Musicians Play Music Better Than Computers

from the in-case-you-didn't-know-that dept

We all know that computers can beat humans at chess these days, but they’re apparently still falling short of humans in some areas — such as music. This is unlikely to surprise many people, but a study of how people’s brains reacted to music that was played by human musicians vs. computers found that our brains respond more to the music from musicians. Basically, it sounds like our brains can detect the fact that humans play music with more feeling, and we respond accordingly. So now who’s going to program computer musicians to understand the meaning of “Once more… with feeling!”

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Comments on “Musicians Play Music Better Than Computers”

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Mr. Tunes (user link) says:

ahhh ye old humans

reminds me of the time when i was at a film mixing studio where one of my tracks was getting mixed into a project for the first time.

listening back to the song i said out loud “doh i should’ve fixed that flub on the guitar track”. the experienced engineer snidely remarked something to the effect of, “yeah you wouldn’t want it to sound like a human played it or anything, would you?”

Joshua says:

Machines are perfectly capable

Machines are perfectly capable of playing a pleasing sounding song. The problem is that all sheet music sounds utterly horrible when actually played.

It’s not the computer’s fault that it is a better music player than humans are. It’s the human composer and songwriter’s fault that they don’t accurately convey what you are supposed to play.

A musician is forced to make up new music on the fly to cover for the inadequacies of the sheet music.I have never heard a musician play sheet music the way it is written. They always vary it somewhat to make it listenable.

If composers and songwriters didn’t suck so much at writing music then anyone could play music that sounded good with the right button presses.

Machines not making music that people want to listen to is the direct fault of humans (in this case composers and song writers) who are bad at putting what they actually want you to play to paper.

Joshua says:

Re: Re: Machines are perfectly capable

Then they need an accurate way to write music. As it is they aren’t giving the computer all the information it needs, mainly how to make up for the limitations of an inadequate musical language. Maybe something like MIDI (but not necessarily MIDI) which specifies things like tone, length, timing, vibrato, etc. The only problem is that any language that could accurately describe music would probably not be easily and quickly human readable. In which case the best way to hear how it’s supposed to sound would be for the computer to play it for you 🙂

Stephen Pate says:

Bad research

The limited scope of the research test suite creates a bogus result.

Most music we listen to is created on a computer these days. From the rhythm on ZZ Top’s Eliminator CD to the hits we hear today, electronic music is the music of today. Listen to U2 in concert and ask where all that sound is coming from – answer it’s electronic there are only 4 people on stage not 20.

Richard says:

It's just that musicians are human.

It doesn’t matter how good the composer or the notation is.

It’s the fact that a human player interprets what’s there and adds something of themselves to the playing. Even the same musician will play the same piece differently depending on how they are feeling and skilled ones with sympathise/empathise with the audience too.

On one occasion a piece maybe played a touch slower and more smoothly and on another when there is more buzz in the air a little faster and more stacato.

Anonymous Coward says:

Chess is a game based on strategies and moves that can be calculated and anticipated. Music is a form of art. Art forms require several human-only aspects to be done well, and this will never, ever change. I wouldn’t say that small errors are necessary, although they’re more likely to happen. It’s more about the emotions that drive the creation of the music in the first place.

Emotion is like the wind. You can’t see it, but you know it’s there, and you can feel it and see the effects of it. It’s a human quality that will never exist in any computer, no matter how advanced AI gets (don’t even get me started on Data and holograms in Star Trek). Our emotions and passions are what drives us to accomplish things, and allow us to produce such beautiful works of art. Sorry, but no computer will ever replicate that, and I think anybody that’s trying to do so is completely wasting their time, money, and life in general.

Freedom says:

Re: Chess is a game based...

>> Art forms require several human-only aspects to be done well

Maybe true today, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that belief or travel “around” the world, you might fall off.

>> t’s more about the emotions that drive the creation of the music in the first place.

Emotions are just a consistent theme in a variable range. They really aren’t all the special and if someone cared they could definitely replicate using existing technology to add “emotion” to the music. The hard part would be figuring out what emotion to add at this point though with AI.

