The influence of technology on classical music may not always have been an obvious one, but whether it was the invention of the printing press or the advent of music scoring software, it has been significant.
From AI composing software to immersive digital learning tools, we explore some of the innovative new technologies that are currently transforming the world of classical music.
While the concept of creating music via AI and algorithmic technology has been developing for a significant number of years now, several recent developments have brought the idea closer to reality than ever before.
Most notable of these developments is the unveiling of Aiva, an AI program for composing music. The brainchild of computer scientist and composer Pierre Barreau, Aivauses machine learning algorithms to examine thousands of pieces of music by history’s most famous and celebrated composers. This data is then used to create entirely new pieces of music, without any further input from a human specialist.
The results of this process are often startlingly complex – when Aiva’s creators played its music to a panel of experts, they were unable to distinguish it from music created by humans.
But while it may be the most advanced use of AI in classical music so far, it’s not the only one. Other projects, including Google’s Magenta, are pursuing similar goals, while on a more immediate level Steinberg’s music notation software Dorico already implements several AI features. While some voices have worried that we could see the end of human created art, others have suggested that the technology could have more practical elements as an aid for composers and people learning about music for the first time.
While the integration of AI into the way that we create and experience music has prompted significant debate, the use of virtual reality, along with its close cousin augmented reality, is also worth noting.
Several projects, including a ‘virtual orchestra’ partnership between the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Southbank Centre, have used VR technology as a medium for classical music performances, in an effort to engage more people in live classical music. However, virtual reality has also shown promise as an educational tool for music classrooms, allowing children to learn music in a more immersive, three-dimensional manner.
One particularly innovative project, by the Australian Discovery Orchestra, turns musical compositions into playable virtual environments, in which people must complete objectives so that they can unlock each section of the complete piece of music. Whether these tools can overcome their reputation as expensive gimmicks, and become a more ubiquitous feature of concert halls and classrooms, remains to be seen.
When it comes to tech tools, it’s understandable that it will be the most disruptive, cutting-edge technologies that will garner the most attention. But by far the most notable current changes, especially when it comes to classical music education, are occurring at a much smaller, more incremental level. The increasing use of tablet devices in classrooms has led to a wide range of innovative learning apps for teaching kids to understand the basics of music, experiment with new sounds and broaden their sonic horizons – from cloud-based music libraries to apps like O-Generator, which uses musical styles from around the world to help children understand music theory.
From the futuristic and the cutting-edge to the more everyday, technology is changing the way that we create, experience and understand music. It remains to be seen how each of these technologies will impact classical music in the long term, but they have the potential to bring music to whole new audiences.