Artificial intelligence is being used to create new songs seemingly performed by Frank Sinatra and other dead stars. ‘Deepfakes’ are cute tricks — but they could change pop for ever. From a report: “It’s Christmas time! It’s hot tub time!” sings Frank Sinatra. At least, it sounds like him. With an easy swing, cheery bonhomie, and understated brass and string flourishes, this could just about pass as some long lost Sinatra demo. Even the voice — that rich tone once described as “all legato and regrets” — is eerily familiar, even if it does lurch between keys and, at times, sounds as if it was recorded at the bottom of a swimming pool. The song in question not a genuine track, but a convincing fake created by “research and deployment company” OpenAI, whose Jukebox project uses artificial intelligence to generate music, complete with lyrics, in a variety of genres and artist styles. Along with Sinatra, they’ve done what are known as “deepfakes” of Katy Perry, Elvis, Simon and Garfunkel, 2Pac, Celine Dion and more. Having trained the model using 1.2m songs scraped from the web, complete with the corresponding lyrics and metadata, it can output raw audio several minutes long based on whatever you feed it. Input, say, Queen or Dolly Parton or Mozart, and you’ll get an approximation out the other end.
“As a piece of engineering, it’s really impressive,” says Dr Matthew Yee-King, an electronic musician, researcher and academic at Goldsmiths. (OpenAI declined to be interviewed.) “They break down an audio signal into a set of lexemes of music — a dictionary if you like — at three different layers of time, giving you a set of core fragments that is sufficient to reconstruct the music that was fed in. The algorithm can then rearrange these fragments, based on the stimulus you input. So, give it some Ella Fitzgerald for example, and it will find and piece together the relevant bits of the ‘dictionary’ to create something in her musical space.” Admirable as the technical achievement is, there’s something horrifying about some of the samples, particularly those of artists who have long since died — sad ghosts lost in the machine, mumbling banal cliches. “The screams of the damned” reads one comment below that Sinatra sample; “SOUNDS FUCKING DEMONIC” reads another. We’re down in the Uncanny Valley. Deepfake music is set to have wide-ranging ramifications for the music industry as more companies apply algorithms to music. Google’s Magenta Project — billed as “exploring machine learning as a tool in the creative process” — has developed several open source APIs that allow composition using entirely new, machine-generated sounds, or human-AI co-creations. Numerous startups, such as Amper Music, produce custom, AI-generated music for media content, complete with global copyright. Even Spotify is dabbling; its AI research group is led by Francois Pachet, former head of Sony Music’s computer science lab.
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