Turing Test // Prelude

Turing Test // Prelude is a musical guessing game for audience, who are tasked with differentiating between Bach and an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm imitating Bach. It was originally produced for Marcus du Sautoy's Barbican Centre event 'The Eternal Golden Braid'.

 

To create the piece, I took a piece of solo keyboard music by Bach (the Prelude from his suite in D major) and cut several chunks of music out of it. I then used the AI algorithm “MuseNet” to fill in these gaps. The audience generally has two-sided cards, red (AI) and green (Bach), which they hold above their heads, showing the colour that corresponds to who/what they think composed the music they are currently listening to. When they think the music has swapped between Bach and AI, they rotate the card so that the other face is showing.

MuseNet is a symbolic-generative algorithm, developed by Christine Payne at OpenAI, that can generate music in the form of MIDI data across a wide range of styles and instrumentation. Turing Test // Prelude marked the first time I used it in a piece of music, and I went on to utilise it in my pieces Three Entistatios, Alter and Silicon. To read more about MuseNet or about my further work using it, see links at the end of this page.

Turing Test // Prelude is less of a defined piece of music than it is an idea and a starter for discussion around computers, creativity, and the myth of genius, amongst many other topics. It is particularly interesting to involve performers in discussion of this piece, as each has a very different view of what makes Bach’s music work and the extent to which the AI has successfully learned this. It is often performed twice, where the second time the “answers” are revealed to the audience in real-time.

It exists in several forms as I have adapted it for different ensembles and use-cases. I have also used different AI algorithms for different versions, though the preferred version uses MuseNet. I will note that the versions for orchestra and quartet were orchestrated by me, so are one step removed from the exact music MuseNet generated.

The major performances of this work have been:

  • Harpsichord Solo – Barbican Centre (March 2019). This version premiered by Mahan Esfahani

  • Piano Solo - Oxford University (May 2019)

  • Piano Solo - Royal Northern College of Music (June 2019)

  • Chamber Orchestra – Royal Institution (December 2019 – televised on BBC Four). This version premiered by Chineke! Junior Orchestra

  • String Quartet – Bridgewater Hall (February 2020). This version premiered by members of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

 

I provide on this page two recordings of Turing Test // Prelude. There is a solo piano version recorded by Joseph Havlat, and the BBC Four broadcast of the truncated chamber orchestra version, performed by the Chineke! Junior Orchestra.

If you'd like to perform the piece in an existing or new arrangement, please get in touch at roblaidlow@hotmail.co.uk

LINKS

MuseNet

Three Entistatios

Alter

The Eternal Golden Braid Barbican Event