Musical Machines

Musical Machines

Posted On: November 25, 2008
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We’ve seen quite a few robots that can play music. Two percussion-playing bots from the Robotic Musicianship Group at Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology are just further proof of robots cheapening our humanity. But I suppose they also evince human intellectual achievement by being engineering works of art (oh snap).
Not only can the drum/marimba playing bots make music, they can also play along with live musicians, thereby producing the effect of improvisation. The process used by the robots to play music is similar to the way Deep Blue plays chess–a series of options is analyzed to see which best fits the kind of music being played. The algorithms determining what to play are comparable to those used to model genetic evolution in biology.
Gil Weinberg, director of the program, explains:

The processing allows [the robots] to analyze and improvise. In one of the applications, we use a genetic algorithm… You have a population of something, and then you do mutations to all of these little things–in my case it’s musical motifs–mutations and cross-breeding between the musical genes, in our case, and then you have a new population that better fits to the environment.

Very fast, it runs [about] 50 generations of mutations that are cross-bred between the genes and tests whether this is similar to a motif that the saxophone player played, for example. And it plays something back that is a combination of musical genes of what the saxophone player played, what the piano player played–something that is unique that only can be the product of genetic algorithm.

The drumming robot is Haile and has been around for a couple years. The marimbot is called Shimon and was introduced in early November. If things continue the way they’ve been headed–an barring a human vs. robot war, they will–we can expect to see a fully robotic Partridge Family by 2012.