If you ever watched the Looney Tunes or The Simpsons, then you’ve encountered the music of the late Raymond Scott – a revered jazz and electronic music composer and artist, who at one time was the head of Motown’s electronic music research.
At some point in the ’70s and ’80s, Scott was secretly working on an instrument, or to be more precise, a device that was supposed to play and compose music at the same time. Scott named the experimental device Electronium.
Despite working on the project for 11 years while he was still at Motown, he never got a chance to finish the project as he died of a stroke in 1987. Scott was guided by the idea that by using Electronium, practically anybody could start with an idea for a melody and the device would transform it into a full composition, leaving the musician the possibility to add any embellishments he wishes.
As Fast Company and live.endgadget.com report, almost 50 years later, Yuri Suzuki, designer, musician, and partner at graphic design company Pentagram, cooperating with Counterpoint, a creative studio that has become an artificial intelligence specialist, has recreated Scott’s mythical Electronium, not as the completely analog device Scott envisioned it as, but as software powered by A.I. (“Google Magenta”).
However, Suzuki’s Electronium does exactly what Scott envisaged. The player can start with a simple melody or even a few random notes, and from there the A.I. picks up and composes a melody, while the player can add effects or beats through the interface.
Since Scott was secretive about the project, Suzuki had to contact Scott’s family for his unpublished papers and Mark Mothersbaugh – Devo main man and Wes Anderson’s film scores collaborator, who is now the owner of Scott’s old unfinished device.
As Suzuki explains, Scott had a hard time creating the original device because, “at the time, electronics were not sophisticated enough to realize his dream,” and that, “he tried to make random access memory (the hardware inside a computer that stores memory) by hand.”
Suzuki’s Electronium prototype will be displayed as part of an exhibition titled AI: More Than Human, which will be held at Barbican Centre in London on May 16. After that, Suzuki plans to create a standard operating version of the device, as well as to finish Scott’s original Electronium.