Not everyone is a fan of Ed Newton-Rex’s dream. At first glance, it seems uncontroversial: He wants everyone to experience the joy of music composition, even if they have no musical talent.
But it’s his solution that makes his goal controversial: He’s the founder and CEO of Jukedeck, a London-based artificial intelligence startup that employs 20 musicians and engineers to build a system that can compose its own music. So far, it’s produced nearly a million tracks in 169 countries, with its songs receiving over 30 million comb views on YouTube.
As he recalled at London’s Deep Learning Summit last Friday, a friend’s mom once asked him what he did for a living at a dinner party. When he explained Jukedeck, she gave him a very honest assessment.
“She said, ‘It’s very very interesting, I really hope you fail’,” Newton Rex said. “She said a very good point: ‘I totally get that a lot of music is mathematical, but I like to think five percent of it at the top is emotion, is memory, these very human things that machines can’t touch’.”
But Newton-Rex sees a promising future for his A.I. and how it could change people’s relationship with music.
“Once you build these systems that can themselves have an element of creativity, you build the ability for everyone in the world to, for instance, have their own personal composer that sits in their pocket,” Newton-Rex said. “Maybe [it] edits their music to fit their mood, or calendar, or personal tastes. We’re very excited about moving music to a more personalized state where everyone can have that joy of music written for specifically them.”
An A.I. that can compose its own music is not a unique goal. “Folk-rnn,” an open source tool designed to produce traditional Celtic folk music, held a concert in London this summer. Another system, DeepBach, was developed by Sony Computer Science Laboratories in Paris to produce harmonizations based on J. S. Bach’s chorales.
But while these projects focus on the composition side, Jukedeck wants to produce high-quality, computer-generated music as fast as possible. This short film by Finnish filmmaker Joonas Nieminen uses Jukedeck-generated music for its soundtrack:
Another that uses generated music is by Belarusian composer Antos Spiasivyh:
Jukedeck’s website allows anyone to create a track from scratch. Pick a genre, mood, tempo, track length, and other variables, then hit “create track” and the system gets to work. Users can also browse songs others have made.
“We essentially train the network to take in short sequences of notes and chords, and predict with some good degree of accuracy and skill the kinds of notes and choruses that should come next in a sequence,” Newton-Rex said.
As well as being a personal composer, the system could also work as an educational tool. If Jukedeck can learn enough about the basics of music theory to become a composer, it can teach people the fundamentals of music theory, making it possible for humans to explore further. Whatever his dinner party acquaintance may fear, Newton-Rex isn’t try to kick humans out of music.
“We’re really excited about the potential of A.I. to be used in educational capacities, introduce more people to music and the creative arts in general,” Newton-Rex said.
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