“If you flip a coin onto a table, you know it’s going to land heads or tails. If you spin the same coin, it flickers from one side to another before landing on a clear result. But if you spin thousands of coins, and each has the potential to influence the others – the result, when it arrives, will be a surprise for everyone.”
As analogies go, it’s a simple enough concept to comprehend. But this is how Professor Eduardo Miranda
, Professor in Computer Music at the University of Plymouth, explains the world of quantum computing.
The computers in use today handle the information represented above as heads and tails. Quantum computers do this with a table full of spinning coins – and the potential technologists see in these emerging systems are as wide-ranging as they are exciting.
They have been identified as having the potential to transform industries from manufacturing and engineering to cyber security and financial services, essentially enabling users to solve large scale combinations of problems at the click of an enter key.
Within this technological leap, Professor Miranda is among the foremost pioneers of an emerging innovation that unites these most complex of sciences with the arts – quantum computer music.
And like the advent of electronic music in the 1970s and 80s, and other great advances in music production before it, he firmly believes that quantum computing could herald the latest cultural shift in the constantly evolving music industry.
Watch a video from the launch event
“For artists, it opens up a huge range of possibilities. You could start the composition process exactly as you do now, putting together notes or sounds and seeing how they blend. But if you then run music through your own programmed quantum software, it could give you results you had never even thought of. That is the power of this technology – it enables artists to retain, but also expand, their creativity and potentially open up surprising new ways of working.”
For audiences, Professor Miranda adds, the experience could be equally profound and personalised. Because of the software used in its development, each time a listener plays a piece of music the result could be different.
The tune would still be recognisable – its message and lyrics clear. But each individual listener would know that the number of possible combinations would be such that no-one in the world would be hearing precisely the same output they did.
As well as being a classically-trained composer, he has been using computers to create music for decades. In the past, this has resulted in the creation of a biocomputer, which harnesses the ability of slime mould to perform computational tasks, and a brain-computer music interface
(BCMI) that captured the brainwave signals of patients from the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability (RHN) in London and enabled them to interact directly with musicians.
The world of quantum computer music is equally as driven by curiosity as these areas once were, and in June this year he will premiere a unique new piece created using quantum software as part of a collaboration with the London Sinfonietta.
Photography by Somewhere up north
Professor Miranda says:
“For me, the process of creating that piece will be the same as it has always been. I will sit at the piano with a blank sheet of music and see where the journey takes me. But when I start to run what I have written through the quantum computer, I will be as excited as anyone. Some people will like the result, some people may not. But that has always been the case with music anyway.”
The advances made so far have already captured the imagination of other notable pioneers within the music industry – Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel, for example, were among the attendees at the launch of Professor Miranda’s book in December 2022.
He is currently collaborating with Quantinuum
and Moth Quantum in quantum development, using his experience – and any methodologies he develops – to unlock the technology for others looking to explore its creative potential now and in the future.
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