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Thread September 27, 2014 editorial: comments

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1 September 27, 2014 editorial: comments

Computers vs Humans

I attended the first annual A3E conference this week in Boston, a gathering of developers and other industry types that focused on music creation technology in both the near and long term. In reference to the latter, one of the issues discussed was the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into music software. One speaker in a panel discussion talked about a web-based mastering program being developed that will allow users to upload their mixes to be automatically mastered. The software will analyze the song files and use its AI capabilities to determine what the right processing should be.

When the discussion was opened up for audience participation, I ventured the opinion that no machine, no matter how intelligent, could have the same artistic and creative judgment of a seasoned mastering engineer. Could it do a decent job? Sure. But could it ever have the same musical judgment and skill set of a human who has spent his or her life listening to music, acquiring mastering skills, and mastering countless albums? I sincerely doubt it.

My point was not that I was against the auto-mastering concept, but I don’t think a computer could ever replace a human when it comes to making sophisticated creative/artistic judgments like those required for mastering or composing, or any artistic endeavor. 

Later, when I was interviewing the artist BT, who is as much of a gear geek as anyone you’ll ever meet, he expressed sentiments similar to mine, when talking about the possibility of composition software with AI in it. “I feel instinctively that anything that does that will always have to be curated by human ears,” he said. Read the whole interview here.

So here’s my question for this week: Do you think it's possible that in the future, a computer with sophisticated AI could be programmed to compose music that would be emotionally and creatively on par with what a human could write?

Have a great week.

Mike Levine

U.S. Editor, Audiofanzine

2
Computers will never be able imitate human emotions and I don't care how many programs or chips they have.
3
Of course such a program will be developed. Given our inane (IMHO) penchant for "bigger, faster, newer, weirder, slicker". Some out there are already drooling at the thought. And 'puters can/do have "thought" to a great degree. But emotion? Someone will try and program that in. But it will not be human. And I believe that is what some people want. But not me. I am not against technology. Just the "technology for technology's sake" mind set. My mind is set against it...or at least very wary of it. Tech has a mind of sorts, and a very good one, but not a heart. And heart is what makes us human, grand and gross, brilliant and fallible, right on and off our rockers. All at the same time, with something undefined that makes us love in glorious imperfection. Program that.
4
A professional Mastering Engineer in the UK (Ian Shepherd) put himself up against LANDR and the voting is somewhere around 5000:2 in favour of his mastering over LANDR. Some interesting points and discussion raised here: https://productionadvice.co.uk/landr/?awt_l=J5eYM&awt_m=3ZJw.GNJ__NU.YV

I think this will become a similar issue to guitar amp modeling. I'm a total tube amp bigot, but I did buy a Fractal Axe FXII a couple years ago. It is so far and away more realistic than the first-gen Line6 products of a decade earlier, and it continues to evolve with new software release. I still use my tube amps - rarely though - when I think the situation justifies the hours of mic setup and amp maintenance. But 99.9% of the time, the Fractal box is just so instant, convenient, portable, reliable and realistic. It took a decade for processors and memory to become powerful and affordable enough for the fractal to be built and sold at a justifiable price point - and that situation continues to improve.

So I will say the same thing that I heard a grey haired tube amp designer say a decade ago - "it's sh*t now, but in ten years time, processing and memory will be cheap enough, and the models will be 100 times larger and more complex, and then this will be a mainstream technology". (the guy that said this is still making killer boutique guitar amps to this day...)
5
I think similar sentiments were conveyed during the progressive transition from analog to digital musical production. But today, it's gotten so fast, effective and efficient that even the most diehard of analog gurus will consistently use plugins and pro tools.

While I agree that mastering cannot be replaced by technology without any ounce of a human element (at least not at this time), I also believe that there was a time when people said a real instrument cannot be replaced by plugins, or real drums can't be replaced by plugins, yet this is becoming more and more prevalent in music production.

I believe there was a time in music where rock stars had to hit every note themselves, and drummers had to be ridiculously skilled to play tight and consistent while recording in the studio. Now, this is unfortunately no longer the case. I feel like an automated mastering tool would have several mistakes and sound horrible at first, but after years of fine-tuning, while it will never achieve the same final product as a seasoned veteran, it will improve enough and streamline the process so drastically that it will eventually take over.

Let me put it this way: at first, it would sound as horrible as this recent leak of Britney Spears without autotune:


Then, after some fine-tuning, it will sound much more polished, like the spears track after various different technical innovations :lol:


*Disclaimer: this is meant in no way to use Britney Spears as an example of music. The product (both before and after) is complete filth in the opinion of this user
6
J.Jones--You make some very good points. However, I should clarify that my argument is not against using digital tools, what I was trying to say was that no matter how "intelligent" the tool, there needs to be a human involved on the creative side. For example, I use Toontrack's EZDrummer 2 sometimes for creating drum tracks. It has the ability to cull through it's huge collection of MIDI drum loops, and construct complete song-length drum tracks based on criteria I put in it. It's very impressive. But I still have to put in that criteria, and evaluate whether it's working with my song, and then edit the part to fine tune it. (Not to mention that most of the MIDI files it uses were recorded by human drummers so that they'd have the right feel.) What I was trying to convey in my editorial was that no matter the sophistication and "intelligence" of a digital tool, it still requires a human at the end of the chain, in order to make music that has "soul". Even in your Britney Spears example, there was an engineer who operated the AutoTune plug-in for that mix, and created the settings that worked aesthetically with the song.
7
Quote from Mike:
J.Jones--You make some very good points. However, I should clarify that my argument is not against using digital tools, what I was trying to say was that no matter how "intelligent" the tool, there needs to be a human involved on the creative side.


I understand what you're saying and I agree, just like I have in the past with similar discussions about technology and the human element. However, what I'm trying to bring to light is the fact that, true, a human element is necessary, especially for mastering which, as you say, an art. But at the same time, so much of what you've mentioned (ie editing midi tracks, operating an autotune plugin or what have you) are actually things that used to need a far greater human element as they do now. With the vast improvements of technology, particularly over the last 15 years, the human element has slowly been replaced or minimized. All I'm trying to say is, especially with the capabilities of big data analytics these days, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if eventually, all studio sessions can be quantified, put into spreadsheets, and all the human decisions made can be studied to ultimately improve the 'robotic replacement', if you will.

Am I saying humans will never be needed for mixing or mastering? Not at all. I actually firmly believe in the creative, spontaneous, and sometimes counterintuitive elements that humans bring to the table and find it to be irreplaceable. But if I've learned anything in the last 10 years, it's that technology will inevitably progress to the point that, while it may not optimize music production, it will streamline it to a point where it can automatically mix, master, produce at a level that's at least acceptable relative to humans (who may still be superior).

In short, I blame Skynet

8
Quote:
But if I've learned anything in the last 10 years, it's that technology will inevitably progress to the point that, while it may not optimize music production, it will streamline it to a point where it can automatically mix, master, produce at a level that's at least acceptable relative to humans (who may still be superior).

Good points. I imagine if the scenario you're describing does happen, there will be some sort of counter movement that goes totally in the other direction, similar to how punk music in the late '70s reacted to the overly slick pop music of the time. Maybe "non-machine-made" music will become the underground rage. It's interesting to speculate about, for sure.
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