The girl can't play but makes music with AI pal


They may never be able to fill a stadium for a rock concert, but computers are making inroads in music, 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 in the autumn by YouTube star Taryn Southern, 32, who can't play any instrument.

"For my first music video in 2017 I had a lot of friction as a non-musician," she says at the festival running to the coming weekend in Austin. "I wrote lyrics, I had a melodic line, but it was difficult to compose and record the actual music."

Southern began experimenting with artificial intelligence 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," she says. "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.

Company cofounder and chief executive Drew Silverstein says the aim is not to replace human composers but rather to work with them to reach their goal. He explains that the company relies on masses 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 adds.

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 South by Southwest - using the public's choice of pop and hip hop as the genres and tender or sad for the mood - aren't likely to top the charts. But the pieces are 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 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," she says. "I'm still in the driver's seat."

She admits, however, to 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, predicts that more and more music will be generated by computers but that a machine is unlikely to replace the human touch totally.

"We're going to hear a lot of music composed by computers, and there's nothing wrong with that," he says. "But computers are not very good at creativity. They can find patterns, but they're not - like humans - particularly good to go beyond what they've been trained for. They are tools."

But a British musician at South by Southwest questions if "creativity" applies when speaking about music generated by a computer.

To that, Boisseau concedes: "It's still an algorithm. That doesn't mean people won't enjoy it, but with the current state of the art it cannot be creative."

And Silverstein responds: "Not yet."

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