Beethoven’s last symphony completed by AI | Music | DW

Algorithms dominate our daily life. Whether driving, working or doing activities, we rely on artificial intelligence whether we realize it or not.

For a long time, creativity was considered to be something that could only emerge from the human brain. But there are more and more signs that, like it or not, this may no longer be the case.

Computers have already completed unfinished compositions by composers Gustav Mahler and Franz Schubert.

Now Ludwig van Beethoven’s unfinished symphony has also been processed by AI.

When the composer died in 1827, he left his last symphony, which would have been his 10th, incomplete. Only a few handwritten sketches of this work have survived. Some are just short, incomplete fragments.

To mark the 250th anniversary of his birth, the work created with the help of AI must be created – a bit late due to the COVID-19 pandemic – as part of Beethovenfest on October 9, 2021.

The German telecommunications company Telekom, headquartered in Bonn, Beethoven’s hometown, has assembled a team of experts to carry out this task.

A group of musicologists, composers and computer scientists attempted to analyze and learn Beethoven’s style so that they could complete his unfinished symphony.

Dirk Kaftan conducts the orchestra.

Dirk Kaftan to conduct the Beethoven Orchestra Bonn in a performance of the new piece

Learn to think like Beethoven

A computer was fed by sketches and musical notes by Beethoven, as well as scores by his contemporaries. “You have to see him as Beethoven taking notes when he has new ideas. Sometimes in the form of written words, sometimes in the form of musical notes”, explains Matthias Röder, director of the Karajan Institute in Salzburg.

Based on this material, the project manager and his team made assumptions, asking questions such as, “How would he have developed certain things?” Röder explains the procedure in a press release.

Music, it is assumed, is unit-based, just like language, and the learning process involves the construction of knowledge. To “teach” the computer, Beethoven’s symphonies, piano sonatas and string quartets were introduced into the program, training AI over and over again, so to speak.

Like the brain’s neural network, the computer is capable of making new connections on its own. The most suitable musical results produced by artificial intelligence have been reintroduced into the system and new notes have been added.

Notation of the 9th symphony, written by Beethoven.

Computers take Beethoven’s manuscripts to complete his 10th symphony

Man and machine complement each other

Over time, the composition has grown. “What artificial intelligence allows us to do is to offer the result of a movement in 20 or even 100 different versions. And it is infinitely fascinating, because if it is done well algorithmically, then each attempt is plausible, ”said Robert Levin, a classical pianist and musicologist at Harvard University.

For researchers, such collaborations are extremely exciting and provide insight into how machines might help – if not mimic – humans in musical creation. “We wanted to better understand the state of the art in music generation. And we tried to test the limits. In the end, we used some modules of what is called natural language processing,” a said Ahmed Elgammal, Director of Art & Artificial Intelligence. Laboratory of Rutgers University in New York and developer of “Beethoven AI”.

But what are the benefits of such research projects for musicians?

“You could say that the computer does it according to algorithms. Yes, but humans also do it based on their experience or training. They are not necessarily that far from each other,” said Robert Levin.

Audiences can feel how noticeable the shift between Beethoven’s composition and the addition of AI is when the Beethoven Orchestra Bonn premieres the work under the direction of General Music Director Dirk Kaftan at Beethovenfest.

This article was translated from German.

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