Composing & Constructing

A recent startup company named Jukedeck caused a stir in the composer and arranger community. Basically, with a few sliders encompassing genre, tempo, emotion, etc. this online tool can “compose” unlimited new pieces of music with no further input from a human.
I can understand the fear – this software appears to make human composers obsolete. But I don’t see it that way.
In the crossword construction world, a similar revolution started 20 years ago with Crossword Compiler. The software automated crossword making, harnessing computers and massive word lists to build crosswords in minutes that might have taken hours by hand.
I asked my favorite crossword constructor about his experience with the tech revolution in crosswords. Matt Gaffney has written over 4,000 crossword puzzles as a professional constructor for 15 years, has written a book on the subject, and writes the only crossword I do every week – the Matt Gaffney Weekly Crossword Contest.
Here’s Matt’s take on the tech revolution in crossword puzzles:

“I think the greatest effect of autofill programs has been on themeless puzzles. It’s why I myself stopped writing them a long time ago, since it appeared that the silicon monsters would soon be taking over that area of constructing, as it plays to their strengths (and one reason I got into metas, since it plays to human strengths, putting the emphasis back onto theme and away from especially wide open fill).”

In other words, certain types of crosswords were far more susceptible to computerized construction. Matt, seeing this trend, devoted his time to other styles of puzzles.
Many composers are very fearful or skeptical of the coming computer revolution in music, but I think we ought to be excited – it will relieve us of some of the rote aspects of writing, and free us to focus more time on the truly creative and human parts of the process. This is exactly the path that Matt followed by moving to crosswords with a meta-puzzle element.
Writing good music is a much tougher computer problem than filling a crossword grid. But is it impossible? No.Will some of the work I do now be done by my computer someday? Certainly.

Is it the exciting part of the work. No way. If I want a sixteen bar sax soli in drop-2 voicings, I’m perfectly happy to spend more time writing a great melody line and letting the computer harmonize it. I can tweak the result to my heart’s content and, in the same amount of time, end up with something far more sophisticated.

We aren’t going to stop the revolution – but we can understand it and use it to magnify our humanness.