By Michaela Cabrera
A future chart-topping song may soon come from an algorithm.
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.
The starting point of the song creation is 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.
The algorithm analyses 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.
The song "Daddy's Car" was created in the style of The Beatles, after the algorithm analyzed about 45 songs by the legendary four-piece.
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 since 2012. Since then, the six-person team has developed a number of algorithms integrated in the system - there is the one that creates the partition sheet, one 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; normally perceived as integral to the creative process.
"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.
Flow Machines is not equipped with prior musical knowledge but uses a machine-learning technique. It churns out the song based on the data it gathers from the music chosen by the user.
"What the algorithm will do is always try to cope with your constraints, with what you are imposing to the system, to the score, the lead sheet - and the algorithm will always try to repair if you want , or generate stuff that is at the same time compatible with what you imposed and in the same style of the training song set," said one of the developers, computer scientist Pierre Roy said.
Former New Order star Peter Hook doesn't like the idea.
"I've not heard the Beatles' track that supposedly this wonderful thing has invented, but I suppose, as a musician, we don't want it, do we? We don't want to be put out of a job," he told Reuters.
"Nearly every song I've written, in New Order and outside of New Order, has been with somebody else, and that is the beauty of it. Writing with a machine - what feedback, what buzz, are you going to get from a machine? All machines do is drive you crazy. You're forever turning them off and on," he added."
Sony CSL has not yet determined how authorship of the music will be prescribed.