by Dolores Catherino

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Sentience’ - the human capacity to feel, perceive and experience subjectively; in distinction to the ability to think (reason).

In response to the growing extension of Artificial Intelligence into areas like musical creativity, this polychromatic composition uses music technology as an assistant to the human imagination. This approach is in contrast to different varieties of creativity which use technology to generate musical elements for human editing and arrangement.

Rapidly advancing technology is leading to the replacement of more human activities while also modifying human involvement into roles as assistant, support and maintenance in service to technology. In many respects, because of the digitization/quantization of musical elements in MIDI, music is at the forefront of this trend as we see the impacts of technological replacement of musicians and more recently, songwriters.

Music and art express a different kind of knowledge, intelligence and experience from that of scientific, logical, and mathematical areas.

‘Artificial Intelligence’ is, at best, a simile or metaphor for awareness. Understanding of meaning and relevance are beyond its computational framework, which can, with increasing sophistication, display mere imitations of unquantifiable processes of mind.

As AI amasses ever-increasing quantities of information, hierarchically organized and structured through programmed algorithms, the conception of ‘artificial intelligence’ is being extended into similes of ‘consciousness’ and ‘creativity’. This idea seems to presume that increasing quantities of information somehow transform into (or become a surrogate for) awareness and the meaningful understanding and expression of sentient qualities. In contrast to the statistical idea of ‘quality’ of information, ‘qualities’ are based in sentience - subjective awareness, perception, experience, meaning and emotional expression - as well as intelligence.

Recently, IBM’s Watson (AI computer), Google’s Magenta Project, and Sony’s Flow Machines software have been promoted as ‘composing’ music, and as demonstrating musical ‘creativity’. They accomplished this artistic simile by compiling musical data and analyzing the data by given rules (logic, forms and patterns of musical expression), then producing variant combinations under algorithmic control. Maybe a better characterization of this AI process would have been a ‘generative variation’ of musical forms and patterns.

While a remarkable technological advancement, this generative process of AI music is fundamentally different from a human creative process based in empirical understanding, and subjective meanings associated with musical expression. The human creative process in composition uses musical languages to express aspects and qualities of human sentience.

Musical meaning and relevance have always been immersed in a context of time and place, of subjective and collective awareness, aspirations and concerns. In our era, human music and art, while seemingly under threat of replacement and obsolescence to AI, are in a position to clarify the distinction and capacities of human ‘sentience’ and artificial ‘intelligence’. And in this process, hopefully help us gain a deeper awareness of both, balanced in application, as synergetic rather than competing processes.


released November 8, 2016




Dolores Catherino Alaska

Dolores Catherino is a microtonal composer and multi-instrumentalist exploring the frontiers of the electronic avant- garde.

Her TEDx talk on Music of the Future:

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