Tunes from the Ai Frontiers

Since the summer of 2018, I have been intensively studying Irish traditional music and accordion. This has been motivated in large part by my research in Ai applied haphazardly to such music. I needed to gain a far deeper appreciation for what this music tradition is all about, where it comes from, how it is transmitted and how it is cared for. I wanted to become fluent in its practice.

After a year of self-study learning about 70 tunes, and establishing the Irish Music Learners of Stockholm, I attended the 2019 Joe Mooney traditional music summer school in Ireland. Working with a teacher from the tradition there made me realize I had to start all over. Though I was hitting the right notes, I was seriously deficient in playing fluidly with the necessary ornamentation. So I started lessons with a few wonderful teachers online, and started paying far closer attention to the playing of great Irish musicians like Jackie Daly, Johnny Connelly, Joe Burke, Sharon Shannon, Kevin Burke, Frankie Gavin, and Seamus Ennis.

I also decided I needed to change my box. The Mean Green Machine Folk Machine was an excellent accordion – indeed, the first one I didn’t have to fight to play – but it couldn’t accommodate the necessary ornamentation. So, I designed The Black Box, and then Bosca Dubh. My principal accordion teacher says the boxes look heavy – which they are – but in my case that is actually a good thing since the weight has tamed my playing.

Though it’s only been 10 months since I have been playing these boxes, I feel the instrument is becoming an extension of myself. I know what to do without thinking most of the time. Instinct is taking the pilot’s seat. Also, the syntax of Irish traditional dance music has found its seat somewhere in my implicit knowledge such that I don’t have to obsessively play the tunes I have learned to keep them in memory. Often they come back with ease, and sometimes they are changed with ornamentation or endings I hadn’t thought to use before.

I’m far better now learning by ear as well, and actually prefer it to reading from notes. Outside of imitating my teacher during lessons, I do this using Audacity, slowing the audio down if necessary, and playing along while looping each section until I feel convergence. I find that tunes take hold in my head easier when I learn by ear. A big plus with learning by ear is how naturally the rhythm and phrasing come. I notice too the time it takes to learn new tunes is shrinking. And my tempo control has improved. It’s no longer the out-of-control race to the finish as it once was. I feel comfortable taking my time and letting the ornaments do their work.

I now feel ready to tackle the following challenge: I will learn and interpret one machine folk tune each week for the duration of the MUSAiC project (ERC-2019-COG No. 864189). The tunes I choose to learn will be hand-selected, and adapted in ways according to my tastes, and played according to my abilities at the time. How much of a struggle will it be to find 260 tunes generated by Ai that I find worth learning? How will the growing collection impact my practice of Irish traditional music? By the end of it, how will my playing have changed? How will my interpretation of these tunes change as they sit in my head? When will I begin to sense a unique syntax in this collection and my embodiment of it?

You can join me in this adventure at Tunes from the Ai Frontiers. The first five tunes are posted, and they are all winners.

A necessary aside: my efforts in this challenge are not funded by MUSAiC; this is a purely personal and somewhat batty endeavor.

One thought on “Tunes from the Ai Frontiers

  1. Pingback: Tunes from the AI Frontiers – Full-Stack Feed

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