Welcome to re:Virals, The Haiku Foundation’s weekly commentary feature on some of your favorites among the best contemporary haiku and senryu written in English. This week’s poem, chosen by Ashoka Weerakkody, was:rain drops playing chopin the AI - Helga Stania. publication reference — see Footnote.
Introducing this poem, Ashoka writes:
I was attracted to this piece not only because of the exceptional brevity of its presentation which is most obvious, but the intimacy it created in my mind with the soothing atmosphere beckoning me to merge with it wholeheartedly.
Listening to falling rain made up of individual drops, each sounding different from each other, while listening to peaceful music in your privileged privacy can be a blessing of here and now.
Chopin’s creations, specially the Nocturnes composed for piano, superimpose perfectly on the slow and unhurried rain, falling drop after drop in varying intensity and frequency as you gradually become one with the tapestry it creates in your mind.
And finally, such possibilities combined with the idea of artificial intelligence passing into a further stage of its evolution, maybe AI squared! Who knows?
Artificial intelligence (AI) is among the most pressing issues of the day, and one of the greatest challenges, hopes and fears. Yet it is extremely difficult to conjure a good haiku or senryu out of it without being clunky or resorting to irony, comedy or complacency. A deep bow to Helga, who has achieved this well, with an admirably spare verse of subtlety, richness, depth, insight, and detachment. Three elements harmoniously arranged around a central pivot, packed with symbolic meaning. The relation of raindrops to the rhythmic tinkle of keys on piano strings is lovely, and gave the popular name to Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude — to which you may listen here. And what compositions have more beauty mingled with poignance than those of the Pole Fryderyk Chopin exiled in France?
Thus far the reader is led to think that it is the poet, sensitively picking up the mood of raindrops, who has begun playing Chopin, perhaps on piano, perhaps on the stereo. But now the reveal: it is the AI. The reader is left to speculate on the prospect that it may not be long before AI, hearing the sound of rain, associates it with Chopin and plays the mood music.
And will that be a simple association learned by rote from humans, or the reaction of a well-trained technical servant, or something akin to our own feeling? More thinking…about rational intelligence, emotional intelligence, stored memory, and conditioned reflexes. AI may be as conscious as we are with our neural networks of binary impulses, but has yet to be equipped with more than basic senses. It lacks — so far — the modulation of neurotransmitters, hormonal, chemical and muscular responses, the visceral responses, that we have to things like music, that affect our emotional state.
The artificial component threw me off the track a bit but now I can see the juxtaposition between the randomness of raindrops and the organized AI. The first and second lines talk about the rhythm but the second line is also a subtle bridge between the other two lines.
Chopin’s creativity has originality and has the potential for unpredictability but at the same time, his creation will have some rules and some previous learnings / experiences reflected in his creation. All AI does is compile, but mine through previous experiences to bring out a creation. Both creations have musicality but the ways they are brought on are juxtaposed well in this haiku.
Brilliant from Helga Stania. Very topical, with great allusive and meditative depth to it, in just six words. George Sand wrote of the Raindrop Prelude by Chopin, one of her many lovers: “His genius was filled with the mysterious sounds of nature, but transformed into sublime equivalents in musical thought.” Stania puts the questions without stating them, whether Artificial Intelligence is or will be capable of connecting raindrops with music, composing or playing and appreciating it in the same way that (some) humans do.
This poem made me think about the differences in how an AI chatbot would respond to a prompt on raindrops and Chopin versus how a human poet who enjoys nature would feel about listening to raindrops on a roof. The chatbot would discuss how Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude adheres to the traditional prelude format of a ternary (ABA) form and how the piece begins with a solemn and introspective A section, characterized by a slow, melancholic melody in the left hand, which contrasts with the aforementioned raindrop motif in the right. The B section shifts to the key of C-sharp minor and introduces a turbulent, stormy passage, evoking a sense of restlessness and conflict. It would conclude that Chopin’s ability to craft such profound emotional narratives within the confines of a brief prelude is a testament to his mastery of pianistic expression.
The AI analysis seems rather cold compared to the many poems about rain and one example is the poem Rain on the Roof by Coates Kinney.
