Interview with composer David Cope - Part I

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. www.spectrumpress.com: Spectrumpress. Reprinted with permission.


Patricio da Silva: What is your concept of music?
David Cope: With the understanding that you've not asked "What is *good* music," I feel 
that music (with due respects to Var├ęse) is "organized sound and silence."

What is *good* music made of?
A balance of unity and variety.


What do you want from music?
Order amidst chaos.




Does your musical thought accept and strive for beauty?
No. Beauty means different things to different people; in fact, it means different 
things to the same person depending on circumstances. If I depended on a sense of 
beauty in my work, I would never finish anything.


Can algorithms create expressive music?
I don't know of a single piece of expressive music that wasn't composed, one way 
or another, by an algorithm.


David Cope, 2003


What is *expressive* music? 

According to my dictionary, one of the meanings of "expression" is "a showing of 
feeling or character." There's nothing said about intent or about a shared response 
to expression. Therefore, to me, expression is what I receive from music when I 
*feel* something in response to it. What I feel need not be composer intended nor 
felt by anyone else. All the other meanings attributed to expression in my dictionary 
refer to words, which then don't apply directly to music.



Since what one *feels* in response to music has no obligatory direct correlation 
between what the composer intended to express nor to what others may have *felt* 
from whatever was meant to be expressed is there a true musical *expression* ?
I think we're lost in semantics over the word "expression." I want the word to mean 
"expressive" as in the musical term "espressivo" where one is to be expressive with 
the notes given. It's wonderfully vague. I suppose polemically, the only "true 
expression" according to my definition would be one that had no direct correlation 
with the intent (and therefore the only truly "false" expression would be one which 
accidentally matched the received expression with the intended one). Sorry for the 
word games, but simply put (with expression aside), I don't believe that music 
communicates anything or that when I am moved by a piece of music it means 
anything other than that I am moved by it (possibly in similar ways that I am moved 
now by the fog as it drifts in from the ocean - it doesn't intend to move me nor do I 
imagine for a second that others even like the fog - which many don't - no less be 
moved by it).


What is musical inventiveness?
The ability to interlace melodies, harmonies, timbres, articulations, dynamics, 
rhythms, forms, and so on in ways which disguise their true origins and thus sound 
original.


What is musical coherence? 
I think my answer to that is the same as an earlier answer: A balance of unity and 
variety. 

Are you implying that *good* music can only be the output of coherent 
inventiveness? 
Well, I certainly think that contributes to good music. I can't imagine a good piece 
of music lacking a demonstration of coherent inventiveness. 
Is there a musical difference between coherent inventiveness to inventive 
coherence? 
Sure, and they're both wonderful!

Part II