I am Beethoven

17. January 2020, MAXFIVE

Für Elise as the ring tone on your phone, the Moonlight Sonata in the background at the hotel bar and the traditional performance of the Ninth Symphony on New Year’s Eve. Ludwig van Beethoven’s music continues to stand the test of time. Everyone knows the famous Da-Da-Da Daaaa opening to his Fifth Symphony, even if they don’t know much else about classical music.


Artificial Intelligence

Unfortunately, the great composer did not live long enough to complete his Tenth Symphony – famously earning it the title of The Unfinished Symphony. But that is all set to change in 2020, the year that marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, thanks to a special algorithm and artificial intelligence. Deep learning is the watchword for this particular project. The scientists and researchers involved in completing Beethoven’s Tenth started out by feeding their AI with masses of material to help it learn how the great man himself and other composers of his day composed their music. This is how the AI pinpoints recurring patterns and – like the neurological network in the brain – builds new pathways of its own. The process is similar to the way that a musician in a studio eventually stumbles upon the perfect melody.

“We are training the artificial intelligence with works written by Ludwig van Beethoven himself, as well as pieces written by contemporaries known to him in his day. The process teaches Ludwig van Beethoven’s unique compositional style to this artificial neurological network.” Matthias Röder, head of the Beethoven’s Tenth project.

Music experts – and a number of musicians for that matter – have long since stopped seeing this type of software as a threat to the music industry. Back in 2017, the American singer Taryn Southern let artificial intelligence compose and produce her album “I am AI” from start to finish. But that wasn’t AI’s first foray into the music business. Rather than seeing automation as a threat, Southern sees it as an opportunity: particularly as music creators  tend to spend a great deal of time on tedious repetitive tasks. Just as computers are already taking care of many of these tasks, AI could also be used to open up new possibilities and processes, while providing a way for new forms of creativity to blossom. What’s abundantly clear is that AI is definitely paving the way for greater experimentation.

The composer Drew Silverstein who co-developed the Amper Music software suite sees things in a similar vein: “We don’t see it as a replacement for music and creativity, but as a tool for enhancing collaboration, one which enables anyone to create unique professional-quality music.” The idea is to give anyone the best means to express their ideas through music – or finish them off, which Beethoven was unable to do.

The finished Tenth Symphony can be heard for the first time on 28 April in Bonn, the city of the composer’s birth. It will be performed by a full orchestra. Incidentally, the project was initiated by Deutsche Telekom. Whether you see it as a stroke of genius or a marketing ploy, there’s no denying that the project sounds interesting.

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