eine kleine naughtmusik: how nefarious nonartists cleverly imitate

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  • Eine Kleine Naughtmusik: How Nefarious Nonartists Cleverly Imitate Music

    Dave Soldier

    Because there is only so much that can bebrought forth from a single human composer before a certainsameness sets in, dissatisfied musicians have always sought col-laborators. Mozart stole melodies from his pet starling, payingthe birds commission in seed. Who, Mozart or the bird, wasthe great Viennese composer? Or, which one was responsiblefor creating the genuine music?

    NAUGHTMUSIK, THE STRONG DEFINITIONOnce it was easy to define genuine music. Music was whatMuses made, and lyrics were what lyre players made. These ide-alists led a pastoral, anonymous existence, occupying them-selves with the invention of polyphony, new tuning systems andperformances during evening raids along the Aegean coast.

    Portents of trouble appeared with the polyphonic gothrocker Palestrina, the first known composer (der. Latin com-munist Fr. poseur). Music became stuff that was composed. Tounderstand these phenomena, one must deconstruct, or moreproperly, decompose this semantic.

    Let us assume that genuine music is Art. As such it excludesthe set of nonart sounds, or naughtmusik. The strong definitionof genuine music includes sounds created by Artists with In-tent. That is, composers who know what theyre doing. The set{genuine music} includes all works by all great composers. Evi-dently, genuine music stems from the heroic will and effort ofArtists who know what theyre doing.

    To define the members of {genuine music}, we suggest astrong detection protocol in order to protect genuine musicfrom nichtmusik infestation. Thus, we must determine if thesounds in question are or are not the work of a true creativeArtist. But how can we judge from the work itself whether itwas manufactured by a Creative Artist?

    A test designed to address an analogous problem was sug-gested by the mathematician Alan Turing. The Classical Tur-ing Test was a gedankenexperiment proposed to determineif a computer could be considered to possess intelligence. Inthis protocol, TelePrompTers were placed in three separaterooms by the researchers. One room housed a human inter-rogator, another a human who answered the questions andin the third room a computer that also answered questions.The questions were typed by the interrogator, who receivedthe answers entered by the others. If the human interrogatorcould not distinguish the unseen computer from another

    human, the computer passed thetest and earned the adjective in-telligent [1].

    To conduct an Adapted TuringTest, one could play recordings ofgenuine music and naughtmusikwithout giving any clue to thehuman auditors regarding which iswhich. If the human judges detectthe fakery, the strong definition ofgenuine music can be confidentlyadopted. For results from experi-mental trials, read on.

    COWBIRDS, MOCKINGBIRDSAND THIEVING HUMAN CHILDRENBut first, the cowbird. The female American brown-headedcowbird, Molothrus ater, refuses to build a nest, hatch her owneggs or care for her own children. Rather, she deposits as manyas 40 eggs per year into nests that belong to other songbirdspecies. She finds the nests either in trees by watching froman aerial observation post or on the ground by flapping herwings and crashing through the forest floor to flush out othermothers. She quickly lays her eggs in their temporarily aban-doned nests, and the returning mother raises the cowbirdfledglings with her own brood.

    So nonhuman adult animals clearly have the capacity to in-tentionally fool others. But can they fool others by imitatinggenuine music?

    An affirmative conclusion can be drawn from the exampleof the male Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos. Thesebirds are widespread throughout the United States and loveto sing from February through August, take a break betweensets in early September and resume singing from late Sep-tember through early November. An individual male mock-ingbird (Fig. 1) imitates as many as 200 songs from othersources, including not only other bird species but also soundsfrom insects and frogs and even mechanical noises [2].

    So these nonhuman adult animals can cunningly imitatemusic that others have created. It is often hard even for ex-perts to distinguish a yellow warbler or a ringing cell phonefrom a crafty mockingbird.

    Another question is whether human animals who are notCreative Artists, such as musically inexperienced juvenile hu-mans, also possess the ability to so closely imitate genuinemusic that it can fool expert judges. If so, we must take the po-tential existence of not-music as a worrisome reality.

    2002 ISAST LEONARDO MUSIC JOURNAL, Vol. 12, pp. 5358, 2002 53

    A B S T R A C T

    The author poses thequestion whether or not thosewho are not bona fide artistsgenerate genuine music. Hediscusses his research onchildren, animals and resultantnetworks that cunningly assem-ble collections of soundsdesigned to fool listeners intobelieving them to be genuinemusic created by true com-posers.

