Monday, December 24, 2012

Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto

Found poem.   Reported in All Things Considered on December 22, 2009.
What was billed
as the first intercontinental musical interaction
between humans
and robots took place the weekend of Dec. 17.

It involved humans in Japan
using an application called ZoozBeat on their iPhones
and a robot named Shimon in Atlanta.

According to its makers,
 unlike other robots that can play music,
Shimon is perceptual.

The robot can listen
to what is played, analyze it
 and then improvise.

And it has been taught to improvise like some jazz masters.

Gil Weinberg of Georgia Tech's music technology
 program recently spoke to NPR's Robert Siegel from Japan,
 where he witnessed the historic interaction.

 Weinberg says the result is music meant to inspire people — not an effort
 to turn our music-making over to robots.

"The whole idea is to use computer algorithms
 to create music in ways that humans will
 never create," Weinberg says. "Our motto is, 'Listen like a human,
 but improvise like a machine.' "

Weinberg programmed Shimon
 to play like Thelonious Monk.
 He says that, though he and his team
were trying to teach the robot to play like a machine,
 they first had to teach it how a human plays.

 To do that, they used statistics
 and analysis of Monk's improvisation.
Once they had a statistical model
of the pianist, they could program the robot
 to improvise in that model.

Weinberg says the robot
 won't play everything exactly like the bebop pianist —
or any other jazz master —
would, though he says,
"It probably will keep the nature
 and the character of [the musician's] style."
"It's difficult to predict exactly
 what they would do in every single moment in time,"
 he says.

 "But our algorithm pretty much
 looks at the past several notes that it plays
 and, based on that, it sees what is the probability
 of the next note to be, based on all of this analysis
 of a large corpus of transcribed improvisation."

Some musicians are harder to program than others.

Weinberg says Ornette Coleman
would require a much larger body
 of transcribed work than Monk did.

"In a sense, it kind of reduces music
 to numbers and statistics," Weinberg says.
 Given enough tweaking to the algorithms
 that the program uses, he says
 he thinks they'll be able to create
 something "very similar to the jazz master."

But Weinberg says
 he doesn't think the robot
should try to play just like a human.

"In all the emotional
 and expressive energy,
 I don't think a robot can capture [it],"
Weinberg says.

 Maybe someday a computer program could,
 but at least right now, Weinberg says,
"I don't think we have the math for that.

We have some math to get the notes
and the rhythm and the scales.

Whether this can capture
the genius of Thelonious Monk,
I hope not.
But maybe."

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