The Science of Music and Algorithms


“I can understand why it’s an issue if you’ve got an extremely romanticized view of what art is,” he says. “But Bach peed, and he shat, and he had a lot of kids. We’re all just people.”

– David Cope, UC Santa Cruz, emeritus professor

“To some extent, this match is a defense of the whole human race. Computers play such a huge role in society. They are everywhere. But there is a frontier they must not cross. They must not cross into the area of human creativity. It would threaten the existence of human control in such areas as arts, literature, and music.”

So said Gary Kasparov, chess grandmaster, one year before he lost to Deep Blue, IBM’s chess-playing supercomputer. Meanwhile, a relatively anonymous professor of music in California had created a computer program capable of composing pieces of music in the style of great composers that most people could not differentiate from authentic compositions. The professor, David Cope, named this program Experiments in Musical Intelligence, or “Emmy”. Since then, Cope and his successive programs have been the objects of both celebration and scorn, challenging the world’s perception of what musical creativity entails.

Cope’s argument, and the basis for his software, is that creativity is essentially recombinant: consciously or not, all composers plagiarize their progenitors and contemporaries. What makes his (or Emmy’s) work superior to the stilted and awkward compositions of earlier programs are two fundamental insights into the syntax of music. Rather than rely on the traditional divisions of musical notation, Cope developed an analytic musical syntax that goes into what Douglas Hofstadter (of Gödel, Escher, Bach) terms the “tension-resolution status” of a piece, the two forces that underlie all music. Secondly, though the program composes according to formal rules, it also uses heuristics that allow it to sometimes ‘break’ its own rules in innovative ways.

Alex Tesar (Source Art & Science Journal)

More stories can be found here.

Avoiding Olive Oil Fraud

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UC Davis Olive Center’s Dan Flynn talks to Dr. Oz about what to look for when buying olive oil at the grocery store.

  • Make sure you’re looking at the “harvest” not the “best by” date
  • Buy olive oil in dark bottles since the dark glass protects the oil

We interviewed Dan last summer and he talked a little bit about how they conducted their study on extra virgin olive oil and what is being done to maintain its standards in the industry.

Watch the video here

Is that really red snapper on your plate?

tumblr_mil8vjJulj1rjatglo2_250A recent survey done by Oceana says that fish found at the market are not always correctly labeled.  So, scientists are working on a genetic sequence technique called fish barcoding that can positively identify fish species.

Marine biologist Ron Burton of UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography says it’s important for the public to make sure they’re getting what they think they’re getting:

“In a market like red snapper, we can be seeing red snapper at many fish markets and that would lead somebody to believe that the fish is very common, when in fact what’s being sold is a diversity of species – some of which are common, some of which aren’t. And so it can lead to a false impression about the abundance of species to the public.”

Read more stories on Science Today

Clean burner technology produces whiter chicken meat in food

Picture 2013-01-24 at 3.55.45 PMLawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientists invented “ultraclean low swirl combustion.” Their commercialized burners are cheaper than the traditional kind and they don’t cause pollution.

“Companies are able to find a market for this burner in places that does not require low emissions burner because in the absence of pollutants, for example they sell the burner to commercial baking.  So without any pollution all the chicken meat comes out whiter”  – Robert Cheng, Scientist at LBNL

High-tech mouthwash being developed at UCLA

mouthewashFor nearly a decade Wenyuan Shi, a researcher at UCLA School of Dentistry, has been developing a revolutionary new mouthwash aimed at effectively eliminating tooth decay. The technology is a partnership with Colgate-Palmolive and from C3-Jian Inc.

“The best analogy I’ve been using is a ‘weeds vs. grass’ with this technology that we call STAMPS (specifically targeted anti-microbial peptides). What it does is it acts like a smart bomb, it only kills the weeds not the grass.” — Wenyuan Shi, UCLA School of Dentistry


Robotic squirrels vs. rattlesnakes

Picture 2013-01-24 at 3.42.46 PMUC Davis researchers go into rattlesnake country to study the interaction between snakes and squirrels. The snakes are real, but the squirrel is a robot.

“By bringing engineers and biologists together, we’re creating new ways of doing science.  Hopefully making discoveries that would not have been made unless we brought these different fields together.” – Sanjay Joshi

A number of former and current students have built the robosquirrels over the years, primarily from the S. Joshi and D. Owings labs at UC Davis, in close collaboration with the R. Clark lab at SDSU. Former PhD student Aaron Rundus built the first robosquirrel for his laboratory studies, assisted by Nick Giannini and Erin Chin. Former MS student Ryan Johnson built the first outdoor robosquirrel for field studies, with input from Matthew Barbour. Alex Barszap, Zac Dillow, Armen Davtyan, Laine Tennyson, and Travis Kupp have modified the squirrels in various ways for continuing field studies, with help from Bree Putman.

Converting tobacco plants into fuel for cars and airplanes

Picture 2013-01-25 at 4.30.31 PMScientists at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s FOLIUM Project, funded by ARPA-E, use light to convert the carbon in tobacco leaves into biofuels.

“Once we have a plant and a production yield that promises commercial levels within the near future, I think we will be able to attract the interest of the big tobacco companies. Growing tobacco for cigarette consumption is a dwindling industry and we believe that converting tobacco into a bioenergy crop will also generate a new market for tobacco farmers.”
— Christer Jansson