Thursday, August 07, 2014

When Robots Write Songs: Computers That Compose

The Atlantic
When Robots Write Songs
Bach, Coltrane, McCartney: New algorithms can produce original compositions in the style of the greats. But are those works actually art?

William Hochberg Aug 7 2014, 8:01 AM ET

When Pharrell Williams accepted five Grammy Awards this year on behalf of the French group Daft Punk, the duo were dressed as robots. This may have foreshadowed a coming invasion by real music robots from France.

Computer scientists in Paris and the U.S. are working on algorithms enabling computers to make up original fugues in the style of Bach, improvise jazz solos a la John Coltrane, or mash up the two into a hybrid never heard before.

“We are quite close now to [programming computers to] generate nice melodies in the style of pop composers such as Legrand or McCartney,” says Francois Pachet, who heads Sony’s Computer Science Lab in Paris.

The commercial applications of such efforts may include endless streams of original music in shopping malls that can respond to crying babies with soothing harmonies, as well as time-saving tools for busy composers. But the questions raised by computerized composition are more abstract—touching on the nature of music, art, emotion, and, well, humanity.

The music-bots analyze works by flesh-and-blood composers and then synthesize original output with many of the same distinguishing characteristics. “Every work of music contains a set of instructions for creating different but highly related replications of itself,” says David Cope, a computer scientist, composer, and author who began his “Experiments in Musical Intelligence” in 1981 as the result of a composer's block.

“It’s truly impressive,” says jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, commenting on a track by a jazz-bot programmed by Pachet’s team to sound like sax legend Charlie “Bird” Parker blended with French composer Pierre Boulez. “I sent it to Chris Potter, the saxophone player in the band I am touring with right now, and asked him who the player was. He immediately started guessing people.”

The French robot that mashes up Parker and Boulez is a lot more advanced than most efforts at computer-penned music. For instance, another jazz-bot emulates Bill Evans with mixed results. Known for his heavenly flights of pianistic virtuosity, often while doped up on heroin, the classically trained Evans defined Cool Jazz on Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue” outing, the most popular jazz album ever. Sony’s Evans-bot sounds more like it’s doped up on a cocktail of Thorazine and Windows 8. The lush chordings and rush of arpeggios are trademark Evans, but the ham-fisted dynamics and pointless melodies reveal no one human is home.

In 1950, World War II code-breaker and forefather of artificial intelligence Alan Turing introduced a blindfold test to see whether computers could fool humans into believing they were communicating with other humans (“humans” who were actually computers). The test would determine, essentially, whether computers can “think.”

But can they swing? “I would submit that you can certainly make a computer swing,” says Brooklyn-based musician and technologist Eric Singer. “You can kind of jitter that swing a bit to make it sound more human. “

Singer helped devise a computerized band called the “Orchestrion” that Metheny recorded and toured with in lieu of live musicians in 2010. The Orchestrion (also called a Panharmonica) was reportedly invented in 1805 by musician (and, some said, swindler) Johann Nepomuk Maelzel. Beethoven, a fan of early music tech, featured Maelzel’s musical automatons—powered by a bellows—in between symphonies at concerts in 1813.

David Cope has designed EMMY, an emulator named for the acronym of Cope’s “Experiments in Musical Intelligence” project at UC Santa Cruz and elsewhere. EMMY spools out miles of convincing music: from Bach chorale to Mozart sonata to Chopin mazurka, Joplin Rag, and even a work in the style of her creator, Cope.

Read the full article with multimedia examples HERE in the Atlantic.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy Wants NYC's Subway System to Make Music

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Musician James Murphy thinks New York's "underground music" scene leaves a lot to be desired. He wants to change the underlying sound: the cacophony produced by the subway turnstiles.

"They make this unpleasant beep and are all slightly out of tune from one another," said Mr. Murphy, 44 years old, over breakfast recently in the trendy Williamsburg neighborhood here.

For the past 15 years, Mr. Murphy has been crafting what he says is a low-cost musical solution: He has worked out a unique set of notes for every station, one of which would sound each time a passenger swipes his or her MetroCard to catch a train. The busier a station becomes, the richer the harmonies would be. The same notes would also play in a set sequence when the subway arrives at that stop. Each of the city's 468 subway stations would have note sets in different keys.

Now, he believes his plan finally has a chance, as the state's Metropolitan Transportation Authority embarks on a $900,000-a-year project to improve passenger flow at some stations by repositioning turnstiles, furniture and emergency exits.

Read it all and watch video of Murphy HERE in the snarky WSJ.

Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 Steely Dan Interviews

Steely Dan on Making New Music: 'We've Been Talking'
Band kick off 53-date Mood Swings tour this weekend

By Andy Greene
July 18, 2013 11:40 AM ET

Interviewing Steely Dan is no easy task. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen turned messing with journalists into an art form back in the Seventies. Rolling Stone checked in with Becker and Fagen during the final days of rehearsal for their upcoming 53-date Mood Swings American tour. It kicks off on July 19th in Atlantic City and runs through October 8th in New York. Select shows will include complete performances of Aja, Gaucho and The Royal Scam.

