Monday, February 19, 2007


Are all art-forms algorithms?

It's absolutely impossible to improvise. Making a movie is a mathematical operation. It is like sending a missile to the moon. It isn't improvised. It is too defined to be called improvisational, too mechanical. Art is a scientific operation, so I can say that what we usually call improvisation is in my case just having an ear and eye for things that sometimes occur during the time we are making the picture.
-- Federico Fellini , Italian Director

In Computer science, an algorithm is a set of instructions for accompishing a task. Furthermore, if the instructions are executed correctly the task will be accomplished in finite time.

Is there an algorithm for each and every art form?

I think so. I strongly subscribe to fellini's notion of all art actually being science. I think there are several reasons for art being separated and given a different status.

(1) The general quest of people to experience something incredible, amazing i.e some performance that does not have any apparent "algorithm" for they themselves accomplishing it.
A classic example is magic. People are attracted to magic just because they do not know the "algorithm" behind the trick. But do note that every magic trick has a plausible explanation. If the explanation is known to the public they will not want to pay and watch the show.
I think all art forms are like "magic" in that they have a well defined procedure for accomplishing the art form, which if known to people will diminish their amazement about the art form.

(2) In most art forms the algorithms are complex because of which the performer is not aware that he is merely executing an algorithm; His subconcious self is obviously aware of the algorithm which is why he is able to perform in the first place

(3) The randomized nature of most art forms gives as impression of improvisation. In most cases the actual algorithm may be a randomized algorithm. For example each time a singer executes a raaga aalapana (of the same raaga), it is different. If a batsman faces identical deliveries (pace, length, line, conditions are identical) he may yet play two different shots. Note that a randomized algorithm is still an algorithm.

As a proof of concept, here is a very simple algorithm for music composition.

Inputs: The emotion of the song. (Eg happiness , pathos etc...)
Output: The composition

1. Consult look up table and obtain raaga, tempo.
If there are more entries for the emotion, pick randomly.

Note the look-up table is of the following form:

Mood Raga Tempo
death Subapanthuvaraali 40BPM


happiness Mohanam 120 BPM
happiness shankarabaranam 160 BPM

2. Chose a tala at random.

3. Emit notes from the raga randomly such that it fits the tala.


Thats all...we are done. My intuition says that this ridiculously simple algorithm is enough for composing "good" songs. Ofcourse, the algorithm's caomplexity can easily extended/increased in practice.

I need to try and build this software and get the general public's opinion on the "quality" of music.

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