minutes read
John Santamaria
May 16, 2023

Digital Strings: Is technology needed in the classical arts, and if so, how much and when? 

In this section, find out what the classical musician thinks about modern artificial intelligence. We also discuss the pros and cons of the technology, in classical terms of course!

Digital Strings: Is technology needed in the classical arts, and if so, how much and when? 

In the first two parts of our interview series, you got to know John Santamaria an open-hearted and empathetic guitar instructor from the Arts Development School of Music. We talked about how he came to teach, how he has contributed to the Pollak Library's archive, his thoughts on children's mental challenges, and how he tries to help them overcome obstacles. In this section, we discuss technology and its impacts on the different aspects of arts and education. We'll talk about the rise of Artificial Intelligence, and whether AI can take over the work and reap the rewards just like classical arts do. Let's get started!

Eniko: What was your inspiration when you were younger or what are you listening to now? 

John: I listened to a lot of Bach when I was doing my Masters. I listened to Scarlatti and Mertz too. But I do like modern music as well, like Sérgio Assad, and Leo Brouwer, I listen to mostly everything.  

But when I was doing music analysis, in music history, I loved Debussy and Chopin. The piano players like Schumann, Schobert, and Mozart, are also essential inspirations to me too. 

Eniko: And what do you think about the music that is being written today?  

John: I want to say the majority of our modern music, or popular music right now is recycled music from that's already been done. 

I came across this journal when I was doing my research. And in the late 19th century, they predicted that romantic music and popularizing music will be the end of it. They said it would be like the downfall. We would lose Avantgarde. Because there are so many people doing it. I wouldn't want to say completely that capitalism ruins authenticity, but it kind of does. 

It was so hard for me to accept that fact when I saw it on paper, I said, “Oh, my goodness! They predicted this 200 years early!” It was weird taking in the truth. But it's true that the more you do something, the less authentic it becomes. 

On the other hand, there are emerging artists right now who are putting a lot of work into revolutionizing music. I follow a lot of guitar music. And a lot of progressive rock bands in our modern time. 

There are bands like Animals as Leaders who are taking music theory and guitar to the next level. They are insane. So these are the bands that give me hope for the future.

As long as you have the brain to keep getting creative, it will happen. Music will progress. 
Eniko: How do you feel? Is this modern fast-paced world affects/threatens classical music in any way? 

John: I watch a lot of news, I try to update myself about anything that comes out with technology, and I am very concerned.  

Here is my opinion. Algorithms perfectly calculated movement and measurements in terms of the things that we can do. The one thing AI cannot do is that it can't apply imperfection.  The one thing they will never be able to do is try to recreate human expressionism.

I've heard MIDI samples. They're really great. Very well done. There's a lot of editing to be done. I'm pretty sure high-tech computers can achieve this really fast. But one thing, like I said, that they cannot do is the human expression, the imperfection. And plus, I would also say improvement. 

AI can recreate and recycle. Humans can create from scratch. At least, new things. I'm pretty sure AIs can compose as well, but other than measured movement, and calculated things, they can perfect that. But there's nothing like the human touch. 

Eniko: Do you think technology has benefits too? 

John: I would say yes, in terms of the learning experience with children. The impact of the pandemic has taught me a lot. There were students that were able to achieve an advanced level of playing guitar through Zoom. But these were the students who were willing to learn, of course.  

Eniko: Is it possible? How did you achieve this?

John: I had a 14-year-old that took lessons from me through Zoom during the pandemic, and I could only do my best. And I told him he had to grow nails, and he had to acquire that certain sound, an acquired taste for the tone that he likes.  

And so I sent him links to recordings online, and one day, he got to the church where we held our recital, and I was mind-blown myself. I never thought a person could do that through online lessons. 

I always doubted myself. I was really nervous. I said, "I hope he does well. I hope he's fine. I hope he's not scared." And when he got to the church where we held our recital, he said he was really nervous because this is his first time playing live. And he nailed it. He did a really great job.

Eniko: We mentioned AI earlier. Many people praise artificial intelligence because it saves a lot of time and doesn't even make mistakes. What do you think?

John: When AI started to make generated pictures from already existing paintings. And I saw an interview with Miyazaki from the animation Studio Ghibli. He's an artist. He paints his movies. All of his films are painted like The Howl's Moving Castle. It takes him hundreds of hours to do one scene. And he met an AI developer, and he asked him, “Do you really want to develop software where a computer generates an image of your description?” 

I'm not quoting that directly, but he asked that in Japanese. And then the developer said, “Yes!” and he didn't even hesitate. And Miyazaki was very sad. I can imagine the pain of a person who spends hundreds of hours learning something.

And you know, when I play in concerts, there's fear. There are nerves going through me, and it's difficult. It's difficult, but it's rewarding. 

Once you get it right, you keep practicing. It keeps getting better. You polish it. That's the beauty. 

I looked through some of these AI-generated images, and they were perfect work, and I compared them to some of the other art that I've seen, like Van Gogh or Matisse. There you can find human touch and imperfection. Just like Picasso's work in Cubism, when he revolutionized that, that was mind-blowing. I mean, I'm not saying I was alive when he did it, but I read a book about Picasso before, and it was insane. 

So imperfection is key to evolving, which is really amazing, at least from my point of view. 

The arts produced by artists will be worth more than the AI-generated ones because these people will not exist forever. I mean, robots will, but our work, our imperfect work will be worth a lot because we can't make a lot of it. 

And hanging on your wall something from a person directly worth me more. 

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