Interview with composer David Cope - Part III

This interview with composer David Cope, author of Experiments in Musical Intelligence and arguably one of the leading music theorists of the XXI century, was conducted by e-mail from August of 2002 to June of 2003. The interviewer is composer Patricio da Silva. It first appeared in: da Silva, Patricio. David Cope and Experiments in Musical Intelligence. 2003. Spectrumpress. Reprinted with permission.

Click here for Part I of interview with composer David Cope and his Experiments In Musical Intelligence 
Click here for Part II of interview with composer David Cope and his Experiments In Musical Intelligence

 Has the term recombinancy an implicit genetic metaphor?
The term recombinancy certainly has biological relevancy. However, I use 
recombinancy to mean two or more ideas which recombine to create a new idea.

Do you think of music recombinancy as a biological constraint of the human mind?

If I recombine by hand the most recent works of David Cope, who gets the 
copyrights, you or me?
This would depend on the size and number of the recombinations. Reversing the 
order of two halves of one of my works would be plagiarizing. Composing a new 
work on the first four pitch classes of one of my compositions would not be 
plagiarism. There are, of course, an almost infinite number of gradations between 
these two extremes and somewhere in the middle, things get very gray. These 
should be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Part of the success of EMI is dependent on the selection and preparation of works 
for the database. If I prepare a database of Cope's music for EMI to recombine 
who's the author? You, EMI, me, or the three of us?
Same answer as above. If the program's sample size is small, then the credit goes to 
you, if the sample size is so large that large segments of my work are quoted 
verbatim, then it's probably a bastardization of my work.

In the process of recombining music materials does EMI ever plagiarize?
I'll let the courts decide this. However, in general, the two factors we have been 
discussing - size and number of borrowed materials - represent the distinction. Note, 
however, that most composers plagiarize dozens if not hundreds of works in a single 
piece of music, and most do this subconsciously. This is creativity, or at least a part 
of creativity. The composer who borrows consciously from a single work is either 
plagiarizing or creating a set of variations (usually distinguished by the title of the 
work being composed).

How can we expect EMI to behave when working, for example, from a strict twelve- 
tone music input, let’s say, a database of Webern works? Can the principle of 
recombinancy be articulated with that of strict twelve-tone writing? Does a row 
survive recombinancy?

No. As with fugues, certain formalisms do not work easily with recombinancy and 
require additional code for analysis and composition.

Beyond recognizing the style of EMI compositions, why do you feel many listeners 
are moved by these works?
Every work of music, unless it has been composed entirely by a formalism, contains 
within it many pointers to the musical culture which helped to create it. These 
pointers, whether they be rules, allusions, signatures, earmarks, etc., help us to 
relate to that work, even as we're hearing it for the first time. These pointers also 
point to other styles and works which themselves have pointers providing us with a 
rich and deep history of the cultural evolution of the work being heard. The music of 
EMI, because of the manner in which this music is composed, also has pointers and 
belongs to the culture and traditions of the music of music in its database. This helps 
to explain, I believe, why many EMI works obtain an almost immediate sense of 
intimacy with those familiar with the inherited musical culture, even those who 
steadfastly resist feeling such intimacy.