Mechanical Music with Artificial Intelligence

February 6, 2013

Artificial intelligence (AI) became capable of achieving Grand Master status in the game of chess many years ago. And now, AI has begun to make serious forays into an even more complex aspect of the human world: music.

Today, we have robots playing cover versions of heavy metal rock music, and supercomputer programs capable of composing original “classical” music pieces in a split second.

Yes, this machinery-made modern music is light years beyond drum machines and synthesizer sampling. But is it the rise of Omnius? Do we need to fear the emergence of the Butlerian Jihad? Is this the Robopocalypse? No, no, no.

The pianist you see is composer Gustavo Diaz-Jerez, who professionally is a software consultant for Iamus. He says, “We have taught a computer to write musical scores. Now we can produce modern classical music at the touch of a button. We’ve just told the computer some very general technical things. We have informed the computer that it is impossible for a pianist to play a 10 note chord with one hand…Each composition has a musical core that becomes ever more complex and evolves automatically. It starts with very complex structures inside the computer. It is very different from other computer-generated music [because] it projects the complexity we are growing in the computer into musical structures.”

Kernschrott Robots and Robocross’ Frank Barnes put together the robot metal band “Compressorhead”. At the time of this writing Compressorhead is touring Australia, covering music composed and recorded by various metal bands.

As advanced as these music making machines are, they still require significant input from humans. And Compressorhead can’t compose original music (at least not yet), while many people hearing pieces like “Nasciturus” complain that today’s computer-composed classical music is substandard and too atonal.

It will be fascinating to see how music machinery evolves as the years go by. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future bionic human musicians will interact directly with AI music machines.