“Break Free” is a new song by Taryn and Amper. The former, Taryn Southern, is a musician and singer popular on Youtube. The latter, however, is not human at all. Instead, Amper is an artificially intelligent music composer, producer and performer, developed by a combination of “music and technology experts” and now put to the test, being the engine behind Taryn’s single and eventually a full album, tentatively called I AM AI.
To understand what is Taryn and what is Amper in this project, the singer talks about it in this Verge interview:
The way it works is to give the platform certain input like BPM, instrumentation that I like, genre, key, etc. The platform will spit a song out at me, and then I can iterate from there, making adjustments to the instruments and the key. I can even change the genre or emotional feel or the song, until I get something that I’m relatively happy with. Once I have that, I download all the stems of the instrumentation to build actual song structure.
What Amper’s really good at is composing and producing instrumentation, but it doesn’t yet understand song structure. It might give you a verse or the chorus and it’s up to me to stitch these pieces together so that it sounds like something familiar you would hear on the radio. Once I’m happy with the song, then I write the vocal melody and lyrics.
The key sentence for cynics is the second to last one. Amper delivers the familiar, or rather, Taryn makes Amper work until she gets something familiar. AI is not at the stage yet where it might surprise us with a decision, except in the cases where it goes spectacularly wrong. Right now it’s very good at learning patterns, at imitating, at delivering a variation on a theme. (That’s why it’s really good at imitation Bach, for example.)
We could imagine, however, a future where AI would be able to take a number of musical elements, styles, and genres and come out with a hybrid that we’ve never heard before. And would that be any better than having a human do so?
By the way, you can try out Amper yourself here. Your mileage may vary.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.