Sounding Letters

The idea of Sounding Letters is to use the initial letters of Ars Electronica Futurelab and Ars Electronica Center as a musical theme and to compose a piece of music based on this theme by using an AI system. Both the Ars Electronica Futurelab and the Ars Electronica Center celebrated their 25th anniversaries in 2021.

The representation is based on the following idea: Notes in music can be represented as letters. Eight letters A to G are used for this purpose. A C-major scale, for example, is represented as C, D, E, F, G, A, B. Each letter corresponds to a note that can occur in different octaves. In the case of the Ars Electronica Futurelab the musical theme consists of A-E-F and in the case of the Ars Electronica Center the theme is: A-E-C.

From a musical point of view, an interesting aspect of these themes is that all the notes belong to the same or similar chords (e.g A-min, F-maj, F-maj7 or A-min6) and thus all the letters harmonize in any combination. In the history of music, several examples can be found in which composers use this notation to represent words, names, initial letters or even messages in their music and to “encrypt” a message in their music. Apparently, the representation is limited to only eight letters (or nine in the German system) and cannot be used in many cases.

We fed these musical themes into Ricercar, an AI-based music composition system being developed at the Ars Electronica Futurelab, and used it to compose several pieces of music. We selected one of the pieces as a musical baseline that was performed at the Ars Electronica Festival 2021 together with human musicians.

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Demo: Sounding Letters — Visualized AI/Human composed piano performance

Not only this composition is thus created in close collaboration between human and machine. Also the result is performed by the artist in a joint performance together with a Steinway & Sons Spirio self-playing piano.

Read more about Sounding Letters and The Ars Electronica Futurelab Ideas Expedition on the Ars Electronica Blog:


Ali Nikrang

Sounding Letters is a winner project of the 2021 Ars Electronica Futurelab Ideas Expedition

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Interested in similar projects? The following Ars Electronica Futurelab projects are related to the ideas and concepts presented here. An overview of all our productions, cooperations and projects can be found in our project archive.