David Cope’s software creates beautiful, original music. Why are people so angry about that?

This is fascinating. Be sure to listen to the two examples of the music “composed” by David Cope’s software that he calls “Emily Howell”.

(…) When Cope moved to UC Santa Cruz in 1977 to take a position in its music department, he could’ve put his career on autopilot and been remembered as a composer and author. Instead, a brutal case of composer’s block sent him on a different path.


In 1980, Cope was commissioned to write an opera. At the time, he and his wife, Mary (also a Santa Cruz music faculty member), were supporting four children, and they’d quickly spent the commission money on household essentials like food and clothes. But no matter what he tried, the right notes just wouldn’t come. He felt he’d lost all ability to make aesthetic judgments. Terrified and desperate, Cope turned to computers.


Along with his work on synthesis, or using machines to create sounds, Cope had dabbled in the use of software to compose music. Inspired by the field of artificial intelligence, he thought there might be a way to create a virtual David Cope software to create new pieces in his style.

(…) This month, he is scheduled to unveil the results of a successor effort that’s already generating the controversy and high expectations that Emmy once drew. Dubbed “Emily Howell,” the daughter program aims to do what many said Emmy couldn’t: create original, modern music. Its compositions are innovative, unique and — according to some in the small community of listeners who’ve heard them performed live — superb.