The composition of music that has the power to move and stimulate us is one of the great artistic pursuits. Indeed, composers are honoured in all societies for their creative genius. We know good music when we hear it but most of us have trouble creating it.
So the work of Ville-Matias Heikkila, a Finnish artist and computer programmer, might come as a shock. In the last year or so, he and others have been experimenting with the audio output of simple computer programs in an infinite loop. The output is a modulated stream of pulses that, when played through an audio speaker, sounds melodic.
Today, he outlines this work and some of the techniques and tools that he uses to generate the code, listen to it and even visualise it. He’s posted some of these tunes along with their source code on Youtube.
Heikkila says that these programs generate surprisingly interesting music, sometimes by repeating only two or three arithmetic operations. So he and others have been exploring the space of all possible simple algorithms, albeit in a rather disorganised way.
Now Heikkila, who also goes by the online moniker viznut, is proposing a more methodical search of this space. He wants to set up a program that generates new formulas automatically and a website that allows people to rate the music it finds. In essence, he wants to crowdsource the task of music discovery.
One half of this problem may have already been cracked for him. Ten years ago, Stephen Wolfram argued that the laws of physics are no more than a set of simple algorithms. In his book A New Kind of Science, he explores and characterises the entire space of simple algorithms for cellular automata and argues that the Universe is governed by rules like them. The difficult task is finding these rules.
Heilkkila and friends clearly want to do a similar thing for music.
That sounds like the kind of thing the Galaxy Zoo people would be good at. These guys have become experts at crowdsourcing. Having cut their teeth on the problem of characterising galaxies, they’ve since expanded into many other areas, such as crater counts on the moon, evaluating old meteorological records and recently announced a project to unravel the mystery of whale song.
Perhaps the search of symphonic algorithms could be next.
Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1112.1368: Discovering Novel Computer Music Techniques By Exploring The Space Of Short Computer Programs
Anti-aging drugs are being tested as a way to treat covid
Drugs that rejuvenate our immune systems and make us biologically younger could help protect us from the disease’s worst effects.
These materials were meant to revolutionize the solar industry. Why hasn’t it happened?
Perovskites are promising, but real-world conditions have held them back.
The baby formula shortage has birthed a shady online marketplace
Desperate parents just want to feed their babies. They’re having to contend with misinformation, price gouging, and scams along the way.
I tried to buy an Olive Garden NFT. All I got was heartburn.
Our newest issue spells out what you need to know about the dizzying world of digital money.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.