Robot Jazz

Jazz divides the musical community. Some people love it and others hate it. Now it appears that we have a group who are completely oblivious to it but are also incredibly good at it. Robots. Yes, you heard, robots can now play jazz, which is somewhat frustrating as I have been playing guitar since the age of eight and I am nowhere near as competent as a what looks like a food processor with an iPod.

The gentleman behind this alarmingly impressive and somewhat disturbing achievement is Georgia Tech Ph.D student, Mason Bretan who plays the drums, guitar and keyboard to a very high level himself. Mason has created two types of robots, Shimi and Shimon. The first are a trio of dancing robots that autonomously generate choreographies based on a joint analysis of the music and a self-awareness of their physical constraints and abilities. The Shimis also play their own complementing music, based on a combination of Bretan's original compositions and improvisational algorithms.

If that's not impressive enough  a robot named Shimon listens to the sounds, then generates music on a marimba using its computational knowledge of jazz theory and improvisation. In other words it can make music up. Each time it plays it is a completely original composition, something that eludes so many in the pop charts these days.

Bretan commented on his work:

"This is a performance showcasing part of my PhD research in robotic musicianship at Georgia Tech including machine improvisation, path planning, and embodied cognition. The smaller Shimi robots figure out how to move based on an analysis of the music and Shimon generates an improvisation given a pre-composed chord progression using a generative algorithm that jointly optimizes for higher level musical parameters and its physical constraints.

"The piece is called “What You Say” and is inspired by the high energy funk piece, “What I Say”, from Miles Davis’ Live-Evil album. The incredible brilliance of the musicians on that album (as well as the numerous other great musicians around the world) are not only an inspiration to me and my own musical and instrumental aspirations, but also set the standard for the level of musicianship that I hope machines will one day achieve. And through the power of artificial intelligence, signal processing, and engineering I firmly believe it is possible for machines to be artistic, creative, and inspirational."

So there you have it. Watch the clip below and behold the wonderment of modern technology. For his next project I believe Mason is teaming up with T100 from the Terminator films as I hear he's a mean jazz bassoon player.


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