Can AI Bring Dead Musician's "Sound" Back to Life...And Should It Be Copyrighted?

Jimi Hendrix

Music fans, be prepared to be wowed, and have notions of musicality tested by tech: A North Carolina company will be performing robotic recreations of old masterpieces, with an artificial intelligent recreation of their musical soul.

Zenph sound has been working on something that may either offend or amaze musical purists. They're using artificial intelligence to analyze old recordings that may not be of the best quality, and then build up a model of the exact nuances of the musician's performance. The model then allows the company to actually recreate the performances as if they were played today, and recorded using today's high-definition technology.

Essentially, the algorithm captures the individuality in the touch, tempo, and emphasis of the performer, and it's then delivered to a specially designed robot piano as a high-definition MIDI file. The piano then physically drives the keys in accordance to the MIDI file, creating music almost as if the original artist was at the keyboard. Zenph will be taking the robot pianos on tour which, slightly creepily, will allow audiences to listen to live performances of long-dead performers--Rachmaninov, say, or Thelonious Monk.

For now the algorithm works on single musical pieces. But the company's CEO Kip Frey has indicated that the aim is to develop the technology to the point it can capture a musician's style from several different recordings of different pieces, and then inject it into a performance of a totally new piece of music. In other words, it would capture a hint of the musical soul of a musician, and let the robotic instruments actually create new music. And it follows that plugins could be developed for all sorts of instruments so that you may one day know, as Wired puts it, "How Jimi Hendrix would cover Lady Gaga."

But here's the thing--musical copyright is already fraught with issues, and the recording industry has repeatedly demonstrated its idiocy in defending what some may consider indefensible. What happens when Zenph's tech develops to this next generation, and the record biz catches on. Will they try and copyright a musical style? And is that legally even possible? Artificial intelligence has been around for decades, but in many ways the technology is only now maturing to the point it's challenging our notions of normality. And unpleasant, but challenging social and intellectual issues like this are just going to keep emerging. But at least, through amazing implementations like Zenph's, it's also bringing significant benefits.

[Via Wired]

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