Space & Innovation

AI App Helps Songwriters Mine Music History for the Perfect Sounds

Amadeus Code uses machine learning to generate tunes based on music dating as far back as the 16th century.

Image of the Amadeus App as seen on a mobile phone
Image of the Amadeus App as seen on a mobile phone

In recent years, one of the most intriguing areas in artificial intelligence research concerns the open question of whether a machine could ever be truly creative. Could AI, in other words, really create capital-A Art?

As with so much else in the realm of AI, it all depends on how you define your terms. Computers are indeed capable of creating pictures and music, turning specified inputs into novel outputs. Whether this can be described as art is a matter
of debate.

A group of ambitious Japanese researchers has come up with an interesting detour around this dilemma by developing an AI-powered app that's expressly designed to work with humans, rather than stand in for them. Called Amadeus Code, the app is built to be a songwriting partner for composers, using a vast database of melody, harmony, and rhythm to generate musical ideas with the touch of a button.

Developed over the course of several years by musician Jun Inoue and his collaborators, Amadeus Code works by analyzing hundreds — soon to be thousands — of songs and compositions dating as far back as the 17th century. The app’s proprietary database includes work in various genres, from Baroque classical to current club hits.

“I think that the oldest song in the database is Pachelbel's ‘Canon’ and new songs include hits like ZEDD’s ‘The Middle’ and the Chainsmokers’ ‘Something Just Like This,’” Inoue told Seeker.“We are constantly adding more songs to the database, feeding the machine learning algorithms.”

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The core concept behind the app is to divide the songs into their smallest units — the “atoms” that make up a melody, groove, or lick. Then the AI uses algorithms to generate new tunes and chords based on the era, rhythm, and range. The AI system's “generation engine” outputs new melodies, rhythms, and chord progressions into a simplified mobile interface.

The idea, Inoue said, is to give musicians and composers a new kind of 21st-century tool for breaking through a creative block or providing sparks of inspiration. By designing the system to work with smart phones, the team has made a composition tool that musicians can keep — quite conveniently — in their back pocket.

The technologies behind the app get rather complicated and the research team has publicly posted an explanatory white paper for those who want to dig into the specifics. But the principle concepts is relatively straightforward, Inoue said.

“Amadeus Code divides music into the three elements of melody, harmony, and rhythm before processing,” he said. “The reasoning behind this is partly to remove genre and cultural bias from the musical composition. The harmony and rhythm … determine the genre of the music. It decides whether it is Western music or not. In particular, the rhythm is the most important element because it determines the background the music has from cultural and ethnic perspectives.”

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For example, Inoue said, even if the melody is the same, a song using a drum set with a 4-beat rhythm suggests it is jazz, while a bass drum on a rhythm machine — used with an 8-beat or 16-beat rhythm — means that the song is probably dance music.

“If the rhythm is composed of percussion instruments like the conga or djembe, that suggests Latin or African diasporic music,” Inoue said. “And if the rhythm is removed to leave only a cappella singing, it likely means the music is a hymn.”

Besides serving as CEO of the company producing the app, Inoue is an electronic musician and producer. He learned piano when he was seven years old, got a drum kit when he was 15, and eventually studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

The idea for the app came to Inoue around eight years ago — while in the shower  — as he struggled with increased demand for his producing and songwriting skills.

“At that time, I was unable to take sufficient breaks or enough time to recharge my creative batteries,” he said. “Then I was struck with an idea that AI could come up with various ideas for melodies by analyzing all the hit songs of the past and thus assist me in the songwriting process.”

Melody settings on the Amadeus Code app

The Amadeus Code app is currently in closed, beta development, but the researchers hope to initiate an early access program by the end of April. Anyone interested in participating in the free program can sign up via the Amadeus Code website.

The research team sent Seeker an early build of the app, which has an appealing and simple graphical interface. By way of “Melody Setting” sliders, users can request a new melody using criteria like range, note length, familiarity, and drama. Another slider allows users to choose from which era they'd like their inspiration.

Input your parameters and your phone's speakers start pumping out a simple melody atop a basic chord progression. Click around through playback options and you can change the instrumentation. You might get a synth line over guitar chords, or a trumpet sound over piano. Each of the melodies and chord progressions are generated on the fly by the AI system. Ideally, something in the output will spark an idea appropriate to the genre and style you've selected.

Inoue said Amadeus Code is actually designed to be very simple for the user, and to do one thing well.

“Unlike others that are attempting to compose fully arranged tracks, our focus is to create an AI that’s capable of create an impactful melody,” he said. “Impactful might be an ambiguous term in this context, but somewhere along the lines of something with potential economic or social value.”

He added, “We’d like to stress that our intent for Amadeus Code is to create a collaborative tool not a replacement for human creativity.”