The Music of the Algorithms: Tune-ing Up Creativity with Artificial Intelligence

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No, “The Algorithms” was not a stylishly alternative spelling for a rock and roll band once led by the former 45th Vice President of the United States that was originally called The Al Gore Rhythms.

That said, could anything possibly be more quintessentially human than all of the world’s many arts during the past several millennia? From the drawings done by Og the Caveman¹ on the walls of prehistoric caves right up through whatever musician’s album has dropped online today, the unique sparks of creative minds that are transformed into enduring works of music, literature, film and many other media are paramount among the diversity of things that truly set us apart from the rest of life on Earth.

Originality would seem to completely defy being reduced and formatted into an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm that can produce new artistic works on its own. Surely something as compelling, imaginative and evocative as Springsteen’s [someone who really does have a rock and roll band with his name in it] epic Thunder Road could never have been generated by an app.

Well, “sit tight, take hold”, because the dawn of new music produced by AI might really be upon us. Whether you’ve got a “guitar and learned how to make it talk” or not, something new is emerging out there. Should all artists now take notice of this? Moreover, is this a threat to their livelihood or a new tool to be embraced by both musicians and their audiences alike? Will the traditional battle of the bands be transformed into the battle of AI’s? Before you “hide ‘neath the covers and study your pain” over this development, let’s have a look at what’s going on.

A fascinating and intriguing new report about this entitled A.I. Songwriting Has Arrived. Don’t Panic, by Dan Reilly, was posted on Fortune.com on October 25, 2018. I highly recommend clicking through and reading it if you have an opportunity. I will summarize and annotate it here, and then pose several of my own instrument-al questions.

Treble Clef

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Previously, “music purists” disagreed about whether music tech innovations such as sampling and synthesizers were a form of cheating among recording artists. After all, these have been used in numerous hit tunes during the past several decades.

Now comes a new controversy over whether using artificial intelligence in songwriting will become a form of challenge to genuine creativity. Some current estimates indicate that during the next ten years somewhere between 20 to 30 percent of the Top 40 chart will be in part or in full composed by machine learning systems. The current types of AI-based musical applications include:

  • Cueing “an array of instrumentation” ranging from orchestral to hip-hop compositions, and
  • Systems managing alterations of “mood, tempo and genre”

Leonard Brody, who is the co-founder of Creative Labs, in a joint venture with the leading industry talent representatives Creative Artists Agency, analogizes the current state of AI in music to that of self-driving cars wherein:

  • “Level 1” artists use machines for assistance
  • “Level 2” music is “crafted by a machine” but still performed by real musicians
  • “Level 3” music is both crafted and performed by machines

Drew Silverstein, the CEO of Amper Music, a software company in New York, has developed “AI-based music composition software”. This product enables musicians “to create and download ‘stems'”, the company’s terminology for “unique portions of a track” on a particular instrument and then to and modify them. Silverstein believes that such “predictive tools” are part of an evolving process in original music.²

Other participants in this nascent space of applying algorithms in a variety of new ways to help songwriters and musicians include:

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Bass Clef

The applications of AI in music are not as entirely new as they might seem. For example, David Bowie helped in creating a program called Verbasizer for the Apple Mac. It was used on his 1995 album entitled Outside to create “randomized portions of his inputted text” to generate original lyrics “with new meanings and moods”. Bowie discussed his usage of the Verbasizer in a 1997 documentary about his own creative processes entitled Inspirations.

Other musicians, including Taryn Southern, who was previously a contestant on American Idol, used software from Amper Music, Watson Beat and other vendors for the eight songs on her debut album, the palindrome-entitled I Am AI, released in 2017. (Here is the YouTube video of the first track entitled Break Free.) She believes that using these tools for songwriting is not depriving anyone of work, but rather, just “making them work differently”.

Taking a different perspective about this is Will.i.am, the music producer, songwriter and member of the Black Eyed Peas. He is skeptical of using AI in music because of his concerns over how this technological assistance “is helping creative songwriters” He also expressed doubts concerning the following issues:

  • What is AI’s efficacy in the composition process?
  • How will the resulting music be distributed?
  • Who is the audience?
  • How profitable will it be?

He also believes that AI cannot reproduce the natural talents of some of the legendary songwriters and performers he cites, in addition to the complexities of the “recording processes” they applied to achieve their most famous recordings.

For musical talent and their representatives, the critical issue is money including, among other things, “production costs to copyright and royalties”. For instance, Taryn Southern credits herself and Amper with the songwriting for I Am AI. However, using this software enabled her to spend her funding for other costs besides the traditional costs including “human songwriters”, studio musicians, and the use of a recording studio”.

To sum up, at this point in time in the development of music AIs, it is not anticipated that any truly iconic songs or albums will emerge from them. Rather, it is more likely that a musician “with the right chops and ingenuity” might still achieve something meaningful and in less time with the use of AI.

Indeed, depending on the individual circumstances of their usage, these emerging AI and machine learning music systems may well approach industry recognition of being, speaking of iconic albums – – forgive me, Bruce – – born to run.

Image from Pixabay.com

My Questions

  • Should musicians be ethically and/or legally obligated to notify purchasers of their recordings and concert tickets that an AI has been used to create their music?
  • Who owns the intellectual property rights of AI-assisted or wholly derived music? Is it the songwriter, music publisher, software vendor, the AI developers, or some other combination therein? Do new forms of contracts or revisions to existing forms of entertainment contracts need to be created to meets such needs? Would the Creative Commons licenses be usable here? How, and to whom, would royalties be paid and at what percentage rates?
  • Can AI-derived music be freely sampled for incorporation into new musical creations by other artists? What about the rights and limitations of sampling multiple tracks of AI-derived music itself?
  • How would musicians, IP owners, music publishers and other parties be affected, and what are the implications for the music industry, if developers of a musical AIs make their algorithms available on an open source basis?
  • What new entrepreneurial and artistic opportunities might arise for developing customized add-ons, plug-ins and extensions to music AIs? How might these impact IP and music industry employment issues?

