Artificial Music

Gaetan Hadjeres and Francois Pachet (Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Paris) have developed a neural network capable of composing music in the likeness of Bach, one of the greatest composers of baroque music in the 18th century.

The machine, DeepBach, was given a data set of 2503 chorales by transposing 352 Bach chorales to other keys within a predefined vocal range. 80 percent of the data set trains the neural network to recognise Bach harmonies while the rest validates it. Given a set algorithm, the machine then produces harmonies of its own in the style of Bach.

In order to determine the success of DeepBach, more than 1600 people were asked to listen to two different harmonies of the same melody, and determine which sounded more like Bach. More than 400 of them were professional musicians or music students.  Around half the voters judged the DeepBach harmony to be Bach’s; whereas seventy five percent of them judged Bach’s harmony to be his own.

The results prove DeepBach’s capability in understanding the complexity of Bach’s compositions, in terms of its structure and rules of construction.

This latest advancement in technology offers us a glimpse of what may be the future of music – or at least a part of it – that machines can and will generate music beyond our current appetite of electronic sounds. Arguably, in time, DeepBach can be taught to recognise and rectify its errors in composition, and become more Bach-like. For the untrained ear, it may become impossible to tell the difference between original and artificial compositions. And does it matter? Will we cease to appreciate good music just because it lacks a human author?

Another implication of this technological advancement is the possible threat to the creative industry. Will musicians lose their jobs to artificial intelligence? Arguably, no. Today, the music industry thrives not on the quality of music, but on media influence. After all, how many modern artists can compare to those of Nina Simone and Prince? These days, what feeds the ears must also feed the eyes and quench the constant thirst to be entertained, be it in the form of social media engagement or celebrity gossip. If an artist fails to be riveting on social media platforms, it does not matter how good his/her music is. Simply put, we still prefer to be entertained in person, by persons.

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