Today's post is by FMC intern Peter Haugen, who has a penetrating mind for all manner of speculative musical phenomenon!
It's Friday! Can't think of a better time to speculate on the future of. . . you guessed it.
While flying cars and jetpacks have yet to become a practical reality (but let's not give up hope!), a recent YouTube video serves as a reminder that, musically speaking, the future is closer than we think. If you haven't seen this video yet, try listening to the first two minutes with your eyes closed.
OK, from a sonic standpoint there is nothing particularly revolutionary about it: a piano with some violin accompaniment. Then you open your eyes to see there is no one sitting behind the piano! Duped! Of course, player pianos date back to the late 19th century, but no one would ever confuse a piano roll with actual playing by Rachmaninoff. That is, until Zenph Sound Innovations came along and found a technological way to mimic the performance dynamics of this late maestro.
You gotta wonder far can this technology be taken.
According to WIRED's Eliot Van Buskirk, as far as our musical imagination can go. In his article "Virtual Musicians, Real Performances: How Artificial Intelligence Will Change Music," Buskirk imagines one possible development might be a computer that could reproduce the compositional "style" of any given tunesmith. Not just the notes, mind you, but the unique technique and approach that made a particular composer stand out from the pack.
Time will tell whether or not this is possible — it seems much more sophisticated than, say, a computer beating someone at chess. Still, if nothing else, the concept alone gets the mind racing. Imagine the jam sessions you could assemble in the privacy of your basement: Jimi Hendrix with John Coltrane backed by John Bonham with arrangements by BÃ©la BartÃ³k sounds perfectly awesome.
Yet as Buskirk points out, the legal implications of such a technology — especially from an intellectual property standpoint — are staggering. "If Zenph and other companies succeed in their quest to create virtual music personalities," Buskirk states, "the market will likely create licensing mechanisms that allow a wide range of artists and labels to license their personalities to interactive music formats."
License their "personalities?" Wow. Let's take a quick moment to consider some (just some) of the ramifications. What happens, for instance, if you happen to be jamming in the garage with Lennon's "personality" and together you create one of the great recordings of the decade? Do you share songwriting credit with your computer, or the Lennon estate? And if you get paid for said recording, how is the distribution of monies facilitated? Maybe you just swipe your credit card on the side of the monitor. Stranger still, could you form a band with the "personality" and hit the road? And if your musical "partners" really do retain the "personality" of the original artists, how can you avoid in-fighting with your digital band? Wouldn't want to be the one that has to kick out John Bonham — even virtual John Bonham.
Of course, at this point all it is mere speculation. But for those of you (like myself) who remember the days of cassette tapes and boomboxes (and who are still completely blown away by the idea of a streaming music service), the fact that people are talking about these things on a serious level should make us realize that music has many possible futures, and some are already knocking at the door. Do we answer?