There will be no Eurovision this year. Like many other events, COVID-19 has forced the organizers of the European Song Festival to look for other dates. And yet, for the most recalcitrant Eurofans, all is not lost. The Dutch public television, which was in charge this year of organizing the festival, is holding these days the «AI Song Contest» or what is the same: a Eurovision contest in which the participants are algorithms based on Artificial Intelligence.
The idea arose a few weeks ago, when a group of Dutch researchers decided to take advantage of the window of opportunity given by the cancellation of the event to spread their initiative, that is, experiment with the possibilities offered by AI when composing a musical hit. .
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As they count in Ars Technica, the Dutch team trained their algorithm using the melodies and rhythms included in more than 200 popular Eurovisive themes, from Abba’s “Waterloo” (1974) to Loreen’s “Euphoria” (2012). Instead, for the lyrics, the researchers decided to train a second model in which they used the contents of different Reddit groups. The end result has been somewhat cheeky. Because although the music of this “Abuss” remains within a certain normality, the lyrics have ended up launching anarchist proclamations of the type “kill the government, kill the system.”
Despite this, the Dutch decided to present Abuss to the contest, since as Janne Spijkervet, one of the students who have worked on this project, explained at the time, “it is a way of demonstrating the dangers of using AI, even in something as theoretically harmless as a music festival. “
The closest festival
The competition, which has won the support of the Eurovision itself, has in its first edition the participation of 13 countries. Right now everyone is betting they give Australia a favorite, whose «Beautiful the World» is a theme in which for its composition, the algorithm has been nourished by the sounds of koalas, dacelos and Tasmanian demons. And no, it is not the first time that Australia participates in Eurovision. The oceanic country has participated to date in three editions, yes, in which the singer was flesh and blood.
Another one that has possibilities is “I´ll marry you, punk come” whose composition is the responsibility of the German team. To make it happen, they explain, they have used up to seven neural networks. The result mixes babbling lyrics generated from 1950s a cappella music with AI-generated death metal vocal styles and a chromatic bass line “thought out” by a neural network trained in Bach’s canon. Almost nothing.
As in the original contest, both the “popular vote” and the “expert jury”, formed in this case by experts in machine learning and Artificial Intelligence, will be taken into account in choosing the winner. The “secret” hope of the organizers of this alternative festival is that perhaps in the future, its winner will be able to enter the annual contest and compete against human performers.
Is the future of music composition going through AI?
But beyond the curiosity that may arise from the participation of an AI algorithm in Eurovision, it is worth asking what relevance this type of technology may have in the future of music. In one of the chapters in “Mozart in the Jungle,” the Amazon series in which Gael García Bernal plays a conductor, a similar dilemma arises. Starting from Mozart’s unfinished Requiem (the composer passed away before finishing it), it is speculated that by using AI, its logical end could be reached just as Mozart would have wished. In the chapter we see how a scientist trains his particular robot using all the work of the Austrian genius and his contemporaries. The result? From a technical point of view, it seems impeccable although everyone will agree that although the music is there, the emotion is conspicuous by its absence.
It is true that AI is probably not yet at that moment, much less creating a masterpiece from scratch. However, not a few have seen its potential in democratizing and making the musical composition more flexible. Anna Huang, one of the judges of the «AI Song Contest» explains for example, that the use of AI could help any student could compose for entire orchestras, automating the necessary arrangements for each instrument, or making it easier for them to experiment with new harmonies and musical forms.
In fact, one of the experiments Google launched last year was based on the latter. The Internet giant made an interactive Google Doodle available to users that encouraged Internet users to introduce a simple melody. With this input source, the AI generated 55 million musical fragments that combined and processed allowed him to create dozens of harmonies that Bach himself would have signed.