Thuistezien 187 — 24.02.2021

Instrumental Shifts
Panel Discussion with Dick Rijken, Ash Koosha, Dr. Róisín Loughran, Mick Grierson, Maaike Harbers.

Rewire was cancelled in 2020. But before the world turned upside with the Novel Coronavirus, The Hague was accustomed to the festival spreading across the city once a year, bringing together music venues, cultural institutions, an international lineup of musical artists, and audience members from all across the world. Performances at 'Rewire Festival’ typically range from electronic dance music, to contemporary classical works, to avant-garde electronic solo sets, to off-beat rock bands and much more. Attendees could watch a tiny experimental music concert, then attend a talk or a workshop, then see a rock band on a large gig stage, and then end the day by dancing the night away. The festival’s programming has been endlessly eclectic, always able to bring together unique acts from varying backgrounds, and routinely programming musical acts that showcase cutting edge electronic elements.
As such, hosted as part of the 2019 Rewire Festival, the ‘Instrumental Shifts Symposium’ was co-organized with RE:VIVE (an initiative of The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision), and West. The day-long program took place at West and featured an array of speakers working in the cross-sections of computer engineering and research, music performance and academia, and electronic instrument building. As stated in the programme, the talks and presentations explored ‘different perspectives on the new frontiers of computer science, music, and future technologies’ and ‘the dynamic facets of artificial intelligence and how they contribute to evolving creative processes’. For those attending the talks who were not particularly versed in the more technical side of contemporary digital music exploration the day gave them a chance to look under the bonnet of many of today’s electronic music practices, taking them headfirst into the unique and vastly nuanced facets of this world. For the already initiated it was an opportunity to explore new and contrasting ideas on these ever-evolving topics.

In the culminating event of the day, several of the Symposium’s speakers were brought together for the Panel Discussion we see in the video. With the speakers now going ‘off script’ after their respective talks and presentations, we see them freely exchanging their ideas and debating issues relating to artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer generated music, and contemporary music culture. Through their discussion we discover new sides to the issues opened up in the Symposium. We see on the one hand how public opinion of Artificial Intelligence is often very much at odds with that of the people actively exploring it and developing it. But then we also see just how many different approaches and perspectives there are also amongst the individuals whose work is heavily involved with this topic. We discover how it is a field that is very much still in its infancy and are given a glimpse into the boundless and unforeseeable possibilities of this world as it is being experimented with and implemented in new and different ways. It is anyone’s guess how these discoveries may be utilized in the future, or what they may reveal about us as human beings.

A note-worthy thought that stands out from these discussions is that as people continue exploring this technology the more it brings up questions about how we as humans think, how we moralise, and what we consider intelligent. When implementing this technology in music it makes us question what it is about music that stimulates us and excites us, and if it is possible to dissect and automate the ingredients that are used to create meaningful music. The idea we casually hold is that artificial intelligence is an objective tool allowing machines to do complex thinking on a superior level to what humans can achieve. Yet, the more the panel discusses the more they reveal how little we actually even know about human intelligence. Or what thinking even is. To build machines that can think and learn as humans one starting point is to emulate human thinking, but that is contingent on us understanding human thinking. With artificial intelligence we might think scientists are expanding the capabilities of the human mind. But those attempting to do so seem to discover just how little we know about what intelligence even is, and so often end up looking deeper within the human brain before attempting to move beyond it.

Seated L to R in the video: Dick Rijken, Mick Grierson, Maaike Harbers, Ash Koosha, Dr. Róisín Loughran.

Prview image: Wolfgang Spahn
Text: James Alexandropoulos – McEwan