How Google’s Music-Making AI Learns From Human Minds At Festivals – Fast Company
Some of the sounds are reminiscent of a vintage synthesizer, but what’s happening here is much more modern. A powerful neural network is helping to create these tones in the hopes of offering musicians a cutting-edge new tool for their creative arsenal. Over time, the machines will learn to create music themselves.
The classroom is being led by Adam Roberts and Colin Raffel, two Google engineers working on the Magenta project within the rapidly expanding Google Brain artificial intelligence lab. First unveiled to the public last May at the Moogfest music and technology festival in Durham, NC, Magenta is focused on teaching machines to understand and generate music and building tools that supplement human creativity with the horsepower of Google’s machine learning and neural networks. Today, almost exactly one year later, Roberts and Raffel are back at Moogfest showing software engineers and musicians how to get Magenta’s latest tools up and running on their computers so they can start playing around and, they hope, contributing code and ideas to the open source project.
“The goal of the project is to interface with the outside world, especially creators,” says Roberts. “We all have some artistic abilities in some sense, but we don’t consider ourselves artists. We’re trained as researchers and software engineers.”
A Different Knob To Play With
This workshop, focused on Magenta’s MIDI-based musical sequence generator API, was just one of several events Magenta engineers hosted at Moogfest this year. Throughout the four-day festival, they could be seen giving workshops, presenting demos of Magenta’s latest playable interfaces, like the web-based NSynth “neural synthesizer,” which uses neural networks to mathematically blend existing sounds to generate entirely new ones.
“With synthesizers, you’re giving people knobs and oscillators that can combine to create a sound,” says Roberts. “This is just a different knob to play with.”
The Magenta team’s extensive presence at Moogfest is not just a byproduct of their nerdy enthusiasm for all things tech and music. It’s strategically deliberate. As an open source project (its code base can be found on Github), Magenta needs software developers to poke and prod at its code, critique its interface designs, and generally help push the project forward. Moogfest’s bleeding edge, progressive focus on the intersection of music and technology attracts a high concentration of exactly the type of people Magenta needs. It’s a total nerdfest, in other words. By hosting public workshops at a gathering like Moogfest, Magenta aims to ensure that its toolkit is installed on more laptops belonging to people who are among the best equipped to tinker with it and stretch its limits.
It’s also helpful for Google engineers to be onsite for these types of events, because as Roberts admits, the user interfaces aren’t exactly polished. “We’re definitely not a place where you can sit down, open something up, and just start playing around with it,” he says. “There is a lot of overhead and you have to know how to use the command line and all that stuff.”