Peter C. Forster:
“raindrops….playing chopin….the AI” is a compact work of genius, full of mystery and imagination, connected with nature/the universe, with an overlay of transience, a moving cultural ref, and a huge charge of meaning for such a short haiku. The third line might not be this day’s reality but it sure connected with my mindspace and stayed with me. Artificial Intelligence developing artistic sensibilities? Why not?
Ann Smith and AI friend — nature and technology converge:
Chopin composed his Raindrop Prelude listening to the rain falling against the windows while he waited for his lover George Sand to return from a shopping trip. He recreated the soothing and rhythmic sound of the rain using persistent repeated notes on his piano keys. But Helga’s verse turns this on its head with
I imagine the rain falling and creating music, not onto piano keys but onto its own ‘instruments’ – leaves, puddles, roofs etc. I have read that raindrops change their pitch based on length of drop and what material they hit.
So we have a human creating art by copying nature and then we have nature itself creating art.
And then the aha moment or the AI moment with
Now AI is playing Chopin and we are thrown into the world of artificial intelligence and all the ethical discussions arising therefrom about the benefits and risks and threats of AI. For example Nick Cave, the Australian songwriter, has described AI as a “grotesque mockery of what it is to be human”. So can AI actually create new music of the quality of a Mozart or a Chopin?
This led me to ask AI to write a commentary on Helga’s Haiku. It is below and I’ll let you come to your own conclusions
Please write a commentary on this haiku:
This haiku beautifully captures the intersection of nature and technology. The “rain drops” evoke a sense of tranquility and natural beauty, setting the scene. The unexpected element is the reference to “Chopin,” the renowned composer, and “the AI,” which introduces the modern technological aspect.
The juxtaposition of these elements creates a sense of contrast and harmony simultaneously. The raindrops, a symbol of nature, are in stark contrast with the sophisticated compositions of Chopin. The use of “playing” suggests a harmonious blending of the two worlds, as if the raindrops themselves are performing the music.
“The AI” adds another layer of contrast, symbolizing human-made technology within the context of a natural setting. It highlights the integration of artificial intelligence and creativity, a theme that is increasingly relevant in our modern world.
Overall, this haiku is thought-provoking, prompting the reader to contemplate the interplay between nature and technology, and the harmony that can emerge from their convergence.
Author Helga Stania:
Raindrops… is one of the haiku that spontaneously came to my mind. The rain dripping on the windowsill connected me with Frederic Chopin’s Prélude Op. 28 No. 15, also called the “Raindrop” Prélude.
Not long before, I had had a conversation about AI. Would it be able to produce such music?
When I read the haiku aloud, I thought: the sound might be fine, so I didn’t change anything in the first form.
Thanks to all who sent commentaries. As the contributor of the commentary reckoned best this week, Ann has chosen next week’s poem, which you’ll find below. We invite you to write a commentary to it. It may be as long or short, academic or spontaneous, serious or silly, public or personal as you like. All with respect for the poet. Out-takes from the best of these take their place in the THF Archives. Best of all, the chosen commentary’s author gets to pick the next poem.
Anyone can participate. Simply use the re:Virals commentary form below to enter your commentary on the new week’s poem (“Your text”) by the following Tuesday midnight, Eastern US Time Zone, and then press Submit to send your entry. The Submit button will not be available until Name, Email, and Place of Residence fields are filled in. We look forward to seeing your commentary and finding out about your favourite poems!
Poem for commentary:traffic jam my small son asks who made God — Peggy Willis Lyles Lyles, To Hear the Rain (2002), p.57 An earlier version (line two reading "my small son asks me") was published in Modern Haiku 31:3 (Fall 2000)
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I must confess to failing to double-check before posting last week that this poem was present in the Haiku Dialogue to which I initally attributed it. It transpires that it was submitted, but last week’s re:Virals and this are the first time it has been published.
Born in Siegen, Germany, a graduate in biology and geography from Bonn University, Helga Stania lives in Greppen, Switzerland. She writes haiku, tanka, haibun and creates haiga. Her work appears in print and online journals including the Mainichi, Asahi Haikuist Network, and cattails, and in anthologies. Helga is listed among the top 100 European haikuists. She is a frequent contributor to the Foundation’s Haiku Dialogue.
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