1.  Og was one of the many fictional and metaphorical characters created by the New York City radio and Public Broadcasting TV legend Jean Shepherd. If he was still alive today, his work would have been perfect for podcasting. He is probably best known for the use of several of his short stories becoming the basis for the holiday movie classic A Christmas Story. A review of a biography about him appears in the second half of the November 4, 2014 Subway Fold Post entitled Say, Did You Hear the Story About the Science and Benefits of Being an Effective Storyteller?

2.  I attended a very interesting presentation by Drew Silverstein, the CEO and founder of Amper Music, of his system on November 6, 2017, at a monthly MeetUp.com meeting of the NYC Bots and Artificial Intelligence group. The program included two speakers from other startups in this sector in an evening entitled Creating, Discovering, and Listening to Audio with Artificial Intelligence. For me, the high point of these demos was watching and listening as Silverstein deployed his system to create some original music live based upon suggestions from the audience.

NASA is Providing Support for Musical and Humanitarian Projects

"NASA - Endeavor 2", Image by NASA

“NASA – Endeavor 2”, Image by NASA

In two recent news stories, NASA has generated a world of good will and positive publicity about itself and its space exploration program. It would be an understatement to say their results have been both well-grounded and out of this world.

First, NASA astronaut Chris Hadfield created a vast following for himself online when he uploaded a video onto YouTube of him singing David Bowie’s classic Space Oddity while on a mission on the International Space Station (ISS).¹ As reported on the October 7, 2015 CBS Evening News broadcast, Hadfield will be releasing an album of 12 songs he wrote and performed in space, today on October 9. 2015. He also previously wrote a best-selling book entitled An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything (Little, Brown and Company, 2013). I highly recommend checking out his video, book and Twitter account @Cmdr_Hadfield.

What a remarkably accomplished career in addition to his becoming an unofficial good will ambassador for NASA.

The second story, further enhancing the agency’s reputation, concerns a very positive program affecting many lives that was reported in a most interesting article on Wired.com on September 28, 2015 entitled How NASA Data Can Save Lives From Space by Issie Lapowsky. I will summarize and annotate it, and then pose some my own terrestrial questions.

Agencies’ Partnership

According to a NASA administrator Charles Bolden, astronauts frequently look down at the Earth from space and realize that borders across the world are subjectively imposed by warfare or wealth. These dividing lines between nations seem to become less meaningful to them while they are in flight. Instead, the astronauts tend to look at the Earth and have a greater awareness everyone’s responsibilities to each other. Moreover, they wonder what they can possibly do when they return to make some sort of meaningful difference on the ground.

Bolden recently shared this experience with an audience at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washington, DC, to explain the reasoning behind a decade-long partnership between NASA and USAID. (This latter is the US government agency responsible for the administration of US foreign aid.) At first, this would seem to be an unlikely joint operation between two government agencies that do not seem to have that much in common.

In fact, this combination provides “a unique perspective on the grave need that exists in so many places around the world”, and a special case where one agency sees it from space and the other one sees it on the ground.

They are joined together into a partnership known as SERVIR where NASA supplies “imagery, data, and analysis” to assist developing nations.  They help these countries with forecasting and dealing “with natural disasters and the effects of climate change”.

Partnership’s Results

Among others, SERVIR’s tools have produced the following representative results:

  • Predicting floods in Bangladesh that gives citizens a total of eight days notice in order to make preparations that will save lives. This reduced the number to 17 during the last year’s monsoon season whereas previously it had been in the thousands.
  • Predicting forest fires in the Himalayas.
  • For central America, NASA created  a map of ocean chlorophyll concentration that assisted public officials in identifying and improving shellfish testing in order to deal with “micro-algae outbreaks” responsible for causing significant health issues.

SERVIR currently operates in 30 countries. As a part of their network, there are regional hubs working with “local partners to implement the tools”. Last week it opened such a hub in Asia’s Mekong region. Both NASA and USAID are hopeful that the number of such hubs will continue to grow.

Google is also assisting with “life saving information from satellite imagery”. They are doing this by applying artificial intelligence (AI)² capabilities to Google Earth. This project is still in its preliminary stages.

My Questions

  • Should SERVIR reach out to the space agencies and humanitarian organizations of other countries to explore similar types of humanitarian joint ventures?
  • Do the space agencies of other countries have similar partnerships with their own aid agencies?
  • Would SERVIR benefit from partnerships with other US government agencies? Similarly, would it benefit from partnering with other humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGO)?
  • Would SERVIR be the correct organization to provide assistance in global environmental issues? Take for example the report on the October 8, 2015 CBS Evening News network broadcast of the story about the bleaching of coral reefs around the world.

 


1.  While Hatfield’s cover and Bowie’s original version of Space Oddity are most often associated in pop culture with space exploration, I would like to suggest another song that also captures this spirit and then truly electrifies it: Space Truckin’ by Deep Purple. This appeared on their Machine Head album which will be remembered for all eternity because it included the iconic Smoke on the Water. Nonetheless, Space Truckin‘ is, in my humble opinion, a far more propulsive tune than Space Oddity. Its infectious opening riff will instantly grab your attention while the rest of the song races away like a Saturn Rocket reaching for escape velocity. Furthermore, the musicianship on this recording is extraordinary. Pay close attention to Richie Blackmore’s scorching lead guitar and Ian Paice’s thundering drums. Come on, let’s go space truckin’!

2. These eight Subway Fold posts cover AI from a number of different perspectives involving a series of different applications and markets.