Archive for 'Artificial Intelligence / Simulation'

Interview with Andrew Foust, Composer of Thought Sounds 2: Focus

Andrew kindly took the time to talk with me about what inspired him to become a composer, and the challenges and process involved in the massive task of creating Thought Sounds 2: Focus. Enjoy!

Q: What’s your background and history with music, and what made you want to get involved in composing?

Andrew: I started playing guitar when I was 15, playing in all sorts of bands in high school. After graduating I attended the Atlanta Institute of Music where I studied Jazz Performance and Music Theory. While in Atlanta I purchased my first synthesizer (a Yamaha V-50). Given this was 1990 the sound choices on the keyboard were limited, so I became very skilled at programming my own sounds and along the way realized that what I was really after was composition. Around the same time I heard the James Horner’s score for Star Trek II, and I knew immediately I wanted to be a film composer. Later I studied Music Composition at the University of South Carolina. Since then I’ve worked tirelessly to build my studio and master my craft. I’ve written for independent films, advertising, theater, multimedia, as well as extensively licensing my music.

Q: How did you approach writing music for the specific purpose of helping listeners to focus? From a composing standpoint, what did you feel needed to happen in the pieces, or not happen, to meet the goals of this collection?

Andrew: Well it was a bit of a challenge at first, but once I had a few pieces under my belt it started making sense. To start there were the basic restrictions of little to no percussion and the need for a constant bed of music at all times. Initially I wasn’t concerned with this, but I quickly realized how creative I had to be to write completely without percussion. I write a good deal of orchestral music, so I basically had to approach all of the styles like I would an orchestral piece. Also, instead of having non-pitched percussion I would try to achieve the same movement using instruments with stronger attacks [Ed. “attack” in music refers to how quickly a note reaches full volume, or how strongly a note is struck]. Putting aside the instrumentation, the most helpful process for me was to write a piece of music and then put it on a loop while I did other work. That way I could get a much better feel of how well it helped me focus, or if parts were distracting. In the beginning I made more revisions but as I went along the original versions were a lot closer.

Q: Aside from the minimal percussion requirement, did any other goal or restriction of the project present a significant challenge? How did you adapt?

Andrew: I would say one of the more difficult restrictions was to keep the dynamic changes minimal and fluid. Sometimes having those big changes are what really keeps the listener interested in the music, so without that I needed to come up with other ways to renew interest mid-track. I was always in a push and pull between providing enough repetition to allow the listener to sink into the music and keeping the music from getting stale over such a long run time.

Q: There’s an incredible variety of styles, instruments, techniques used in these pieces- how did you get the inspiration to push these tracks into so many different places, and what was that writing process like?

Andrew: Well, the very fact that there are so many styles helped greatly in keeping things fresh. I would jump around between styles constantly, so I wouldn’t settle into any particular process at any time. I tend to write a lot of music anyway so I have developed techniques for myself to force me to look in new directions. Sometimes I’ll even assign pitches of a certain key to numbers on a pair of dice and give them a few rolls to come up with a sequence of pitches. I can pretty much take any set of notes and build it into a successful piece of music. It’s a good way to avoid repeating something you’ve heard before or falling into predictable patterns.

Q: How does your composing process begin? Does it start with a melody or concept in your head, playing around with a given instrument, or with music theory? Maybe a combination of the above?

Andrew: Yes, it happens in all of those ways. In the past I have usually come at a new piece more from the perspective of the orchestration or general sound of the instruments rather than from a harmonic base. I have found for myself, however, that the best pieces usually start with defining the chord progressions for the entire piece up front. After that, I write my melodies and counter melodies. Once the harmonic step is done I can take it in any direction I choose through instrumentation, orchestration, tempo, etc. But sometimes this approach just doesn’t work for a certain type of piece that is more about creating a certain feel, or if I simply get inspired by a sound or rhythm.

Q: Do you have any favorite tracks from the collection?

Andrew: Sure. Here are some I personally enjoy either from my experience composing them, or simply because I like listening to them. I am really happy with all of the tracks, but especially so for the orchestral pieces.

Ambient: Tracks 3, 5 var, 8 var

Electronic: Tracks 1, 2, 4 var, 8 var,

Guitar: Tracks 1, 4, 6, 10

Hybrid: Tracks 5, 9 var, 10 var

Orchestral: Tracks 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11

Piano: Tracks 1, 1 var, 3, 4 var, 5, 6,

World: Tracks 1, 2, 3, 4


My thanks again to Andrew! And if you haven’t done so already, visit the Thought Sounds 2: Focus home page to learn more about this incredible new collection!

Gamma Synchrony and consciousness

Stuart Hameroff talks about the definition of consciousness, relating to gamma  synchrony, EEG spikes, quantum computing and other hot topics in the study of conscious experience.

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Brain Art, and art generated by Neural Networks and simulated cells

The brain is one of the most enigmatic and mysterious objects in the known universe. It is an organ of thought, abstraction and the subjective experience. It talks to itself, and influences itself. It alters the world and the environment, while constantly adapting to change. It is the seat of identity, emotion, memory and, some would say, the soul.

So, it is not surprising that artists find such inspiration in our gray, 3 pound friend. What could make a better artistic subject: it won’t fidget, and everyone has intimate experience with it.

PsicoCafé has compiled a large number of brain-related pictures into a gallery on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/27109911@N00/

Here are some of my favorites:

 

On the subject of brain art, Jonathan McCabe, an engineer and digital artist, has been exploring the use of neural networks and other computer simulations to generate art. This has produced some absolutely fascinating works.

A neural network is kind of a small, virtual brain. Here is how McCabe explains it:

Each image is essentially a visualisation of the output state of a small neural network. The X and Y coordinates correspond to two variables in the connections of the network; the colour of the pixel at that point is a representation of the network’s behaviour for those parameters. So the image is a map of system states; coherent colours show areas of relative stability or gradual change; edges show sharp jumps in the output; marbled swirls show complex oscillations.

This is the result of one network, which McCabe calls “Nervous States”:

McCabe has also engineered a virtual network of cells to do the same. Notice how organic the results look, as if it were taken from an actual microscope:

 

Music-induced schizophrenia, the neurology of sound and a kind of musical Turing Test

A fascinating show from New York Public Radio delves into some fundamental questions about music, through the lens of neurology. How does it differ from language? What makes music pleasant or unpleasant? How are auditory illusions formed in the brain? And, possibly the most important question – how is sound associated with emotions?

In my previous post I mentioned Schizophrenia. Well in this show it is theorized that a piece of music in the early 1900’s actually caused an audience to become temporarily schizophrenic. The music was so dissonant, unexpected and unfamiliar that it caused a flood of dopamine (linked to schizophrenia) – after which, of course, they rioted!

Also featured is a computer program that is used to capture the patterns of musical composers to create entirely original music along the same vein. It is so good that it can apparently fool even the experts into thinking new music from long dead composers had been discovered. A number of selections were played, patterned from musicians I’m familiar with – and I must say, I was blown away.

The pattern-based computer program is particularly interesting to me. I wonder how long it will be before a program is able to emulate a well known personality. Say, a public figure, whose numerous speeches, interviews, writing and appearances can be analyzed for patterns, such that we could resurrect, in a fashion, long dead personalities. Would it finally pass the famous Turing Test?

You can listen to the entire show, here.