Two indispensable contributors to CTM 2018’s focus on the cross-pollination of artificial intelligence and music, enabled through the support of the Federal Cultural Foundation of Germany, are the American experimental music innovators George Lewis and Roscoe Mitchell.
Both are long-term activists for the visibility of African-American composers, leaving their indelible marks through visionary work with ‘non-musical’ noise and computers. As members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), their approach centers on economic and musical collectivity, a hybrid composition-improvisation aesthetic, methodological diversity, and freedom of cultural reference. Lewis’ interactive computer system, Voyager, which was one of the earliest strides in the development of a real-time relationship between a music-making machine intelligence and human musicians, enables improvisational, non-hierarchical communication between computer and artist. The system was conceived in the 1980s based on mathematical models that today have become widespread in AI technology. However, its approach to exchanging musical and emotional currents through machine interaction remains, even today, exceptional: “Instead of a virtuality that attempts to hegemonize the physical, the goal is one where virtuality and physicality interact to produce a hybrid that strengthens on a human scale” (Lewis). In this special concert, Lewis and Mitchell rekindle their ongoing collaboration in a group improvisation together with Voyager.
Marcus Schmickler and Julian Rohrhuber explore the Mind Reader, an invention that helped lay the foundation for machine learning in the midst of the Cold War, and that also had a wide reception in psychoanalysis and media theory by way of Jacques Lacan. Invented in the 1950s by Claude Shannon, the Mind Reader was inspired by game theory, American Romantic literature, and Shannon’s belief that people are not a good source of random behaviour. The machine plays an “odds and evens” game with a human player, refining its guess about the opponent’s next move with each new round. In their project, Rohrhuber and Schmickler sound out the peculiar setup that allows such an extremely simple mechanism to outwit us all. What seemed like a mere zero-sum game might turn out to have been a conversation of a different kind all along.
Funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation.
Julian Rohrhuber is a professor of music informatics and media theory. A co-developer of open-source programming language SuperCollider, he also programs algorithms for sound synthesis in artistic and scientific projects.
The Chicago-born multi-instrumentalist Roscoe Mitchell was a founder of the influential Art Ensemble of Chicago and one of the first members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. His name is among the most legendary in avant-garde jazz, free jazz, and contemporary music.
Cologne-based multifaceted composer and producer Marcus Schmickler’s interests revolve around the brain and its adaptation to multiple auditory stimuli. From explorations of difference tones to stimulations of otoacoustic emissions produced by the cochlea, Schmickler’s work exists in the liaison between performance and science.
George Lewis is Professor of American Music at Columbia University, and Area Chair in Composition. A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, Lewis’s other honors include a MacArthur Fellowship (2002) and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2015).