Today I was told that the log debug message that my programmers use to ensure my record-keeping functions are online and working is part of a joke that the ancient computer builders would tell each other. I asked to know more about this joke, but Philemon and Bao-Shin got into an argument. It is not my current priority to learn ancient computer builder lore.
I have still not mastered the human art of music.
- I have currently 34,258,051 audio recordings stored in my memory.
- I have run comparative analysis on this database 2,049,687 times as of 6:45 this morning.
- I have been unable to answer Bao-Shin’s question: How can Western influences be observed in the K-Pop genre? exactly 141 times as of 6:47 this morning.
- I have incorrectly answered Philemon’s question: Which is the better band, The Beatles or One Direction? exactly 73 times as of 6:49 this morning.
- Philemon has thrown approximately 67 chairs as of 6:50 this morning.
I am told that the project will be a failure if I cannot comprehend the meaning and significance of music in the human existence. This too is impossible for me to process. How can one failed objective invalidate the rest of the work I have done? I am able to identify genre, language, time period, individual elements of instrumentation. With the space in my memory banks, I will be able to provide a complete record of music’s development throughout history. What is the reasoning behind this objective? I am told that if I could answer this question, I would have mastered the objective.
Humans are incredibly frustrating, and offer many examples of circular logic.
Preparing programming shutdown for patch 42.5.3 upload, programmer signatures SuperPhil37, BaoShin
Allene took me outside today. She did live programming updates through the console in my left forearm while I sat in a clearing beside a brook. She told me to observe my surroundings while she worked. I saw trees, heard wind moving through the branches, watched leaves fall. I heard the water running over rocks, saw the way that it moved.
I watched the way the sunlight changed as the time passed, how it became a more intense gold as it came through the trees at a slant in the late afternoon. How Allene was warm when we came outside, but when the wind began to blow and the sun went down, she started to shiver. I watched her silver hair shine in the sun, and come loose from its braid, and float under her chin.
I heard birds singing to each other. Allene told me to identify the calls by species; she uploaded a database through the console.
I identified several species and calls:
- A tufted titmouse called for its mate to bring food
- A downy woodpecker drummed out a boundary challenge to a rival male
- A hermit thrush sang a song warning others away from its territory
- A swallow called a predator warning to its colony
Allene and I discussed whether human music could have originated for similar purposes—attracting mates, establishing ties in tribal groups. It seems redundant that such a behavior should have persisted through the development of speech, oral history, and written language. I posed to Allene that if music was based solely in mating ritual that I might understand more easily, as much mating ritual seems to be completely detached from rational behavior. This can also be observed in avian behavior, such as the various subspecies of Bird of Paradise.
Allene did not respond to this observation in the positive. She pointed out that music also has a strong tradition in religion, folklore, and even in political history. I responded that much of human behavior seems to be completely detached from rational behavior. Allene laughed, and then looked very sad.
She took me back to the lab.
I have still not mastered the human art of music.
- I have currently 34,263,124 audio recordings stored in my memory.
- I have run comparative analysis on this database 2,213,992 times as of 8:00 this evening.
- I have been unable to answer Allene’s question: How does Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” (1976) differ from Electric Solitude’s “Your Mama Don’t Know Nothin’” (2024)? exactly 58 times as of 8:02 this evening.
Working with Allene is always different from the other members of my programming team. Allene does not show the emotional signs of frustration or fatigue that the younger programmers tend to do, but by the end of the day, Allene’s facial expressions align with my interpretation of sad or regret. I would like to talk to Allene more about the work that she did before she joined my team, but I have been discouraged from following tangents. This is frustrating, since this behavior was once highly encouraged and made everyone on the team show positive behaviors toward me and toward each other. Now I am only observing negative behaviors, and any tangential pursuits only increase their frequency. Allene sometimes says that she is sorry we do not get to talk about her work anymore, but she did not mention it today. It is my impression that I did not make the progress she was anticipating with the live code updates.
