Monday, April 26, 2010

Virtual Mourning Reexamined

Ages ago I wrote a post on Virtual Dark Tourism which examined the idea of virtual graveyards and the rise of on-line memorials. A Spark podcast recently brought the issue of 'virtual mourning' back to my mind. I recommend listening to the brief portion of the podcast which discusses virtual mourning and the impact which technology has had upon the way in which we express empathy.

The idea of technology changing the mourning experience, got me thinking about the way in which technology has impacted commemoration and historical memorials. It is now easier than ever to view historical monuments and memorials on-line. For example, you can take a virtual tour of the Juno Beach Center. This tour is fairly similar to most on-line virtual tours of museums and cultural centers, with the added layer of emphasis on remembering the contributions of Canadian soldiers during WWII. Is the on-line tour as striking as the physical memorial/center? Of course not. But, it does provide a glimpse into the ongoing commemoration of Juno Beach and allows people who will not have opportunity to visit Normandy a glimpse into the center.

How does an on-line presence fit into commemoration? Given the ability to enhance accessibility and to raise awareness through the use of digital mediums, historical commemoration projects can be greatly enhanced through the use of technology. The War of 1812 digitization and commemoration project is a great example of how commemoration can be enhanced through technology. Using the hosting, resource, and interface services provided by OurOntario a number of organizations from the Niagara region banded together to digitize their collection of artifacts relating to the War of 1812. The result of this endeavor can be searched here. This project increases access to a number of great museum collections and also increases awareness about the upcoming 100th anniversary of the War of 1812.

I don't think online commemoration or virtual mourning can replace some aspects of the grieving and commemorative process. However, I do think that on-line memorials, collections, and virtual tourism can play a very important role in enhancing the commemorative experience.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Emily Howell: A Digital Composer

A recent Spark program on CBC radio focused on David Cope and his exploration of the role of artificial intelligence in the creation of music. Cope began working on a similar program Experiments in Music Intelligence(EMI) in the 1980s. This program took existing styles of music and created music based on those styles. For example, the EMI software could 'listen' to a number of works by Beethoven and then creates a unique piece of music based on the musical styles of Beethoven. The use of artificial intelligence to create music based on the style of famous composers in my mind seems like taking historical reproduction to the next level. Instead of merely reproducing existing work EMI rearranges and builds upon existing works. It is not merely repoducing but re-framing and reinterpreting past works. Not exactly a look into the past, but maybe a look into a kind of alternate version of the past.

More recently Cope created an AI program called Emily Howell, which has the ability to 'independently' compose new music. This machine created music has been met with mixed results (here, here, here). Some have criticized Cope with destroying the last human element of music composition, while others have praised his ingenuity. The music created by Emily Howell has its own unique style. Additionally, Emily can take instructions and modify 'her' music based on the preference of the user. The software breaks music down into mathematical and scientific formulas and creates music based on assigned algorithms. The moral merit of the music created by Emily Howell aside, the use of AI based software to create classical music is pretty both creative and an interesting step towards a new branch of music.