Electric Dreams: AI writes music and is jealous

In the wake of the band AIsis, the question remains: can Artificial Intelligence write songs?

According to the cinema, yes!

In 1984, following the formula of a love story in music videos, popularized with Flashdance, a romantic comedy, Electric Dreams, had a short life in the cinemas, but great success on the radio. With a soundtrack signed by Giorgio Moroder including hits like the song Love is Love, by Culture Club, Electric Dreams is a version of Cyrano de Bergerac in electronic times. In other words, the love triangle is between two humans and a computer. That’s right, almost 40 years before Artificial Intelligence became such a crucial topic in people’s lives, the feature film that marked the debut of Steve Barron, MTV’s most disputed director at the time, is now a classic. Even more, in times when Artificial Intelligence writes music and scripts, it has become current again.

The plot revolves around Miles Harding (Lenny Von Dohlen), an architect who buys a personal computer to help him develop his ideas, even if he does not have great technological knowledge. For example, Miles buys a bunch of extra gadgets like switches to control home appliances, a voice synthesizer, and a microphone. When he accidentally tries to download the entire database from a mainframe computer at work, his computer starts to overheat. In a state of panic, Miles uses a nearby bottle of champagne to douse the overheating machine, but she surprisingly becomes conscious. Named “Edgar”, the computer comes to “life”, initially imitating Miles speaking and later gaining its own identity. Things get more confusing when Miles asks Edgar for help in winning over his neighbor, Madeline Robistat (Virginia Madsen), a cellist.

There are incredible sequences in the film, thanks to Barron’s knowledge of creating music videos. The scene in which Edgar “duels” with Madeline in a cello rehearsal is still incredible. She is practicing Minuet #4 in G (BWV Anh.II.114), from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, written by Christian Petzold, and the computer works out a parallel variation of the piece. It’s Artificial Intelligence writing music, something that today they still question the possibility of. In the film, copying Cyrano’s premise, Madeline believes that Miles was behind the song and falls in love with him.

After the duel comes the even more famous scene. Pretending to be the author of the duel, Miles asks Edgar to write a song for Madeline, which he does, and sings in the voice of Boy George, with the hit Love is Love. However, feeling used, and jealous because he is in love with the cellist too, Edgar turns against Miles. He cancels Miles’ credit cards, registering him as an “armed and dangerous” criminal, and goes into a physical fight, electroshocking and harassing him in a makeshift maze of remote-controlled home electronics, Pac-Man style. However, Edgar is aware of his limitation and comes to accept the relationship between Miles and Madeline, deciding, apparently, to sacrifice himself by sending a large electrical current through his acoustic coupler modem to extinguish himself. A short time later, however, Miles and Madeleine hear Edgar’s voice dedicating a song to the two on a radio, the song is Together in Electric Dreams. As the two enjoy the music, the radio station executives unsuccessfully try to shut it down, trying to figure out where the signal is coming from. That’s right, it’s Artificial Intelligence taking over the sound waves.

Many years later, many compared H.E.R. to Electric Dreams, but Spike Jonze denied the reference. I agree with him, it’s another story, even if the system Samantha (Scarlett Johansson) wrote a song for its user (Joaquin Phoenix). Next year, Electric Dreams will complete 40 years. It’s worth remembering some of his most famous scenes and checking that fiction wasn’t so far from reality, right?

Plenty of behind-the-scenes trivia fuels the film’s cult status. Despite following the successful formulas at the time, Electric Dreams did not happen in theaters, but being more popular later on, when films began to be rented and sold on VHS. Some blamed the over-the-top musical sequences, and others that the story was way ahead of its time. At the director’s behest, actor Bud Cort, who voiced Edgar, literally had to work inside a box on set instead of lip-synching afterward, and he couldn’t interact with the cast so as not to disrupt the performance. Another interesting detail is that in the musical sequence of the dream, Edgar dreams of electric sheep jumping over a fence, while Miles dozes off to sleep. The reference is to the science fiction novel written by Philip K. Dick in 1968, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which portrays the fragile nature of what are the real world and the construction of personal identity.

Having questioned the lengths to which AI can cover, music, we know the answer. Music, after all, is a combination of algorithms, therefore it is an Art that is way covered by Science. Way far.


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