|The Quest to Teach AI to Write Pop Songs|
At a lecture held at Stanford University in 1997, attendees heard the University of Oregon professor Winifred Kerner play three separate pieces of music on the piano: one by Bach, one by EMI in the style of Bach, and one by her husband, Steve Larson, another UO professor. Asked to guess which was which, people mistook Larson’s piece for the computer’s and EMI’s for the real Bach. Larson was devastated, telling the New York Times at the time “Bach is absolutely one of my favorite composers… That people could be duped by a computer program was very disconcerting.”
…..Today, researchers at tech companies like Sony and Google are asking: What if AI could write pop songs? How would we train them, and would the final product be as good as what’s on the radio? Could it be better? Their efforts lead us to wonder: Is AI the latest “soul”-crushing technology, out to edge musicians out of their craft, or is it a new kind of instrument—one that lives in your computer, that might know what you want better than you do, and will ultimately enhance musicians’ chances of creating something truly great?
…..The quest to remove human decision-making from the process of writing music is centuries old. In 1787, Wolfgang Mozart published a guide to a “musical dice game” in which players roll a die several times and string together pre-written bits of music that are associated with each of the die’s six faces. The end result is one complete, albeit randomly assembled, piece of music: songwriting by the numbers.
…..In September 2017, a team of researchers at the Paris-based Sony Computer Science Lab, along with the help of French musician Benoît Carré, released two songs written with the help of AI: “Daddy’s Car,” a song written in the style of the Beatles and “The Ballad of Mr Shadow,” in the style of American songwriters like Duke Ellington and George Gershwin. To do this, the team used Flow Machines, a tool designed to help guide songwriters and push them to be more creative, not do all of the work for them.
“My goal has always been to put some audaciousness, some boldness back into songwriting,” François Pachet, who spearheaded the development of Flow Machines at Sony CSL, told Gizmodo over a video call in January. “I have the impression that in the 1960s, ‘70s, maybe ‘80s, things were more interesting in terms of rhythm, harmony, melody, and so on,” he said, although he admitted that might make him dinosaur. (“People can say I’m outdated. Maybe, I don’t know.”)
Editor’s Note: I strongly encourage you to click through and read this whole lengthy article for a fascinating look at the history of attempting to produce non-human created music. The history goes back well past the advent of AI and computers.