Music for Computers

At the Berlin transmediale 2015, Danish musician and performer Goodiepal presented his performance-installation “Drop-In or Drop Out!”, a continuation of his acclaimed “El Camino Del Hardcore - Rejsen Til Nordens Indre…” (2009-12). Through his installation, he focused on the way technological inventions such as the Internet have formalized knowledge and the capability of the human psyche to imagine things beyond this formalization.

In order to reclaim a space of imagination, Goodiepal has been engaged in the creation of what he calls “unscannable” objects and practices in the past few years. The publication of “El Camino Del Hardcore” follows this logic, as it is constantly evolving, handmade and not available online, contains encrypted texts and is assembled from the author’s sometimes incomplete personal memories.

The short interview he gave during the festival provides additional information on the development of Goodiepal’s work as a traveling performer on a self-made bike, his former occupation as a lecturer at the Danish Royal Academy of Arts, and his personal outlook on the relation of artificial intelligence and the arts.

  • Date of recording: Wed, 2015-02-11
  • Language(s) spoken:

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00:05 Introduction

LF: Hello, this is Leo Findeisen for transformingfreedom.org/.com, we are here at the transmediale 2015, and the main theme is “Collect it all”, or “Collect all”. So it’s not… it’s a very obsessive theme in a way. But now, what we do with our beautiful digital culture, with all these great and beautiful things that we carry with us and that we have at home, and type in, and so on… And then there was somebody pointing me to a quite well-known artist, a sound artist, maybe also a meaning artist, which would be a concept artist, called Goodiepal from, if I’m correct, Denmark and Iceland.

G: No, the Faroe Islands.

LF: The Faroe Islands

G: Yeah, right in between.

LF: And so, Denmark and the Faroe Islands have been visited by Goodiepal. Also, they have visited him in his world, in his music, and, so I have been told, that Goodiepal actually has different thoughts for these things called machines that blink and that do things; that we type in and that can record our voice, like this machine here. So, hello Goodiepal.

G: Good day.

LF: So, can you make meaning out of this little hint that somebody said: you think we should treat machines more ethically?

G: That’s what I have been talking about, but I don’t really know if… That is, treating other people, or treating other beings more ethically is something – it’s an option, it’s not something you have to do, but to choose kindness is always a beautiful thing.

01:55 Communicating with artificial intelligence through art

It started out with me being a teacher at the Royal Academy of Music in Denmark. And I realized that my students needed some new thought in their music, basically. And I said: I mean, a lot of people say that art forms culture, but I think it’s very important sometimes to say – maybe art does not form culture, but maybe at least it can comment on (was: come from) culture. So instead of being so big about that it actually forms the culture we’re living in, maybe it just comments on (was: come of) it. I mean, I’m not saying it does, I’m not saying it doesn’t, but that’s basically where it started out.

I thought it would be interesting to ask my students what the computers have promised us but have not given us, and they did not really understand my question. So, I went to the library and I looked up a whole lot of things and I found an article from the 60s, stating “In twenty years of time, the computer will be more intelligent than the human brain,” and another one from the 70s, saying “In twenty years’ time, the computer will be more advanced than the human brain,” and one from the 80s, et cetera, et cetera. So that singularity is something that keeps getting pushed in front of us. And this was in 2003.

I started working with these ideas, and I presented them in 2007, and my students thought they were relatively boring and they didn’t understand if I was going down some kind of recursive path, which at that time had become sort of “the big thing” and blah blah blah.

LF: In what? Can you just quote it?

G: In… artificial intelligence, computers predicting the future, blah blah blah, but from an American perspective. But, see, I believe that, if the computer is going to be more intelligent than the human brain, than we have to take it in as human beings, accepting that it is more intelligent and then, instead of saying “What are we going to do about it?” we can say, “How can we go into a cultural dialogue with another intelligent being here, on planet Earth?”

