Bringing Music to the Masses Does Not Mean Bringing Intelligence to Music

Yesterday Wired posted 6 Mashups of Music and Artificial Intelligence, where “mashup” is l33t 5p34k for “combination”. Among their examples, I see three applications (uJam, Microsoft SongSmith, and LaDiDa) that attempt to bring music to people who aren’t musical (but should be?), by applying compositionally dull accompaniment to some melody by using a derived set of rules. The results of all these applications are more hilarious to me (and annoying) than serious. Another application, The Swinger, is a fun toy that performs high-level segmentation and time dilation to a steady tempo audio signal to give it “swing.” (I especially enjoy Enter Sandman this way.)

The remaining two applications actually use machine learning. The first application, “Emily Howell”, is created by University of California, Santa Cruz professor David Cope. This application is built upon a significant amount of Cope’s previous work in automating music composition and imitating musical style by data mining, and a rough form of concatenative techniques. (At least I remember him discussing the concatenative techniques in his book, Computer Models of Musical Creativity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 2005.) This work is rooted in a history that extends back to the work by Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Issacson in programming a computer in 1955 to compose the excellent, and mysteriously Americana-style, string quartet, The Illiac Suite. And like them, Cope is a true pioneer with skills both in computer programming and music composition.

The second application is the robot drummer of Georgia Tech — a drumming robot that actually listens, interprets, and learns how to accompany human players. The behavior of this work reminds me of The Continuator, developed at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory by Dr. François Pachet et al. I saw a preliminary version of this program demonstrated at the 2000 International Computer Music Conference in Berlin, and was impressed by how well it worked at “continuing” what the human player started. (I think it won best paper award too.)

In my opinion, of the six applications here, these two are the most interesting from both a research and compositional perspective. They do not create and recreate tired idioms; and they do not attempt to address the assumed “problem” that, “not many people have the time or desire to learn about the craft of music, but they want to be a pop star.” Ok, enough with the bitterness — I am coming up from the “low” that accompanies grant proposal preparation.

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