We spoke with Fagen first, and he lulled us into a false sense of security by casually answering our questions in a relatively straightforward manner. A couple of hours later, Becker called. He was a little less cooperative, though equally sardonic. The pair talked about choosing songs for this tour, the possibility of a new Steely Dan record, their aging fan base, what songs they're sick of playing and many other topics.

Read the full interview HERE in Rolling Stone.

And here's one from Scene HERE.

Awesome Donald Fagen Interview from 2006 about His Bard Days

Back to Annadale
The origins of Steely Dan -- Donald Fagen returns to campus and revisits the origin of his old grudge
By Rob Brunner on Mar 17, 2006

On Halloween 1967, a party is raging inside Ward Manor, an Elizabethan-style mansion-turned-dorm at Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. On a small stage set up in the corner of the common room, a band called the Leather Canary tears through the Rolling Stones' ''Dandelion,'' Moby Grape's ''Hey Grandma,'' and Willie Dixon's ''Spoonful,'' along with a few recently penned originals. It's a typical late-'60s student shindig — most of the audience is tripping on acid — but it's hardly an ordinary band. Behind the drums is Chevy Chase, familiar around campus as a gifted musician and good-natured goofball who's been known to drop his pants after losing late-night games of ''dare'' poker. Just in front of him is a long-haired muso named Walter Becker, one of the school's most accomplished guitarists. And the shy singer behind the electric piano? That's Don Fagen, decked out in a leather jacket with feathers attached to it (hence the band's name). Just a few years later, Chase will find fame as one of the greatest comedians of his generation. Fagen and Becker, meanwhile, will evolve into Steely Dan, score huge hits with songs like ''Rikki Don't Lose That Number'' and ''Reelin' in the Years,'' and create several of the most beloved and enduring albums of the 1970s. And in 1973, on their second LP, they will record ''My Old School,'' an angry kiss-off that, for reasons that have never been entirely clear, takes a very public swipe at Bard. ''California tumbles into the sea/That'll be the day I go back to Annandale,'' Fagen famously sings. ''I'm never going back to my old school.'' You can practically hear him sneer.

Almost four decades after that Halloween gig, Donald Fagen is back at Ward Manor, gazing around the very same common room. In many ways, this quiet lounge — its ornate wood-paneled walls and elaborately plastered ceiling unchanged after all these years — is where Steely Dan sputtered to life. Fagen and Becker both lived here, and they wrote their first, now-forgotten songs together on an old piano that disappeared from the corner years ago.
Read the whole interview in Entertainment Weekly HERE.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Star Wars/Thomas Kinkade

A delicious gallery from Deviant Art. A sample:

Friday, October 18, 2013

Zen Pencils Illustrates Cartoonist Bill Watterson's Advice

Illustration by Zen Pencils, words by cartoonist Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) given at a commencement address. Apparently part of the illustration is autobiographical for Zen Pencils. You can check out Zen Pencils HERE and a fullsize version of this comic HERE.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Awkward Jesus Paintings from American Jesus

Ah, "Business Jesus" is just one of the awkwardly bad Jesus paintings posted at American Jesus. Check out the rest THERE.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Recording Diana Ross' "Love Hangover"

A great story from producer Hal Davis that mostly comes from the biography Diana. Best part:

"No one really liked disco here at Motown," producer Hal Davis said in J. Randy Taraborrelli's biography, Diana. "The company wasn't heavily into it, so I figured I'd take advantage of that. When I did the track for 'Love Hangover,' I knew it was a hot track. But when I played it for Diana, well, she wasn't too sure about it. She was used to singing more lush songs by producers like Michael Masser and the public sort of identified her with arrangements like "Touch Me In The Morning." She liked the lyric to 'Love Hangover,' but people thought I was a little off for even suggesting that Diana do this song."

Davis went on to describe the evening that Diana recorded the Pam Sawyer-Marilyn McLeod song. "It was a late session; we started at about nine o'clock at night. I had it all planned out because I know how Diana is about atmosphere in the studio.

So I told them to have some hot red lights put around and also a strobe light. Diana came in, took her shoes off, and got into it sort of slow. The song had two tempos, starting off kind of sultry, which was easy for her. But when we got to the disco part, I remember her laughing and saying, 'I can not do that!'

"So at that point, I had them turn the lights on and we had the place jumpin' like a disco. That's all she needed; she just took off after that. It turned out to be a lot of fun for her and she even improvised a little Billie Holiday in there that I didn't expect. There's even a part in there where she's laughing on the track. I didn't edit it because I wanted to keep that sense of spontaneity."

Diana is quoted by Taraborrelli on the session: "It was a spontaneous thing that we captured on record and if I had to go back in and do it again, I couldn't have. The music was me and I was the music. Things came out of my mouth that I didn't even expect."

From superseventies.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Friday, May 31, 2013

Studio Bass Legend Carol Kaye Multi-Part Video Interview 2013

A great series of interviews with Carol Kaye produced by Snapshots Music:

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Calvin Grown Up

by Craig Mahoney.