Mini-Stories: Volume 11

Playful Compositions by Sean Real

There are many rhythm games like Rock Band and Bop-It, but many are about replicating or creating music “right” — there is another subset of musical games that’s about creating something new. The rules are not meant to enforce an outcome but rather help with a creative process.

With composing games, the results are different every time. The rules help keep things “musical” but allow for a lot of fun as well. Some such games date back as far as the 1600s (if not further). Wooden sticks, dice and other implements helped steer these games, providing a baseline and framework for the experience.

This kind of gamification has other analogs in creative circles, resembling things like writing or painting prompts, which create conditions alongside room for chance and creativity. Like prompts, they are also used by musicians to help break out of ruts, too. Sports and board games offer similar opportunities — choices within parameters.

These days, some musical gaming has gone digital, too — programs like Songsmith by Microsoft have allowed people to (for instance) sing into a computer and have those voice inputs matched with tunes, including additional features like picking a mood for the target piece. People have also used these same gaming programs to remix existing songs and create hilariously strange hybrids. The rise of technology has, broadly speaking, opened up a whole new world of possibilities.

Out of these various games and other digital efforts have come new creative ways of thinking about computer-generated music, including artificial intelligences made to write songs. In one case, AI programmers input over 100 hours of music plus images and captions to create patterns. The resulting inputs can be rolled (a bit like musical dice) to create effectively endless possibilities (within constraints).

Much of music-making is at its heart mechanical — yes, it speaks to our souls, but it also has values and follows rules that we learn overtly or internalize subconsciously. But in pushing boundaries and trying new things, well, new creations are possible. Music is really about feeling something, even if it’s laughter at an AI-created Christmas melody.

  1. Mac

    I’m dying. That songsmith commercial and the creepy christmas tree song.

    Also, how do we get ahold of Sean’s dice song-writing game? Can it be a prize for the next fund drive or something? I want it so bad.

  2. Andy

    Did you know story of the resurrected (or re-erected) Lenin statue located in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle?

  3. Massimo

    This podcast is awesome! I really enjoy the short stories… (a blue Yoda…What?!) I’ve discovered your podcast thanks to my english teacher and the transcript is so useful ;D .. so I have just one question.. You’ll publish the transcript also for this episode? Thank you and a huge bravo from italy!

  4. Ki

    Sean’s mention of the dice game reminds me of a mechanic in the podcast Bombarded. It’s a DnD podcast where every member of the party is also a bars. The players are bandmates and roll dice for a song each episode. As the party goes further in the journey, more dice rolls are added to modify aspects of the song. It’s a really cool idea and the application is marvelous.

  5. Christian

    An entire bust-in-the-middle-of-a-wasteland story without an Ozymandias reference? Someone needs a stern talking-to.

  6. As usual, I love y’all’s work.
    A comment: please be conscious of using “Soviet” and “Russian” interchangeably. The Soviet Union was compromised of many nations and ethnic groups. Unfortunately, because Russians were the powerful majority, many people’s identities and contributions are regularly erased.
    Thanks for what you do.

  7. Anne Allen

    Great show! Felt like Roman was back on his game this episode. He seemed a little checked out on the last one and I was worried. I have loved this podcast so so much. It is my go to when I need something interesting, need to unwind, need to avoid coronavirus news, and need something even the kids will enjoy in the car. The rest of my family listens too and we call each other about after particularly good episodes.

  8. Adam

    More fun with radiators: My office is in a building in NYC’s garment district, so the entire floor was at one time probably a big open space where clothes were made (some might say a sweatshop), but now it’s divided up into lots of offices of various sizes. I’m lucky that my company is in an office on the outside of the building, with a window, which means also with a radiator (I never knew before why it’s silver!) and because it was designed to heat a whole building it gets so f***ing hot in the winter. The windows technically do open but we’re not supposed to open them. It is one thing I haven’t missed about working from home this winter!

  9. Joanne in Canada

    Thanks for the transcript. I couldn’t decipher “ Kitchen Sisters ” even at a slower speed! 8^D

  10. Jen

    It’s not germ theory that the “fresh air” movement was going after – it was carbon monoxide poisoning. Think about it – every source of light, every source of heat, sucked up oxygen and put out carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. Fire places. Stoves. Gas lighting. Candles. Oil lamps. Every source of heat and light put off fumes and made things unhealthy.

    Old homes were drafty because they had to be, for safety. You needed fresh air or your light and heat sources would kill you. You needed to be aware of carbon monoxide poisoning or those gas lamps would kill that baby. They were a huge improvement over candles, but could be deadly without ventilation.

    Texas last week was a great example of why modern homes don’t work with burning heat sources. Too sealed off for their own good.

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