DarwinTunes Makes Computer Generated Music with EvolutionEvolution has given us all the variety of life on the planet. Yet culture is usually seen as being distinct. A group of scientists from Imperial College London take issue with that, and set out to show that culture, like life, comes about from evolution. Their medium of choice? Music.
The process works like this: start out with a basic algorithm that generates random waveforms. There aren't any precoded instruments at all, or any rules to describe music. Have the computer generate random loops of sound from this algorithm. Now play the music to a bunch of people and have them rate each loop.
Weed out the loops that people didn't like; no one wants to listen to them, and that is the metric by which music is judged. Take the different traits of two successful tracks and breed them together to create a new algorithm to generate loops by. Now run that algorithm for a while, with random mutations throughout its equation, to create a bunch of new loops. Repeat this process many, many times.
The results of this experiment were fascinating: despite starting out with sound that was distinctly unmusical, the loops quickly mutated into sounds that don't make your ears bleed. After 150 generations much of the roughness had left the loops, though the sounds were still hardly musical and very simple. 500 iterations saw the tracks still being simple, but finally beginning to resemble music.
There is rhythm and even a bit of syncopation. 1,000 iterations saw the loops begin to incorporate some complex sounds and interwoven melodies. By 2,000 the sounds were clearly music to our ears, and there are even sounds which are downright pleasing to listen to. The most recent generation is 3,630, and it it is quite amazing that it was created by an evolutionary process. You will notice, for example, that there is the sound of a kick drum beating out a bass drumline. That wasn't coded into the algorithm.
While I won't speak for the team on what this shows about culture, I will say that this is a cool application of technology that could have a major impact on the future. Programmatically creating music will be one of the next big things, I think, with music becoming completely tailored to each person.
Listen to the different generations of music, from the rough origin to the most recent product, below.