Musical AI Makes Anyone a Musician

Setting aside the observation that “anyone is an artist if they’re making art, even if that art is rubbish,” I couldn’t help but wonder as I watched this video. In drawing, or painting, or writing, you can call yourself an artist if you’re making something, but you won’t gain admiration or accolades for poor work. In music, though, technology is reaching a level that it can correct trash and make it pretty nice. Artists like T-Pain rely on this with autotune, and LaDiDa commercializes it both inexpensively and to a far greater extent.

Music is, at its heart, mathematical, which makes improving it through technology achievable. But how long before art or wordsmithing is analyzed enough for computers to make the same advances in those mediums?

I feel this really reinforces my motivation for writing. Before long, you’re not going to be able to make [much] money by making art because anyone will be able to do it, and do it easily. There are more books published every year than in all the previous years combined. Anyone can make a song, and getting them is already trivial. Why should we pay significant sums of money for skills that are no longer the sole domain of the skilled?

If we are going to produce art, we’ve got to do it because we enjoy it. If you’re doing it because you want to make money, look around: before too long, there won’t be money to be made.

Pictures are NOT worth 1000 words

The subtitle to my photo gallery (when I maintained it and had it public) was Sometimes 1000 words are insufficient. It meant that no matter how much I wrote, sometimes a picture was still needed, and I do still think that is the case.

But seriously, have you ever tried to describe something with 1000 words? Take a picture and write about it. See how many words it takes to describe it. Write about everything you can see in the picture.

The bulk of most novels (or short stories, or poems) isn’t about what is seen. That’s not what fascinates people, because it’s always right there in front of us. What we’re interested in is relationships, emotions, and thoughts. The best photography captures this–at its most basic and also most profound, excellence in photography is founded upon the relationship between object and light. Photography can hint at deeper things and lead us into writing stories, but there’s only so much story an instant can convey without allegorization.

Words can put us in a person’s head or, more importantly and far more interestingly, into their heart and spirit. They can convey a person’s fears and hopes, and they can bind us a little closer together. Images are powerful, but God didn’t tell Adam to draw pictures of the animals. To Adam it was given the power to name them.

A picture of me doesn’t convey the truth of me. 1000 words don’t do a great job either, but I can manage a whole lot better in that span of letters, sentences, and paragraphs to communicate something than I ever could with an image.

There are pictures that can speak to my soul and elicit an emotional response. As I think about all the art I’ve seen and all the things I’ve read though, I stand by my conclusion.

Sometimes 1000 words are insufficient, but that doesn’t mean a picture will succeed where words fail.

Moleskine Notebook

April's Art

I don’t often visit the National Art shop on National Ave. here in Springfield, but such avoidance flows from no hatred of the arts. I simply have no need for the tools they provide, being neither an artist nor a nation, and what few items they have that I might use (paper and pens/pencils) are generally overpriced. Despite that, I found myself wandering their gleaming aisles yesterday while April shopped for easels. During her art class last semester, April discovered that she has a burgeoning interest in art, and a fair talent for its discourse, but felt limited in her expression at home. Lacking an easel meant laying the paper flat upon the floor or a table, which made getting the proper perspective translated onto the page impossible.

Since April’s parents had established a tradition with her older brothers of acquiring furniture on their behalf upon college graduation, April’s first thought was to get an easel, hence the art shop. I, of course, began looking at paper and pens.

The moleskine notebook had always intrigued me, mostly because it is horribly overpriced for relatively little paper. Being in a generous and celebratory mood though, I decided to pick one up along with a pen, hoping this would inspire me to jot down ideas as I had them and maybe develop a little poetry. Though the notebook was still expensive, they (surprisingly enough) had it for less than Barnes & Noble, so I didn’t feel quite so cheated.

After I carried it around in my back pocket all afternoon and used it a bit, I felt even better about the purchase. The cover is quite sturdy and the notebook wasn’t damaged at all by my rough usage of it. I was really shocked at its durability, and though adding the pen in there made it a little uncomfortable, it wasn’t too bad. I could always carry the pen elsewhere, of course.

We’ll see how long this lasts, but I’m hopeful. I wrote an idea for a poem down, and I’ve been churning out short story ideas with increasing regularity. One of my current projects is, “A Horrible Little Book of Horrible Short Stories,” and I’d like to add a few more to it before I’m done. Now I just need to find the time to write.

My mom departs around 5 p.m. tonight, and April’s got a work meeting so I’ll be writing as much as I can this evening. The entirety of this upcoming week (in the evenings only, since I work all day) will be dedicated to writing blog entries for the next two months so I don’t have to worry about that for a while and can focus on my scifi novel and short stories. Someday I’d like to start writing theological essays with more regularity, but I need to devote myself to getting some of these other projects actually done. One at a time with great abandon, and then start the next upon completion of the first.

Time to go drink some more coffee with my mom, and then we’re going to visit the Vineyard again this morning. By the way, I have a Flickr page now, so for all you non-Facebook people there’s a place where I’ll start putting some pictures up. Yay?

The Purpose, Power, and Presence of Design

This post is part of an ongoing series of collaborative conversations. All rights are reserved by the original author, Ryan Burrell.

