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Conservatory of monkeys.

September 29, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

“Show me something original!” said the producer.
“Original?, but there is no such thing Sir!”, replied Benjarong.
“What do you mean there is no such thing?”
“A musical piece is but a permutation of notes that sound pleasing to the ear, is it not?”
“Yes”
“If I had a million monkeys and gave them a million pianos and left them in a room, one of them would likely come up with a musical piece, could he not?”
“A trillion monkeys perhaps, but I see your point.”
“And what if there was an infinite number of monkeys and an infinite number of pianos kept there forever. Is it not guaranteed that all the musical pieces that ever were, are, and will be, will be produced by them, eventually?”
“You have been reading too much Borges, Ben!”
“Guilty as charged Sir, but why pick on this glorified monkey?! Let us just make the audience happy and leave ‘originality’ to the critics!”

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Categories: music, philosophy Tags: , , ,
  1. September 29, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    Unoriginal is not the same as unlawful. I think instead of throwing the “Borges monkey” sink at “originality”, we should throw the “memepool” sink at it.

    • September 29, 2009 at 9:13 pm

      “Unoriginal is not the same as unlawful”
      True that. The creator monkey must stand to gain the fruits of his creation, when the rest of the monkeys applaud!

      “we should throw the “memepool” sink at it.”
      I’m going to have a default “please explain” reply to your concise comments henceforth 😀

      • September 30, 2009 at 10:32 am

        Mohit, I must apologize for this “low blow” comment. I was in a hurry and I had only time for a quick and dirty soundbite, and it is not like it is a comprehensible comment. Let me expand.

        The Borgesian permutations of music, literature etc. are lawfully (law == physical law) bound to be within permutations of notes or “word”s. This is a solution space for the music space, and the literature space. The fact that every possible composition is an element of this space does not make a dent on the “originality” critique. If our physical laws were different, then our compositions would have different lawful boundaries, and yet they would have been elements of some other search space. Hence, you cannot knock down “originality” using the feasible space argument.

        So if we do take potshots at “originality” I suggest to throw the memepool stones at it, and it begins to crack. This is a slightly more elaborate version of the “we stand on the shoulders of giants” understanding: The mind is a colony of memes (memepools). Every idea interacts with others in a memepool, perhaps mutates, perhaps forms meme-coalitions with other memes, and comes out in as a meme that has not been seen around before. Originality in the sense of “has not been seen before” may be attributed to the “cranes” of other existing memes that form components to assemble an “original” meme, and not as a “skyhook” of a new meme magically arising from a human mind without the aid of existing meme sediments to stand upon.

        • Mansi
          September 30, 2009 at 10:51 am

          I like how you put it – “…and not as a “skyhook” of a new meme magically arising from a human mind without the aid of existing meme sediments to stand upon.”

          I was trying to make a similar point.

        • Suyash
          September 30, 2009 at 8:57 pm

          But unawoken, if the “never seen before” thing is a result of a very large number of cranes put together (unconsciously or consciously), such a collection of cranes is identical in appearance to a skyhook due to limits of ordinary person vision (re. Clarke’s sufficiently advanced technology and magic idea). Originality is then of interest in the matter of how many cranes one can put together.

        • October 6, 2009 at 11:51 pm

          I get it and I agree.

          I think once again, I have been guilty of throwing a post to the lions without due diligence 🙂

  2. Saurabh
    September 30, 2009 at 5:14 am

    Is this conversation straight from Pritam and his producer???

    • September 30, 2009 at 10:48 am

      Welcome to the blog Saurabh! Must admit I was thinking of putting the famous Pritam’s copied songs video in this entry 🙂

  3. September 30, 2009 at 7:34 am

    So, if originality can originate out of randomness, does originality matter at all?

    To me, it does..its a sign of intelligence, isnt it? Just as much as the ability to be able to apply theoretical ideas to real life problems is..and thats how technology was born.

    Beethoven wasnt just this ape-descendant who came up with awesome sounding permutations of notes..I refuse to believe that..

    and altho’ the ‘infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of pianos playing the keys for eternity will come up with Beethoven’s seventh symphony’ is a most interesting thought experiment, will that ever really happen for us?

    So, the creator monkey will never really get all that monkey applause, except inside of our heads..

    I think Ben will just have to admit music that is fantastic and original is hard to come up with and that makes it very rare and important, and we’ll just put the monkey argument down to his spectacular reading habits..

    I think what unawoken here means is that Benjarong wud have done better to use the argument that ‘successful memes are likely to spread around a lot more than unpopular ones, thats why ideas that work keep getting copied repeatedly, becoz people are so exposed to those’ rather than the ‘one of a trillion monkeys can make spectacular music, so why shud I bother making some myself?’ argument..

    One thing I must learn from unawoken is the art of writing short sentences and concise comments..:D

    • October 6, 2009 at 11:50 pm

      “Beethoven wasnt just this ape-descendant”

      Did he come from Adam then? I thought a doctor-to-be would be a staunch supporter of evolution 😉

      “a most interesting thought experiment, will that ever really happen for us?”

      Most probably not. The experiment is still interesting and worth contemplating I think!

      “I think Ben will just have to admit music that is fantastic and original is hard to come up with and that makes it very rare and important,”

      Ben disagrees. He says ‘fantastic’ is a subjective term, and ‘original’ depends on whether *you* have heard it before! So, he just takes his chances with copying 😉

      I agree with unawokens criticism. If you hark back to an ancient post, he has been unilaterally declared as guru!

  4. Mansi
    September 30, 2009 at 8:03 am

    This is the Infinite Monkey Theorem applied to music!

  5. Mansi
    September 30, 2009 at 8:51 am

    In theory, I believe the monkeys would, in fact, eventually formulate all the possible original pieces. Why then do we see original works created so often? I agree with Tangled Up in Blue – it’s a sign of intelligence. We’ve narrowed down our library…confined it to a certain acceptable infinite*.

    We do not create random pieces anymore. Instead we use suitable smaller units and develop various combinations of them. The units could be anything – a set of notes, a combination of letters, a sequence of genes…
    And I don’t think that we’d run out of these after a billion years either! Our “suitable smaller units” would keep changing with time and there are far too many to run out of.

    *acceptable infinite – a finite number that we postulate as infinite since it is basically unreachable in a/a few lifetime(s).

    • October 6, 2009 at 11:44 pm

      “Our “suitable smaller units” would keep changing with time”

      Are you implying that we will evolve to like different sounds?

  6. Suyash
    September 30, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    Borges is always fun, and the infinite monkeys theorem as well. But it is interesting how we’ve evolved to find only a small part of the music space interesting. Even more interesting is how the great composers don’t mentally do the infinite-monkeys simulation to come up with good pieces but some efficient exploration through the space, like an A* search with objective functions of “how the piece feels”.

    • October 1, 2009 at 4:29 pm

      “some efficient exploration through the space”
      Great chess masters are like that too. In some sense so are successful entrepreneurs and CEO’s.

    • October 6, 2009 at 11:42 pm

      I’m also curious about whether there are ML algorithms to make music, or to classify sound sequences into ‘music’ and ‘non-music’

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