The next step in music evolution

Humans have been creating music for 41,000 years, at least according to music theory, and it's safe to say music isn't going away anytime soon either. People have used all sorts of devices to create music: from flutes made of human bone to DJ remixing tracks on a computer. Music is constantly changing, and the next big step in music evolution may actually have a bigger influence from machines than we think. 

Scientists at the Imperial College of London have developed a music composing program with the idea that music evolves just like Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. The result: a computer algorithm named DarwinTunes, which runs experiments with volunteers. The program maintains a population of 100 loops of music, each eight seconds long. In an article reported by Science Daily, the scientists explained, “listeners scored loops in batches of 20 on a five-point scale from 'I can't stand it!' to 'I love it!’” DarwinTunes then combines the highest rated sounds to create 20 new loops, which go on to replace the originals for further testing. This process shows that music, be it popular, or unpopular, contributes to the growth of the next generation.  

The results proved the scientists' idea that music is constantly changing and evolving, and its implications also mean the future of music may be more in the hands of everyday people than previously thought. Currently, many of the staff and students of Imperial College of London, as well as members of the community, can use DarwinTunes and even download their favorite loops. 

Taylor Shannon, an accomplished Indie musician, welcomes the idea of this technology. Shannon, who studied applied music at Mohawk College, feels machines won't replace human components in the music world. “People are always part of music, they're always needed,” he says. DarwinTunes, he points out, only works if people are actively participating in it. Shannon also believes this AI is not a threat to musicians; in fact, it may even help them. “People sometimes have limitations," he explains, "but with this program they may get past them.” He speaks about how DarwinTunes has every right to be called music, “Saying it's not true music is a very purist way of doing things.” In fact, Shannon says, he is excited to give the program a try. 

DarwinTunes, however, isn't the only music AI around. The internet corporation Baidu has now released their own AI. The program works by evaluating relationships between art and music. An article featured on The Stack explains the AI composer, “uses image identify the subject, mood, and even cultural signifiers of a piece of art.” The data it gathers is filtered, “through a matrix of hundreds of billions of [music] samples and AI training features [...] to create a complete and original piece of music.” The sophistication and interest in AI composers shows not only are these programs catching on, but they promise to become more mainstream in the future.


The possibility that music AI could become more mainstream raises questions about copyright laws. Who would retain the rights if a loop from a program like DarwinTunes gets popular, or is used in a popular song? Is it the person who volunteered rating the loops, the programmer who created the AI, or does the fame and fortune belong to the owner of the program? Certainly, in some cases a company will retain the rights, like with Baidu and its AI composer. Other situations like with DarwinTunes and its volunteers may not be so cut and dry, especially when money and fame are involved; there's no telling who may come out of the woodwork to claim partial, or even full ownership over the next musical hit. While AI composers may be where our technology and creativity are in sync, for now, our means to properly give credit are not. Whatever the world of AI music brings, it most certainly is something to look out for in the future. 

Forecasted start year: 
2018 to 2020


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