To say that “design” is all around us would be a supreme understatement. It impacts the very nature of our perceptions, and does so most of the time without our conscious thought or notice. It is a subtle tool, often altering our opinions in ways we can’t really explain or quantify, yet will strongly defend if pressed. Design is a sword with many edges – it can cut deeply, deflect blows, or lead a charge. But, to ask the obvious lead-in question: What is design? Is it art, theory, math, philosophy, or some unholy combination of these areas and more? Is design purely visual, or does it hide a much deeper algorithmic structure?

An Underlying Order

The common view of design, in generalized terms, is to make “something” look “nice”, or “better”, or “pretty”, or [insert ambiguous subjective visual terminology here]. A designer makes shirts, or business cards, or websites, or… branded coffee mugs or something. Newsletters and brochures – that type of thing comes to mind immediately. Yet this is a very narrow viewpoint of what design is and of what the duties of a designer are.

While design’s final products typically inhabit the visual world, a designer is not by nature possessed of a purely aesthetic skill set. The title Designer can better be equated with Problem Solver, specifically within the realm of how information is presented. Design strives to be as much an analytical set of tasks as an encompassing set of visual trends. A graphic designer does not simply make a t-shirt “look nice.” Instead, they deal with a complex set of mental algorithms and practices to determine the best placement of their visual components on the palette, taking advantage of the use of space, color, line, shape, and form to produce the most effective visual result. What the end result appears as is simply a piece of clothing, but to the designer it is a set of guidelines, wrapped in equations, coated in emotions, and finally covered in their own creative spin.

Art and design are similar, yet fundamentally different, areas of expression. Art relies heavily on emotion, highly abstract ideas, and an intense desire to reflect the world around you from an individual viewpoint. Design, while using aspects that make up the nature of pure art, merges these with analytical ideals more in line with science or math. The foundation of all design relies on standards, conformity, rules, grids, and numbers. Margins, measurements, columns, padding, spacing, clearance; these are the elements that make up the essence of design.

An Overarching Chaos

Yet, while the foundations for design are firmly entrenched in the realm of numbers and grids, it is the more ethereal aspects that make it so unique. An intimate understanding of spacing will only work so far; a designer must also understand their audience, the goals of their project, and emotive methods to achieve their intended results. Once the framework of a task has been determined, a designer develops his or her “in the box” thinking. The borders and restrictions have been defined, and this can open up as much or more creative potential than having a boundless field to work in.

A designer’s task is to use the guidelines that have been set and take them to the limits of creativity, while still keeping a sharp eye on how the final result will be usable. It is a frenetic juggling act of limitless creativity within a walled garden. The more artistic core of the designer emerges, yet must be restrained by the warden of practicality that remains in the back of their mind at all times. Visual appeal means nothing without functionality, but usefulness can be dulled if aesthetics are ignored. A designer must be mad – a Jekyll & Hyde combination of control and raw potential.

A Wider Path

Practically, there are many names and titles for designers. Commonly, we think of those that practice design as the people who create calendars, cards, and promotional products. But design is so vast and applicable to so many fields, that the job descriptions are almost as limitless. Interior designers deal with the feel of three dimensional space in architecture – with lighting, mood, and balance. Industrial designers concern themselves with the visual appeal of products as well as their functionality, ergonomics, and practicality. Web designers and interaction designers focus on creating visually appealing Internet interfaces, but all under the aegis of superb usability, accessibility, and optimization. Database designers work only in charts and arrows, but are responsible for laying out the interaction between the vast methods of storage that are now so commonplace.

Nearly any sort of planning that concerns not only the visual output, but how that output is best presented and used involves design. It is a constant and integral part of our lives, evidenced by the fact that we don’t even notice it most of the time. The hallmark of good design is when it slips beneath our conscious radar, instead allowing the user of its final product to easily adapt to its requirements and efficiently bend them to their needs. Poor design is easily noticeable, taking the form of unreadable text, confusing interfaces, uncomfortable chairs, breakable parts, and unexpected reactions.

Few professions require such a variety of skills, interests, knowledge, and the drive to use them effectively. Because of this, design is not typically thought of as a job by those who do it. A job is something you do to pay the bills – design is a way of life, a way of quantifying what we see around us, and still allowing for the vast creative potential that fuels the human spirit.

The Teachings of Ignorance

For my Buddhism class, we had the option of either writing a 15 page research paper or doing a creative project; I suspect this was largely to encourage people to do a creative piece instead. I opted to work on an epic poem, but unfortunately did not have the idea for it until late in the semester, at which time I scrapped all my previous work and began writing The Teachings of Ignorance. As such, what I have completed in time for the due date is only a first, rough draft, because this story deserves a lot more work and expansion than I had time for.

You can read the poem below, but if you’re really interested in seeing the final product, be sure to either subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this page, or subscribe to the site in general. You can also, down at the bottom of the page, check a box and put in your email address to receive updates that way. I will continue work on this as quickly as I’m able, but don’t expect it to be complete until February 2009, and potentially as late as July 2009 if next semester goes as poorly (read: is as busy) as I expect.

The Teachings of Ignorance

Marahasvu declares the jewels:
the Buddha, the dharma, the sangha,
the Guru, capstone of strength and wisdom-
without him the structure falls,
built ignorantly and without thought.

Think on this:

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