Google’s Magenta artificial intelligence (AI) project produced a basic piano melody that was then given a drum machine background (apparently added by humans not an AI program) and released to the public:
Canadian media outlet The Star had four songwriters try to flesh out the melody into a full fledged song:
In this post, I’ll take a somewhat different approach in assessing this AI generated music–and perhaps surprisingly without focusing too much on the question of authorship.
The Magenta melody is presented as another step toward AI generation of creative expression. If that goal is achieved, the question is whether human expression will continue to flourish or whether it will be “outsourced” to algorithms. I don’t think anyone can really say at this point what would happen if/when the algorithms produce expression as good as, or perhaps even “better” than, what humans create. We’ll find out at such time as it might happen and such music starts entering the music ecosystem.
So for now, the practical question is whether this Magenta melody is “as good as” what humans produce. Or, more precisely, would the average person listening to this melody find it “musical” enough to satisfy at least one of the roles which music plays in their life, whether that be as foreground point of focus or background to another activity? The latter is probably the lower bar. Music that is pleasing or soothing or inspiring often serves as an almost subliminal part of many environments. And so long as the sequence of sounds is not jarring or disturbing, it may well suffice for that role. Grabbing our attention and provoking some emotive or intellectual response is a much higher bar. AI generated content may not need to meet that bar to still be deemed successful. In fact, the likely first areas in which AI music would be adopted would be these kinds of background or auxiliary roles (think elevators, waiting rooms, etc.).
I posit that the real challenge for even the low bar of background music is not in creating melodies or even whole musical passages that are coherent enough–in terms of sounding like music and avoiding dissonant sequences–but rather in creating music that flows naturally, especially in the sense of swinging or having a groove.
In response to my last post on remixing versus remastering, Kevin Erickson of the Future of Music Coalition helpfully pointed out some further nuances in the distinction between the two.
Should new digital versions of classic old analog recordings sound essentially the same as the originals, or provide a fresh take on them?
For some record labels with valuable old sound recordings, licenses that should have established the labels’ decisions on this important business and aesthetic question appear to have gone missing. Or were not submitted in evidence because they were unhelpful. But this crucial gap in the record allowed a federal court in California to rule in favor of a bold theory of defendants CBS Corporation and CBS Radio, Inc.: post-1972 remasterings of pre-’72 sound recordings with the modicum of originality required after Feist get their own sound recording copyright and thus can be broadcast under the federal compulsory license rules. This is in sharp contrast to the direct negotiated license required for pre-’72 recordings governed solely by state copyright laws.
With a federal court in New York now considering a companion case, and the possibility of appeal in the California case–not to mention the stakes for the huge back catalog of pre-’72 recordings that have been remastered since then–it’s important to get this right. But it is a complex matter that sits at the confluence of multiple areas of technical detail.
[Updated with more accurate embed and analysis of fourth descending tone in Stairway to Heaven]
Jimmy Page brought his guitar to court today.
He’s defending his guitar part composition that forms the basis of the iconic Stairway to Heaven from allegations of copyright infringement. The estate of “Randy California” (Randy Wolfe) is suing Led Zeppelin on the basis of copying California’s Taurus that admittedly has a very similar sounding guitar part midway into the song.
Page et al are defending in part on lack of access. Even though they toured with California’s band “Spirit” before writing Stairway, Page claims to have never heard the song until his son-in-law told him some people on the internet were comparing the songs a few years ago. Page admits to even having some of Spirit’s albums, but none which contain Taurus.
I’m more interested in how Page and Zeppelin will defend against substantial similarity, assuming access to Taurus is established.
Recently I spoke on digital first sale at the 2014 Asia-Pacific IP Forum, an annual event that rotates amongst the partner law schools including UW, Seoul National University, East China University, and others. The event was hosted in Seoul Korea this year by SNU.
Slides of my presentations are linked below.
Preserving Innovative Business Models in Digital First Sale Debates (O’Connor Asia Pacific IP Forum 20141001)
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