.Symphony San Jose’s Automation

AI comes to life in Symphony San Jose’s Automation

Symphony San Jose is gearing up for an unprecedented musical experience that aims to blur the lines between man and machine. Automation, will take the stage at the California Theatre on Jan. 27 and 28, and promises to be a cinematic concerto exploring the conflicts and connections between human musicians and artificial intelligence (AI).

Emmy-winning composer Adam Schoenberg created Automation to explore a world that people are growing more and more familiar with. “Adam Schoenberg is one of the great living composers of our time, and he’s carried that mantle in this piece,” says Automation Conductor Vinay Parameswaran. “And San Jose, right next door to all of these incredible tech companies, is the perfect place for us to perform this piece.”

Automation takes center stage with a unique battle between cellist Yves Dhar and an AI hologram named A.G.N.E.S. (Automatic Generator Network for Excellent Songs). The composition promises a visceral experience—both visually and sonically, challenging audiences to contemplate the essence of humanity in the face of advancing technology.

“Composers throughout the history of western classical music have always been advocates for their fellow citizens and reflective of the world they inhabited,” says Parameswaran. “There are so many examples of this in music by Beethoven, or Sibelius, or William Grant Still, Shostakovich.”

Dhar, a renowned cellist, takes on the role of both soloist and collaborator with A.G.N.E.S. In a one-of-a-kind collaboration, Dhar and his AI counterpart engage in a musical duel during the composition’s “Battle Mode.” The AI attempts to surpass the human cellist, leading to a riveting confrontation that explores the complexities of our co-dependent relationship with technology.

To bring A.G.N.E.S. to life, Schoenberg collaborated with computer science professor Kathryn Leonard and her mathematician spouse, Ghassan Sarkis. The pair developed an AI generator, allowing the AI to learn and compose material based on Schoenberg’s compositions. “We used what is called a generative adversarial network, which is basically two models that communicate with each other: one model—the generator—generates signals that it hopes to pass off as music,” explains Leonard.

“The other model—the discriminator—tries to decide if a signal is or is not music,” Leonard continues. “The discriminator helps the generator improve by rejecting signals that don’t seem like music, and the generator helps the discriminator improve by generating signals that are more and more like music. I think of the discriminator as a music critic and the generator as a musician, each pushing the other to be better versions of themselves.”

Preceding the concert is a one-hour panel discussion featuring Schoenberg and Professor Leonard. The conversation will explore the mysteries behind the creation of Automation and highlight cutting-edge advancements in AI currently revolutionizing the music industry.

“[Automation is] a piece that explores modern-day economic struggles and also this world we now inhabit with these sophisticated machines,” says Parameswaran. “It’s a piece that everyone in the audience can find meaning in.”

“The power of AI is extraordinary,” says cellist and teacher Yves Dhar, “but it is limited by the depth of its knowledge base.”

Dhar envisions a collaborative future where human musicians and AI work together to enhance musical creativity and education. “If we were to collectively build tools and pool or organize our knowledge, then AI could be an incredible tool for music education,” says Dhar. “Imagine a learning machine steering a musician to write music in the style of Chopin, or Bach… A music-centric ChatGPT?”

Symphony San Jose’s Automation is a glimpse into an evolving Silicon Valley landscape where technology and art converge, inviting audiences to question what it truly means to be human in a world that continues to be increasingly intertwined with machines. 

“I imagine a world where human musicians could provide the spark to imagination and AI could fill in the gaps in whatever way a curious person can imagine,” says Dhar.


California Theatre

345 South First Street, San Jose

Jan. 27, 7:30pm


Melisa Yuriarhttps://www.melisayuriar.com
Melisa is a features writer for Metro Silicon Valley, covering music, arts and entertainment in the Valley. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, the journalist has bylines in Dancing Astronaut, Gray Area Magazine, Festival Insider and Saint Audio. She is a member of the American Copy Editors Society.


  1. Yet another wonderfully written article by Melisa! Oh, and the subject matter was a good one as well… 👍

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