Thumbs up for the virtual band

In the 60’s when you would tell Ringo Starr, Charlie Watts, Mitch Mitchell or any of those guys that one day lots of people would prefer to dance to the beats of a drum machine they would laugh at you, right?

As we all know this turned out to be reality. We’re dancing to computer beats. Playing a perfect beat. This is a different beat though than one played by my favorite drummer Bernard Purdie. But even that kind of playing gets automated nowadays. I guess no music fan is able to tell the difference between a robot and a human being.

Artist != Robot

But somehow many people have always believed – they still believe – that art can not be automated. I believe this is not true. Making people dance is art, but computer beats are causing the same effect. The thing is: we’re dancing, we’re reacting to the beats. It’s us, not the machine who creates the dance. And how many movies have you already seen with artificial effects like explosions? Maybe movies with artificial animals which look real too. That’s not a form of art? What’s next, artificial actors? Of course it is!

Some time ago I became aware of the work of Francois Pachet who is creating a Virtual Band using software. The guy is a genius and a great musician. Here’s an example of his work:

What you see in the video is how a virtual drummer, a virtual bass player and a virtual guitar player are responding to the melody lines of the human saxophone player. These instruments are self trained, so it’s not even a pre programmed thing but it is an example of true artificial intelligence. So is this an example of a computer creating art? It totally is.

Logic Pro X Drummer

You’ve probably read that this week Apple has released an update for Logic: Logic Pro X. This DAW system is in many ways a step forward compared to other DAW systems. It includes a mind blowing new feature which they have called Drummer. Check out this video I found on loopinsight.com (check their Logic Pro X review) for a quick impression:

Drummer is a true drummer ’cause it will respond to the performance of other instruments/players/tracks. But since it’s 100% virtual you can change the complexity, style, the person who’s drumming and many more parameters. Of course you can totally change the sound of the drum kit. And it sounds great. Nobody will be able to tell that this is a virtual drummer. It’s a great way to create music because you get a real response from this virtual player in a quicker way than when you would program those drum parts yourself. It’s really like adding a new player to your band instead of adding your musical soul to every track.

This is the first step I guess. The next step for a virtual band will be Guitarist, Bass Player, Pianist et cetera. This is a lot harder to achieve but they are just a matter of time. A matter of years really. It will be accessible via a tablet like the iPad. Virtual composing tools are to be expected as well.

In short: everything which can be computerised will be computerised in the next couple of years. So it’s not only the bookkeepers who are being replaced by computer programs. No it’s us too. When the LinnDrum came out many drummers where afraid for becoming unemployed. And some did because the LinnDrum was used on many, many records which would have needed a drummer in the past. Same as for sample libraries which are used in media music, including for film. Nobody hears the difference anymore between a real orchestra and a virtual one.

In my opinion virtual music will totally change the definition of music as an art form. It will be the biggest change in the history of music. Let me make a list of the major steps we took over the years:

  • live performed music (none of it could be captured, only written down as sheet music)
  • recorded live performed music (at first: directly to wax)
  • multi-track recorded music (largely based on live performances of single musicians)
  • MIDI sequenced music (using a computer to generate notes, including quantisation for correcting timing errors)
  • computer edited music (you don’t need to play well, you can correct everything including the pitch of a voice via auto tuning)
  • virtual music (virtual musicians and virtual composition skills)

Music is “in the ear of the listener”

If nobody listens, there’s no music. If nobody dances to the beat of a drum machine, there is no rhythm. So therefore we could say that the listener makes the music. His or her ears are receiving the airwaves which are perceived as sound and labeled as music. Although most of us believe that music can only be created by musicians this is not true. And this is not true for a long, long time. Even when music is performed live most people don’t have a clue what is going on. When they hear a guitar solo they might look at the bass player. A lot of camera people did this for years and years, zooming in on the bass player during a guitar solo. I guess when listening to Lady Gaga almost nobody can visualise real players playing that music. Okay you might imagine Lady Gaga singing, but that’s the only part which seems “real”. When you hear a synth line, do you visualise somebody hitting the keys? Do you really think the listener visualises this? I guess not. All parts of a Lady Gaga track are done by a computer. It’s cut and paste. You hear it as a song in one go, but it’s recorded part for part. And most parts are played and generated in sound by a computer.

We’re imagining music by listening. And the thing that triggers that process, the thing that hits our hearts, we’re learning how that works and we’re computerising that process. Composing film music will soon be a matter of buying the right software program. And it’s probably the film editor who will buy that program.

, ,

6 Responses to Thumbs up for the virtual band

  1. john July 19, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    Drummer borrows a lot from Stylus RMX..which also has quite a bit of seeming AI, though it’s all based on clever midi manipulation(s). And once you’re in deep with Stylus, it’s “easy” to put in other instruments..I’ve done just that, using Anthony Braxton and Ornette loops, Change the notes, change the intensity, the groove.. change just about everything..both manually and randomly.

    good post today Marco, thanks.

  2. john July 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    btw, will you be making a robot to be the fahnkiest robot in den haque? I DON’T THINK SO 😉

    • Marco Raaphorst July 19, 2013 at 11:24 pm #

      I probably want to unrobot myself as much as I can. Leave the computer do its thing. I’ll play the stuff nobody will do, extremely personal 🙂

  3. eef July 19, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    Francois Pachet zat ook in deze uitzending van wetenschapsprogramma Labyrint over welke rol de computer over veertig jaar in onze samenleving gaat spelen: http://www.wetenschap24.nl/programmas/labyrint/labyrint-tv/2012/december/Turing.html – aanrader.

  4. Steve Crosswick July 20, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    Interesting thoughts. I can imagine that Logic X’s Drummer will turn out to be a great tool for singer/songwriters… in general, I can imagine DAWs being used more for prototyping live performances. The new Score editor in Logic X might turn out to be really useful in that regard.

Leave a Reply