The Hofstadter-Moebius Loop

The last two posts on the #EUreferendum weren’t really what I wanted to write about. But the things that are really exciting me right now needed to be put off a bit because they don’t happen for another month or so. And I didn’t really want to bang on about them for a full two months.

“Dude, you’ve been at this for two months…”

Finally, though, I can get some release. With respect to one of these events, at least.

[More banging on in the Apoplexy Tiny Letter, here.]

The Edinburgh International Science Festival runs from 26 March-10 April. The programme is here, and it features all sorts of interesting stuff, like A Short History of the Cocktail and A Very Short Introduction to Forensic… Science. And … Evolution.

“I hate evolution” – Unicerosaurus

The band I’m in, Nerd Bait, had the good fortune to be involved in Illicit Ink‘s production for last year’s Science Festival, Apollo 21. It was about a British pirate moon shot in the early ‘seventies, led by Tara Beckett. I which I played the spacey partner of the awesome heroine.

So, no change there, then.

This year, Illicit Ink’s Sci-Fest bit is Linnaean Limbo: The Dinosaurs that Never Were. In a story-telling show blending theatre, palaeontology and the history of science – it says hereLinnaean Limbo addresses

a new form of extinction through reclassification and repudiation… by staging a whimsical afterlife for things that never were.

The prompt of writing for a defunct dino was a great one for the band, and we’ve done something entirely new for us. The Prof and Science Steph have hit new new heights of composition and performance…

Meanwhile, Wurdz Boi conducts research interviews

In fifteen minutes of madness, they cover hymns and hip-hop, rock and religion, and everything in between.

I’m striking out a bit, too. Since the #stroke-y mini-musical of The Treacherous Brain, I’ve written musical books of brain injury and the redemptive power of love, aphasia and the redemptive power of booze love, space travel and the redemptive power of Mr Benn love, and being a merman and the redemptive power of the Loch Ness Monster love.

This time, A New Redemption

This time, let’s just say my reading of The King James Bible hasn’t been entirely for leisure purposes. King David laid down some pretty good lyrics, y’know.

“Praise him with the strings and the timbrel…”

So, Unicerosaurus is ambitious, stroke-free, and fresh. Three years down the road of recovery, that feels great. But emotional and brain-related considerations are never far from the surface. While Nerd Bait were using their brains to create their latest bit, The Daily Telegraph was asking, “Can a computer write a hit musical?”

The question seems absurd. Musicals are all about outsized passions and soaring melodies.

“Damn straight!” — The Maiden and the Unicorn by Domenichino — Image by © Alinari Archives/CORBIS

Can a Computer Write a Hit Musical? is full of interesting stuff for our little Hamilton-obsessed group. For example, the article notes that “[i]n recent years it’s been proved that computers can produce a passable imitation of a Baroque sonata, a form that Baroque composers turned out by rote,” and asks If computers can master the formula for a Baroque sonata, why for a musical? After all, a group in Cambridge were working on story analysis, and they figured out a kind-of formula whereby a successful musical was likely to have “a moment of setback and tension in the second act, and the first act has to end on a high.”

Analysts in Madrid used an even more sophisticated analysis to work out that there was an ideal 10-part narrative structure that encompasses a beginning of “aspiration”, moves on to “decision to take action”, and proceeds via “loss of loved ones” and “struggle” to “resolution”.

A musical written by a computer, eh? Just the sort of thing to appeal to a group of two scientists by training, and one gentleman scientist.

The “gentleman detective” is typically both a gentleman by conduct and a member of the British gentry

Look, I’ve got a Master of Science degree in Creative Writing, OK?!

So I’m pleased to report that the conclusion of Ivan Hewett’s Telegraph article and Cat Gale’s Sky Arts documentary seems to be Yes, a computer can write a successful musical. And I’m even more happy to relate that the answer is also No, a computer can’t write a successful musical. It’s just a tool for now, by my interpretation.

Or, at least, it would take a malfunctioning, paranoid computer to write Unicerosaurus. Or at least one who’d had a stroke.

“Dude, I know you didn’t write that.”

We look forward to sharing it with you.

[Ed. note: a Hofstadter-Moebius Loop is different to a moebius band.]

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2 thoughts on “The Hofstadter-Moebius Loop

  1. So the guardian tech podcast has a whole thing on the computer musical. It’s good. But there’s a bit of cheat (which the scientists admit to) by the computer making lead sheets and then some human smoothing and polishing. So it’s more of a composition lever. Which is really cool. If I had a list of things to noodle with and time to noodle this generative music would certainly be there.

    But while it is clever it sort of misses the point. No no I’m not going to rebuke strong ai and talk about the unique insight of the human condition. Long term that looks like a pretty bad argument. Instead I’m going to say that writing dumb music your friends like is fun. It’s how you meet girls. Or in my case repel them.

    But if you think about creative pastimes as that – ways to pass time – they are fun.

    So sure big industrial (as in military industrial complex blandness, not as in 80s noise movement) music – the next Brittany spears – will be written by computer to a pop optimizing fitness landscape. Some of those songs will be good. But people (or later super intelligent computers) screwing around off piste is how you get Hamilton. Or to pimp a butterfly. Or discipline. Or bitches brew.

    Or – and in a rather different zip code of quality but not of intent – our upcoming bit!

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