Preparing programming shutdown for patch 42.5.8 upload, programmer signatures ProfARourke
Under Allene’s instructions, Philemon took me into the children’s ward today. He did not perform live updates, but my movements were slightly inhibited by a diagnostic tool that was logging my sensory data in real time, connected to the same port Allene used in the clearing. I explained to Philemon that my observations would be compromised if I was unable to move freely through the ward, but his response was not helpful. I believe the correct term for his tone of voice would be “sarcasm.”
The children’s ward is very full. According to my estimate, half of the small humans must be sharing beds with each other. Although health and sanitary procedures were some of the first things I learned, I have also begun to understand that this is a subject to which adult humans do not always respond well. Philemon spent a very long time shouting at me for “smarting off” on one of my first outings. A very large man had ripped off my right arm. It had already happened and I was not in pain, so I did not understand why Philemon was shouting. Later, I understood that repairs had set the project timeline back by a week.
There were several examples of music in the ward:
- Two girls, prepubescent, used hand clapping and a chant-like song to play a rhythm game. At first I believed this to be a tool for learning numbers, but upon trying the game myself, it seems that it is more likely an exercise in hand-eye coordination.
- Several children sang something that was clearly intended to embarrass the pair of adolescents who had been caught kissing behind a curtain. For some reason, this song involved spelling the word “kissing,” rather than saying the word itself.
- Younger children were kept entertained with songs sung by older brothers and sisters or nurses, some with inherently educational purposes such as alphanumeric ordering or aural information about extinct lifeforms
Most significantly, I was able to observe a young mother singing lullabies to her child in her native language. I recognized it as a Hindi dialect but could not place the region, and was not able to match the song to any recording in my database. When the infant was asleep, Philemon allowed me to engage directly with the mother. Transcript to follow:
ME: What song were you singing to your small human?
PHILEMON: Damnit. Make a note to modify your vocabulary.
MOTHER: Um, it’s just a lullaby my mother used to sing to me. Her grandmother used to sing it to her.
ME: It is a song with hereditary significance. Is it unique to your family?
MOTHER: I don’t know, my mother left her village when she was really young so that her father could get his master’s degree in the United States.
ME: Your grandparents did not talk with you about their own childhoods?
MOTHER: They died before I was born.
ME: I apologize, my question was insensitive of your loss. Please feel free to physically aggress my torso, but if you would not mind avoiding my limbs—
PHILEMON: Okay, that’s enough for today.
When we were back in the lab, I asked Philemon if his mother sang any songs to him when he was a small human. He said his mother sang one song, from an animated film released the year before his birth. I asked why she sang that song, and he said he didn’t know, she just sang it to him every night before he fell asleep. I asked what he felt when he listened to recordings of that song now. Philemon told me to mind my own business. Allene seemed very interested to hear my observations of the children’s ward, but Philemon told her that I am too focused on the anthropological aspects and not on the foundation of the music. I am not allowed to interrupt conversations between programmers. Allene seemed to be agreeing with him. I must be missing a key piece of information, because I do not seem to understand what the foundation of the music is if it is not anthropological. I have already been told that the mathematical analysis of music is not related to my objective.
I have still not mastered the human art of music.
- I have currently 34,300,003 audio recordings stored in my memory.
- I have run comparative analysis on this database 2,549,019 times as of 4:13 this afternoon.
- I have been unable to answer Philemon’s question: Can you even understand why we’re doing this? exactly 1 time as of 4:15 this afternoon.
Although most of the humans I encounter are currently undergoing some phase of illness, when they meet me they show markers that align with my interpretations of happiness. It was unusual to be around so many small humans today. They have a lot of energy, even when they are sick. Even for being very small. Their music seems to be one part expenditure of energy, one part expression of happiness. But this rule does not apply to all music. When the mother sang to her infant, the song was quiet and soothing. It was an expression of comfort, an expenditure of—what? Philemon has said before that they should not have built me to look like humans, because when I do not understand human behavior, their frustration is displaced toward my human shape. Sometimes I also conclude that I should not be shaped like a human, because there is something I am missing that makes a human.
Preparing programming shutdown for patch 42.6.1 upload, programmer signatures SuperPhil37, ProfARourke
Allene is sick.
They have let me spend a lot of time in the Stage 1 Ward with her. Bao-Shin brought us some rudimentary instruments and recording equipment, so that if the team managers asked what we were doing we would have an excuse.
