Artificially intelligent, but not Beethoven

Van Magazine persuades a reluctant Jan Swafford, the veteran music critic and author of a celebrated Beethoven biography, to assess “Beethoven X: The AI Project,” a Beethoven Tenth Symphony developed through computer-programmed artificial intelligence from sketches left by the composer.

“Artificial intelligence can mimic art, but it can’t be expressive at it because, other than the definition of the word, it doesn’t know what expressive is,” Swafford writes. “It also doesn’t know what excitement is, because there’s a reason people call excitement ‘pulse-pounding,’ and computers don’t have pulses.”

His conclusion: “Often in the sketches you see how [Beethoven] refines and transforms ordinary ideas into something fresh and remarkable, and always apropos in the context of the whole work. . . . In the AI Tenth, the Beethoven ideas sit there uncooked, naked in their simplicity . . .

“After an impressive feat of programming by its human proprietors, AI produced something that sounds unquestionably like a piece of music, only a gangly and forgettable one.”

The Intelligence of Bodies