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January 10, 2013

Classical Music, Courtesy of a Supercomputer

Michael Feldman

At the University of Malaga, in Spain, musicians have “taught” a computer cluster to compose contemporary classical music. The work is being spearheaded by Gustavo Diaz Jerez, full-time pianist and part-time software consultant. According to Wikipedia, the Linux cluster, known as Iamus, is equipped with 352 AMD processors and 704 GB of memory — certainly not a large system by HPC standards.

The key is the software. Developed by Melomics, the application uses evolutionary algorithms to compose melodies — Melomics = genomics and melodies — in which the software encodes a musical theme into a “genome” and then evolves them into musical scores. It can blend a variety instruments into the composition, respecting the physical limitations of the hardware and its human players. Once developed, the composition can be rendered into a variety of formats — MP3, MIDI, MusicXMP, and a readable score in PDF — for editing or playing.

The computer doesn’t actually generate a performance; it still relies on humans for that. While the compositions have gotten mixed reviews, they are seen as several steps above earlier attempts at computer-generated music, which relied on much less sophisticated algorithms. According to a recent article posted on the BBC website, Diaz Jerez says their approach sets itself apart by using complex aesthetic rules to grow the musical structures in the computer.

The resulting music has been noteworthy enough to attract the attention of The London Symphony Orchestra, which has produced a studio album based on a number of the computer’s better compositions. The album was released in 2012, under the title Iamus.

Since the cluster can compose a complete score in less than a second, the capability to generate music is virtually unlimited. And according to Diaz Jerez, Iamus doesn’t have to be restricted to classical melodies. They could reprogram it to incorporate more notes in the scale and generate Hindu or Arabic music.

Here is Nasciturus, one of computer’s signature pieces.

For other performances based on Iamus’ compositions, check out Diaz-Jerez’s YouTube page.

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