George Orwell once wrote about “an instrument known as a versiﬁcator” which composed words for songs without any human intervention. Heaven knows we are probably close to that with any Justin Bieber song these days, but the music sometimes still requires a human touch. But not any more, if new startup JukeDeck has anything to do with it.
JukeDeck creates music automatically. It might be based on the actions inside a video or a game, without any human intervention. But before you musicians light your torches, read on.
The idea is that it’s “responsive music software”. It doesn’t use loops, but writes the music note by note, as a composer would. This means it can – say its makers – create an unlimited amount of unique, copyright-free music, and users can choose the music’s style and what should happen in the music at various points.
Founder Ed Rex tells me that the first market will be user-generated videos. Videos on Instagram, Vine or YouTube could use music often, but copyright laws mean you can’t use most music from your iTunes library. No copyright on the music? No problem. And if you don’t like a track, you can hit refresh and generate a completely new track. That’s the tantalising offer from JukeDeck.
Key to all this will be JukeDeck’s API, for which the company has filed a patent.
Rex says: “We’re working on an API that will let developers put our responsive music into their products. We want to make it really easy for developers to integrate copyright-free music that reacts to the action in, say, their games.”
This is based on algorithms that understand the building blocks of music and can use these to create their own tunes in the cloud or on a device.
At the moment there’s a Jazz style, a more electronic sounding style, and a couple of others.
The team of three comes from a music background (Rex studied Music at Cambridge University) and Google.
Rex had the idea that while he was at university. While visiting his girlfriend at Harvard he went with her to one of her computer science lectures and got into coding. He first experimented with dice and turning random numbers into music – and from there started building and refining a bunch of processes that made the initially random music sound much better.
After a few months, when the dice method got too slow, he started learning to code, and spent a year building a prototype. When that was ready, he took it to investors and got a seed round from Cambridge Enterprise.
People have been trying to get computers to write music for some time.
Ada Lovelace herself wrote that Charles Babbage’s computing engine one day “might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent”.
In more recent times, David Cope has done great work with his Experiments in Musical Intelligence, Brian Eno has released various generative music apps, and apps like RjDj have explored the way inputs from an iPhone can alter pre-existing music in realtime.
However, the idea here is not to compete with human composers but to produce machine-made music which is listenable and eventually malleable by real musicians.
More recently, others have looked at this space. And familiar names.
Sean Lennon once said of Sean Parker (in a 2010 Vanity Fair article): “He’s always talking about the potential of computers to generate algorithms for likeable melodies, and we have this ongoing argument: he believes it’s only a matter of time before computers will be able to create listenable tunes.”
Meanwhile, here’s a reminder of from your other TechCrunch writer, George Orwell. From Nineteen Eighty Four:
Under the window somebody was singing. Winston peeped out, secure in the protection of the muslin curtain. The June sun was still high in the sky, and in the sun-ﬁlled court below, a monstrous woman, solid as a Norman pillar, with brawny red forearms and a sacking apron strapped about her middle, was stumping to and fro between a washtub and a clothes line, pegging out a series of square white things which Winston recognized as babies’ diapers. Whenever her mouth was not corked with clothes pegs she was singing in a powerful contralto:
It was only an ’opeless fancy.
It passed like an Ipril dye,
But a look an’ a word an’ the dreams they stirred!
They ’ave stolen my ’eart awye!
The tune had been haunting London for weeks past. It was one of countless similar songs published for the beneﬁt of the proles by a sub-section of the Music Department. The words of these songs were composed without any human intervention whatever on an instrument known as a versiﬁcator. But the woman sang so tunefully as to turn the dreadful rubbish into an almost pleasant sound.
He could hear the woman singing and the scrape of her shoes on the ﬂagstones, and the cries of the children in the street, and somewhere in the far distance a faint roar of traﬃc, and yet the room seemed curiously silent, thanks to the absence of a tele screen.