    Dave Soldier (composer), 247 West Broadway #3, New York, NY 10013, U.S.A. E-mail:ds43@columbia.edu.

    LMJ12_02body_003-102 12/10/02 8:43 AM Page 53

  • MatarileA nichtmusikal example is Matarile, cre-ated by a dozen second-generation Dominican-American children, 6 to 8years old, from Harlem. The kids werethrilled when they arrived at the Acmerecording studio in Mamaroneck, NewYork, with its autographed album coversof Willie Coln and Slick Rick on thewalls.

    With no knowledge of fifth speciescounterpoint or sonata allegro form, thechildren could tell stories, run aroundand create havoc in the studio without re-hearsal. They could imitate cars and dif-ferent makes of gunsthis was an era inthe early 1990s when gunshots wereheard most evenings in their neighbor-hood. They also jumped rope andchanted schoolyard rhymes. The school-yard melody they chose to record,Matarile, like Ring around the Rosie,is an adorable nursery rhyme about pre-mature death. Matarile probably de-rives from the period of the Spanish warsbetween the Christians and Ottomans,perhaps 100 years prior to Ring aroundthe Rosie, an English tune that likelyarose during the bubonic plagues of the14th century:

    Ambos ado mata rile rile rileambos ado mata rile rile ohque que usted mata rile rile rileque que usted mata rile rile oh

    Two of the kids insisted on how thepiece was to end: with a patty-cake rhymewhose message contrasts with that ofMatarile:

    Mama mama I feel sickcall the doctor quick quick quickdoctor doctor when I diecall my mama and count to fiveI say one-two-three-four-fiveIm alive

    The children dont think of themselvesas composers and know no instruments.Yet they craftily manufactured a 9-minuteextended work that sounds suspiciouslylike music. Perhaps, these kids could posea threat to genuine music?

    How does their creation fare on theAdapted Turing Test? The researcherstested it on six musically sophisticatedhuman adults. Five of six correctly chosethe genuine music (Beethoven #6, first 45seconds) over 45 seconds of Matarile.Thus, the strong definition holds for thisexample, except for one human, wholikely was being willfully contrary.

    The Tangerine AwkestraA tougher hurdle comes from the juvenilehumans in the Tangerine Awkestra, trou-blemakers aged 2 to 9 who hail from FortGreene, Brooklyn, New York. These ne-farious tots pose a deeper challenge to thestrong definition by producing soundsusing instruments. That is, they producenonmusical sounds on genuine musical in-struments that they dont know how to play.

    These children met in a schoolroom,where they listened to records by OrnetteColeman and Roscoe Mitchell of the ArtEnsemble of Chicago played by theirteacher, Katie Down. The children saidthey could do that. Down said they couldNOT. The kids said can TOO. Down saidcould NOT and brought her own collec-tion of musical instruments to school.

    The kids immediately became Artistsand formed a band. With Down and herinstrument collection, they had every-thing they needed, except their parentsto drive them back and forth to re-hearsals (Fig. 2).

    The Awkestra (der. the Brooklyn pro-nunciation) used Downs instruments tocreate a classic of the nichtmusik genre,the extended orchestral work Aliens TookMy Mom.

    The day before their studio debut, thekids were informed that making CDs wasdifferent from jamming noise in theclassroom. There should be a story toguide what they would record. Thus, theintention was to produce a lowbrow pro-grammatic effort rather than highbrow,pure, genuine music.

    The children voted between a cowboyand Indian or astronaut subject, and thespace story won. They decided that the

    story should be one of an alien invasion;and, like a pint-size politburo, they col-lectively ordered the events.

    1. Aliens invade from Jupiter2. Spaceships over the Empire State

    Building3. Volcanoes explode at the center of

    the earth4. The aliens blow up Antarctica5. Aliens took my mom6. The Navy bombs them7. All of the humans blow up9. The aliens get nuclear bugs in them

    and pop10. Everything is soft

    The Awkestra selected the instrumentsto be used for each movement, a simplechore, except that some boys wanted tobang on the drums on every tune. Theminiature sovizdat solved this problem byplacing two or three boys on the drumkit.

    Note that the term collective composingis an oxymoron, as Art clearly stems fromthe heroic will of the individual Artist. Noclaim is made that a child syndicate cre-ated genuine music, only that they pro-duced nonmusical sounds cunninglyarranged to fool listeners into thinkingthat they are hearing music.

    Now for the results from the AdaptedTuring Test. In front of five sophisticatedadult humans, the researchers played tworecordings by acknowledged great musi-cians from the Knitting Factory label, al-ternati

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