The Machine Folk Session website

The Machine Folk Session website

Dear all, we have just launched a website related to our research on applying computers to creative ends: https://themachinefolksession.org/ This is linked to our online application (which is built with data from thesession.org): https://folkrnn.org . (Also see our composition competition: https://folkrnn.org/competition/ )

Clearly, thesession.org and all its dedicated users were an inspiration for our website, so thanks to you all for that!

Let us know what you think.

Re: The Machine Folk Session website

This is awesome!

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Looks like composing new tunes will take a lot less effort. It’s another job that we’ve outsourced to computers.
The computer made a tune: https://themachinefolksession.org/tune/135

And that tune made by bogman is quite something… I had better luck!

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I think there is still some hope for humankind.

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Bob,
Can you enable us to generate tunes in keys other than C?

Re: The Machine Folk Session website

Thanks for your comments so far!

@bogman https://themachinefolksession.org/tune/125 Yes, some tunes are crazy, added by jokesters nonetheless! Humans are going to compose music no matter what. The process is enjoyable, like solving puzzles. No computer program is going to threaten that. 🙂

@Monty Interesting settings! The model is working only in four modes in C. The thought is that a user can take the generated ABC and transpose it themselves using http://mandolintab.net/abcconverter.php or the like. But I can see it would be useful to just incorporate the desired mode as a parameter.

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Especially a more usual key to traditional tunes played at sessions today (ie D,G A/ Am Bm Em)…

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I’m the person building these websites with Bob. Yes, we’ll make folkrnn.org generate tunes in these more common keys. It’s clearly the right thing to do!

That it’s all in C at the moment is an artifact of the algorithm; to teach it the tunes, everything was transposed to C. But using the same process we should be able to transpose any raw generated output back.

And – we’re still working on these sites, so please do let us know whatever rough edges or missing things you come across.

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I don’t perceive it as “outsourcing to computers” but that it is having fun and creating art with our future machine overlords. :p

I’m joking about machine overlords, to me it strikes me as playing around with the data from TheSession and trying to use current technologies to produce playable pieces. It isn’t intended to remove or replace human composition… it may complement human composition, but not replace it.

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No disrespect but I’d be surprised if computer generated tunes could ever compliment human composition. The human connection to a tune is important to most trad musicians. Personally I would never bother learning a tune that was constructed by a computer.

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It is a fair point, bogman. My wife’s complaint was similar since being machine generated doesn’t really make it ‘Folk’. I also suspect most of my session mates would not be too keen on learning something that didn’t come out of Irish Cultural influence (machines being somewhat ‘acultural’, lacking culture and the ability to make culture and cultural things like humans do). That being said, I do find it interesting from the standpoint of what can be done with computers and learning more about how humans and computers interact.

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> Personally I would never bother learning a tune that was constructed by a computer.

If someone didn’t tell you, how would you know? What if you liked it, then discovered it was written by a computer?

Posted by .

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Truthfully, if I learnt a tune by mistake that was written by a computer I would drop it. There are too many great tunes with a human story. A tune named "Johnny O’Leary’s" will have at least some connection - how it got from there to here through people. "A tune called "Macbook Pro’s" just doesn’t have the same allure.

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What if it was called "MacBook Air," would that have any more appeal?

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Dell’s Fancy?
Sporting Dell?
The Dells of Tipperary?

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Hi @bogman. Good points. I don’t think many people want to spend time on tunes that don’t inspire them. If inspiration comes from a connection between the music and the soil, then so be it. I know there’s some controversy as to the origin of many tunes here on thesession.org, like some tunes being called Irish when they are actually from Scotland, or the Isle of Man. There’s a whole lot of national identity that can be tied up in this practice. I wonder how many players of ITM seek out the story behind the tunes they play. And as @Calum noticed, how would someone know if a tune really did come from a computer? At least with the https://themachinefolksession.org there will now be a clear connection! 🙂

For me, I’m motivated to learn a tune because I think it’s a good tune. Like, last week I heard Pádraig McGovern playing The Fourth Dragoon (https://thesession.org/tunes/13362), and just fell in love with it. I don’t know anything about the history of the tune, but it’s McGovern’s treatment of the tune that made me pick up my box and put in the time to learn it. (I can’t find a recording of him playing it anywhere online.)

