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 In 2016, researchers at Sony used a software called Flow Machines to help create songs written by Benoit Carre.
In 2016, researchers at Sony used a software called Flow Machines to help create songs written by Benoit Carre.

A FEW months back, I wrote about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being used to help write articles. What about writing music? Not surprisingly, it’s already being used although it has yet to become widespread or mainstream. But it’s clear that in the future, more and more music will be composed with the help of AI.

Actually, the use of AI in music can be traced back to as early as the 1990s when David Bowie helped develop an app called Verbasizer which helped to come up with word suggestions that could be used for song lyrics.

It would be much later before AI would be used for composition of music though. In 2016, researchers at Sony used a software called Flow Machines to help create songs that sounded like something The Beatles would have written. The basic melodies were then given to a French composer named Benoît Carré, who has written songs for some of France’s biggest stars, including Johnny Halliday and Françoise Hardy.

You can listen to one of the songs created through this process by going to YouTube and looking up a song called Daddy’s Car published by Sony CSL (Computer Science Laboratories). It’s not great but it’s pretty good.

If you’re not a Beatles fan and prefer Bob Dylan, you might be amused to learn that some UK researchers have come up with an AI programme called Bot Dylan. It’s designed to create folk tunes.

To achieve this, the researchers fed it 23,000 folk songs. The algorithm then processed this information to create some original folk music. You can listen to some samples on YouTube by looking for “The Bottomless Tune Box”.

EASE OF USE

 Amper Music that has won acclaim because of its ease of use.
Amper Music that has won acclaim because of its ease of use.

“We didn’t expect any of the machine-generated melodies to be very good,” Dr Oded Ben-Tal, a music technology expert at Kingston University in London, told The Daily Mail. “But we, and several other musicians we worked with, were really surprised at the quality of the music the system created.”

Today, many of the tech industry’s biggest names are involved in AI for music. IBM, for example, has something called Watson Beat while Google has NSynth Super. But it’s Amper Music that has won acclaim because of its ease of use.

You don’t need to be a musician or a programmer to use it. Just go to the Amper website and pick a type of music and the mood you like it to be in. And you’re off to making some music of your own with the help of AI.

What Amper does is build new tracks from pre-recorded samples. Of course, you can then modify it by changing various elements, such as the tempo or the mood of the song, the key it’s in and so on.

One notable artist who has used AI for help in composing songs is Taryn Southern, a “digital personality” (she’s human but she became famous for exploring the co-evolution of humanity and technology).

A former contestant on American Idol, Southern has produced an entire album (appropriately entitled I Am AI) with the help of AI. If you look at her track listing, you’ll see that she credits the likes of Amper, (IBM) Watson Beat and (Google) NSynth as her co-writers.

She turned to AI not as a publicity stunt but because she wasn’t a musician. She had song ideas in her head but she didn’t know music theory. “I’d find a beautiful chord on the piano,” Southern shared, adding: “…and I’d write an entire song around that, but then I couldn’t get to the next few chords because I just didn’t know how to play what I was hearing in my head. Now I’m able to iterate with the music and give it feedback and parameters and edit as many times as I need. It still feels like it’s mine in a sense.”

HUMAN TOUCH

 Taryn Southern has used AI for help in composing songs.
Taryn Southern has used AI for help in composing songs.

It’s worth noting that in the case of both Carre and Southern, they used AI merely to help create original songs. They didn’t take the AI-created melodies wholesale without any modifications. Otherwise the songs probably wouldn’t have been very good. A lot of human input was still involved to make the songs good enough to be released as an album.

Even as AI algorithms improve and get better and better at composing tunes, it’s highly unlikely there ever will come a time when music will be produced entirely by machines without any human involvement. Rather, what will most likely happen is artists will use these programmes to give them ideas which they can build upon and create something original.

Carre maintains that while AI systems like Sony’s Flow Machines can output melodies and suggest chords, you’ll still need a human musician to put the songs together into something cohesive and to imbue them with emotion.

“There were many people involved in this,” Carre said about Hello World, the AI-assisted album he released. “They gave their soul, their enthusiasm. I think that’s the most important point of the album, in a way — that it’s a very human one.”

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. Reach him at [email protected].

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