23 October 2016
Sony is developing a system of algorithms which can create songs that cater to the user's taste, based on styles adapted from existing music. Photo: AFP
Sony is developing a system of algorithms which can create songs that cater to the user's taste, based on styles adapted from existing music. Photo: AFP

Sony develops algorithm-based AI music

Some of the top 10 hits of the future may be composed by a computer.

Sony Computer Science Laboratory (CSL) in Paris is developing a system of algorithms which can create songs that cater to the user’s taste, based on styles adapted from existing music, Reuters reports.

Song composition through artificial intelligence starts with a database of sheet music of more than 13,000 existing songs, from which the user can choose any number of titles with a sound or feel they would like the new song to incorporate, according to the news agency.

The algorithm analyzes the songs’ characteristics, and statistical properties related to rhythm, pitch and harmony.

It will learn, for instance, which notes “go well” with a given chord, what chord is probable after a given chord, or which notes usually follow after a given note.

From the emerging pattern, the algorithm creates a partition or lead sheet with similar characteristics.

Director of Sony CSL in Paris, artificial intelligence expert Francois Pashet, says the system, which they have christened Flow Machines, expands the songwriting process.

“It allows one to try many things much more easily. You can mix, you can try one style with another style with a sound,” Pashet said.

While he acknowledges that there is a stigma against “artificial” creation, he believes it can be a powerful tool.

“This algorithm, I think, aids in creation in this sense, in that it makes all the elements of experimentation easier, which otherwise would have been too time-consuming or meticulous,” he added.

CSL started developing Flow Machines in 2012.

Since then, the six-person team has developed a number of algorithms integrated in the system.

There is one that creates the partition sheet, another which can make an arrangement or orchestration, and one that extracts elements from the sheet to simulate a performance, showing in split-screen how each element like chords, bass and percussion would be played.

French composer Benoit Carré has been working with CSL to develop the algorithms, testing how it adapts to his own songwriting.

For the song Mister Shadow, based on American ballads, the algorithm created a soft melody.

Carré made a version in which the system added an artificial-sounding voice, as he wanted a languid sound that emphasized the fact that it comes precisely from a computer.

He also made a version with a drum track.

“The element of exploration is as big, as vast as the music that exists. This means we can explore small groups of music, for instance, songs, we can put in two songs, we can put 5,000 songs. We can go into pop, we can go into jazz. We are not finished exploring, with the help of artificial intelligence, a new creativity,” Carré said.

The team is planning to launch albums with songs created entirely by artificial intelligence – one with songs based on Beatles music, another along the lines of the Mister Shadow song, one adapting the style of current pop hits, and one a collaboration of various artists.

Pashet said the algorithms ensure that the songs are different enough from existing ones to avoid plagiarism.

Carré, who sang for the band LiliCub and has written songs for French artists Johnny Hallyday and Francoise Hardy, said composing music with an algorithm does not rob it of soul or emotion.

“We can find a soul in whatever type of music – music generated by a computer, music, as in the 1980s, generated by a synthesizer. Music is in what the person makes of it. It doesn’t exist alone. And particularly, a song. Because a song is a partition sheet, and a lot of things around it,” he said.

Sony CSL has not yet determined how authorship of the music will be prescribed.

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