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Math Media Music

An Experiment in A New Kind of Music 282

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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  • Metamath music (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ortholattice ( 175065 ) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @03:02AM (#13525002)
    Another thing to look at is Metamath music [], 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.
  • My poor ears (Score:2, Interesting)

    by VGPowerlord ( 621254 ) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @03:08AM (#13525027)
    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.

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

    by starwed ( 735423 ) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @03:08AM (#13525029)

    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 arising from the same simple, natural, relationships which underly a lot of how the world works.

  • Brian Eno & Koan (Score:3, Interesting)

    by doublestar ( 913810 ) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @03:22AM (#13525062)
    Anyone remember the work that Eno had done with algorithmic/self generative music and the 'koan' program he co-developed?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 10, 2005 @03:26AM (#13525073)
    When I see stuff like this, I'm reminded of a bit from How to Play the Piano Despite Years of Lessons [], 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 To Tell Time From A Clock and Wristwatch.
    Music composition has very little to do with mathematics, and much more to do with patterns. One of the most basic things we do is find patterns in things - even where none exists. Witness the many people playing lottery games who are convinced they've found some "hidden" pattern.

    Melody is guided by harmonic relationships based on the harmonic series. But a much stronger element is how our short-term memory is limited to being able to only a handful of elements.

    Most music (especially pop) plays into this, creating very symetric call and response style phrases based on repeating patterns that make it very easy to code into familiar structures and ideas.

    The beauty of this (from an algorithmic composition perspective) is that as long at there's an underlying beat and a hint of periodicity, we'll find "meaningful" patterns in even the most mediocre of music - including computer generated music.

    Mathematical approaches are a fun diversion, but pretty much a dead end. Check out the work of David Cope [] for pattern-based computer composition that actually sounds like music.

  • by Traf-O-Data-Hater ( 858971 ) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @04:45AM (#13525271)
    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 instrument known as a versificator. But the woman sang so tunefully as to turn the dreadful rubbish into an almost pleasant sound. He could hear the woman singing and the scrape of her shoes on the flagstones, and the cries of the children in the street, and somewhere in the far distance a faint roar of traffic, and yet the room seemed curiously silent, thanks to the absence of a telescreen."

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

    by shawb ( 16347 ) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @06:19AM (#13525470)
    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 [] allows you to make some sounds that sound more like the natural phenomenon. And you get to play with it visually.
  • by nagora ( 177841 ) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @07:24AM (#13525568)
    how would you describe "music" then?

    Music is not something that can be defined in language. That is the trick that Cage pulled with this so-called piece. By drawing foolish critics into trying to say why it wasn't music he was able to side-step them because it can't be done in language. When they failed to define music, or why his childish prank was not music, his supporters then proclaimed that it must therefore be music, handily ignoring the fact that they would be unable to meet the same challenge and define why it was (other than resorting to "because a musician we like said it was").

    It's rather like asking someone to define colour and when they fail, as they must, say that therefore "teapot" is a valid colour, indeed that the boundaries of colour have been pushed back by their bold assertion that "teapot" is in fact a valid colour.

    If asked why teapot is not a colour, my answer is "don't be a fuckwit", not a deep discussion of wavelengths and cones, or somesuch, just as when asked if Cage's 4'33" (or whatever it was called) is music my answer is "don't be a twat" rather than a deep discussion of wavelenghs, tone, and harmony.

    Put another way: I can show you some music and I can show you some things which are not music, but I can not hope, within the limitations of language, to ever capture the subtlties of the subject in an iron-clad and legalistic definition. Asking me to simply shows the bankruptcy of your philosophy and reveals it to be based on nothing more than the sort of semantic buffoonary characteristic of minds which stopped developing around the time their owners' first zits arrived.


  • Re: Wolfram (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Antonymous Flower ( 848759 ) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @09:02AM (#13525798) Homepage
    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 theory and the patterns. It is pretty hardcore stuff - even for scientists - due to its completely abstract nature.

