Preview of “Chicken Bits and Bits and Bobs”

The upcoming concert will see many new works, most of which have been composed by or co-composed with “musically intelligent” computers. One of these works is “Chicken Bits and Bits and Bobs”, which I composed from output generated by an early version of our folk-rnn system. After training the system, we had it generate 72,376 new transcriptions. More than half of these can be auditioned at The Endless Traditional Music Session.

In preparation for a presentation about our music transcription modeling work in December, I looked through this 21 MB text file for examples of where the system fails miserably. That’s when I came across the following output. It looks like a very promising example of failure:

T: Chicken
M: 9/8
L: 1/8
K: Amix
|: {cd}A2 e {a}c2 e {g}B2 {G}d | {gdd}B2 {g}d {g}c2 e {gdd}B2 A | {gef}e2 g {d}e2 {g}c {g}AGa | {a}gB{A}B {g}BG{d}B {e}B2 :|
|: d | {d}c2 c {g}e2 d cBA | {g}A2 e {g}e2 {f}c e2 {B}c | {g}cBc e2 A {a}dBd | ded {c}dcB {g}c2 c :|
|: d{g}e{a}d e2 g fdc | {g}Bd{d}d d2 A {e}d2 c | {g}ded {g}c2 d {e}e2 d | {g}c{d}c{e}c {g}cde {g}c2 d |
~e3 {g}ddc {g}BdB | {g}cde {g}edc {g}Bd{g}A | {g}B{d}A{d}A {g}e3 {g}edc | {a}dBc {g}d2 d {g}e2 :|
g | {g}f{g}d{G}e {g}fed {g}BG{A}G| {g}Bd{a}d {g}ea{g}a ged | {a}B {c}A2 {g}gdB {g}ed{d}c | {g}Bdd {g}dBG {eB}BAG |
|: {g}cBA {g}Aga {g}e2 d | {G}de{f}e {g}dBG eA{B}d | {g}fe{G}f g{g}e{g}f ga{a}g | {g}fGA ABc {g}B2 d :|
|: A{g}f{g}f {g}d{g}e{f}e {g}e2 d | {g}Bc{A}d {g}edc {g}B{d}d{e}B | {g}A{d}A{e}A {f}gfe {d}e2 g | {g}ed{G}B {g}B{c}B{G}A {G}B2 d :|
|: ddd gdB {g}gdB | d{d}d{e}d {g}ecA {g}efe | {g}cGe {g}ed{A}d gd f | {g}eG{G}G {G}AAB g (3GGG :|
|: {e}ABe {g}edB {g}edB | {g}AB{B}c {e}dBG ~B2 e | {g}B{d}B{e}B {gf}g2 d {a}dBG | {g}A{A}B{G}A {g}ABd {g}e2 d |
{g}ce{g}e {G}ef{g}e d2 d | {g}edB {d}AB{G}A {G}c2 A | {g}B{c}B{e}B {g}BG{G}B {g}dBf | {g}cBA {g}AGA ||
:    A{d}A{e}A {G}B2 G | {g}Ade {g}ege | {g}c{d}c{e}c {g}BGB | {g}Bd{G}d {g}edB |

The system has titled the work itself (of its 72,376 transcriptions, the word “Chicken” appears in 88). The transcription is atypically long, and (over)uses many grace notes. It’s form is odd. There are many miscounted measures. Here’s what it looks like in staff notation.


“Chicken” actually appears in the 35,000 tunes of the Endless Traditional Music Session. Have a listen to the synthesis of this miserable output:

The first thing I noticed when I heard that is myself saying, “Well I’ll be, if that doesn’t sound like chickens to me!” That got me to thinking, and that got me to composing. Can I make sense of what the system has generated?

My composition, “Chicken Bits and Bits and Bobs”, is in two parts (the score is here). The “Chicken Bits” part is essentially an arrangement of what the system has generated. That is where I try to make sense of it, staying as true as I can to the system’s “voice”. The second part, “Bits and Bobs”, involves playing around with those generated materials in different ways, but bringing much more of my own voice to interpret them.

