected pitches, I might be impressed. Perhaps have variables that can trigger harmonic shifts, considerations of form, independent patterns, definitions of rules for the next 10 seconds for an evolving pattern... SOMETHING more innovative than using it as a piano roll.

    It's also disappointing that the score just takes a snippet of the whole pattern and truncates the rest. Some border rule treatment could have added to it.

    Hopefully, this will be only the beginning of a much more interesting project. If this is the final result, my fascination has ended.
    • I think if you study music enough to actually appreciate it you come to understand that automating the process of creating music would just cheapen it - especially if your motivation is commercial.
  • I listened to some, and thought how much it seemed like this extract from George Orwell's '1984':

    "It was only an 'opeless fancy.
    It passed like an Ipril dye,
    But a look an' a word an' the dreams they stirred!
    They 'ave stolen my 'eart awye!

    The tune had been haunting London for weeks past. It was one of countless similar songs published for the benefit of the proles by a sub-section of the Music Department. The words of these songs were composed without any human intervention whatever on an instrumen

  • I guess a new specialty in the public relations field must be emerging - PR types capable of hyping up someone's book or product (like that keyboard) by getting it posted on Slashdot.
  • by d474 (695126)
    Are we sure they aren't using this to torture detainees at Guantanamo?
     
    If I had to listen to this random assortment of midi tones for hours on end I'd confess to anything!
  • If you RTFA and delve into the site a bit you find some of the "science" behind the music which is kind of interesting.

    How does one take a pattern generated by a cellular automaton, and render it as music? The key idea of WolframTones is to take a swath through the pattern and tip it on its side, and treat it as a musical score Once the cellular automaton pattern has been "tipped on its side" so that time runs across the page, the height of each black square is related to the pitch of a corresponding note.

  • by gabba_gabba_hey (309551) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @06:20AM (#13525558)
    But I liked this [cornell.edu] better :)

  • It'll never be popular.
  • this is something a number of good bands in the IDM field have already been experimenting with. in particular a few on Warp Records such as Autechre and Boards of Canada are well-known for this kind of thing.

    Unfortunately I can't find any specific details of what they use algorithmically, I don't think they've disclosed that. However, the music is great so check it out :)
  • Personally, I wasn't impressed with the sounds generated. It sounded too much like midi files of which can be generated by many programs, like SimTunes and Hyperscore [hyperscore.com].

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