Student explores new frontier for music

By Costa Maragos Posted: August 28, 2015 6:00 a.m.

PhD candidate Jason Cullimore is exploring the new frontier for music. He’s developing a new computer-based adaptive music system
PhD candidate Jason Cullimore is exploring the new frontier for music. He’s developing a new computer-based adaptive music system (Photo - External Relations).

Imagine music that interacts with you. 

Imagine music that is designed by a composer but unfolds differently each time it is performed.

It’s a new frontier for music and Jason Cullimore is immersing himself in the development of such tools and the understanding of their effect on music and culture.

Cullimore is preparing a PhD dissertation at the University of Regina in which he will develop a new computer-based adaptive music system and explore the impact of such systems on the way we enjoy music.

“As a composer, I’ve always used technology as a means to realize my creative ideas. But we haven’t yet seen the full extent of what technology can do for composers and their audiences,” says Cullimore, who has also received degrees in Biology and Music Psychology from Queen’s University. He’s also won a Western Canadian Music Award for Classical Recording of the Year and has been nominated for a Gemini Award for being part of a three-person team who composed a musical score for the children’s TV series 2030 CE, broadcast on YTV in the early 2000’s.

He’s currently studying in the Fine Arts Interdisciplinary Studies Program, under the supervision of Dr. Rebecca Caines (Fine Arts) and Dr. David Gerhard (Computer Science).

As a PhD student associated with the new Creative Technologies area, Cullimore has been given the opportunity to develop new computer-based tools for composers and sound artists that may change how we produce and consume music. He believes that interactive technologies and techniques will create new forms of music and will lead to a blossoming of creative growth and exploration on the part of composers and computer scientists.

“Composers have long looked for ways of re-invigorating music. Each new generation of composers wants to speak with a new voice and I believe that the development of adaptive music systems may be one of the most significant evolutions of musical practice yet seen,” says Cullimore.

“Video games already have musical scores that unfold differently for every player. This is made possible by the use of well-designed computer systems that are capable of changing musical structure in response to player behaviour.”

Cullimore gives an example of a video game scenario. A battle with a monster may last for five seconds or five minutes depending on the player.  Yet the musical score has to make sense in both cases, even if it uses the same themes.

Cullimore cites other examples with much deeper implications.  How about having a musical score to accompany everything that happens in your life?

“Computers are everywhere now and we might be able to use all of that processing power - including knowledge of where you are, what you are doing and potentially how you might be feeling - to produce music that influences how you respond to and interact with your surroundings,” says Cullimore.

Right now, Cullimore is working on software that will help composers write interactive music. He’s interested in creating tools that help realize music in multiple styles, all of which respond to the behaviour of its listeners, other performers and whatever else might be happening in the surrounding environment.

And true to Cullimore’s creative background, he plans on presenting his thesis project as an interactive sound art installation at a local gallery or possibly even as part of a concert in which other musicians and the audience can interact with the computer to create a new, dynamic musical experience.

Jason Cullimore's research was recently featured on CBC Radio - Click here for the story.