Will artificial intelligence be the future of music?

Amper is part of about a dozen start-ups using artificial intelligence to break with the traditional way of making music. (AFP)
Updated 12 March 2019
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Will artificial intelligence be the future of music?

  • Already, an album featuring eight tracks has been produced entirely with artificial intelligence
  • Amper is part of about a dozen start-ups using artificial intelligence to break with the traditional way of making music

AUSTIN, United States: They may never be able to fill a stadium for a rock concert, but computers are making inroads in the music industry, capable of producing songs — and convincingly so — as illustrated at the South by Southwest festival in Texas.
Already, an album featuring eight tracks has been produced entirely with artificial intelligence, an unprecedented feat.
“I Am AI” was released last fall by YouTube star Taryn Southern, who doesn’t know how to play any instruments.
“For my first music video in 2017, I had a lot of friction as a non-musician,” the young artist told a panel discussion on Sunday at the festival running from March 8-17. “I wrote lyrics, I had a melodic line but it was difficult to compose and record the actual music.”
The pop artist said she began experimenting with AI two years ago, working with Amper, an artificial intelligence music composition software.
“In two days, I had composed a song that I could actually feel was mine,” Southern said. “It means that I don’t necessarily have to rely on other people.”
Founded in 2014 in New York by a group of engineers and musicians, Amper is part of about a dozen start-ups using artificial intelligence to break with the traditional way of making music.
The company’s co-founder and CEO, Drew Silverstein, said the aim is not to replace human composers but rather to work with them to reach their goal.
He said the company relies on tons of source material — from dance hits to classical music — to produce custom songs.
“The idea of Amper is to enable everyone to express themselves (through) music regardless of their background and skills,” Silverstein said.
The Amper app allows a user to pick a genre of music (rap, folk, rock) and a mood (happy, sad, driving) before spitting out a song. The user can then change the tempo, add instruments or switch them out until the result is satisfactory.
Two songs created by Amper at SXSW — using the public’s choice of pop and hip hop as the genres and tender or sad for the mood — clearly aren’t likely to top the charts. But the pieces were pleasant enough to the ear and perfectly usable as background music to illustrate a video or a computer game.
Such songs are described by Amper as “functional music” as opposed to “artistic music.”
Southern said she reworked the music in her own album dozens of times before she got the right tune.
“For me, it’s just a tool I can use in my creative process: I’m still the editor, I’m still in the driver’s seat,” she said.
She acknowledged, however, being terrified her album would be panned when it came out, as was the case with other innovations in music, like synthesizers or software to help artists sing right.
Jay Boisseau, a computing technologies leader and strategist, predicted that more and more music will be generated by computers in the future but the machine was unlikely to totally replace the human touch.
“We’re going to hear a lot of music composed by computers and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “But computers are not very good at creativity ... they are 0 and 1.
“They can find patterns, but they’re not, like humans, particularly good to go beyond what they’ve been trained for. They are tools.”
For Lance Weiler, an American filmmaker and writer who uses AI in his work, the collaboration between machine and artist should not be sneered at.
“It mainly enables you to improve the way you work, to augment your skills in expressing creative thoughts,” he told the panel discussion.
He added there was no question that AI had its limits and inevitably fails somewhere.
“It’s like interacting with a toddler,” he joked. “It can be very temperamental. You need to put patterns so it doesn’t hurt itself.”
Silverstein underlined that while AI was useful to experiment with an objective goal, “a yes or no answer,” when it came to artistic experimentation, it was far from perfect.
For some, such arguments are not convincing, as attested by a British musician at SXSW who didn’t appear happy with the competition and questioned whether the word creativity even applied when speaking about music generated by a computer.
“It’s still an algorithm,” Boisseau conceded. “It’s doesn’t mean people won’t enjoy it, but it’s not completely new.
“With the current state of the art, it cannot be ‘creative,’” he added.
To which Silverstein quickly replied: “Not yet.”


