Automated Music

“Every work of music contains a set of instructions for creating different but highly related replications of itself,” says David Cope, who happens to be both a programmer and a musician.

French researchers have been working for years to teach robots to analyze musical works and use the patterns they discern to create new tunes. Listen to a track that mixes Boulez with Charlie Parker and it sounds a lot like new music created by a human being.

These are scientists, but on the other end of the spectrum you find music companies working to reverse-engineer pop music hits. Humans use the data collected from hit songs to create new songs that they hope will also be hits, but that data could be meshed with the work of AI scientists just as easily as the data about Bach chorales that they’ve been using.

It’s not just the notes, though. There’s also the performance, the star quality, the emotions a musician brings…right? Maybe not.

Hatsune Miku is a vocaloid, a holographic performer who gives live concerts, as seen in the video above. She performs songs written and submitted by fans, but that’s just the creators’ business model. She certainly could perform robot-generated music, providing both the music and the performance. She’s wildly popular in Japan already.

Software for automatic music exists already. FlowComposer is a program available to people who want to recreate Gershwin in their own compositions, but it doesn’t sound great out of the box, and it certainly brings up questions of plagiarism, since it’s just sampling from famous compositions.

Either way, it’s arguable that the creativity in all these cases is human, not machine. The programs so far are using human-created music as their source, programmers are controlling what they do with the source data, and much of the music created by robots requires human tweaking in order to sound like good music to human ears.

So far, “robot music” may not be much more machine-centric than amplification of sounds, which is certainly key to most musical performances today. It is, at most, human-robot collaboration…and that’s plenty trendy already.

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