JazzWord: AI in an improv session

This one’s really interesting. Perhaps not the warmest review (in comparison to, say, those at MusicZoom, CloudsandClocks or Monsieur Délire), maybe not the fairest, but Ken Waxman’s take on ‘io 0.0.1 beta++’ (SLAMCD 531) at JazzWord, in which the machine improviser is “unobtrusive and egoless” and “thoughtful pauses” signpost the authentic human, I think is a reaction to some of the anxieties and unanswered questions (though, obliquely asked via the io enterprise) of the artificial. I’m also intrigued by the threat of replacement (“robotic players won’t be taking all the musicians’ jobs any time soon”) that informs this and other reviews. I plan to respond to these (thus warranting an extra entry in the ‘theory’ category), but in the meantime, here’s Waxman’s critique:

With improvisations matching traditional instruments with electronic manipulations now commonplace, Cork-based guitarist Han-earl Park personifying Dr. Frankenstein, has created a non-human artificial musician from ad-hoc components including speakers, kitchenware and missile switches. This CD is a literal record of how the non-human, prosaically named io 0. 0. 1 beta++, sounds in concert with flesh-and-blood counterparts….

For a start, Park, who regularly plays with trumpeter Ian Smith and drummer Charles Hayward; alto and sopranino saxophonist Bruce Coates, co-founder of the Birmingham Improvisers Orchestra; and soprano saxophonist Franziska Schroeder, a lecturer at Belfast’s School of Music and Sonic Arts, all have long histories of working with advanced, experimental musicians. These include live-electronics stylist Richard Barrett and accordionist Pauline Oliveros. Moreover io 0. 0. 1 beta++ is unobtrusive and egoless enough—no surprise—to warble its staccato particle contributions without trying to engulf or show up the humans. Its contributions are unique enough on their own.

For instance on the initial ‘Pioneer: Variance’ and ‘Pioneer: Dance’ contrasting alto and soprano saxophone trills and squeaks are put into bolder relief as the otherworldly flutters, oscillated tones and flanged rotations of the machine are kept in a straight line by Park’s legato picking. The thoughtful pauses audible in the guitar playing confirms Park’s human-ness, especially when compared to the grainy whistles and juddering vibrations that arise from io 0. 0. 1 beta++. Additionally, while the machine’s gradually swelling splutters and harsh quivers demonstrate broken octave counterpoint to the saxophonists’ multiphonic oscillations, its hissing abrasions retreat into the background as Park’s spidery licks become more rhythmic.

Nonetheless the machine further demonstrates its versatility on the 59-second ‘4G’, with metallic muted trombone-like snores and even raises the question as to whether io 0. 0. 1 beta++ or extended saxophone techniques are creating the air pops and abrasive tongue flutters on subsequent tracks. In the main crackling reductionist resonations are attributed to its properties, while any legato or lyrical intermezzos are, more likely than not, propelled from the instruments and imaginations of full-fledged Homo sapiens.

Succinctly as the three demonstrate on ‘Return Trajectory’, during which io 0. 0. 1 beta++ appears to have taken five, an additional voice—human or otherwise—is necessary to create a pleasing sound picture. The guitarist’s connective down strokes plus the swelling layers of contrapuntal reed timbres are distinctive and solipsistic enough on their own.

Notable in demonstrating what artificial intelligent can contribute to an improv session, this CD also confirms that the very artificiality of AI confirms that robotic players won’t be taking all the musicians’ jobs any time soon. [Read the rest…]

[More info on the recording…] [All reviews…]

‘io 0.0.1 beta++ (SLAMCD 531) CD cover (copyright 2011, Han-earl Park)

‘io 0.0.1 beta++’ (SLAMCD 531) is available from SLAM Productions. [Details…]

personnel: io 0.0.1 beta++ (itself), Han-earl Park (guitar), Bruce Coates (alto and sopranino saxophones) and Franziska Schroeder (soprano saxophone).

© 2011 Han-earl Park.
℗ 2011 SLAM Productions.

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