>> It’s a human quality that will never exist in any computer, no matter how advanced AI gets

Just because we still don’t fully understand how we work or think, why would you conclude that the human “quality” can’t be duplicated? At some point we will fully understand and be able to emulate a brain, at that point I like to see what you say.

>> Our emotions and passions are what drives us to accomplish things… but no computer will ever replicate that,

Actually, complex processes in the brain is what drives us and once those processes are fully understood you can bet they’ll be duplicated in a machine.

>> I think anybody that’s trying to do so is completely wasting their time, money, and life in general.

No, that would be spending way too much time reading and leaving comments on TechDirt :), but making and understanding things – that is truly human (at least for now!)


Never Forget…
9/11 – The day the terrorists struck.
7/09 – The day our Senators struck and voted our freedoms away.

Beta says:

Umm… differences in electrical brain activity and galvanic skin response is very interesting, but the article doesn’t mention whether anyone asked the subjects what they thought of the music. The answer would have been revealing either way, but the fact that the question didn’t arise says a lot about the mindset of science journalists.

Beta says:

I’ve heard an experiment in computer-rendered music and it was eerie.

The score was a classical piano piece. The human player naturally made little variations in timing and volume that gave it character– that’s what makes a good instrumentalist good, apart from precision.

The computer then played the same piece– perfectly. It sounded flat and uninteresting. The melody was still pretty and clever, the harmony still correct, but it just wasn’t very engaging to listen to.

Then the computer played with little variations in timing and volume. At first it sounded really good, it began to convey a feeling, a sense that the player was sharing something with the listener. But then after a few seconds it went sour. The subtle message turned out to be gibberish, it had no poetry, it went nowhere– but still kept going. It was as if the artist had put his arm around my shoulder and said “you know, to me this piece resounds the violet flan gabwee heptakknoo zz8_roWk hurricane bismuth^^…”

Eventually they’ll learn to make a machine-generated pattern that really sounds like subtle allusion. And who knows, maybe it will be; maybe the machine that plays with what sounds like real feeling can do so only because its internal structure is so complex, so full of inner tensions and frustrations and impulses, that we will have to recognize it as a being with real emotions. Not a human being, maybe not a thinking one, but a feeling one, and a musician.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m throwing my lot in with the folks that blame the notation. If a machine recorded exactly how a human played his instrument, then it could replay it indistinguishably from the human. This is trivially and obviously true: a human playing a synthesizer is presenting serialized digital events to a computer, which is then recording them in such a way that they can be replayed exactly such that it would be indistinguishable from the original session.

chris (profile) says:

if you hum a few bars i can fake it

computers don’t have souls, but could a human program a computer to fake one? the turing test isn’t a measure of how well developed an AI is, but how good it is at fooling humans. that’s why it’s called “artificial” intelligence, not “actual” intelligence, it’s based on the ability to fool you.

the relationships that humans have with computers are based on the explicit understanding that the computer, or rather its software (an analog for the machine’s soul), is not “real”. its intelligence is considered to be an imitation of the human equivalent and certainly not the real thing. we use terms like “simulated” or “virtual” when talking about computers to underscore that fact.

teaching a computer to fake not only intelligence, but a soul would be a great accomplishment, but that kind of work would also be quite dangerous. it would point out that we humans are not so unique and special after all. if you can design software that is indistinguishable from a human in some capacity, i.e. the turing test, what would that do to the already diminishing value of human life?

Leo Bowers (user link) says:


It’s good to hear that coming from a real person! Although I’m ironing out my niche I keep finding myself drawn back to Jimi Hendrix tunes as they were my base for my music logic. The words in a song can be felt in the touch of the instrument in music actually played with conviction by the musicians. In other words the intruments have a voice that have life. Although the grooves of the computer based sounds serve the hip hop genre very well the expression is hard and there seems to be a lack of love in the presentation. Real Love! At least that’s how it feels to me.

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