fictional account of CCRMA outdoor concert and a run-amuck AI called SOCRATES!
[blurb] HOT, FAST, AND SEXY--A COMPUTER PROJECT CALLED " SOCRATES'
Tomasso shook his head, staring off into the darker recesses of the little cocktail lounge. "You are, " he said, finally, very softly, "a twenty-four-karat son of a bitch."
Mathias ignored the comment. "Vincent," he said, "without people like me, pushing people like you, nothing would ever get done."
"Burt," Tomasso said abruptly, "SOCRATES could really screw up."
"I don't think that will happen," Mathias said, "We're supporting this one hundred percent, we'll put all of our technical people behind you, we'll essentially give you an unlimited budget to make this thing go."
Tomasso closed his eyes. "Burt," he said, "I've never seen anybody who was in a hurry like you. Don't you ever do anything slow?"
"Why?" Mathias asked, raising his eyebrows in feigned surprise. "Slow is good," he said, "only in bed."
SUPERHEATED MINDS....TALENTED ECCENTRICS...BIG BUSINESS WHEELING AND DEALING." Publishers Weekly. P. 1
That night, Steinberg drove back down from the hills. He was oddly nervous; he had even tried on three different pairs of blue jeans before deciding which to wear. It was the first time he had left the Research Center early in months; Martha was the most interesting woman he had met in some time, and he knew hardly anything about her.
When he pulled up in front of the residence hotel, Martha was already waiting on the sidewalk. She was wearing a blue-jean skirt and a light sweater, and as she stepped into the small car, Steinberg thought her perfume was curiously familiar.
"That's not patchouli oil, is it?" he said.
Martha shrugged as she settled into the aging leather seat of the MG, putting her cloth handbag on the floor. "I don't buy perfume very often," she said, "I think this is left over from 1968."
Steinberg smiled, "I like it."
Steinberg put the car in gear, made a U-turn on University Avenue, and they headed back up into the hills. Martha stared out the window, saying absolutely nothing, and Steinberg rapidly realized that the conversational ball was in his court.
"Ah," he said, after several minutes, "your system must have been quite an investment."
Martha looked over at him, and smoothed her denim skirt over her thin thighs. "Well, I built the central processor myself."
"But even so, the peripherals..."
"Well," she said again, "I also got a grant. From the National Endowment for the Arts.
Steinberg frowned. "For electronic novels?"
"Sure," she said.
He smiled for the first time that day. "That's terrific," he said. "Really."
Martha shook her head so quickly that Steinberg couldn't tell if it was gesture or tremor. "Everybody's got to have a hobby," she said, gazing back out over the window. "Where are we?"
Steinberg looked over. "This is Los Altos Hills."
Martha nodded. "I don't get out too often."
There was another long silence, and then Steinberg decided to tell Martha something about the concert they were going to here.
The music was created by the same musician/scientist who had worked with Tomasso on designing a voice for SOCRATES.
Early in the seventies, the scientist had started to analyze the exact harmonic components of various musical instruments: what makes a saxophone sound like a saxophone? What makes a voice sound human, rather than mechanical? Once he had broken down the components that create the original effect, he started to use computers to build up the same elements, from individual digital impulses, into perfect replicas. What proved remarkable was how easily the human senses can be deceived ; a signal that was only a partial, limited reconstruction of the actual sound was enough to fool even the most practiced ear.
Early on, his synthetic trumpets fooled professional trumpeters. Later, he perfected the violin. He went on to the human singing voice--first male, then the more complex harmonics of the female.
Steinberg, talking as he concentrated on the curving foothill road, couldn't precisely tell whether Martha was even listening . But she suddenly spoke up. "Why bother?" she said. "We've already got trumpets and violins, not to mention voices."
Steinberg shrugged. "The same reason you want to write novels on floppy discs, I suppose."
The point of the music, Steinberg said, was to go beyond traditional instruments. A few years earlier, Steinberg had sat in the young scientist's darkened studio and listened to an original violin sonata, totally performed by a computer. It sounded like a violin, yet at crucial parts of the score, it suddenly stretched far beyond the capabilities of any traditional violin, into an eerie, bizarre, utterly beautiful instrument.
A year or so after that, Steinberg heard something even more remarkable. The computer musician had finally managed to almost perfectly synthesize a male voice. Voices had been synthesized before, of course, but this was so true to life that it could even sing opera.
