Increasing musicians' creative capacity



Improvisation offers endless possibilities to musicians who choose this form of artistic expression. The Native Alien project, led by researcher / composer Sandeep Bhagwati of Concordia University, explores some of these possibilities with the creation of an interactive "comprovisation" environment for a solo musician and eight software agents.

Leading musicians from various music traditions, among them Rohan de Saram, Mike Svoboda and Wu Wei, have tested the software and helped to refine it musically.

Using OMAX software created by the Institut de recherche et de coordination acoustique/musique (France), the researcher developed algorithmic composition modules that record and analyze a performer's playing in real-time, and then echo it back to him in versions that are sonically and structurally quite different. The soloist interacts with these modules through his playing, thus constantly reconfiguring the parameters of the Native Alien environment.

The interaction between the performer and the software agents is guided by precomposed musical phrases, and the underlying score of the co-improvisation is based on the letters of a lipogram poem (using only 9 letters of the alphabet) written by Sandeep Bhagwati. Each letter corresponds to an emotional state and elicits a particular behaviour and sonic character from the musician and the computer improvisers.

This constant feedback loop greatly increases the creative capacity of the musician who, based on the musical phrases designed by Sandeep Bhagwati, ends up creating, in real-time, new composition influenced by his or her musical tradition, instrument and inspiration. As Sandeep Bhagwati explains, "each musician brings their own native culture with them. In his instrument, the musician is at home, but in this environment he is confronted with an alien situation, with eight computer improvisers that are like aliens; the musicians are challenged to the extremes of their musical abilities."

Leading musicians from various music traditions, among them Rohan de Saram, Mike Svoboda and Wu Wei, have tested the software and helped to refine it musically. Native Alien has also been presented to music researchers and musicians at live performances in New York and Montréal. As a result of widespread interest in the project, Sandeep Bhagwati has been invited to take part in a series of conferences and live presentations in cities around the world, including Berlin, Chengdu, Graz, Lyon and Mumbai.

The next step could be the development of an application for electronic tablets that would be freely accessible to all. Any talented musician would then be able to use Native Alien to "comprovise" musical pieces of unsurpassed complexity and richness. According to Sandeep Bhagwati, such an application could "lead to the birth of a new musical genre and a new relationship with musical creation". However, more powerful electronic tablets will need to be developed before this avant-garde idea becomes a reality, as today's devices are not up to the task of running the program.