<span class="vcard">Wendelin Bitzan</span>
Wendelin Bitzan

Thoughts on Generating Music with AI

Up to now, artificial intelligence that aims to produce ›music‹ means little more to me than something to toy around with. On the fields I am most interested in as a lecturer and researcher—such as model-based historical composition, methodology of music theory, and analysis of music informed by scholarship from the time of its origin—AI does not have to offer much. Also, I don’t see any danger of obsolescence or redundancy of human creativity when it comes to producing acoustical ›recordings‹ of music inspired by traditional models of form, harmony, and voice-leading. In this respect, the results I have encountered so far are dull and uninspiring, and lack stylistic adequacy a great deal. While tools like Suno or Udio may yield an impressive outcome in some popular music styles, they desolately fail at tasks like generating, say, the beginning of a three-part fugue or a keyboard sonata exposition with two themes, modulating transition, and proper motivic treatment. See the first comment for one result of my painful attempts to have Suno produce the beginning of a classical piano sonata that moves from the I to V.

As long as generative AI models, prompted with text inputs, suffer from those obvious restrictions, they appear largely irrelevant for academic education in historically informed music theory. Still, I am curious what will happen in the near future. If we imagine that AI were able to generate something that sounds like an ideal-typical textbook example of a historical paradigm of musical form—say, a 16-measure small ternary, or a simple minuet with recapitulation of its initial idea—we might perhaps obtain something that could illustrate the function of a mere compositional model, plainly represented by the AI production for want of any existing musical embodiment. If we then confront this product with an actual piece of art that is based on the same model but transgresses the ideal-typical ›rules‹ in various aspects, and only then appears as an individual creation, such a comparison might in fact be beneficial as it could help students assess and better understand the role of formal and contrapuntal schemata for the genesis of a composition.

Streaming Releases #6–8

Some more releases of my music are now available on various streaming platforms, such as the following compositions:

I will upload some more recordings from the last two decades by and by. If you happen to take a fancy in any of these pieces, feel free to leave a like, bookmark, or playlist add—your support is much appreciated!

Changes Impending at Berlin Music Schools

The Berlin Senate has issued a press release stating that, for the time being, they will not turn freelance fee contracts into regular employments at public music schools in Berlin, unlike many other German municipalities aiming to achieve legal security in consequence of a decision of the Federal Social Court, which clarified that teaching positions in music schools are subject to social insurance contributions. Instead, the Berlin administration goes for a continuation of the status quo with 77 percent freelance faculty, offering the prospect of financial compensation for those of the 12 districts that might face a loss due to possible back payments of employer’s contributions. In my opinion, this is an irresponsible approach that does not help the situation of freelance teachers at all, but encourages the district authorities to stick to a potentially unlawful practice. I authored a statement with my colleagues from the board of the Tonkünstlerverband Berlin, discussing the HR policy of the Senate and its possible results, and proposing some alternative strategies for a future-oriented operation of music schools.

» Read the statement of DTKV Berlin

Preparatory Workshop in Music Theory

I will be offering a preparatory workshop again for music theory entrance exams at music universities in North Rhine Westphalia, organised by Deutscher Tonkünstlerverband NRW, and taking place in May 2024. Please feel free to notify your students who consider an application in Cologne, Detmold, Düsseldorf, Essen, or Münster!

» Thursday and Friday, 16–17 May 2024, 3–7 pm
» Online via Zoom | Participation fee: EUR 65

Some Thoughts on Absolute Pitch

When I was diagnosed with absolute pitch as a kid, I took it for granted and thought of it as no particularly remarkable capability. I was so used to be able to identify and produce pitches on demand that it astonished me to learn that others weren’t. Later during my adolescence, I more and more realised what a rare and freaky feature I had at my command. It kind of contributed to my nerdy reputation at school and was frequently mistaken for a proof of extraordinary musicianship or talent (which I was sure it wasn’t). Sometimes I even was annoyed by it, because my listening and musical experience was inextricably linked to my incorruptible pitch perception. It was just not possible to turn it off for a minute.

At university, when surrounded by a significantly higher percentage of people with similar abilities, I recognised the special challenges associated with switching between absolute and relative ways of aural perception. Demands such as listening to music in historical temperament, singing in a choir that could not keep tune, or sight-transposing sheet music posed considerable difficulties to me. I ended up in deliberately training my aural skills with respect to interrelations between separate pitches and complex harmonies, and to focus on structural aspects rather than individual elements in music. While doing so, my absolute pitch began to change and gradually became less reliable in certain contexts (especially with regard to unfamiliar sounds and instruments), but this was more than outweighed by a considerable gain in flexibility and listening strategies at hand. I also learned to adapt my ear and to perceive recordings of early music in the key in which they were meant to sound. A critical factor in this process was, so I believe, my own vocal practice in various choirs and ensembles.

During my studies, being in possession of perfect pitch was still relevant yet by no means crucial, and even though I passed every aural skills exam with distinction, I sometimes wondered what this capability was all about. It sure helped in my everyday work, providing quick and reliable tonal orientation while listening to long and complex pieces at all times, but it didn’t feel indispensable to me. After graduation, when I started to lecture in music theory and aural skills myself, it wasn’t so much a thing anymore. Students hardly ever asked me how to deal with absolute pitch, and I never felt inclined to have it served with any particular attention or methodology in my teaching. It is my conviction that relative aural skills need to be focused and cultivated as much as possible, while absolute skills, be they present or absent, do not. Consequently, I refuse to accept that perfect pitch should be of any relevance for the assessment of other crafts and musical proficiencies.