Can computer music express emotion?

Lately I’ve been thinking about how to use MIDI (the musical “language” of computers) to create music that sounds as if it was played by a human being. When a computer represents music on its most basic level – just rhythm, melody, harmony and volume – it sounds unexpressive (think of the songs from 1980s video games for example.) In reality, music has many more dimensions than just those basic four. You can play an eighth note hard or soft and let it ring out in many different ways. Can you program those subtleties into computer music? I believe you can imbue computer music with human qualities and this is the first step in my plan to replace human beings with robots.

The lack of expressivity is particularly a problem in classical music which is known to speed up and slow down at the whim of the performer. Are there any rules for this tempo modulation? I’ve been reading a book entitled “Music, Language and the Brain” and it tackles this very question.

At a finer timescale, Repp found that within individual melodic phrases there was a tendency to accelerate at the beginning and slow near the end…Repp speculated that this pattern may resemble human locomotion, in other words, a musical allusion to physical movement.”
(Pages 114-115)

There’s another interesting point on what is referred to as expression in music.

Listeners can reliably identify performances of the same music as expressive, deadpan (mechanical), or exaggerated, and can identify the performer’s intended emotion on the basis of expressive features.
(Page 116)

On its face, there’s nothing really stunning about that statement. But if one could identify which properties of music correlate to which forms of expressivity (at a really granular level – not just “loud equals excited”) one could go a long ways towards creating expressive computer music.

Why do I care? As I’ve mentioned, music is a close to worthless commodity now. So the whole process of paying musicians to come into a recording studio (which I am also paying for) to produce a valueless product is not that appealing. If I could use a computer to replace those musicians I could save a lot of money. This hints at the notion that musicians will become a dying breed, like horseshoe makers, and will wander the streets begging for alms. I will simply laugh at them and sleep with their wives who will gladly debase themselves with anyone willing to toss aside a loaf of bread.

2 Responses to “Can computer music express emotion?”


  1. John Saleeby

    “Dan, I’ve got bad news.”

    “What, Doctor?”

    “You’ve got Low Testosterone!”

    “Oh . . . That’s okay.”

    “You’re barely a MAN!”

    “Whatever.”

    “You’re not even man enough to be a HOMO!”

    “Meh.”

    “You’re not even a HUMAN BEING!”

    “Bo-ring!”

  2. Wil

    Is this Dan in Real Life?