And it was very interesting, because a lot of my friends at the time did not want to go into such a dialogue. They said, “Nah, music is for human beings only.” And I think it’s very interesting to do such a distinction, saying: “Music is only for human beings”, because who are you to say that? If you, for example, perform music here and two foxes come running in through the door, and they like the music, were you to say, “Get out! You’re not human beings?” So, basically, why do you do the distinction? Because the next logical distinction is, then, to say that music is only for men, or only for women, or only for women and not for men, or saying that music is only for a certain kind of homo sapiens – that could be white people, black people, whatever. It could also be, “This kind of music is only for people with red hair,” and things like that. So why do you want to discriminate? Why don’t you just say, “My music is for everyone that listens, or everything that listens?”

And that started some interesting philosophical discussions. Generally speaking the more culture a country had, or the more pride in its own culture, the more unlikely the people living in the country… the more unlikely the people were to embrace the idea of performing for some other beings from other… and that’s very interesting.

So when I was teaching at King’s College in London, there was a guy called John Deathridge, and he really, really did not like… he was very against it. He said, “Music is only for human beings, period. That’s about it.” He was not interested in performing for another intelligence, or for aliens, or whatever. This is not… And he was very interesting, because he was very pro-European culture, and every time he talked about European culture, he clenched his right hand and talked about it. He has also written a book called “Wagner beyond Good and Evil” and he was very pro-European music. But I only believe that European music, or music in that way that he was seeing it, as some supreme art form, can be supreme if it’s shared. You have to bring it all over the place and share it with anybody and everybody you can share it with; that is wonderful. And if it’s something better, than let’s embrace that instead. But he was very protective of his European ideals and I thought that was very strange – but he’s an English person, and English people are very protective of their…

German people have a different way, I presented here at the interartica in Berlin as well, and they were very different, they had a different approach to it. Still, they were very… They considered making music for the computer in the future as something of a stupid idea; and so did the Danes, but less, somehow. Not because they were not as pro-European culture, but because they simply did not really understand the question, I think, so that is, basically, where it ended.

Anyways, so generally speaking, we play music for purposes. That is what a lot of my students said, they said, “I play music to get laid”, or “I play music to dance”, or “I play music to get a grant”, or “I play music for this and that.” And I thought, yeah, that’s ok, but generally speaking, the things that we consider art are generally dealing with things too big for the human mind to understand, such as love, death, time and the universe, themes like that. That is going for most poetry, most composers talk about these things, most painters try to incorporate these things. And, therefore, I think that was a good place to start out and say, well, if basically what we consider art is things that we do not understand, than potentially also things that a computer would not understand would then be going into a dialogue with such a being.

Then, we can say, ok, it is all very speculative. So, worst case scenario, we will never get in contact with artificial, alternative intelligence of the computer, but we will learn more about what it means to be a human being in the first place, so that’s not so bad. That is the worst case. In the best case, we will actually do that and we will have a rock-‘n-roll time.

07:52 Disagreements with academia

But most people who deal in or who are interested in artificial intelligence in a speculative manner are not interested in communicating with that artificial intelligence. They are interested in talking about when it happens, and then, what the devastating effect of such a thing is. And that is the wrong way of approaching this. You have to say, as soon as you have created such an intelligence, you also have to find out how to have a dialogue, or how to have something with that thing.

So, I don’t think we are really ready to accept artificial intelligence yet, simply because we still call it “artificial.” We do not call it “another intelligence,” we call it an “artificial intelligence.” So I started out dealing a lot with this, and then I was thrown out from being a teacher at the Royal Academy of Music in Denmark. And then I was also thrown out from King’s College in London. And then I was doing my lectures more in a performative manner because that was the way I could get away with it. And that’s basically what I still do today: I perform my lectures, and I perform my things in different ways, and that’s what we are doing here.

LF: I would be interested to know how many years you have been teaching at the Royal Academy.

G: I was teaching for five years.

LF: When you were thrown out, was it because of your funny questions?

G: Yeah, yeah. It took them about four years to realize what I was teaching to the students, and then they said I had to stop teaching that, and I had to teach them computer music; and I said, well, I am teaching computer music, I’m teaching next-level computer music. So that was it, and then I was thrown out. But that’s a whole other story. Well, it was not so bad to be thrown out, because I have been teaching at most at other places after that, so that was good. I mean, I am here, partially, for that reason as well.

LF: Did you have to care for a family already?

