Music made by man and machine: For the Big Concert Night at the 2019 Ars Electronica Festival, Ali Nikrang, Key Researcher at the Ars Electronica Futurelab, added to Gustav Mahler’s unfinished Tenth Symphony – together with an artificially intelligent algorithm.
A musical piece missing an ending
Mahler’s Tenth exists only in sketches, the most complete of which is the score draft of the first movement. Normally, Mahler would not have transferred his work in fair copy until after first rehearsals and several adaptations, but with this symphony, things were different: Due to illness, the artist was unable to continue working on his last work and died before completing it. The first movement is orchestrated to such an extent that an orchestra can play it, but the rest remains difficult to perform.
This is precisely the point at which Ali Nikrang comes in: To demonstrate the capabilities of state-of-the-art AI systems for music composition, he used MuseNet to compose a piece of music based on the main themes of Gustav Mahler’s 10th Symphony and then orchestrated the resulting music by hand until it was ready for performance by an orchestra.
From ten notes to a symphony
The musician and scientist fed OpenAI’s model MuseNet with the first ten notes of the musical theme of Mahler’s 10th Symphony. The dark melody, played purely by unaccompanied violas, was used by MuseNet as the starting point for the continuation of the piece. After the generated music had been orchestrated by Nikrang by hand for an orchestra, the project Mahler-Unfinished was performed on September 6, 2019 by the Bruckner Orchestra Linz, conducted by Markus Poschner, at the Big Concert Night at the Ars Electronica Festival. The artist and alchemist Akiko Nakayama contributed fascinating visualizations with her work Alive Painting.
Computer-generated music performed with an orchestra; technological quality made possible only this year by AI models such as MuseNet; a renowned orchestral ensemble with a world-class conductor; and the continuation of a symphony the composer himself had never experienced before: Mahler-Unfinished is the first project of its kind, the performance at the Ars Electronica Festival 2019 – a world premiere.
Read more in the interview with Ali Nikrang on the Ars Electronica Blog:
Orchestra: Bruckner Orchestra Linz, principal conductor: Markus Poschner
Artificial Intelligence: MuseNet by OpenAI, Christine M. Payne
Ars Electronica Futurelab: Ali Nikrang, Peter Freudling, Stefan Mittlböck, Roland Aigner, Gerfried Stocker
Live Visualizations: Akiko Nakayama