EMI: Enter Music Interruptions

David Cope’s EMI, discussed in the previous post, is illustrative of a compositional program within a vacuum. It is functional with utmost precision that goes off without a hitch. Computer programs nevertheless do not deal with the variables we do. Even the ivory tower of composition is a part of the world, it is not up in the clouds. There is corrosion, a canon ball might level it, and the tower could be sold with one’s knowledge (most likely because composition did not pay that month’s rent). So many factors are out of our control that in turn affect the factors of the compositional program within a musician’s head.

Beethoven stands out as such an example. Alexander von Oulibichoff noted that, later in his life,”Beethoven took a living to uneuphonious dissonances because his hearing was limited and confused. Accumulations of notes of the most monstrous kind sounded in his head as acceptable and well-balanced combinations”. What we have here is something beyond feeding the machine with more music. These are bugs and glitches within the system.

If Beethoven was EMI, who knows if the notes he chose for the Grosse Fugue would have been the same had variables like loss of hearing not come into the fold. For that matter, we do not know if the Grosse Fugue would have been written at all.

Not all of these glitches are terrible either. Some glitches, especially in video games, can make one achieve things unexpected previously. Tia DeNora writes about how the music world Beethoven found himself in with Vienna lead to avenues and works that were not possible without, say, wealthy patrons or pianofortes that could take the heft Beethoven needed. All of that and more Beethoven bumped into and all of that and more turned the gears of the compositional program in his own head.

So, if music making was not complicated enough, interruptions enter the fold. Daniel C. Dennett, whose own work lead me on to Cope’s EMI, references Douglas Hofstadter when writing about these sort of interruptions within evolution. One of the words he uses is Hofstadter’s: spontaneous intrusions.

Dennett mentions that “[i]n the real world, almost everything that happens leaves a wake, makes shadows, has an aroma, makes noise, and this provides a bounty of opportunities for spontaneous intrustions…[E]volution by natural selection feeds on noise, turning fortuitously encountered noise into signal, junk into tools, bugs into features”.

All of the noise and junk and bugs, all of the spontaneous intrusions only make musical composition that more complicated. It also makes it that much more of a wonder that, out of the process, we are left with pieces like the Grosse Fugue to take in.


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