Steinberg had sat through a brief performance in the little darkened laboratory, and applauded. The scientist held up one hand, and then, with thirty seconds of key strokes, he changed the parameters of the program. Now it sang precisely the same aria, just as a human would--except that this human had the voice of a man sixteen feet tall. The program simply scaled up the vocal cavity to match a human body that size, and produced the appropriate voice.
The result had nearly knocked Steinberg on the floor. The deep thundering bass invoked positively supernatural awe. It was the true voice of a giant, as never before heard by humans. Steinberg held on to the arms of his chair as the giant's voice washed over him and stared at the young computer musician, who silently mouthed, over the giant's rumble, "This is just the beginning."
After another five minutes' drive on an even more twisting road, through some of the costliest pastureland in the country, Steinberg and Martha arrived at the concert site--a vast, grassy hilltop below Stanford's elaborate radio telescope dish.
Above the perpetual haze of Silicon Valley, the night sky was intensely starry, cut only by the sharp outline of the immense telescope dish. The music would be produced by four huge black speaker cases, each larger than a refrigerator, barely visible at the corners of the grassy field, with a perimeter twice that of a basketball court. Already several hundred people were sitting, randomly, on folding chairs and on the ground within the speaker array.
Steinberg set out a plaid blanket, approximately in the middle of the four speakers. Martha sat, folding her thin legs beneath her, and glanced around, eyes bright. "It's beautiful up here, " she said. "Which way is front?"
Steinberg sat also and leaned over. "There is no front." He quietly pointed out the setup. Long cables connected the four speakers to a central console; the console, with a dim-lit keyboard, was in turn connected to a small microwave antenna, aimed down the hillside to the immense computer at Stanford, five miles distant.
A minute or so after they sat, the black-clad concertmaster walked to the console, and without preface, the program began.
Part was composed by the computer, part by human touch. A small portion depended on atmospheric pressure during the concert; another portion was based on an electronic eye that scanned the starry sky. The sound itself was utterly remarkable; sophisticated Doppler-shift techniques created the impression that the sound, which seemed to entirely surround the audience, would suddenly move far into the distance, then move straight up, then zoom through and past the grassy hillside at high speed. The sounds ranged from entirely conventional musical instruments--piano, clarinet, viola--to totally unrecognizable tones and timbres. At one point, a triangle sounded a delicate, tinkling note, which hung on the night air and gradually metamorphosed into the ground-shaking sound of a massive church-tower bell.
"This," Martha whispered after ten minutes or so, now leaning back on her elbows on the red plaid blanket, "is incredible."
Steinberg simply smiled, for he knew that the most remarkable was yet to come; the reason, in fact, for his visit. The young computer musician had recently conquered the vast complexities of the female voice, and the last number on the program was an operatic aria written for his creation.
The piece began with the sounds of small bells and finger cymbals, apparently floating on the breeze around the audience, occasionally receding into the distance, then rushing through, then moving in rapid circles. After thirty seconds or so, from what seemed to be a very great distance, there was the sound of a woman's soprano--solitary, pure, angelic. The voice approached the audience on the hilltop as if floating, disembodied, constantly repeating a haunting, simple melody.
The audience, nearly as one, seemed almost to stop breathing. Martha unconsciously reached over and touched Steinberg's knee.
Abruptly the voice was upon them, swelling to a magnificent richness far beyond the capability of any living woman's larynx, deep and warm and so powerful that Steinberg could feel it in his joints. Suddenly, he realized what the young musician had done: he had taken his synthesized ideal female voice and, just as with the male voice, scaled it up into that of a giant.
"Oh my God,", Martha said softly, as the first notes of the incredible, wordless, Amazon aria resonated across the Silicon Valley hilltop. "Who is that?"
Steinberg smiled broadly in the near-darkness. "I have a feeling," he said, "that is going to be the voice of SOCRATES."
After another ten minutes, the concert ended, as abruptly as it had begun, the last haunting electronic sounds rapidly fading into the dark hills around the stark radio telescope. There was a brief burst of applause form the scattered audience, and then people began to rise, picking up their blankets, heading downhill to where cars were parked.
Martha was silent, and then she sighed deeply. "Amazing," she said. "I had no idea computer music had gone this far."
Steinberg smiled, a bit relieved; computer music was still, for many, an acquired taste. "I thought you might like it," he said, leaning back on the blanket. "Being a computer artist yourself." p. 112-117
Typed by Barb. Golden 1/9/96