Artificial intelligence wants to put the final score at the 10th Symphony

L’intelligence artificielle veut mettre la note finale à la 10e Symphonie

A mural depicting Ludwig van Beethoven decorates a house of Bonn, the birthplace of the German composer.

December 15, 2019 16: 10

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Artificial intelligence wants to put the final score at the 10th Symphony

Mathieu Foulkes

AFP

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BERLIN — Ludwig van Beethoven had slept a few notes on a book when he died in 1827. A team of musicologists and computer scientists are trying to prolong his 10th Symphony with artificial intelligence.

The final result will be presented on 28 April 2020, in Bonn and has to be one of the highlights of many celebrations to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of the composer.

Beethoven had begun work on the Symphony in parallel of the famous 9th and his ode to joy, the globally known. But he quickly abandoned the 10th, which was limited, to his death at 57 years of age, with a few notes, drawings and sketches, handwritten.

A team of computer scientists and musicologists tries to extend it using a software machine learning. The software was first ingested and analyzed all the works of the composer. It then generates, with the processing algorithms of the speech, attempts to extensions of the partition.

“Visionary”

The project was initiated by Deutsche Telekom, based in Bonn, the native town of the composer. In addition to a communication operation in full-year Beethoven, the group intends to use this work to develop its own technologies, in particular speech recognition.

“Just like language, music consists of small units — letters or notes, which, once joined together, have a meaning,” explains a spokesperson of the group to the AFP.

When it meets, the team plays the notes written by Beethoven for the 10th Symphony and the artificial intelligence takes over. The first results have been judged a few months ago too mechanical and repetitive, but the last few attempts would be more convincing.

“The responsibility we have played the first trials. […] The development [compared to previous trials] is impressive, even if the computer still has a lot to learn”, according to the AFP, Christine Siegert, director of the archival fonds and the research department of the House of Beethoven in Bonn.

According to this specialist of the composer, his work “may be denatured by such an initiative, to the extent that what is created is obviously not part of the work and that the fragments of the 10th Symphony are themselves avenues of work are limited”.

Ms. Siegert said he “was convinced” that the composer would not have disavowed this type of initiatives being himself a “visionary” of his time. He was so composed, she says, for the panharmonicon, a kind of organ created at the beginning of the Nineteenth century, reproducing the sounds of a quarantine of wind instruments and percussion.

“Risk”

The composer and musicologist british Barry Cooper, author also of an attempt completion of the first movement of the 10th Symphony, is more doubtful.

“I listened to a short excerpt, it does not look like a reconstruction of convincing what Beethoven wanted to do, even taking into account its computerized and the absence of any contrast between sounds strong and sweet”, he explains to the AFP, stating that there was “room for improvement” with the result.

For this professor at the university of Manchester, author of several books on the composer, “in any interpretation of the music of Beethoven, there is a risk of misrepresenting his intentions”. In this case, the “risk” to change the nature of the work is still greater, the 10th Symphony is available only to the state of timid draft.

A position shared by Dirk Kaftan, the leader of the Orchestra, Beethoven Bonn : “We, musicians, are divided on this initiative,” he confided Friday in Bonn at the opening of the house dedicated to the composer, specifying that the AI allowed you to discover “new territory”.

Other similar initiatives have already been carried out, Mahler, Bach, or Schubert. With mixed results.

Beginning in 2019, a project, initiated by the chinese giant Huawei, had taken over the unfinished Symphony of Franz Schubert. The London Session Orchestra had played scores composed by a software machine learning. The passages, previously unseen, according to the european press, had pointed to a soundtrack of american film rather than the style of the austrian composer.

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