3 Surprising AI Music Mashups that will make you question your musical tastes

24-hour streaming AI-generated heavy metal on YouTube completely fascinated me – created by the eccentric Dadabots, half of whom I’ve regularly collaborated with on various strange musical projects. Their outputs inspired me to start my own journey of intersecting music with machine learning.

I’ve been composing since I was a kid on whatever platform I could find. Classically trained with a music degree while hungry for as much new music as possible makes for a strange hybrid, a musician and performer trying to understand a technologist’s world.

Amid much struggling and general frustration and many false starts, the stubbornness and late night wrangling paid off. I had my first track and plucked up the courage to share some of my experiments online.

So, here’s one of my first flirtations with Music and Machine Learning on Instagram – the Beatles singing ‘Call Me Maybe’ – because for some reason I thought it needed to exist. And, buoyed by my coding success, I learned how to generate some eye-bending video based on pitch and tempo too.

Each track takes quite a few hours to generate – even 45 seconds or so is a whole evening of attention. The way I’ve been doing it is heavily supervising the code, I need to intervene every few seconds to suggest a new direction for the algorithm in order for it to fit the direction I want it to go in. A lot of the decisions I’m making are not technical – they’re based on my musical knowledge. Then I listen repeatedly to the slowly lengthening audio to see if there’s a recognisable tune being created. Is it sounding like something a human can sing? Plus the ‘upsampling’ process, where some of the noise is removed, can take many hours. A lot of the time I’ll crash out of the virtual machine I’m using because I’m on the free tier. Sometimes I’ll lose everything.

Sounds frustrating, and it’s even more annoying in practice. Yet I find the ultimately infuriating nature of co-composing this way rather addictive. And, wow, when it actually does work, the results are incredibly rewarding.

So, ‘my’ new song made up of thousands of tiny bites of Beatles was compiled. And it is undeniably the Beatles singing ‘Call Me Maybe’ – so much so that a few of my friends thought this could easily be a demo tape or an unheard song if not for the lyrics.

My work received admiration from those familiar with AI music generation – they could tell how much effort was required to create it. And as well as praise, this short tune also generated unsettling feelings for others – which weirdly excited me – to have made something so conversation-worthy – especially in a field as wide as AI and Machine Learning felt like I was onto something, that my musical approach could add value in its own way.

Here’s another one – Queen singing ‘Let It Go’.

So why do I think this might make you question your musical tastes? Well, many of us are quite specific about the music we like. But if a fifty-year-old Beatles recording can be rehashed for a 21st Century Audience, would this track encourage a non-Beatles listener to explore more of this kind of music? Or would a devout 1960s music fan be persuaded to venture outside their comfort decade into the world of sugary pop music? I think it does.

Here’s U2 singing ‘Bat Out Of Hell’.

I’m surprised how much the original artist maintains their presence in each of these examples. And I’m somewhat tickled that the processing and supervision of each track makes this a very labour-intensive activity – not unlike standard music production.

As a new composing method, I am in awe of the sheer amount of work that must have gone into creating this program, and the brilliant minds behind it who conceived and created such a formidable tool for co-creation.

It even seems possible to train the AI on any kind of music as long as the artist has made enough material to be sampled adequately. Which is great news for those of us keen to create cross-cultural artworks – even though there are thousands of artists in the current Jukebox library, the content does appear to skew toward English-speaking music – a useful reminder that bias is built in to every system with humans at one end of it. So one of my next quests will be to see whether I can create my own training set (which might prove taxing on the free tier).

Finally, from a musical perspective, human composers still have quite a few advantages over machines, though generating music with AI is like a whole band writing all its parts at once, which can be very satisfying, if erratic. Sometimes the algorithm is temperamental – and doesn’t work at all. Other times, sublimely beautiful chords and ad-libs come out. No one can know whether the next track is a hit or a miss.

Even controlling the output is gloriously elusive: for example I can’t force a tune to go up or down at any point (though I can choose one of the alternatives that fits roughly where I’d like the tune to go). I don’t have much choice over the rate or meter of the lyrics – though there is some leeway when paginating them in the code. And changing the rate of intervention also affects what’s being generated – in short, the illusion of pulling order from chaos, a pleasing reflection of what composing music means to me.

In quite a few instances the AI has surprised me musically, and that is intriguing enough on its own for me to want to continue creating and co-composing with a machine. With so many possibilities in this field right now, I’m looking forward to exploring more.

Which artists do you want to hear? What do you think of AI-generated music? Feel free to comment below.

What’s The Best World Cup England Football Song?

OK, I enjoy the world cup, and understand the off-side rule, but generally prefer playing football to watching it. But when my friend from Great British Chefs posted a query: What’s The Best World Cup England Football Song? World in Motion or Three Lions? – for many days now I’ve been thinking about it. So much so that my response simply does not fit into a social media reply… Mecca, here’s your answer.

“World in Motion” works brilliantly as a standalone pop song, but is it ‘catchy’?  

