Aesthetics, interaction and machine improvisation

Henrik Frisk

Goodbye Intuition


  • The artistic research project Goodbye Intuition (GI), hosted by the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo.
  • At the center of the project is the develompent of a machine co-player that the four members of the project interact with

Goodbye Intuition


  • The general idea is to challenge the roles and aesthetical values of the four musicians in the group.
  • Members of the group are: Ivar Grydeland, Morten Qvenild, Andrea Neumann and Sidsel Endresen.

What does it do?

  • Collects material (sampling)
  • Builds an archive
  • Plays back material based on a limited range of possible musical settings
  • Settings may be varied during performance

The automated improvisor KA

What is the identity of this, and similar, systems?

  • An instrument?
  • A performer?
  • A composer?
  • A composition?

    Ambiguity is typical for interactive environments (e.g. Lippe 2002)

My focus

  • A study on the interaction with the improvising machine
  • What was it that triggered discussions concerning:
    • aesthetical judgments
    • interactive experience
    • judgments explored and questioned
    • the interpretative space opened up through the experience of playing with the seemingly responsive machine co-player

Performance by Andrea Neumann and KA

Discussion of performance

Composition or player?

One of the topics raised early on in the workshop in Stockholm was the notion of KA as a composition rather than a co-improviser, or an instrument.

Composed instruments

Interpreting the attitude of the performer of a composed instrument with the help of categories from the traditional way music is created leads to various metaphors such as that of playing a musical instrument, conducting an orchestra, playing together (ensemble) with a machine, acting as a one-man band. (Schnell & Battier 2002)

The power of anthropomorphism

KA is often talked about as

  • trying to do something
  • being in a state (of mind)
  • consciously going in a particular direction or making a choice

A consequence of the nature of musical practice as embodied and founded in awareness and communication?

Not to listen

  • How to get a machine improvisor to not listen?
  • How can it be rude?
  • But not all the time…
  • How can it contribute meaningful resistance?
  • An interactive instrument being not interactive.
  • What's the point of being rude to an instrument that doesn't care?

For KA, what is the role of the underlying code?

  • What constitutes ethical behaviour in musical improvisation and artistic practice extends what is generally seen as acceptable
  • The ethics of improvisation is negotiated through the aesthetics of the context
  • What does actually guide the aesthetics of KA or any other machine improviser or meta-instrument?

What (if any) is the next step for machine improvsation?

  • It is possible (or likely) that tools are developed that exhibit 'real' musical intelligence
  • What is the freedom of such a tool?
  • Are we prepared to let it develop its own aesthetics, and hence its own ethics?
  • What if the machine does not want to play with humans at all?
  • What contraints may we put on the machine's freedom without it altering the freedom we generally allow humans?

Intervention 1

  • Until machines create machines they depend on human progammers and designers that have values
  • Even advanced machine learning algorithms are influenced by biases (Snow 2018)1

Intervention 2

  • Musical performance is not solely dependent on sound but also by a great number of other impressions.
  • Hence, if the machine is only listening to sound, it's limited
  • KA has no physicality, no body, and no presence, which is a great disadvantage

If you play with humans you have an idea of their aesthetics so that part is kind of integrated, on beforehand. So maybe there is always some kind of quick preparation, or plan in order to feed into the total?

Sidsel Endresen Lab #5, part 2, 19 February, 2019.

Final sound bite

Thank you!

Henrik Frisk