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Music, Science and Healing Intersect in an A.I. Opera

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“This is what your brain was doing!” a Lincoln Center staffer said to Shanta Sark, the performing arts complex’s artistic director, as he swiped through a photo that had just been taken.

It was the end of a recent rehearsal at Alice Tully Hall. “Ambassador’s Song” A work in progress that fuses elements of traditional opera with artificial intelligence and neuroscience, the photos appeared to show Thake’s brain doing the amazing thing of generating images of flowers. rice field. Bright and colorful fantastical flowers of known species and genera that continuously change in size, color and shape, as if botany and hydrodynamics had somehow merged.

The ‘Ambassador’s Song’, which was unveiled in Tully on Tuesday night, Artist and machine intelligence Google’s initiative with the AI ​​program GPT-3. Composer Derrick Skye incorporates electronics and non-Western motifs into his work. And data contributed to AI-generated visualizations by his artist, Refik Anadol. It was attended by his three singers, ‘ambassadors’ of the Sun, the Universe and Life, as well as a percussionist, violinist and flutist. Sitting quietly to one side of the stage with a simple, inexpensive EEG monitor on his head, Thake was a “brainologist” feeding his brain waves into his Anadol’s AI his algorithms to generate otherworldly patterns. .

“I use my brain as a prop,” she said in an interview.

Two neuroscientists, Ying Choon Wu and Alex Khalil, sat at the same height as the musicians near the stage. A company called Cognionics.

A scientist at the University of California, San Diego, Wu investigates the effects of works of art on the brain. Another study looked at the brain waves of people looking at paintings at the San Diego Museum of Art. Khalil, a former researcher at the University of California, San Diego, who now teaches ethnomusicology at University College Ireland, Cork, focuses on how music synchronizes people’s actions. Both aim to fuse art and science.

It fits Allado-McDowell, who first pitched “Song of the Ambassadors” in January 2021 as a participant in Collider, the Mellon Foundation-supported Lincoln Center fellowship program. “My suggestion was to think of concert halls as places where healing can happen,” said Arad McDowell, 45, who uses the gender-neutral pronouns “they” and “them.”

They have long been fascinated by healing. They suffered from severe migraines for years. Then, as students at San Francisco State University, they signed up for a yoga class that took an unexpected turn. “Balls of light flickered in my vision. With a shallow breath, I slipped out of the teacher’s hypnotic groove and escaped into the outside hall. Kneeling on the carpet, I felt the cold liquid swell in my hips. It unraveled…a glowing purple sphere pulsating gold and green in my inner vision.”

They were told that this was a relatively mild form of Kundalini awakening…others may have simply quit yoga. It was a manifestation,” Allado-McDowell said. “It showed that I don’t have a functional cosmology.”

What followed was years of quest to get it. Along the way, they earned master’s degrees in arts and worked for a Taiwanese technology company in Seattle. At one point, while sitting in a clearing in the Amazon rainforest, they had this thought: They need to learn to love and be loved. Otherwise they will become psychopaths and kill everyone. ”

Then, in 2014, Allado-McDowell joined Google’s early AI research team. They volunteered to lead the initiative when the leader suggested collaborating with the artist. Artists and Machine Intelligence was launched by him in February 2016. This is him 50 years after 9 Evenings: Theater and Engineering, a pioneering coalition of arts and technology led by Robert Rauschenberg and his AT&T Bell Labs engineer Billy Kluber. . Allado-McDowell did not lose connectivity.

One of the earliest partnerships they established was with Anadol. “Archive Dreaming” A project inspired by Borges’ story “The Library of Babel,” then “WDCH Dreams,” Anadolu projected AI onto the spiraling steel superstructure of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles designed by Frank Gehry. Regarding “Song of the Ambassadors,” Anadolu said:

Anadolu’s artwork also corresponds to Skye’s music, alternating between periods of activity and periods of rest. “We wanted people to move in and out of the meditation space,” Skye said. “We’ve carved out these long gaps where all we’re doing is environmental sounds. Then we slowly bring them out.”

All of this ties in with Allado-McDowell’s goal of testing the therapeutic power of music in a performance environment. “Will there be policy implications?” they asked. “Knowing that sound and music are healing, is there a role that institutions can play? Can it open up new possibilities for things?”

The jury is out yet.

Lori Gooding, associate professor of music therapy at Florida State University and president of the American Music Therapy Association, said: For example, positive results have been seen in people who have had a stroke, but only after individualized treatment in a medical or professional setting. She said it was different because of “the public side of

Neuroscientists Wu and Khalil, who worked on it, haven’t analyzed the data yet. But in a panel discussion ahead of Tuesday’s performance — yes, the opera came with a panel discussion — Khalil made a prediction that left the audience cheering.

“We started to understand that cognition, the workings of the mind, exist outside the head,” he said. “We used to imagine that the brain was the processor and that cognition took place there. thinking about.”

In music, these expanded minds can lock into rhythm, through rhythm into other minds, and even more minds. “You can start thinking of it as a place of healing,” Khalil said.

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