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AI taught to write Irish folk music, independently and with human collaborators

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Researchers at Kingston University London have taught a machine-learning programme to produce compositions based on Irish folk music and have demonstrated that music can be written collaboratively between computer and composer.

The study aimed to investigate how machines and humans could work together to co-create music. The music technology researchers used a machine-learning programme designed to write new musical compositions based on what it has already learned about a particular genre of music.

Last year, Google released a short piece of piano music created entirely by a machine-learning programme.

The researchers used Irish folk music as the example genre for their study; it was chosen due to its comparatively rigid, well-defined structure and abundance of available data. The AI was fed more than 23,000 pieces of music in text-based music notation format.

Drawing on the patterns and structures identified within this enormous collection of music, the system was able to generate entirely new Irish folk songs.

“We didn’t expect any of the machine-generated melodies to be very good, but we, and several other musicians we worked with, were really surprised at the quality of the music the system created,” said Dr Oded Ben-Tal, senior lecturer in music technology at Kingston University.

As well as using the AI system to create original, entirely computer-generated material, Dr Ben-Tal worked alongside it, suggesting an initial melody and then selecting from successive notes suggested by the system.

Dr Ben-Tal does not believe that AI composers will replace human composers, but suggests that machine-learning systems could be a helpful tool for amateur composers struggling for inspiration.

“For beginners, a system like this would help you get started and avoid the intimidating aspect of composing your own tune as you could work interactively together,” he said. “Meanwhile, an experienced composer could work with the system to generate new ideas by using their own musical concepts as a starting point.”

He says that this research demonstrates how AI is capable of enhancing – not replacing – the creative process.

“People are reluctant to believe machines can be creative; it’s seen as a very human trait,” said Dr Ben-Tal. “However, the fact of the matter is, technology and creativity have been interconnected for a long time and this is just another step in that direction.”

Some of the AI’s compositions will be performed at a concert later this month as part of the project. The concert will also include an organ performance of harmonisations of tunes by a different machine-learning system in the style of Bach’s chorales.

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