Some Food for Thought

I’ve heard a few things on the radio lately that align well with our discussions about Duchamp – primarily those questions asking, what is art? What doesn’t count as art? What do we do when artists, new technology, etc. challenge our views of creativity?

This morning, Boston’s WBUR did a piece on “hyperinstruments” and hyperscores,” music created with computers:

Tod Machover: A Musical Innovator

Also, a recent episode of WNYC’s Radiolab discussed the life and work of mathematician Alan Turing. Toward the end of the piece, James Gleick gives his views about computer-generated creativity:

(Listen to the whole episode here.)

James Gleick: What I’m willing to say is that I think we’re just machines. I think we’re just made of matter. I’m sorry to be giving religious opinions here, because these are religious opinions; but for me, that doesn’t make me feel that we’re any less special. What a wonderful thing that a collection of matter, created by a process of evolution that lasted billions of years, how wonderful that this process and these little collections of matter are able to produce Cezanne’s watercolors and Bach’s preludes. I can live with that.

Robert Krulwich (Host): But if I built you a computer that could create equally beautiful watercolors and equally beautiful musical compositions, would you feel happier, or diminished?

Gleick: I think in a way you’re asking is that if you see how the trick is done, does it then vanish? Does it just become a trick – the trick being a great painting of a great piece of music? I feel the art I love is always art that I don’t fully understand. There’s some mystery there, always. I don’t quite fathom it. So, if the computer is churning out a bunch of notes, and you know exactly what the rules are that the computer is following, and there’s no mystery, how can that possibly be a great piece of music? And the answer is: we don’t know how the computer is going to do it. You don’t know how the machine is going to do it. And when the machine produces music that is as lovely as the music that you and I love, I believe it will still be unfathomable.


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