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Music by machine

Speed read
  • Google Creative Lab launched an online piano that uses artificial intelligence
  • The program uses machine learning to recognize patterns within music
  • Visitors can have interactive musical experiences online

Claude Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” begins softly with just a few simple notes before building to a crescendo halfway through the song, in which keys fall in line one after the other. The piano becomes a torrent of musical notes, leaving the listener with the impression that they’ve been swept up in a small storm.

Computer collaborator. A new experiment from Google Creative Labs and Magenta brings humans and computers even closer together. When it hears a few notes, A.I. Duet responds by referencing its neural network of melody and time conditions.

What if artificial intelligence could create that same feeling in a listener?

Maybe we’re not quite there yet. But thanks to Google Creative Lab, if you’re looking for a fun jam session, you don’t even have to leave the house.

A.I. Duet is an interactive experiment that allows the visitor to play the piano with a computer. Visitors can interact with A.I. Duet by using computer keys, clicking on a virtual keyboard, or by plugging in a MIDI keyboard.

For every note visitors play, blue blocks of music float across the screen. The computer plays notes in response, visualized in bright orange boxes.

The project was developed by Yotam Mann and Magenta, a community of artists, coders, and machine learning programmers who are pushing music, video, image, and text generation to the limits.

Machine learning gave Mann's team a distinct advantage when designing the experiment. “If I was trying to make A.I. Duet with more traditional programming, I’d have to write out lots of rules, like if someone plays a C, maybe respond by going up to a G,” Mann says. “There are just too many note and timing combinations to map it out by hand.”

<strong>Machine learning maestro. </strong>Through exposure to sample melodies, A.I. Duet created an ever-expanding map of note and time relationships. Now it will play in response to your input. Courtesy Magenta.

Mann's team played examples of melodies for the computer, and over time it began to understand the “fuzzy relationships” between notes and timing. Soon, the computer was able to spot rhythms and patterns and build its own map of music expression.

When visitors to the A.I. Duet site enter a few notes, the computer looks to its neural network and plays back notes to fit with what it just heard. 

Whether tapping out “chopsticks” or “Claire de Lune,” playing with A.I. Duet is a new kind of musical experience.

Give it a whirl! Who knows, perhaps the experiment will write a thrilling sequel to Debussy's masterpiece. 

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