Tens of thousands converge on California ‘poppy apocalypse’

A woman poses for a photo among poppies in bloom on the hills of Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore, California, on March 8, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 19 March 2019
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Tens of thousands converge on California ‘poppy apocalypse’

  • More than 6,000 people on a recent Saturday stopped at the visitor’s center at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

LAKE ELSINORE, California: Like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz,” the Southern California city of Lake Elsinore is being overwhelmed by the power of the poppies.
About 150,000 people over the weekend flocked to see this year’s rain-fed flaming orange patches of poppies lighting up the hillsides near the city of about 60,000 residents, about a 90-minute drive from either San Diego or Los Angeles.
Interstate 15 was a parking lot. People fainted in the heat; a dog romping through the fields was bitten by a rattlesnake.
A vibrant field of poppies lures Dorothy into a trap in the “Wizard of Oz” when the wicked witch, acknowledging that no one can resist their beauty, poisons the wildflowers and she slips into a fatal slumber until the good witch reverses the spell.
Lake Elsinore had tried to prepare for the crush of people drawn by the super bloom, a rare occurrence that usually happens about once a decade because it requires a wet winter and warm temperatures that stay above freezing.
It offered a free shuttle service to the top viewing spots, but it wasn’t enough.
Sunday traffic got so bad that Lake Elsinore officials requested law enforcement assistance from neighboring jurisdictions. At one point, the city pulled down the curtain and closed access to poppy-blanketed Walker Canyon.
“It was insane, absolutely insane,” said Mayor Steve Manos, who described it as a “poppy apocalypse.”
By Monday the #poppyshutdown announced by the city on Twitter was over and the road to the canyon was re-opened.
And people were streaming in again.
Young and old visitors to the Lake Elsinore area seemed equally enchanted as they snapped selfies against the natural carpet of iridescent orange.
Some contacted friends and family on video calls so they could share the beauty in real time. Artists propped canvasses on the side of the trail to paint the super bloom, while drones buzzed overhead.
Patty Bishop, 48, of nearby Lake Forest, was on her second visit. The native Californian had never seen such an explosion of color from the state flower. She battled traffic Sunday but that didn’t deter her from going back Monday for another look. She got there at sunrise and stayed for hours.
“There’s been so many in just one area,” she said. “I think that’s probably the main reason why I’m out here personally is because it’s so beautiful.”
Stephen Kim and his girlfriend got to Lake Elsinore even before sunrise Sunday to beat the crowds but there were already hundreds of people.
The two wedding photographers hiked on the designated trails with an engaged couple to do a photo shoot with the flowers in the background, but they were upset to see so many people going off-trail and so much garbage. They picked up as many discarded water bottles as they could carry.
“You see this beautiful pristine photo of nature but then you look to the left and there’s plastic Starbucks cups and water bottles on the trail and selfie sticks and people having road rage because some people were walking slower,” said Kim, 24, of Carlsbad.
Andy Macuga, honorary mayor of the desert town of Borrego Springs, another wildflower hotspot, said he feels for Lake Elsinore.
In 2017, a rain-fed super bloom brought in more than a half-million visitors to the town of 3,500. Restaurants ran out of food. Gas stations ran out of fuel. Traffic backed up on a single road for 20 miles (32 kilometers).
The city is again experiencing a super bloom.
The crowds are back. Hotels are full. More than 6,000 people on a recent Saturday stopped at the visitor’s center at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California’s largest park with 1,000 square miles (2,590 sq. kilometers).
But it helps that the masses of blooms are appearing in several different areas this time, and some sections are fading, while others are lighting up with flowers, helping to disperse the crowds a bit.
Most importantly, Macuga said, the town’s businesses prepared this time as if a major storm was about to hit. His restaurant, Carlee’s, is averaging more than 550 meals a day, compared to 300 on a normal March day.
“We were completely caught off guard in 2017 because it was the first time that we had had a flower season like this with social media,” he said. “It helps now knowing what’s coming.”