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How a Computer Program Became Classical Music's Hot, New Composer


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David Cope holds a laptop

David Cope, professor of music emeritus at the University of California-Santa Cruz, holds a laptop in his home office with a musical score composed by his computer program, which he calls 'Emily Howell.'

Credit: Tony Avelar / The Christian Science Monitor

University of California, Santa Cruz professor David Cope has developed Emily Howell, a music-composing program that generates its own compositions by following musical rules that Cope has taught it. The program is only fed music composed by an earlier program of Cope's, Experiments in Musical Intelligence.

Critics say that Emily's music, while impressive, lacks the ability to trigger emotional reactions in listeners. A 2008 University of Essex study determined that the human brain has a stronger emotional reaction to music played by humans than by machines, even when the listener does not know the source of a performance.

Cope says that Emily and other programs capable of artistic creation offer an opportunity for collaboration with human artists, rather than replacing them. "Computers are there [for us] to extend ourselves through them," he says. "It seems so utterly natural to me. It's not like I taught a rock to compose music."

From The Christian Science Monitor
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