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2 minutes to read Posted on Thursday April 18, 2019

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Gregory Markus

Gregory Markus

EuropeanaTech Community Manager , Netherlands Institute for Sound & Vision

Tech and music - forever and always the perfect couple

At Rewire Festival in The Hague on March 29th, the Instrumental Shifts Symposium, organised by The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision’s RE:VIVE initiative explored the intersections of AI R&D related to music and its impact on the creative sector. EuropeanaTech community manager and RE:VIVE founder, Gregory Markus, wears both of his hats and explains why these meetings are so valuable for both ends of the spectrum.

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Laura Agnusdei and Lauge Dideriksen.
Pieter Kiers

Artistic vision and artificial intelligence

In my five and a half years in the cultural heritage R&D sector and electronic music world at Sound and Vision, I’ve had the privilege of living a dual life. With feet on both sides of the river, I work to bridge the heritage and academic sectors via Europe’s overwhelmingly thriving electronic music community.

RE:VIVE is an initiative that facilitates the reuse of heritage material by the electronic music community. EuropeanaTech is Europeana’s R&D community, a long-running and active community that fuels technical experiments, development and the international interoperability of standards and tools.

To some, these two worlds may seem like an odd couple but in reality, both need one another if we hope to really push the limits of technology, creativity, access and story-telling. That’s why I was inspired to organise the Instrumental Shifts Symposium at Rewire Festival. To be a matchmaker and open the doors for both parties. It’s an opportunity to show off research and tools related to AI and music juxtaposed with artists putting some of this research into practice with the adage ‘let’s work together’.

The added value you see through academic and creative collaboration is that artists can valorise, disseminate and humanise the computationally intensive and meticulous R&D work being done by universities or other knowledge institutes. That’s not to say artists can’t do heavy computing or that universities can’t be artistic but when one hand washes the other we can generate a stream of specialised knowledge transfer and experiential expertise.

During the genesis of what we now call electronic music, those forging new paths were half-artist, half-engineering masters based in institutes of technology or higher learning. From Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française, where Pierre Schaeffer was working, to Daphne Oram at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, these R&D departments were hubs of musical innovation and creativity. But as computing and instruments became more compact, affordable and useable, creativity moved towards the home or personal studio.

But now, as music begins to explore new frontiers of machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing and future technologies, where copious amounts of data, processing power and budget are necessities, the conditions for adequate experimentation are changing. That’s why, I hope to encourage a return to the fold with the Instrumental Shifts Symposium where the academic R&D world and practising musicians can work more collaboratively and expressively.

Bob Sturm
Pieter Kiers

Inspiration from the Instrumental Shifts Symposium

The Instrumental Shifts Symposium at Rewire Festival was a brilliant example of the crossovers already happening between these worlds. The day began with Dr Thor Magnusson presenting his book Sonic Writing, which explores how contemporary music technologies trace their ancestry to previous forms of instruments and media. While the role of music in society may never change, the way we consume and produce it will, just like it always has. For heritage institutes, music can teach us a lot about society. Machine listening can lead us to discover more about music, giving us a new, deeper understanding of European cultural heritage.

The research being done by Professor Anja Volk at Utrecht University, Professor Peter Bloem at VU Amsterdam,  Hibiki Mukai from The Hague and Enrique Manjavacas as well suggests how cultural heritage materials can lead to projects that progress our understanding of music and society as well as creating new ways for artists to generate music. Examples range from real-time chord identification, generative music based on analysing archival films, text generation based on the study of Shakespeare and new algorithms for generating traditional Japanese music.

For RE:VIVE, the essential remit is seeing how cultural heritage and electronic music can merge to offer new artistic perceptions of the past. At the Instrumental Shifts Symposium, this came to fruition through a collaboration between Dr Bob Sturm and Hague-based saxophonist and producer, Laura Agnusdei. Sturm, project leader for FolkRNN, a platform known for its massive corpus of generative Swedish and Irish folk music, presented how they continue to consult with the folk community to not only test the technical aspects of the outputs but also the social ones, e.g. how is this music, that’s so deeply beloved by many, perceived when it’s made by an algorithm. We invited Agnusdei to collaborate with FolkRNN and turn the generated compositions into a new contemporary piece. She teamed up with violist and composer Lauge Dideriksen and the new piece perfectly merged the worlds of experimental composition and traditional music.

Wherever we’re going, let’s go together

A partnership like the one between Agnusdei and Sturm is what I wanted to inspire with the Instrumental Shifts Symposium. As R&D departments in cultural and academic institutes begin to explore new frontiers of creative computing and artificial intelligence, in the end it will be the artistic impression that allows the audience to truly connect with it. Technical knowledge led to sheet music and the construction of instruments but it’s the artists that breathe life into it. And as we learned from Professor Mick Grierson and Roisin Loughran, for the time being, that job will remain with humans.

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