Coronavirus: What is the sound of music during a pandemic?

Coronavirus: What is the sound of music during a pandemic?

Grid with different musicians performing

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Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra

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Musicians stuck at home can still play together, like these from the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra

Lockdown saw opera singers tearing arias from their balconies and families recreating entire musicals in their living rooms.

Pop stars like Chris Martin and Gary Barlow staged intimate jamming sessions while Radiohead streamed one of his concerts for free every week until the block ended.

The music didn’t stop but it’s a little more difficult to do it.

The rest of the population may turn to video conferencing apps, such as Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts, but these don’t work well enough for music.

“They over-compress the music and the resulting sound is pretty horrible,” says Paul Reynolds, whose firm MassiveMusic makes soundtracks for commercials.

But music software combined with decent Internet means that home studio can be as good as a professional one, he says.

“The times when you needed a £ 500,000 investment to create a recording studio are long gone.

“A lot can be done with a very simple and relatively inexpensive setup.

“Data transfer speed was the biggest problem in collaboration and live performance. As the bandwidth improves, higher quality audio can be transferred at a much faster rate, which means fewer problems with latency. “

While the brands he works for are more used to flying to exotic places to advertise, they now have to rely on music to tell the story.

“Music and sound can take you to a beach in South America, to the Alps, to a party in New Delhi or to a small quiet house in Yorkshire,” said Reynolds.

He acknowledges that there must be an element of “getting by and repairing” the way musicians work.

“If a musician doesn’t have a bass, he can call a colleague who does it. They can exchange tracks and samples, establish parts, someone else can create a rhythm and another person can sing.”

The Philharmonic Orchestra of Rotterdam responded to the blockade with a series of virtual concerts.

The first of these – a performance of Beethoven’s ninth symphony – looks and sounds incredibly simple but in fact required “many, many hours of video editing”, the BBC was told.

The musicians recorded their part of the piece with their phones or webcams and then the recordings were joined using advanced video software.

Arjen Leendertz, who plays the double bass, said that the song “represents connection, fraternization and solidarity”.

“For me, this is really what we need to focus on together now,” he said.

Such intimate concerts could attract new fans, Reynolds thinks.

“Imagine being at home learning a first grade cello and suddenly you can see a cellist perform in front of you, like being in the orchestra in a way you’ve never been able to before.”

And there are many other instruments, such as NinJam, which allow players to continue playing together and synchronize the results.

Mechanical music

For Eurovision fans, the cancellation of the competition, which sees countries try to avoid getting “zero points”, will be a serious blow.

Dutch public broadcaster VPRO had already had the idea of ​​using artificial intelligence to help create the next success for the Netherlands and now competition has been open to others.

About 13 teams from Europe and Australia are competing, each with the task of creating a three-minute pop song with the help of AI.

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Uncanny Valley

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Eurovision turned to artificial intelligence because real musicians are excluded from the current coronavirus blocks

The Australian team – called Uncanny Valley – has already made their song: Beautiful the World.

He used a machine learning process called DDSP (differentiable digital signal processing) to blend audio samples of animals including koalas, kookaburras and Tasmanian devils.

The result, which can be heard on YouTube, is a highly synthesized track reminiscent of the musical creations fueled by the drugs of the 60s. And the rather random texts seem to be the ones that only an artificial intelligence program could have produced.

Created in association with the Google laboratory in Sydney, the song is a collaboration between music producers, data scientists and academics and is inspired by the forest fires that hit the country.

“It is deeply interesting to watch an algorithm discover patterns that underlie music,” wrote the team.

Meanwhile, the French team Algomus is confident that the occasional listener “will not notice that the song was created with AI”.

The five-member team, made up of music students from the universities of Lille and Amiens, wanted to maintain cooperation between humans and artificial intelligence.

“Creativity requires a careful balance between all the elements to evoke an emotion,” wrote the team.

For the lyrics, he chose the most common pairs of words in previous Eurovision songs, such as “my heart” and “the sun” and used them as the basis for AI to create the lyrics. The team described the results as “a good balance between grammatically correct sentences and space for poetic interpretation”.

He opted for the text to be sung by a real person combined with artificial intelligence.

The public vote is open until 10 May and the winner will be announced two days later.

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MassiveMusic

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Paul Reynolds (top right) of MassiveMusic works remotely with composers and producers

For both established artists and those who tinker with music, the blockade could create a new genre of music based on more “homemade” sound, “thinks Reynolds.

Although not everyone has found fertile ground for the creativity of current circumstances, with Noel Gallagher recently telling the RadioX podcast that he was tired of writing songs while stuck at home.

And for less successful musicians, the blockade is not only boring, it also has a devastating impact on their finances.

During a virtual meeting with Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, DCMS MPs invited him to review the money available to musicians from the stream – the only income for many at the time of the blockade.

According to an MP, it would take more than 7000 songs streamed to earn a musician with a salary of just one hour on the minimum wage.

Bulk-created charity singles top the charts, with both NHS Captain Tom Moore’s fundraiser and BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge single for Children in Need and Comic Relief riding high.

Prove that, even in the most difficult circumstances, music will continue.

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