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The Ultimate Worlds | December 12, 2017

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Flow Machines software will make you “Bob Dylan”

Flow Machines software will make you “Bob Dylan”
Romano Abraham

Flow Machines: François Pachet researcher working on a computer tool to stimulate the creativity of musicians and writers. Thanks to powerful algorithms, it becomes possible to model the style play with any artist and musician.

In 2004, jazz pianist Albert van Veenendaal faces to the successor. This instrument name straight from a novel of science fiction is controlled by a computer able to learn and play musical phrases in the style of the performer. The man and machine take turns during a session of improvisation. And critics are asked to determine who plays. Surprise, they will show unable to distinguish. Successor has passed its test: this is a perfect imitator of man!

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An avid researcher of jazz

Behind the successor, there is a man: French scientist François Pachet also a musician and jazz enthusiast. During the years that followed he will continue his tests. But it is in 2011 and by obtaining assistance of €2.2 million from the ERC (European Research Council) that will be able to move up a gear. In the lab of the Sony Computer Science Laboratory he leads the heart of the Latin Quarter, he decided to start a business a little crazy: to develop software capable of stimulating the creativity of a musician or a writer. The research project is called “Flow Machines.”
“To be creative, one must invent a style. The idea is to provide the artist computational tools to improvise, take in other ways to make music and play with new ideas, “explains François Pachet.

Automatically generate text and music

Team Flow Machines started by developing algorithms based Markov chains. In 1913 the Russian mathematician Andrei Markov had studied 20,000 first letters of the novel Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin. And it was realized that they were taking very precise patterns, created by the author unconsciously. Such that each letter was conditioned by that which precedes it. He had fired a mathematical probability model by chains that now bears his name. It allows you to randomly generate any sequential art form: melodies, lyrics, songs or comics.

One can thus ask the machine to produce a text in the manner of Proust but the famous author never wrote! Provided of course, having previously recorded a corpus of his works. Specifically the software will go collect several excerpts from the writings of Proust and involve them in finding combinations so that the transitions are fluid and transparent.

Style as a toothpaste to apply

Flow Composer

Flow Composer

But Flow Composer goes beyond mere imitation. Algorithms are able to take into account, in addition  the constraints defined by the user. As a number of notes, a type of agreement or a particular rhythm. “We wanted to tweak the style of an artist, impose a structure. But the mathematical problem becomes much more difficult to solve because the software application to explore a huge amount of possibilities, all within a reasonable time,” says François Pachet.

And that ‘s not all. In addition to these constraints a second obstacle arose: to reproduce pieces of work short enough to avoid plagiarism. Making it even more difficult to achieve transitions. A challenge raised handily by the team of Flow Composer.
This is François Pachet me is demonstrating on his computer. “Imagine that I want to compose a waltz in the style of pianist Bill Evans. But I ask him a piece with only 20 notes, and I added it must begin with a C and end with a floor. “He throws the query Flow Machines. And after a few seconds, the software is a coherent piece we believe composed by Bill Evans heard. “In this way, the style becomes like a tooth paste to apply,” says the researcher.

Remains to test the software on the public

Comics, albums, concerts, François Pachet full of projects revolving around Flow Machines. His next challenge? Down into the subway to test the public pieces generated by its software. He even auditioned to RATP and obtained certification that would allow him to play. Remains only to overcome stage fright to perform there. But then, no machine can help us.