Op. Cope: An Algorithmic Opera invokes mystery based on its title alone. When you discover Jae Shim’s documentary discusses the possibilities of artificial intelligence creating beautiful symphonies, moving poems, and magnificent paintings, the film becomes equal parts Blade Runner and Score: A Film Music Documentary (at least in philosophy). As early as the 1980s, the notion of using algorithms to create art has sparked controversy throughout the art, music, and poetry scenes. Director Shim and experimental composer David Cope seek to expand your minds and answer burning questions about the marriage of artistic expression and technological advancement.
Cope began his career diving into algorithmic music after facing chronic writer’s block. After nearly four decades of programming under his belt, he has gone from manually programming tones for symphonies to watching his creations write novels in minutes. Organized like a symphony, the movie gives an overture of themes before exploring Time, Life, and Intelligence in each “movement.” Whether it’s the “Rite of Spring” or creating “Riots of Spring,” the film and the musician seek to challenge your views on art, A.I. and, the very soul of music.
“…possibilities of artificial intelligence creating beautiful symphonies, moving poems, and, magnificent paintings…”
Op. Cope: An Algorithmic Opera shows a mastery of expression in portraying Cope’s ideas on creativity and its relationship with life. Shim expands on these by displaying algorithmic symphonies throughout the runtime. It’s almost as if he’s daring the audience to think they were composed by a human. The score is phenomenal and always captures the mood of each scene. This only further expands on Cope’s hypothesis that humanity may not be a requirement for creativity.
For all of its philosophical provocations, the documentary tends to linger and feels disjointed at times. It follows the music man along many tangents about his life in music. But sometimes, it follows the circuitous path a little too closely. A few side quests establish character and give personality to the narrative, yet many make the story feel convoluted. Plus, I must confess the ending is abrupt, and certain moments feel fragmented.
Growing up as a music nerd Op. Cope: An Algorithmic Opera is right up my alley. The movie displays a fascinating and contrarian approach to art in a captivating format. Shim is creating an argument for algorithmic music not only in the words of Cope but the musical choices throughout the documentary. The philosophical questions and passion for music on display here are enthralling. This is a motion picture for music fans who are ready to plunge deep into the headspace of a genius on the verge of either creative madness or technical brilliance, maybe even both.
"…shows a mastery of expression..."