Interview with composer David Cope - Part II

Patricio da Silva: How should the modern composer be educated?
David Cope: The theory part would be: 
(1) skills - singing, hearing, playing; 
(2) music - the textbooks for the classes would be just music; 
(3) algorithms - students and teacher would study and perform music to extract 
the algorithms that the composers used to create this music. 
The composing part would be: 
Use the skills, knowledge of music, and algorithms from the above to initially 
compose music in the styles and forms of known music and to slowly derive from this 
process their own style algorithms. 

David Cope

Will a composer educated in a standard American university get what you've just 

Mostly, no. In general, American university music programs are too fragmented 
(i.e., not integrated) with one teacher in charge of sight-singing, another teaching 
ear-training, another teaching theory, another teaching keyboard. Often these 
segmented areas run at different paces and it's very hard for students to get any 
idea how they are related. Also, theory is most often taught as a series of 
generalized rules prohibiting things which composers actually did. The rules are 
often expressed as definite rather than approximate rules and students create 
academic and often useless results. Rarely are students asked or encouraged to 
relate what they're doing to actual literature, thus it often seems to them that these 
are math classes rather than music classes. While certainly some skills are learned, 
because they seem divorced from reality they are quickly forgotten. Rarely do 
young composers get a chance to model music after music from the past. Rarely is 
style discussed.

The term algorithm is often considered scientific and ignored. 
You conclude your article On Algorithmic Representations of Musical Style, (Cope 
1992), with the following statement: "Music may or may not be the universal 
language, but the evidence that it is a language seems substantial." Do you assume 
that, as modern linguistics proved with the concept of a generative grammar, there 
are similar biological constraints in our brain for the processing of music, of all 
music, independently of cultural contours, that is, if tonal, atonal or any other?

Note that I use the words "may or may not be" and "seems substantial" as cautious 
suggestions rather than statements of fact. Stating that "modern linguistics proved" on 
the other hand seems very bold. Given current psychological, genome, and brain 
revelations, I doubt very much that anyone has "proved" anything much at all 
regarding the brain. What I believe I assumed in my statement is that we "process" 
the pitches, loudness, rhythms, inflections, and articulations of music with many of 
the same "processors" that we do language. The mix of biological and experiential 
influences on our thinking is so complex and individual that we may never 
understand it fully. However, I hope that while there are vague inherited reactions 
to, say, consonance and dissonance, that we are not preprogrammed toward, say, 
tonal music over atonal music. Unfortunately, even the studies at major universities 
of child reactions to consonance and dissonance are hopelessly biased (I was 
particularly privy to a recent such study at Harvard, for example).

Virtual Music, by David Cope, MIT Press

At the core of EMI is the idea of recombinancy. Does the typical composer compose or 

Music composition consists of a combination of what we hear and what formalisms 
we bring to bear. If I compose a work freely (i.e., without a prescription for voice- 
leading, allowable verticalities, etc.) then I will most likely integrate various ideas 
that I've previously heard. If I compose a piece strictly using a mathematical 
formula, then I won't be re-composing music that I've heard but following strict rules. 
Most music consists of a combination of these two factors. The notion that humans 
have some kind of mystical connection with their soul or God, and so on, allowing 
them to produce wholly original ideas (not the result of recombination or formalisms) 
seems ridiculous to me.

Part III