Artificial Intelligence Writes a Piece in the Style of Bach: Can You Tell the Difference Between JS Bach and AI Bach?

This week, the arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty Bot­nik pub­lished a 2018 Coachel­la Line­up poster com­posed entire­ly of per­former names gen­er­at­ed by neur­al net­works. It does get one won­der­ing what the music of “Lil Hack,” “House of the Gavins,” or “Paper Cop” might sound like — or, giv­en the direc­tion of tech­nol­o­gy these days, how long it will take before anoth­er neur­al net­work can actu­al­ly com­pose it. But why use AI to cre­ate yet anoth­er mil­len­ni­al-mind­ed Coachel­la act, you might ask, when it could cre­ate anoth­er Johann Sebas­t­ian Bach?

“One form of music that Bach excelled in was a type of poly­phon­ic hymn known as a chorale can­ta­ta,” says the MIT Tech­nol­o­gy Review. “The com­pos­er starts with a well-known tune which is sung by the sopra­no and then com­pos­es three har­monies sung by the alto, tenor, and bass voic­es.” Such com­po­si­tions “have attract­ed com­put­er sci­en­tists because the process of pro­duc­ing them is step-like and algo­rith­mic. But doing this well is also hard because of the del­i­cate inter­play between har­mo­ny and melody.” Hence the fas­ci­na­tion of the ques­tion of whether a com­put­er could ever com­pose a tru­ly Bach-like chorale.

The video at the top of the post offers a lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ence that points toward an answer. The minute-long piece you hear, and whose score you see, comes not from Bach him­self, nor from any human Bach imi­ta­tor, but from a neur­al net­work called Deep­Bach, a sys­tem devel­oped by Gae­tan Had­jeres and Fran­cois Pachet at the Sony Com­put­er Sci­ence Lab­o­ra­to­ries in Paris.

Like any such deep learn­ing sys­tem, the more exist­ing mate­r­i­al it has to “learn” from, the more con­vinc­ing a prod­uct it can pro­duce on its own: just as Bot­nik’s net­work could learn from all the band names fea­tured on Coachel­la posters since 1999, Deep­Bach could learn from the more than 300 short chorale com­po­si­tions the real Bach wrote in his life­time.

“About half the time,” says the MIT Tech­nol­o­gy Review, “these com­po­si­tions fool human experts into think­ing they were actu­al­ly writ­ten by Bach.” But of course, this sort of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence has a greater and more diverse poten­tial than trick­ing its lis­ten­ers, as oth­er exper­i­ments at Sony CSL-Paris sug­gest: the AI-com­posed “Bea­t­les” song “Dad­dy’s Car,” for instance, or the “Flow Machine” that re-inter­prets Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in the style of the Bea­t­les, Take 6, and even elec­tron­ic lounge music. But we won’t know the tech­nol­o­gy has matured until the day we find our­selves book­ing tick­ets for arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence-com­posed music fes­ti­vals.

via  MIT Tech­nol­o­gy Review

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Pro­gram Tries to Write a Bea­t­les Song: Lis­ten to “Daddy’s Car”

Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Cre­ativ­i­ty Machine Learns to Play Beethoven in the Style of The Bea­t­les’ “Pen­ny Lane”

Hear What Music Sounds Like When It’s Cre­at­ed by Syn­the­siz­ers Made with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

Google Launch­es Free Course on Deep Learn­ing: The Sci­ence of Teach­ing Com­put­ers How to Teach Them­selves

Neur­al Net­works for Machine Learn­ing: A Free Online Course

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (6)
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  • AbstractJak says:

    I could tell it was AI Bach by the end of the first phrase. Why? See “Blink” by Mal­com Glad­well.
    Hi Col­in! Years ago, at UCSB, we did a radio inter­view about my upcom­ing con­cert in “The Hub.” The piece was “Red­Black.” It is good to see how well you’ve done for your­self. Peace. Ron.

  • Justine Cullinan says:

    It is soul­less. Bach’s estate need not wor­ry, but can the bot be sued for pla­gia­riza­tion?

  • David Franks says:

    Well, damn. Crossed voic­es, par­al­lel octaves, par­al­lel fifths, an odd mode change in the first cadence, an anom­alous III+⁶ to i cadence (appar­ent­ly even the play­ers thought it sound­ed wrong), an incor­rect­ly resolved sev­enth, a tri­tone leap.

    Per­haps the AI will do a bet­ter job once it knows the rules of Baroque com­mon prac­tice, which are derived from sources such as the chorales of J.S. Bach. As it is, he nev­er would have let any­body see this chorale, even if one of his sec­ond-semes­ter the­o­ry stu­dents had writ­ten it. It’s a nice tune, and I look for­ward to see­ing and hear­ing a bet­ter set­ting of it..

    Is Deep­Bach good at cross­word puz­zles?

  • Jeff Harvick says:

    First two chords. Bach would nev­er go V to IV, and would nev­er have a tri­tone leap in the tenor. Nice try though.

  • Max says:

    I was also amused at how ter­ri­ble the voice lead­ing was. Glad to see I’m not alone!

  • robert sjoberg says:

    Kill it now before it spreads!

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