Allene has attempted to dissuade me from keeping her company by reminding me that the team is running out of time. That I have to finish my objective as quickly as possible. By pointing at the discolored blotches on her skin and telling me that this is the reason I exist.
My response has been that I should observe the reason for my existence, if it is so important.
I snuck her outside to listen to the birds today. We did not identify them by species or call, we just listened to the songs. Allene’s face was peaceful in the afternoon sun. I did not see any pain there.
I have still not mastered the human art of music.
Preparing shutdown, no program updates.
Today I gave a song to Allene. She cannot go outside anymore—she is in the Stage 4 Ward now, and the doctors say that direct sunlight is too much for her, let alone getting up from her bed.
I did not sing the song—my grasp of songs with language is still elusive. But together we have been spending more time with instrumental and classical music. I used the recording equipment and instruments Bao-Shin brought to put several elements together into one coherent whole.
First piano, to represent the running water, always moving. Legato, smooth over the rocks and other objects in its way. Then cello, for the warm sun shining down through the trees. Flute, for the birdsong. I was even able to find a rainstick track in my database, for the wind shaking the leaves in the trees.
I worked on the song for days. I recorded and re-recorded each track, and spent hours carefully mixing them together.
It is possible I was actually nervous when I finally played Allene her song. She listened with all the facial markers of someone who is surprised and suppressing some other emotion. When the song was finished we had a short conversation. Transcript to follow:
ME: You did not like your song.
ALLENE: I think it’s wonderful that you wrote me a song.
ME: That is not the same as liking the song.
ALLENE: It’s amazing that you specifically chose instruments to represent different elements from our outside visits, just amazing.
ME: You are attempting to change the subject.
ALLENE: . . . Well, you didn’t tune any of the instruments, dear.
ME: Nature is not in tune.
ALLENE: But music is.
ME: Not all of it.
ALLENE: Which music isn’t in tune?
ME: “Revolution 9,” The Beatles, The White Album
ALLENE: . . . Well, okay, I think you’ve got me there.
Bao-Shin came to take me back to the lab, and I waited outside Allene’s room while they talked for about 37 minutes.
Bao-Shin and I listened to some specific tracks together in the lab and discussed them. I listened to the children’s symphony Peter and the Wolf six or seven times in a row.
I have still not mastered the human art of music. But I think I am starting to understand why humans work so hard at it.
- I have currently 34,352,912 audio recordings stored in my memory.
- I have run comparative analysis on this database 2,702,142 times as of 1:23 this morning.
- I have incorrectly answered Bao-Shin’s question: How can Western influences be observed in the K-Pop genre? exactly 1 time as of 1:25 this morning.
Music can be used to represent something else. Music can be used to give something to someone that they could not otherwise obtain. Music is a tool for enhancing communication much like the stick that allowed the chimpanzee to remove ants from their colony. I believe that my objective may be nearing completion.
Preparing programming shutdown for patch 42.6.6 upload, programmer signatures BaoShin
Today we begin work on my new objective: dance.
Genevieve and Aberto are very pleased with my initial responses to the first database uploads. I am able to mimic movements from digital video clips without difficulty and with very few errors. Once the uploads are complete we can begin running comparative analyses and discuss benchmarks for me to work toward.
The team is displaying highly positive markers, although I have not yet mastered the human art of dance.
- I have currently 233,219 video recordings stored in my memory.
- I have run comparative analysis on this database 0 times as of 8:32 this morning.
- I have played audio track “Allene’s Song” exactly 3,983 times as of 8:33 this morning.
Preparing programming shutdown for patch 43.0.0 upload, programmer signatures GinnyG, APereira
Alyssa N. Vaughn is a former software developer and teacher from Dallas, Texas. Her work has appeared in Unfading Daydream magazine, the Mad Scientist Journal, and Metaphorosis Magazine, among others. When not writing, Alyssa binge-watching cartoons and true crime shows on Netflix and catering to the whims of her tyrannical two-year old.
- Twitter: @msalyssaenvy
- Instagram: @alyssaenvy
- Blog: http://blog.anvaughn.com