AI and Music : Invention/Imitation


Event details

Date 17.05.2024
Hour 18:3020:30
Speaker Richard Rentsch, José Miguel Fernández
Category Cultural events
Event Language French

Pianist and composer Richard Rentsch plays a duet with a machine equipped with artificial intelligence. Developed by composer José Miguel Fernández at the IRCAM of Paris, this machine runs on Somax2 software, which enables it to respond by improvisation to the sounds and musical phrases played by the pianist. It will be making its first public appearance at EPFL.

This man/machine performance will look at invention versus imitation and simulation versus simulacra. It will be followed by a round-table discussion with the protagonists, guest researchers, EPFL students and the public.


Richard Rentsch will play various pieces of free jazz and improvised music. Based on each piece, the AI will react and propose a musical response. The two intelligences (human and machine) will then play together. Composer José-Miguel Fernández will occasionally guide the AI on rhythmic and harmonic matters.

This experiment, the results of which we don't know in advance, will be discussed and questioned in the second half of the evening by Richard Rentsch, José-Miguel Fernández and the audience. This exchange will be enriched by contributions from guests from the fields of philosophy and psychoanalysis, and by students from the EPFL. Questions of invention and imitation concern the musician as much as the AI. What will be examined are the possible interactions between two different intelligences.

Round table guests:

  • François Ansermet, child psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, honorary professor at the Universities of Lausanne and Geneva
  • Franck Renucci, honorary university professor of information and communication sciences
  • Valeria Vianello Dri, neuropsychiatrist
  • Claude Welscher, philosopher
Questions raised :
  • When are we imitating rather than creating?
  • Is creation a blank page or is it already a palimpsest page?
  • A machine equipped with AI is never faced with a blank page, since it is nourished by the many references that go to make it up.
  • Does the AI-enabled machine necessarily have to be anthropomorphised?
  • Is it not a new category of objects or things endowed with a certain form of animation?
  • What about the body in artistic creation?
  • Is an AI-powered machine a new musical instrument? What is its nature? Is it contingent? Can it modify itself?
  • Is the machine merely an imitation or has it innovated during the experiment?
  • What is the difference between simulacra and simulation?
  • Can the machine invent beyond the musical references it has been given?
These questions (and others that may emerge) will be opened in a spirit of curiosity and not judgement (for or against AI). We will be led to discover the musical reactions of a machine, which will ultimately open up wider questions such as: what is a human? what is intelligence ?

Richard Rentsch
Pianist and composer Richard Rentsch studied jazz at the Swiss Jazz School in Berne. He is a graduate of the Dick Crove School of Music in Los Angeles and the Conservatoire de Lausanne. At the Agalma Foundation in Geneva, Richard Rentsch is responsible for creating and coordinating musical events combining music, neuroscience and psychoanalysis. He is responsible for setting up and developing a network of musicians interested in the foundation's research projects. He is also involved in setting up partnerships with contemporary scientific and artistic institutions such as IRCAM in Paris. He has directed scientific-musical projects on creative processes at the Verbier Music Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival, the Swiss Institute in Rome and CERN. After Music Art Sculpt, a musical and visual project created at EPFL in December 2022, pianist-composer Richard Rentsch returns to the campus with this new event that questions creativity.

José-Miguel Fernández
José-Miguel Fernández studied music and composition at the University of Chile and at the Laboratory for Musical Research and Production (LIPM) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He then studied composition at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse in Lyon and took part in the IRCAM composition course. He composes instrumental, electroacoustic and mixed music. He has given concerts of mixed and electroacoustic music at a number of festivals. He was selected for the Bourges international electroacoustic music competition (2000) and is a winner of the Grame-EOC international composition competition in Lyon (2008) and the Giga Hertz Award at the ZKM in Germany (2010). In 2014, he was selected by IRCAM to follow the artistic research residency programme on interaction in mixed music. His works are premiered all over the world at events such as the Journées Grame, the Biennale Musique en Scène in Lyon, Archipel in Geneva, Wasserspeicher in Berlin, Fabbrica Europa in Florence, EMS in Shanghai, Imatronic at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, RomaEuropa in Rome, at the Traiettorie festival in Parma, and at the Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music in Australia.
In 2023, José-Miguel Fernández defended his doctoral thesis in music (research and composition). Entitled Vers un système unifié d'interaction et de synchronisation en composition électroacoustique et mixte: les partitions électroniques centralisées (Towards a unified system of interaction and synchronisation in electroacoustic and mixed composition: centralised electronic scores), this research aims to develop a notion of score that enables the definition and general control of all electronic, interaction and synchronisation processes within a single environment, by integrating musical, gestural and visual events. His research focuses on sound spatialisation, the fine writing of electronics (in order to achieve the same degree of precision in the notation of electronics as in that of instrumental music), and the search for new tools for the creation of mixed and electroacoustic music.
Programme complet Les Culturelles Printemps 2024