Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Steering the Pitches

One of my favorite online video bloggers is a guy named Christian Henson. He's a media composer and a "big cheese" at Spitfire Audio, who produce some of the orchestral samples I use my composition. Christian is a very intelligent guy who -- as I do -- tends to wander through diverse topics. His "vlog" is often about composition and often about life -- always about both. I have learned a great deal from him about the craft of composing "orchestral mockups" -- in short, orchestral music from recorded samples of real players -- and he has often left me thinking long and hard about life. (A man after my own heart.)

But, the other day, he made me realize that I have had just about enough of The Information Age.

The topic was whether "the media composer" (he or she who composes for film, games and TV) will become extinct with the recent inception of artificial intelligence "composition." Apparently -- this is the first I have heard of it -- there are services through which you can have music composed through A.I. know what? I just don't effing care.

I can't be wringing my hands over whether the machines will take over the world or whether I will lose my next gig to a Mac Pro. What I have to do is what I know I can do: keep writing music that is better than that which any machine will ever write. I know that some people will not be able to tell the difference between mine and a tune generated by algorithm, but...what, exactly, am I supposed to do with this information? -- that one can order music written by a program that comes more cheaply and more quickly? One only has so much energy for lifetime. One only has so much "bandwidth" for each day.

We live in the "Information Age," so, every moment, we see another article that tells us how we are doing everything wrong. Apart from the fake stuff (and it is out there, in droves, despite Trump's absurd attempt to claim credit for the "fake news" phrase and his tendency to paint anything he doesn't like as "fake") there is a never-ending parade of bad news and revisionist philosophy about what we do and how we do it. "Information" shared among "communities." (Both worlds just about make me puke at this point.)

It seems to me that, in futuristic retrospect, one of the virtues of a person of our time will have been determined to have been the ability to ignore the smothering torrents of information we endure all day, every day; to push forth regardless of the world's attempt to overload our memory banks.

Those who distinguish themselves to future recognition will be the ones who acted upon their feelings and instincts: the dad who handled his son's scraped knee the way he saw fit and not the dad who read a ton of articles about how comforting the boy too much is a mistake or that not comforting him as much as he wants is a mistake; the mom who lets her frightened kid sleep in her bed because it feels right and not because the choice is validated on several websites; the writer who still uses a typewriter and delivers his manuscripts in person because it feels right; the guy who holds doors because it is right and does not fear the implications about gender relations; the businessperson who is not afraid to tell his or her employees they"look nice today;" the teacher who is not afraid to tell a student his answer is wrong.

Am I raising my kids right? Am I brushing my teeth right? Washing my face with the right soap? Is soap okay on my face, at all? Is artificial intelligence going to start writing books? Are there not enough black men in baseball? Are there not enough white guys in football? Is every person who voted for Trump a racist? Is time in sun worth the vitamin D, in spite of the cancer risk? Are hallucinogens the future of treating depression? If we treat suicide with too much understanding, will more people do it? If we call it cowardice, will it cause more suffering? How many sexes are there, exactly? Should we change everything if .00000000908% of the population is unhappy? Does Mozart really make babies smarter? How many hours should I allow my son to play Call of Duty? Is Call of Duty causing mass shootings? Is my house a more healthful place with the windows open? Or...closed?

...are composers going to become obsolete?

I just don't care. I need to live and do. I need to feel and act. Every one of those things in the long paragraph above -- with a pinch of hyperbole, perhaps -- is something that social and conventional media have attempted to chloroform me with over the last week.

I don't blame Christian for bringing up the topic and, in fact, he had some encouraging things to say about us humans. But, good Lord, I find myself saying, more and more, "What am I supposed to do with this information?" Rather than work to comfort myself that it will all be okay for composers, I'm just going to crank out more music. Rather than worry about what is socially acceptable, I'm just going to keep being nice to people.

Some time ago, there was a piece on the radio about publishers using e-reader algorithms to track reader tendencies: How long do they read per session? Which pages do they spend the most time on? What content makes them slow down in their reading? What makes them skip forward? Do they read inside or outside? When Stephen King was asked about what he thought about this, he said it better than I could. He said he wants nothing to do with this info. He needs to write. Using this information before writing, he said, would encourage a pitcher to try to steer the ball after it leaves his hand.


Maybe worst of all the consequences of The Information Age is the fact that as we are being filled with information, we are forgetting how to use reasoning. Why should we think things through if we can scoop up all of our procedures in a quick Internet search?

Maybe I can sum it all up with the example of the map and the GPS in a car. Sure, a map is information, but you need to reason your way through it; see what road connects to which; decide whether to go north, south, east or west...choose scenic routes over highways... The GPS gets us there; tells us where and when to turn. We've though about nothing, planned nothing and have been more-or-less uninvolved in our own journey.

We have turned from explorers into direction-followers, literally and metaphorically. We think less and react more. We join on-line "communities" and thought-groups. It's easier that way.


  1. You won't be surprised to know I'm with you on this. I see endless online handwriting about the "future of poetry," and there's lots of junk on social media masquerading as poetry (look into the phenomenon of "Instagram Poets" if you need a rueful laugh), but beyond writing poetry, reading and buying poetry, and supporting teachers who help expand the audience for poetry...what more can one do? All the handwriting is just time out of life.

    As for what machines can learn to do: I recently checked my Facebook advertising profile and learned, to my great amusement that the site thinks I'm "very liberal" and that my "multicultural affinity" is "African American." We're going to look back at these days as an era of misplaced faith in algorithms.

    1. Hi, Jeff -- sorry about long response time! Seems Blogger doesn't want to send me notifications anymore... It is funny how we talk so proudly of our technology, even ignoring its flaws, just as our forefathers did. I too am a algorithm atheist! Some day we will be considered quaint, for all our technological bravado.