In the universe in which we live, Beethoven composed nine symphonies, in the parallel one of Beethoven Thus, with a leap between universes, the Italian Tech Week will open on September 27th in Turin. The Youth Orchestra of the Arsenale della Pace del Sermig of Turin will take to the OGR stage, directed by Mauro Tabasso, to perform the Italian premiere of some pieces from Tenth Symphony by the German composer, completed by artificial intelligence.
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The person responsible for the project is Matthias Röder, director of the Karajan Institute in Salzburg: “Beethoven left us some fragments, small melodic sketches. We trained an AI on his works, then fed the machine these sketches and asked it to develop them into a coherent form. A bit like what happens when you give input to ChatGPT and ask it to write a text in the same style. Several possible continuations emerged, then a team of expert composers, music theorists and academics decided which parts to use in the final piece. In the end the AI created everything, but a team of human experts assembled the final two movements like a collage.”
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About 25 minutes, obtained from about forty sketches and notes, none of which exceeds 30 bars: “We wanted to go further, we didn’t want to create music from nothing, but to base everything on the sketches he had written. So the Tithe it is not a symphony with the usual three or four movements: it only has two, but Beethoven, towards the end of his life, no longer composed in traditional formats, so it cannot be ruled out that he would have used such a solution”.
What does this work add to the Bonn composer’s corpus? “In his last years Beethoven thought of a work very different from Ninth Symphony which he just finished. He focuses on spiritual topics, on the idea of God: after years of revolution he returns to consider more classic forms, albeit reworked. In this sense, the Tithe adds a lot to the canon.” And in fact there is no shortage of surprises: “Beethoven never composed for the organ, but he said on some occasions that he had always intended to do so. In the notes relating to the Tenth he talks about spirituality, about a choral melody, so the choice was between the organ or a choir. Which, however, was already there Nonaso we thought about the organ: it was our choice, not something Beethoven specifically decided.”
If generative artificial intelligence is in reality an inscrutable combinatorial machine, this does not mean that the results cannot have a value in themselves: “In our project we used four different AIs, and one is dedicated to orchestration: it analyzes the score and decides which instrument plays which note. It gave us some really interesting ideas, things that Beethoven could have done, but never actually did,” says Röder. “I know the limitations of these systems, but I believe they can still create something new. On the other hand part, we also do the same: we try to innovate by taking existing material, studying variations, combining things together for the first time that are already known. We tried to create a tool that people can use, we didn’t want to replace the human being in equation, never thought of saying that “now Beethoven is enclosed in this AI”. It’s just a tool that people can use to work with Beethoven’s compositional style. Just like Robbie Williams did.” The short circuit between high and popular music it is total and definitive: “He asked us to work with our AI to redo one of his songs”. It is the one that closes the de luxe version of his collection XXVreleased last year, and is perhaps the most famous song by the former Take That: “We took a melody by Beethoven and asked the artificial intelligence to combine it with the notes of Angels: it’s pop but has an epic feel.”
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The uses of artificial intelligence in the world of pop are already numerous, from Sinatra singing Radiohead to Drake and The Weeknd’s song invented by cloning their voices. “I think at this stage we should be very open to experimentation. But we should also respect the copyright of artists and make sure that when we create something from their intellectual property, we pay them accordingly and fairly, respecting their style, and their personality.” But it is not just an economic question, there is also an ethical aspect: for the Tithe there are fragments and evidence that Beethoven was really working on it, but if anyone wanted to imagine a Eleventh Symphony with the help of AI? “For me the question is also understanding what is interesting and what is not. Personally I wouldn’t be interested in such a project. Our aim is to create instruments that give more strength to musicians, that create new art forms, that allow us to push the threshold of what is possible today a little further”, explains Röder. At the risk, precisely of creating a universe where Beethoven wrote ten symphonies and John Lennon returned to record a song with the Beatles eight years after they broke up: it’s called Now and Then and will be released in a few months. “These historical inconsistencies surprise us because before, as human beings, we could not create them. Now we have factual, historical fiction, and science fiction. We will need to ensure that we can distinguish historical reality from invention, but above all prepare ourselves for the fact that the way we create and perceive art will radically change.”
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