Amazon’s AI musical keyboard ‘sounds terrible’

December 2, 2019 by No Comments


Amazon's music keyboard on a desk next to a laptop and headphonesImage copyright

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Amazon’s new keyboard will be available in the US only at first, from early 2020

Amazon has unveiled a musical keyboard with a built-in artificial intelligence (AI) composer.

The AWS DeepComposer is a two-octave, 32-key keyboard that can connect to computers via a USB cable.

Users can play a short tune, or use a pre-recorded one, ask the keyboard to embellish it in one of four styles – jazz, classical, rock or pop – and then publish it on Soundcloud.

But one expert said the audio demo provided by Amazon was “terrible”.

‘Quick gimmick’

Prof Nick Collins, an expert on musical AI at Durham University, admitted it was difficult to evaluate the quality of DeepComposer based on the single audio example provided by Amazon in a blog.

“If I had to judge just based on what was on that web page, I wasn’t very impressed at all,” he told the BBC.

“It’s terrible. A musician with a basic sequencing ability could easily mock up better examples.”

He also said he struggled to see why the tool would appeal to professional musicians, many of whom already have a range of sophisticated tools for AI experimentation.

And among more general users, it might fail to be seen as anything more than “a quick gimmick”.

Dr Oded Ben-Tal at Kingston University, who has worked on AI music projects, agreed.

“I see people doing this five times and then saying, ‘Yeah that’s fine,’ then [moving] on to something else,” he told the BBC.

Of the audio demo, he said: “I don’t think it sounds good.”

‘Deep-eche Mode’

Prof Collins even took issue with the name, adding that while he was intrigued by the rise of AI-enabled music tools and products in recent years, he was disappointed by their monikers.

“They haven’t even got to the best puns yet,” he said.

“I’ve been waiting for a system called Deep Purple or Deep-eche Mode but no-one’s done it yet.”

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DeepComposer uses a form of deep-learning AI called a generative adversarial network, which uses one neural network to generate content and another to quality check it.

Such systems have been used to, for example, invent new levels of classic video games or modify photographs so they look like Van Gogh paintings.

The central idea in all these cases, DeepComposer included, is that AI can capture key features of an art form and transform other material so that it shares those features too.

DeepComposer will be available in the US only to begin with, from early 2020, and cost $99 (£76).