Harmonically, “World In Motion” is musically complex (apart from the ‘rap’) and there’s a lot going on in terms of chords, percussion and orchestration. It’s interesting, but also demands effort from the listener, meaning cognitively you have to think about where the song is going and pay attention to it. 

Melodically, “World In Motion” is quite gentle – there’s no descending melodies or musical ‘jumps’; it’s tuneful but stays in one place. Yes, the rap segment was distinctive and served to make the song very memorable – but not for musical reasons.  

“World In Motion” is also a little slow for singing along – most people sing football songs while excited, so their heart rate will be higher – faster tempo songs will come to mind more easily in a heightened state like this!

Apart from tempo, both songs have a lot in common – two choruses: ‘Love’s got the World in Motion / Let’s hear it for England’ and ‘Three Lions on a shirt / It’s Coming Home’,  both largely in major (happy) keys, and both are quite sparsely orchestrated. Both songs also do not require particularly good vocal skills.

And so, to catchiness –  have you heard anyone singing “World In Motion” in the street? Personally I haven’t, but “It’s Coming Home” is everywhere.

So what’s happening here? How are they different?

I think the answer lies in melody. Despite great orchestration and production of New Order’s “World in Motion”, the “Three Lions” musical phrases are much more likely to be sung in the wild. They are easier to remember, easier to sing along to and more physically pleasant to sing out loud.

I’ll tell you how this works: The descending tune of the “Three Lions on a shirt” call is followed by an upward response “Jules Rimet still gleaming”.  Wow, super catchy and melodically pleasant –  it’s a classic gospel song call and response: You know where it’s going, there’s a clear musical path that you only need to hear once to sing along, and you’re excited to hear it resolve. A great pop example of this is ‘Twist and Shout’

The second is the clincher “It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming…” – what an anthem! There’s a built-in melodic jump – you can hear these in a lot of Abba songs (Winner Takes it All, Take a Chance on Me) and many existing football chants. There’s also repetition – this simple phrase is a natural ear-worm, there’s no effort involved in remembering this even after hearing it once.  Listening to this phrase takes low cognitive effort in contrast to “World In Motion”, plus there’s yet another embedded ‘call and response’ too. 

Finally ‘It’s Coming Home’  is a semi-unresolved melody. Getting to the end of the phrase, you want to sing it again. You can see this unresolved effect at work in notable examples like ‘Song 2’ by Blur, ‘My Shorrona’ and ‘Living on a Prayer’. Catchy? Absolutely. And now you know why my considered answer is “Three Lions”, musically the most suited football song for England’s World Cup 2018 journey.

In which I co-write a musical…

Date: Mon 23 March 2015:   Event: My first ever full-length musical !

TICKETS AVAILABLE!

I’m super-excited to call myself a London Theatre Impresario! A date, a venue, a show, tickets on sale!

Scary as I’m currently only about 70% of the way through writing every single note of the upcoming musical adventure that will be held in conjunction with the inimitable Hack Circus in exactly one month’s time.

We’ve written a story to go with some expert talks and some rather spiffing tunes as well even if I say so myself. Leila happens to be a genius librettist in my opinion and I’m hoping my tunes and orchestration will do those fantastic lyrics justice. She and I have hatched a musical monster of a night out… What a nerve-wracking but satisfying experience this is!

TERRIFYING REALITY:

  • I need to finish building the scores and orchestration
  • we need to finalise the order of songs and talks and audience interactive bits
  • I’ll have to learn and sing pretty much all the songs on the night
  • Leila and I have to pre-record some short bits of audio to give on-stage a break
  • I’m trying to build a home-made instrument that may or may not work on the night
  • Eek I need to do all the audio show control while performing (Ableton I’m looking at you)
    and;
  • people are actually buying tickets so it has to be good because we have a paying audience.

ONE NIGHT ONLY

Talking of which, if you’re in London that evening AND want to be the first to see this quite peculiar and creative take on the musical genre. From the HC site:

We will be travelling in a unique sound-powered tunnelling vessel, currently under development. Please bear in mind: we really don’t know what we will find. We need a strong healthy team. It might be worth getting down to the gym now if you can.

Bring a torch. This is very important. We are expecting it to be dark.

We will be guided on our journey by three experts: monster afictionado sci-fi author Chris Farnell, historian and volcano enthusiast Ralph Harrington and shark-mad comics legend Steve White – but who knows who (or what) else we might encounter?

From: Hack Circus

TICKETS STILL AVAILABLE!

OK, I’m intrigued, tell me more:

hackcircus.com/underworlds/ 

(link for mobile users: http://www.hackcircus.com/underworlds )

DID I MENTION TICKETS ARE ON SALE?

Yes!! I’m ready and can’t think of a better way to spend a Monday night!

SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!!!

(link for mobile users: http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/hack-circus-underworlds-tickets-15756232315?aff=es2&rank=1 )

^^This link goes to the EventBrite Ticket Page if you’d like to buy a ticket or two.

**For some reason, none of my links work. Head over to hackcircus dot com forward slash underworlds. Oh the humanity…