A Computer Can Now Attempt to Emotionally Sing 90s Power Ballads


martinbackesSci-Fi novelist Philip K. Dick asked Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? back in 1968, and now, a performance artist has asked “What do machines sing of?” After all, computers can tackle some pretty amazing things, but they don’t emote very well. So what would happen if a programmer tried to ask one to sing a heartfelt version of a power ballad from the 90s?

That’s precisely what artist Martin Backes‘s latest installment, “What do machines sing of?” attempts to accomplish. He’s created a software system that attempts to apply human sentiments to the sounds that the computer sings.

According to Backes, “This behavior of the device seems to reflect a desire, on the part of the machine, to become sophisticated enough to have its very own personality.”

He created the project at the University of Arts in Berlin with the environment and programming language SuperCollider.

The weirdest part is that it kind of works. Though the computer doesn’t actually sings the words, and the quality of its “voice” isn’t all that great, it still manages to fill its melody with synthesized emotion.

The list of songs Backes has gotten the computer program to try to emotionally perform aren’t exactly unmoving, either. The list includes such hits as:

    • “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston

    • “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly

    • “Un-Break My Heart” by Toni Braxton

    • “Everything I Do, I Do It For You” by Bryan Adams

    • “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion

“AI is incredible,” says Tom Ajello, Founder and Creative Director, Makeable. “But it still has a long way to go.”

Backes thanks “Prof. Dr. Alberto de Campo, Hannes Hölzl, Prof. Joachim Sauter and Fredrik Olofsson (Art and Media Departement, University of Arts Berlin) for inspirational thoughts, lots of help and of course very good programming advices. A big thanks goes also to everyone involved in this project, but especially to some good friends, namely Markus Lerner for helping me out shooting the documentation video, Till Nagel and Brendan Howell for thoughts and translation.”

To check out “What do machines sing of?” simply head to YouTube or Vimeo, where he’s uploaded a video of the program.

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