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Tired of Playing Solo? There’s an App for That

D-briefBy Bill AndrewsMay 7, 2014 11:29 PM


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From aspiring classical pianists to garage band enthusiasts, most musicians know the pain of wanting to play a great piece, but not having the necessary backup. Well, now that we live in the future, these sad soloists need be solo no more: a new computer program can listen to their performance and tailor a full symphony orchestra performance around it.

Not Classical Karaoke

The system, known as the Informatics Philharmonic, is the brainchild of Indiana University computer scientist — and former professional oboist — Christopher Raphael. Simply put, the system listens to a soloist perform a specific work, and adapts the playback of a prerecorded orchestra to match the soloist's timing. More complicatedly put, the system uses a Bayesian Belief Network, which Raphael explains in a press release is “a simple model for musical timing that understands the nominal note values from the score and what they imply about duration, and the way tempo changes fluidly in a performance.” The program specifically uses a hidden Markov model (also used in speech-recognition software) to understand and react to the soloist’s interpretation, as a living orchestra would listen and adapt to the performance in real time. And Raphael convincingly makes the case in a video, below, that the digital orchestra really is following the soloist, and not the other way around, by switching wildly tempos and deviating from the written notes.

Solo No More

Raphael presented the system as part of the 167th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America this week, and you can try it for yourself, too. Right now it looks like only classical musicians can use the program, but it should in theory work for any genre of music and singers as well. So if even if you don't have anyone to play with, soon you might have a new way to bust out those amazing, and well-backed, solos. Image by Konstantin Sutyagin / Ramona Kaulitzki / Shutterstock

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