An American professor has created a computer programme capable of composing original classical music. Emily Howell, as the programme is known, was dreamt up by David Cope of the University of California over 40 years ago. Now his vision of a machine that could compose convincing music has been realised, and Emily Howell is set to release her first album From Darkness, Light next spring.
Cope first experimented with computer-generated music when he devised programmes that analysed Mozart and Beethoven and replicated their musical style. ‘I was successful in creating a bad programme that would create bad music,’ says Cope to The Times. ‘It was drivel.’
But when he turned his efforts to building a programme that could compose in its own style, Cope was more successful, and Emily Howell – a name adapted from the acronym for Experiments in Musical Intelligence, Emmy – had her first concert last year. While many audience members praised Emily Howell’s music, which Cope describes as being an amalgam of 20th-century styles but remaining individual, his creation has been controversial, with some composers and orchestras criticising the idea of music created by machines.
Cope recalls one audience member claiming he could tell when a piece was computer-composed because it had no emotion, guts or soul. ‘Those people who have a belief that computer programmes can’t compose music will believe that, and supersede their personal taste,’ he says. ‘The computer is human-made. The programme itself is human-made. The music in the database is human as well. There’s so much about this that is human.’