The Maestro Is Decomposing

November 16, 2001

Some computer specialists in Britain and the United States are currently working on various computer programs that will not only remove the need for humans to actually go to all the trouble of getting together, practicing, and playing music, but they’re actually producing programs that will eliminate the need for humans to even compose music. A program called Sibelius originally allowed composers to write their music as though on a word processor–highlighting, moving, and deleting at will. Now an upgrade to the same program can take a piece of music played on one instrument and play it back as though it were on a different instrument–or instruments. So for all those of you who’ve wondered what "Finlandia" played by a Mississippi jug band would sound like, the wait is over. Sibelius–the program, not the composer, who’s currently spinning in his grave–will also decide which instruments sound best in an arrangement, saving composers all that trouble of having to think for themselves, and all those problematic things like emotion and experience won’t get in the way. Finally, Sibelius will compensate for a player’s ability–or lack of it–in the playback, so now even if you’re a pathetic, incompetent piano player, you can play Rachmaninoff until your friends beg you to turn it off.

But wait–there’s more. A program called EMI (pronounced "emmy", as in, "I hope this song wins me an…") will take a composer’s work, extrapolate some stylistic rules from it, and can produce new, original work. That way people can become musical composers without having to worry about all that knowledge, talent, or skill stuff, and all they really need to do is bang on a computer. In fact, EMI has already been used to compose music for pop groups, although for which groups and which songs is being kept secret.

Apparently music companies still want us to think that the youthful, gyrating glitterati in music videos actually write their own music, even though their sapid books of poetry and novels have already proven these kids can barely write well enough to sign their recording contracts. And why only write music for the living? EMI has also been used to write "new" Mozart music. Theoretically it could finish his unfinished opera Zaide, crank out nine more Beethoven symphonies, and literally put the Beatles back together for another White album.

And why stop with music? Literature’s greatest forger, William Henry Ireland, produced a "lost" Shakespeare play, "Vortigern", in less than seven days. If programmers put their minds to it they could make a program that would write new Shakespeare plays in less than seven minutes. Dickens never finished "The Mystery of Edwin Drood"? No problem!

And then there are the implications for painting, sculpture, and architecture. Why not let a computer put arms on the Venus de Milo? It’s not that I’m hostile to technology. For one thing, those hands-free cell phones are hilarious because they make people look like they’re talking to themselves. And if someone came up with a device that would dust the house, vacuum the rug, wash the windows, and rake leaves, I’d be all for it, but there are some fundamentally human accomplishments to which we have to cling.

I know there are technophiles out there who will say, "Who do these composers, writers, painters, and sculptors think they are, anyway, thinking what they do is so important?" To that I can only say, if it weren’t important, why would some individuals spend so much time trying to program computers to do it?

Enjoy this week’s offerings.


Please answer the following questions before you call Tech Support:

1 Describe your problem:
1a Now, describe the problem accurately:

2 Speculate wildly about the cause of the problem:

3 Nature of the problem:
A. Locked Up__ B. On Fire__ C. Blank__ D. Strange Smell__

4 Problem Severity:
A. Major__ B. Minor__ C. Trivial__ D. Silly__

5 Is your computer plugged in? Yes__ No__
5a Is it turned on? Yes__ No__

6 Have you tried to fix it yourself? Yes__ No__
6a Have you made it worse? Yes__

7 Have you had "a friend" who "knows all about computers" try to fix it for you? Yes___ No___
7a Did they make it even worse? Yes___

8 What were you doing with your computer at the time the problem occurred?
8a If you answered ‘nothing’ then explain why you were logged in:

9 Are you sure you aren’t imagining the problem? Yes__ No__
9a Do you have any independent witnesses to the problem? Yes__ No__
9b Is there anyone else you could blame this problem on? Yes__ No__

10 Have you given the machine a good whack on the top? Yes__ No__

Now that you have filled out this form, please call Tech Support at 1-800-ON-YOUR-OWN, where Fred and Barney are standing by to give you all the support you need.


This memo is from IBM. It went to all field engineers about a computer peripheral problem. The author of this memo was quite serious. The engineers rolled on the floor! (Especially note last sentence)

Mouse balls are now available as FRU (Field Replacement Unit). Therefore if a mouse fails to operate or should it perform erratically, it may need a ball replacement. Because of the delicate nature of this procedure, replacement of mouse balls should only be attempted by properly trained personnel. Before proceeding, determine the type of mouse balls by examining the underside of the mouse. Domestic balls will be larger and harder than foreign balls. Ball removal procedures differ depending upon the manufacture of the mouse. Foreign balls can be replaced using the pop-off method. Domestic balls are replaced by using the twist-off method.

Mouse balls are not usually static-sensitive. However, excessive handling can result in sudden discharge.

Upon completion of ball replacement, the mouse may be used immediately.

It is recommended that each replacer have a pair of spare balls for maintaining optimum customer satisfaction. Any customer missing his balls should contact the local personnel in charge of removing and replacing these necessary items.

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