While Google has imagined how machines might dream, media artist and multi-disciplinary technologist Martin Backes has revealed how they sing.
And not just bad karaoke, either. Following in the footsteps of a legacy of machine vocals that originates with Max Mathews’ Daisy Bell, a computer rendition so ground-breaking it was featured in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, Mr. Backes has gone one step further. He wanted to produce an algorithm that would make a computer seem to emote. Grab a mic, and this is a sound art installation. A installation in my heart that is.
And… aw… I said I wouldn’t cry, damnit!
Okay, in case you’re wondering, the software behind the scenes is SuperCollider, the free and open-source multi-platform sound toolkit. And Backes cleverly hauls the machine out of the uncanny valley, but approximating the songs in an almost cartoonish, muffled machine voice. It’s the imperfections that make it work, in other words, steering clear of being too human. (See also Chipspeech, earlier this year, proving that sometimes the earlier, “flawed” synthesis algorithms are actually more desirable than more modern ones.)
„What do machines sing of?“ is a fully automated machine, which endlessly sings number-one ballads from the 1990s. As the computer program performs these emotionally loaded songs, it attempts to apply the appropriate human sentiments. This behavior of the device seems to reflect a desire, on the part of the machine, to become sophisticated enough to have its very own personality.
What do machines sing of? (90s Version)
Size: 170 x 55 x 45 cm
Material: metal stand, mic stand, mic, cable, 2 screens, computer, custom-made computer program
List of songs which are included and performed by the computer program:
Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You
R. Kelly – I Believe I Can Fly
Toni Braxton – Un-Break My Heart
Bryan Adams – Everything I Do, I Do It For You
Celine Dion – My Heart Will Go On
Buy your special someone an SSD this year. Clean that display, tenderly. Order that AppleCare extended warranty. Because your computer will, truly, always love you.