G: I do not have a family, so I was lucky with that, I think. It would have been a completely different situation. No, but that’s good. So, no more teaching, and on the road, that is basically where I’m at.

LF: And can you tell me: did you come… If I understand correctly, you evolved that question, and the project of developing a creative process, of answering it. You developed this there, in the academic setting, or…

G: Yeah, somehow. I mean, I … I think I… One of the most interesting questions along with… I was raising the questions and my students had a space to raise them. In order to create a future for the students as well. Because usually, if you go to an academy, an art academy, where people are taught to paint and things, then painters are very interested in talking about their work. If you ask them, they have a lot to talk about. Composers generally don’t want to talk about their work, they are very protective of it, somehow. They think you are not allowed to find out. They are, like, whew. But it’s also interesting because the academies – well, that’s the place where you learn. But a conservatory – that’s a place that conserves music, somehow.

So I thought it was important to raise some of the questions inside music. But music is a limited structure. It is a very free structure, but the understanding of music is limited. So you always have things that happen: if you want to question music, you have to go outside of music and then wait until music can accept what you are doing as music, basically. And that’s not a new thing, but if you take all the Fluxus things, which people today are performing as music: they were all happening at art galleries, etc., etc., etc.

So, at the same time, here we have… I mean, I don’t blame these people for not being able to raise the questions, but, generally speaking, at the conservatories around Europe at that time, I was… There were not many that were able to question what we were doing. Most people were interested in just refining and… I mean, they were very happy when we understood, for example, what electronic music was, and made an agreement, basically, that was they came out with two speakers. That it evolved from academic tape work but moved into some kind of electronic hack crap, and that was basically acceptable enough. But that’s not radical computer music. The radical computer music is to say, “Ok, let’s try to make music not necessarily with computers, but for computers.” And that was what kind of came up.

12:35 Distribution and the value of knowledge

But now, it’s been a completely different story ever since, because – well, long story. But now, I have built a bike with which I travel. It has two dynamos on it, which allows me to make my own electricity, so I can say that real computer musicians make their own electricity and potentially build their own bikes as well. And that comes down to another few things that I think are interesting. One of them is that I don’t believe – I’m not so interested in the context and content of information any longer, I’m more interested in how the information is actually distributed.

I think we have to look into that more. And now, when we have mostly all information available, it’s much more interesting to say “But how is that information actually distributed?” And most of what is over-information these days is also based on distribution, and not on the actual information any longer. For example, if there is a Hollywood film out there, then various people will fight each other because you are not allowed to upload it to YouTube, but you can go to another site and download it, etc.

So, distribution of knowledge is much more important now, or much more aesthetically interesting than actually the information itself, which comes down to the only interesting thing I have ever said and that I call the Goodiepal equation: and that is basically that in this idea of technology, in that we move further, and further, and further into a spinning wheel of knowledge, and everything has to move faster and faster and faster and faster.

We do forget one thing, which I think is very true, and that is that the further a message has traveled over space and time, the more importance can you add to its content, meaning that anything that you and I are talking about here is of very little importance, simply because it happens right now. But if you keep this recording for, let’s say, ten years, then it will be of more importance already, simply by the time that will have passed. Anything that the Beatles talked about when they were playing in Hamburg will be much more interesting than anything Metallica talked about when they played in Berlin, simply because it has traveled further over space and time. So anything – yeah, but it’s true.

Anything John Cage said in New York in the 60s will be of more importance than anything Metallica said in Berlin, or even the Beatles in Hamburg, simply because it traveled further over space and time. And you can go… you can move further and further down the line, and anything written in ancient Egypt, even graffiti on the wall, just saying da-da-da, or something, or anything written in ancient Greek is something that scholars would be “Mhmmm!”

So, if we take that to the furthest distance than we can say that anything that is transmitted from another planet, that travelled maybe a thousand light-years, and has therefore been on its way for a very long time, would be therefore the most important message we have ever … no matter what it says. If it just says “Crap!” or “Yo!” than that is the most important thing that ever happened to the human race. So, I would say that actually importance is added to information simply by the amount the information travels, and that’s the Goodiepal equation.


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Audio recorded at transmediale 2015.

Image source: https://vimeo.com/105115205