Certainly, our machine spits out a lot of "crap", but we have found some really good tunes that I enjoy playing. Here’s some of my favourites:
"Why are you and your 5,599,881 parameters so hard to understand?" https://themachinefolksession.org/tune/35
"March to the Mainframe" https://themachinefolksession.org/tune/6
"1166" https://themachinefolksession.org/tune/31
"Optoly Louden" (the title is computer generated too) https://themachinefolksession.org/tune/32
"Swing Swang Swung" https://themachinefolksession.org/tune/42
"The Mal’s Copporim" (the title is computer generated too, and this tune was found by a user at thesession.org, https://thesession.org/discussions/37800/#comment769126) https://themachinefolksession.org/tune/29
"The 2714 Hornpipe" https://themachinefolksession.org/tune/36
"The Glas Herry Comment" (the title is computer generated too) https://themachinefolksession.org/tune/7 (that’s the computer generated tune in the set of three above)

For some of these tunes I have made changes (small to big). The original raw computer is always shown at the top of the page for comparison.

And true, there are so many great tunes out there, why should we build a computer to spit out millions more tunes, most of which aren’t worth learning? Well, the primary motivation of our work is to study the engineering and application of machine learning to creative activities. We aren’t trying to compose things that sound like what already exists. We are more interested in our system facilitating creativity, and making "the right kind of mistakes". For three examples of how our system was used to create totally different kind of musics than ITM, listen to Oded Ben-Tal’s "Bastard Tunes" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZ2jb0ksOm4&list=PLdTpPwVfxuXpQ03F398HH463SAE0vR2X8&index=1), my "Eight Short Outputs …" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaO4HpM07hE), and a piece composed by another computer in the style of a Bach chorale from a transcription generated by our system (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9xJl-ljOuA&list=PLdTpPwVfxuXqZZtexNmLStplglj3cbfds&index=1).


@Monty One thing I have noticed is that the tunes generated by the first version of our system are more immediately appealing to me because they have titles. The system generated the title and then composed the tune, times 60,000. Feel free to have a look through some of the 20 volumes of tunes produced by this system here: https://highnoongmt.wordpress.com/2018/01/05/volumes-1-20-of-folk-rnn-v1-transcriptions/

Here’s one from Volume 8 that I just found that I think is neat:

X:1
T: The Rellus On The Turnpipe
M: 6/8
K: Dmaj
D2 F FEF | AFA d3 | B3 AFA | BAF EAG |F2 F FEF | DFA d2 f | ge/f/g fdB |1 AFE FFD
:|2 AFE Edc ||d3 fed | afd edB | e2 d B2 A | ABc d2 e | f/e/f/g/f edB | BAF FEF |
EDE FED | EDF D3 :|

Other computer-generated titles in this volume that catch my eye here are:
Down The Butternaughter Mapals
The Catfering Maid
Lark On The Proil
The Red Haired Torpelans Of Hills Of Dormam
The Seagurnedlemund
Bonnoke’s
Mind Your Eaughe
The Norsh
Hewbay’s Dance
Lost His Wood Cointes
The Races Of Fanny
Phoran Cowaptain

…. I can go on and on because I am laughing so hard at these. 🙂

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When I listened to some of the tunes on there, I got the sense of them being strangely similar to a lot of the tunes that I have composed. The similarities are that they’re somewhat formulaic, predictable, or boring, but could certainly pass as ‘trad’ when played well by a human.

But the thing that really makes me happy in this music is the opposite of that. It’s the tunes written by the likes of Paddy O’Brien, Paddy Fahey, and Ed Reavy (among many others), which sound trad but do very un-formulaic, unpredictable things. It’s digging into tunes like that where you can really spot glimpses of genius, where the unexpected evokes some emotion and a sense of connection to the composer.

That’s not to say that a computer couldn’t compose something that would evoke an emotional response like that, but it would be more likely to be a fluke, rather than genius. And my guess is that it would have a hard time being anywhere near as consistent as some of the really good, prolific composers.

But I also would have no problem learning and playing a computer-composed tune if it was a great tune. The other part that makes it human is the playing. And having a great tune composed by a computer IS a great story to share. And there are enough of us tech types in this music that I could see the story of the process that was used to compose the tune being told with the same aplomb as stories about "Tell Her I Am", "Bank of Turf", and "An Phis Fhliuch" 😉

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Bob Sturn wrote:
"I don’t think many people want to spend time on tunes that don’t inspire them."

