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Competition explores possibilities of composers using artificial intelligence to create new music

Posted Friday 24 August 2018

Competition explores possibilities of composers using artificial intelligence to create new music

A competition that challenges composers to discover the potential of artificial intelligence as a collaborative partner is inspiring musicians to take their creativity to the next level.

Inquisitive music makers can visit folkrnn.org and get started immediately with the easy-to-use interface generating a melody based on a model of folk music. Users can select the key, time signature or input their own opening melody and ask the system to complete it. The result can then be exported in to music writing programmes to form the basis of the final composition.

Dr Oded Ben-Tal, senior lecturer in music technology at the University, explained that rather than replacing humans, the competition examines how artificial intelligence can assist in the creative process. "The competition is a way to encourage people to experiment with the system," he said. "By observing how other people are interacting with it we can also learn how to improve the technology, gaining valuable insight in to how it may develop in the future."

The competition is based on collaborative research between composer Dr Ben-tal and Dr Bob l. Sturm, lecturer in digital media at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and uses Irish folk music due to its relatively well-defined structure and a wealth of available data. The system was trained on more than 23,000 tunes using a text-based music notation format, generating new tunes by drawing upon the patterns and structures it had learned from the data.

Dr Ben-Tal believes artificial intelligence based systems could assist composers in need of inspiration. "It takes a bit of time to discover what musicians can achieve by using folkRNN," he said. "I generated hundreds of tunes and, by adjusting the controls I was gradually able to steer the system in a direction that suited my style - this stage can happen in different ways for different people."

The software is aimed at both beginners and experienced composers alike. "folkRNN can help people get started and overcome the first steps of writing working interactively with the system," the music technology expert explained. "An experienced composer, on the other hand, could use the system to generate new ideas around their own musical concepts as a starting point to a more nuanced piece."

With creativity seen by many as a defining trait of humanity, Dr Ben-Tal is keen to emphasise that the artificial intelligence is being used to enhance music rather than to replace human composers. "Technology and creativity have been interconnected for a long time and this is another step in that direction." He said. "We have to remember that this technology was created by humans and used music created by many generations to produce transcripts but as yet it has no understanding of the context in which they exist."

The competition closes on 31 August. Submissions will be judged on their musical quality and use of music created using folkrnn.org with the winning entry performed by a professional ensemble at a public concert on October 10 as part of the O'Reilly Artificial Intelligence conference.

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