Natural selection hits the right note

MUSIC AND LYRICS: Ritesh Ajoodha's research on using Darwin's Theory of Evolution to compose music will be published in IGI Global's Encyclopaedia of Information Science and Technology. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

MUSIC AND LYRICS: Ritesh Ajoodha’s research on using Darwin’s Theory of Evolution to compose music will be published in IGI Global’s Encyclopaedia of Information Science and Technology. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

Music is an art, but throw in Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection and you could scientifically create a melody pleasing to the ear. Computer science student Ritesh Ajoodha has combined his love for science and music to develop a novel approach to composing.

Evolutionary music

Ajoodha said that concepts of evolution and genetic mutations in humans could be applied to music. “You have a bunch of random melodies generated in space and we have them cross [as if they were reproducing].”

The outcome is a cross between the melodies, with possible evolutionary operations occurring. The pieces are evaluated by the computer programme, and “the good pieces survive and the bad ones will be eliminated from the space”.

If this process continues for hundreds of generations, “we can produce something aesthetically pleasing”, he said. Ajoodha ran this algorithm for up to 500 generations of music and managed to generate a sample. “The music sounded natural,” he said.

But, computers cannot compose creatively. “A computer doesn’t have emotion … so we need to mimic the process using genetic algorithms to generate creativity because the computer has none.”

Under the supervision of Richard Klein and Maria Jakovljevic, Ajoodha mechanically recreated the process of a classical composition. The positive outcome of his research means the results will be published in the third edition of IGI Global’s Encyclopaedia of Information Science and Technology at the end of July.

Love of music

Ajoodha was taught to play the harmonium, by his mother at the age of eight. He spent six years with his piano teacher Andrew Francis, and later Diane Coutts, who is regarded as one of the best piano teachers and performers in South Africa.

“The biggest thing I learnt from her about music was that it is very mechanical,” Ajoodha said. He said this contributed to his honours work.

“Since I already had a structured background in music theory, it became easy to combine my two interests.”

Ajoodha did a BSc majoring in Computer Science and Mathematics and worked on his music qualifications parallel to his studies at Wits. “Since I already had a structured background in music theory, it became easy to combine my two interests.”

His current research is also inspired by music. It is another novel method to automatically detect genres and to improve information retrieval systems in computers.

Having completed his honours in computer science with distinction, Ajoodha plans on completing his PhD thesis on automated music genre classification before working.

Although he denies being a musical prodigy, when he is not playing the piano, he turns his attention to the violin. He is fond of video games, but not Guitar Hero. “I have the real deal,” he joked.

When asked about his greatest achievements, he said, “Every day I like to push the limits and achieve something new. This morning I learnt an amazing classical piece by Felix Mendelssohn called ‘Rondo Capriccioso’. Currently this is my greatest achievement, however, it will probably change tomorrow.”

As for his musical role models, he said, “All the people I look up to are dead, with the exception of my phenomenal piano teacher”, listing Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninov and Chopin.


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The Science Inside is produced by Paul McNally, Anina Mumm, DJ Keyez and Lutfiyah Suliman for The Wits Radio Academy, with funding from The Department of Science & Technology. The show looks at the science inside major news events.

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