And to me, it doesn’t matter whether it’s "trad", recently composed by a human being, or generated by a computer. I don’t care a lot about origin/history if I don’t like the tune in the first place. I really find this project very interesting. As Reverend says above, sometimes (on a good day) the computer actually compose something which could pass as a trad tune. I don’t like everything trad, and I don’t like everything I’ve composed myself (but I guess that I did - at some point).

Some years ago, a friend mentioned a certain album with nothing but new compositions. He asked himself "I wonder how many of these tunes will ‘survive’ into next generation…" (I hadn’t heard it then - and I still haven’t.)

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Made another tune. The trick is to generate a bunch of tunes using the same starting ABC and different seeds and temperatures. Then pick the best tune and throw away the other garbage.

My most recent attempt:

X:1
T:The Silver Keyboard
S:Setting #1 of tune #147 archived at The Machine Folk Session
F://themachinefolksession.org/tune/147
M:6/8
K:Dmaj
|:FED FDD|ABA dGG|FED FDD|E2E A,DE|
FED FDD|ABA GEF|AGF GFE|FDD D3:|
|:B2c dAG|BGG BAG|AFA D2F|E2E GFE|
dcd AGA|BGG ABc|dec dBA|FDC D3:|

https://themachinefolksession.org/tune/147

I might try and make a slow tune called "MacBook Air," so THE TUNE-NAME IS MINE.

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Monty, the Silver Keyboard is an OK tune, but again, it reminds me of stuff that I have composed, and it struggles with some of the same things that I do, like making both parts sound related without too much repetition or echoing.

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@Reverend Good points. One thing a collaborator of ours mentioned that he found interesting was finding a computer generated tune that used a feature he hadn’t heard before in ITM, but wondered why not. Another collaborator mentioned that she finds things that are quirky but that actually work. Some of that discussion is here: https://www.inverse.com/article/32276-folk-music-ai-folk-rnn-musician-s-best-friend

@jeff_lindqvist The "survival" of tunes is a very interesting topic, especially when it comes to traditional music that is somewhat outside the big business of popular music. thesession.org provides a unique resource in these respects.

@Monty Well done! The method you describe is a good approach. There’s also building a tune measure by measure, like I did with "The Millennial Whoop Jig" https://highnoongmt.wordpress.com/2016/08/28/millennial-whoop-with-derp-learning/ It would be even better if we could specify the beginning measure and end measure and have it fill in the rest. Our model doesn’t allow that at the moment.

I think The Silver Keyboard is a nice creation. In the original, each section has a clear idea with downwards melodic motion. I hear a strong relationship between the two sections, primarily in how they are built from a repetation and variation of two small ideas: EDC and ECC. I like that the 2nd and 6th measures of B are variations of the 1st measure of A. The only two things I would change in the original are 1) one note in the last measure of the A part, from ECC C3 to ECB, C3; and 2) the last two notes of the 4th measure of the B part, from DB,D FED to DB,D FGA. I have added my setting as well, hope you don’t mind.

Looking forward to MacBook Air! You might have more trouble this time since I have noticed the system struggles in generating good tunes with longer notes. It seems to work best for jigs and reels… which is not surprise since most of the tunes on thesession.org are of that kind.

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Personally i dont care where a tune comes from, a good tune is a good tune. Be it Irish Scottish or from wherever.
It just so happens that the Irish and Scotts have all the best tunes 🙂
A lot of modern tunes , if they deserve that name, leave me cold, im after a good strong interesting melody.
Computer generated, maybe, but forgive me my doubts, id have to hear some. I think its not about formula, its about inagination and inspiration.

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@Will "forgive me my doubts… I think its not about formula, its about imagination and inspiration."

The default position is one of great doubt. Our system knows nothing about dancing. It’s merely a parlour trick! 🙂

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@Will Evans,
You are definitely right, the best folk tunes come from Ireland and Scotland. I tried learning some English Country Dance tunes, and I didn’t like them. Old-time is also fun, but all the tunes in that tradition are reels.

Still working on MacBook Air…