Investing in the musical life and legacy of Philadelphia

Classical music in the film “Ex machina”

Posted By Andrew Quint on Jun 4th, 2015 in

screenshot_51Even if Science Fiction isn’t a movie genre that usually appeals to you, Ex machina is a film currently showing at the Ritz East in Old City and elsewhere that deserves your strongest consideration. Its subject is artificial intelligence: I think I’m not giving too much away to explain that Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a young programmer at a fictional internet company, wins a contest to visit the isolated genius, Nathan (Oscar Issac), who started the company. Allegedly, this to help him assess the success of the later’s project to develop an advanced AI, which happens to come in  the form of a beautiful female robot, Ava (Alicia Vikander.)

The film is very much about what it is that makes us human, in terms of our interactions with others and with the world—and the feelings, emotions, moral choices, and even esthetic viewpoints of the machines are very much aspects to be pondered. Classical music lovers will surely ruminate on the two pieces of “source music” that Nathan has piped into his ultra-chic living spaces. In addition to a brilliantly creepy electronic score (by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury) we hear playing in the background the first movement of Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat major, D860 (Alfred Brendel is the soloist) and the opening movement to JS Bach’s G Major cello suite, BWV 1007 (a Yo-Yo Ma performance.)

These strike me as knowing choices. They are, of course, both stone masterpieces, and also unequivocal instances of “absolute music”. Appreciating and fully enjoying them, some would say, requires the highest kind of integrative brain function, emotional intelligence, and…a soul. That Nathan is playing Schubert and Bach for his leading edge robots and not…I don’t know…Scheherazade or Ein Heldenleben (or Katy Perry) speaks volumes about the level of abstraction and complex thought that Nathan has been able to instill in the glass polymer brains of his creations. Food for thought.

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  1. Well-written and insightful. Doing some Ex Machina research. Love that you used the key term ‘source music” which is often omitted by writers.

  2. Franz says:

    it’s D960

  3. I think anyone can love and appreciate those two pieces. Perhaps they were chosen because the accessibility and simplicity of those pieces would be appreciated by both human and AI.

    The idea and appreciation of random abstract thought as evidenced in the Pollack painting would back up this assumption. Technical mastery isn’t the point in life or in art. Technical mastery is only the beginning.

    Insightful and thought-provoking article though.