Musicians do the robot over new technologies

Imagine hearing an improvisational duet between two jazz musicians: funky, but pretty standard. Now imagine that one member of the duet is actually a computer program playing along and improvising simultaneously with the human player.

If you’re surprised by this, then know that there is one man who is not.

Robert Rowe, professor of Music, director of the Music Composition Program and associate director of the Music Technology Program at New York University (NYU) came to the College on Oct. 10 to talk at the Music Technology Symposium. Rowe is regarded as an expert in the field of Machine Musicianship, which is the implementation of computers in analyzing, performing and composing music.

Rowe demonstrated exactly why he is considered an expert during his talk at the Music Technology Symposium. He is the creator of a program called Cypher, which allows a computer to take input from a human player, flip it around, adjust it and then replay it in its own form.

Playing a sample clip, Rowe showed how the computer has the capability to play a solo piece. When the clip stopped playing, the program began listening to itself, analyzed what was played and used this information to adjust what it was currently playing so as not to sound redundant.

The technology works in real time, which means that these computations are occurring so quickly they are perceived to be almost instantaneous.

Rowe demonstrated to the Symposium exactly how this technology has progressed by showing clips from a duet called the Technophobe and the Madman that was performed live and occurred simultaneously, though the performers were in different cities. Using a connection called Internet 2, the performers shared both audio and video signals. The connection is so fast, the performers might as well have been in the same room together.

According to Teresa Marrin Nakra, professor of Music at the College, there are Internet 2 resources available at the College and students should contact the IT department for more information.

When asked about the convergence of music and technology in markets like the video game industry, as with the popular game “Guitar Hero,” Rowe was very supportive.

“(It was) very informative,” Anthony Caruso, senior music major, said of Rowe’s presentation. Caruso is interested in and has been playing and creating music similar to that which Rowe specializes in.

In addition to his teaching duties at NYU, Rowe has recorded and performs for concerts around the world, including shows in North America, Europe and Asia. When asked what his favorite piece he ever composed was, the answer was no specific one.

“You don’t have a favorite among your children,” Rowe said with a slight smile, though he said one of his recent favorites was “Cigar Smoke,” a collaboration between a clarinet and a computer.