    Wolfram does tend to abstain from modesty, but perhaps it is because modesty means little when there is so much to be discovered. Perhaps most of what he has built has come from the ground up, without hours spent reading past research. I doubt his work in cellular automata stemmed from music, rather his thoughts spread to music after much work on cellular automata..
  • by SlowOnTheUptake ( 913845 ) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @11:47AM (#13526261)
    My emotional reaction to the tunes produced by Wolfram's generator is that this is clearly un-musical - sort of an anti-music. As you say, it might be for reasons which can not be captured in language, but the personal experience is just as clear as it could be. On the other hand, some listeners might well perceive this as music although "confuse this with music" seems more appropriate because I think the resemblance is pretty superficial.

    This did however suggest a little variation on the celebrated Turing test. Suppose you had two hidden sources of 'music' , one a human synthesizer operator and the other a contrivance like the one on Wolfram's web site. Would it be possible for the human to produce patterns like this which would make his compositions indistinguishable from those produced by the machine? In other words, could a human musician produce long sequences of notes like this without adding in that perceptible "musical" quality (assuming that there is such a thing)?
  • Re: Wolfram (Score:3, Interesting)

    by poopdeville ( 841677 ) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @02:09PM (#13526831) [] []

    All Stephen Wolfram did was compile 20 years of research in information theory, emergent systems, and the like, and call it a "New Kind of Science" and claim it as his own. There's a scathing letter from someone at the Santa Fe Institute documenting every claim Wolfram calls his own and a corresponding paper from the Institute published years before NKoS. There are tons of these.

    Wolfram is a genius, but NKoS is no evidence of that fact.

  • Re:Not music (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tom's a-cold ( 253195 ) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @02:16PM (#13526857) Homepage
    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, middle and end" is irrelevant to whether it's music or not, that's just your idea of what music should be. Resolution doesn't need to be part of it. There are a number of traditional forms of music that don't resolve either. Anyway, with appropriate constraints it's possible to do algorithmic composition that does give a feeling of resolution. And from my own point of view, I'm not doing constrained stochastic composition to pass a Turing test. I'm using it as one compositional technique among many. It can yield emergent patterns that are nearly as interesting as, but different from, live performance or human composition.

    Wolfram's music is similar to his work with cellular automata: obliviousness to prior, better work in the field, combined with a peculiar belief that his rather limited noodling is the Theory of Everything rather than a modeling technique that, like any good modeling technique, can be refined to approximate many interesting things.

    The problem with some clever people is that they think everyone else are idiots.

  • by eh2o ( 471262 ) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @06:17PM (#13528160)
    also; most other forms of art can be explained in roughly the same terms, with some variation on the definiton of #1 (e.g., two dimensional spatial organization of matter == painting). due to the enormous amount of effort it takes to master pts 2 and 3 within a given mode of expression (pt 1), it is necessary for artists to specialize in a fairly narrow set of forms.

    scientific domains, engineering (production of goods/services etc), advertising, politics, programming etc are distinct from art forms in that their product in terms of cognitive availability/influence (or physical availability/function) is constrained to fit within a certain form -- respectively, information derived from repeatable initial conditions, a fintely defined product or service that meets a requirement, stimulation of a compulsion to participate in the economy, influence on morals, functionality etc. some forms fall into multiple categories (e.g. industrial design, mainstream pop music, political art, perl poetry, etc...). the reason art is interesting is that it is underconstrained -- it resonates with or stimulates consciousness (i.e., roughly, free will).
  • Re: Wolfram (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Frostalicious ( 657235 ) on Saturday September 10, 2005 @07:05PM (#13528407) Journal
    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 can't predict nature with CA. I can't calculate a trajectory for mars orbit insertion with CA. ANKOS is even weak on where this line of research should progress to. CA patterns are interesting, and the fact that they mimick patterns in nature is interesting. But then what? CA may change the world, but ANKOS is a trivial step towards that future.
  • Re: Wolfram (Score:3, Interesting)

    by famebait ( 450028 ) on Sunday September 11, 2005 @07:55AM (#13530777)
    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 parts to people who wouldn't stand wading through all the opinionated and self-aggrandizing dreck in it.

    Disclaimer: I think some of the grander ideas in it do have some revolutionising potential in several fields, but the crackpot wrapping doesn't exactly help it get anywhere.

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