Of all of the cultural areas within the Bay, the live performance corridor appeared to me the least prone to be affected by the tech world’s largest fad, generative synthetic intelligence (AI). Think about my shock when a collection of amorphous prompt-generated photos started accompanying Strauss’s “Don Juan” within the inaugural live performance of the San Francisco Symphony’s (SFS) 2023-2024 season.
Certainly, “creativeness” thematized Friday’s efficiency at Davies Symphony Corridor. This system featured AI-generated artwork and lyrics alongside masterworks by Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Andres Hillborg and Maurice Ravel.
The night solidified my long-standing dispassion for AI artwork. Whereas objectively spectacular, the generated visuals contributed little to the live performance expertise. Many photos appeared loosely linked at greatest. A Black girl surrounded by foliage made little sense behind Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer,” a cycle principally about love, ache and grief; a collection of crimson sculptures distracted Ravel’s “Bolero,” a chunk characterised by insistent movement and impressed by dance. If the intention was solely to stimulate the creativeness, then not sufficient consideration was given to the precise audiovisual expertise.
Equally unimpressive was the AI-generated verse of “Rap Notes,” a Twenty first-century work by the Swedish composer Anders Hillborg. The piece featured native rappers Kev Alternative and Anthony “Two-Contact” Veneziale, each of whom delivered spectacular freestyles on the moderately healthful immediate of “love, peace and hope.” The truth that Alternative needed to shoehorn in such mediocre AI-written lyrics genuinely saddened me — it felt like a waste of expertise in a piece designed particularly to showcase human ingenuity.
No less than within the live performance corridor, it’s obvious that AI artwork continues to be synthetic. Take a piece like “Bolero” — catchy and easy, but quirky and unique. It feels so distinctly human; no trendy algorithm might produce such a wierd and timeless tune.
In distinction, AI artwork lies within the uncanny valley, the place we really feel uncomfortable with photos and sounds which can be shut approximations of people. In truth, I’ll all the time choose computer-generated artwork as if it lies within the uncanny valley; I seek for its defects, proof of its lack of humanity. However when unusual and glitchy movies are juxtaposed with masterful classical works, I feel it’s objectively apparent the place human creativity is definitely concerned and the way invaluable it’s to the standard of a chunk.
Regardless, SFS continues its custom of exceptional musicianship. All of Strauss’s tone poems are brutally troublesome, and “Don Juan” is not any exception — nonetheless, director Esa-Pekka Salonen delivered a rousing efficiency. Seated simply subsequent to the basses, I might establish particulars in each part: swirling string undercurrents, indestructible wind homophony, wonderful brass fanfares. Particularly spectacular was their ensemble timing, an important ability to skilled orchestral enjoying. Musicians synced with millisecond precision from throughout the stage, accommodating and feeding each other, typically towards the director’s baton-waving.
Exceptional soloists additionally stole the present. Baritone Simon Keenlyside’s ardour and readability appeared to hold Mahler’s “Songs” over the orchestral panorama, far past the partitions of Davies and into the hearts of all in attendance. Soprano Hila Plitmann joined Alternative and Veneziale onstage for a cheeky rendition of Mozart’s “Queen of the Night time” aria. The three obtained essentially the most enthusiastic ovation of the evening.
SFS will proceed over the subsequent 9 months with a usually star-studded live performance season. My hope is that this gala live performance is a one-off: one thing poppy that acts extra as a novelty than as a bellwether for future programming. The present was unequivocally enjoyable, even when it unintentionally discredited the AI pattern. For me, the actual takeaway is that the live performance corridor stays an area the place people can have a good time, with out concern or disgrace, the fantastic thing about their very own creations.
Editor’s Be aware: This text is a assessment and contains subjective ideas, opinions and critiques.