Here is a synthesised excerpt from the first part of “Chicken Bits and Bits and Bobs”. (It is MIDI, rendered by Sibelius, so has limited musical quality; but it gives a good idea.)

The second part is much more of a surprise. You’ll have to wait and hear!

The kind of co-creation exemplified by “Chicken Bits and Bits and Bobs” is a rather one-way process of composition. The system generated material, and I then curated from it. I didn’t return to ask questions, like, How would you continue from here? I felt I had enough material to get started, and just continued on from there in what felt like a natural way. I started by composing parts of the “Bits and Bobs” bit, however. Then I returned to score the “Chicken Bits”. It had to all come together by a certain time, however. This pressure helped me make decisions that I would have spent days to make.

In the end, so far, I am pleased with the work. There will certainly be tweaks to make after I learn about the physical limitations of real instruments and instrumentalists! But I am sure I haven’t said all I want to say about chickens. I will continue my explorations of this most rich subject.

“Partnerships” Concert Poster


(If you are wondering what that image is, it is the conditional probability distribution over the vocabulary (vertical) at each sampling instant (horizontal) for a folk-rnn model. Pitch tokens are bottom 4/5 (ordered low (top) to high), with all other token classes at top. Dark red is high density; blue is low density. The red squares at top are measure line tokens.)

Chicken Bits and Bits and Bobs

I have finished my newest composition, “Chicken Bits and Bits and Bobs”, co-composed with folk-rnn. Here’s the score!

This is my largest “traditional” composition to date (nearly all of my works are electroacoustic), so I am looking very forward to hearing how it sounds. Will it be a clucking failure? Computer says, “No”.

“Chicken Bits and Bits and Bobs” will be premiered by Ensemble x.y on May 23, 2017. Get your tickets now!

(In fact, the place where “Chicken Bits and Bits and Bobs” will be premiered is a stone’s throw from Stepney City Farm, where I have made many visits to observe their chickens and gather inspiration while composing this piece. Some of their chickens look like they are wearing pants. Of course, those pants-wearing chickens make an appearance in my piece. I couldn’t resist their swagger!)

Machine Folk in the Wild!

Following on from our article in The Conversation, ‘Machine folk’ music composed by AI shows technology’s creative side, we have uploaded to our YouTube channel, The Bottomless Tune Box, two recordings of machine folk music “in the wild”. Here, the fearless Daren Banarsë leads a group of musicians in performing two sets in public at The Harrison pub in London, on March 26 2017. One tune in each of the sets is computer generated. (To be clear: Set #1 features three tunes, and one of these is computer generated. Set #2 features two tunes, one of these is computer generated.)

Set #1 (live)

Set #2 (live)

Is this the first public session featuring computer generated tunes???

Lots of tickets are still available for the upcoming May 23 2017 concert! Here are some highlights:

  1. The world premier of Oded Ben-Tal‘s “Bastard Tunes” (a work arising from his co-creating with folk-rnn), written for and performed by Ensemble x.y!
  2. The world premier of Bob L. Sturm’s “Chicken Bits and Bits and Bobs” (a work arising from output that folk-rnn generated and titled “Chicken” — we think it has gained a sense of humour as well), written for and performed by Ensemble x.y!
  3. The world premier of a work by Nick Collins, written for and performed by Ensemble x.y!
  4. The world premier of some works generated by folk-rnn and harmonised by the Deep Bach system in the style of Bach chorales (to be performed on the organ at St. Dunstan’s)!
  5. The world premier of a work by the MorpheuS system, performed by QMUL’s Prof. Elaine Chew!
  6. Sets #1-3 performed by Daren Banarsë and friends!
  7. Three pieces featuring the Millennial Whoop!
  8. A performance by Cambridge Fellow, composer and Irish harper Uná Monaghan!
  9. A memorable experience in a beautiful and old cathedral!
  10. A wine reception featuring WINE and RECEPTIONING!

Get your tickets quick!