The Titles of These AI-Generated Christmas Carols Are Pure Cinnamon Hollybells

Author : ArronReed
Publish Date : 2021-03-25


The Titles of These AI-Generated Christmas Carols Are Pure Cinnamon Hollybells

When it comes to the visual arts, artificial intelligence has become quite good at producing strange, interesting and aesthetically pleasing images and videos. In fact, one AI-generated piece sold for $430,000 earlier this year. AI-generated music, however, hasn’t evolved quite as quickly. It’s certainly got the strange element down, but not much else. That’s evident in a batch of AI-generated Christmas tunes released by Swedish artificial intelligence company Made by AI.

As Amanda Kooser at CNET reports, the company fed 100 Christmas songs into a neural network, then waited for the bells to start ringing. While the resulting tunes are kind of a jingly mess, the titles are genius. The five songs-slash-fairy names are: “Syllabub Chocolatebells,” “Cinnamon Hollybells,” “Peaches Twinkleleaves,” “Cocoa Jollyfluff” and “Merry Jinglelog.” The music probably won’t be on heavy rotation. The songs are curiously fast-paced, relying heavily on synth piano and bell tones that start to make the tracks sound like music from The Exorcist. A few of the compositions like “Cocoa Jollyfluff,” which has a long section that appears to be sampled from “Carol of the Bells,” show their roots. They also lack lyrics, which would have been added if the company didn’t run out of time.

Overall, it’s a good effort and much less creepy than 2016’s AI-generated Christmas carol in which the neural network obsesses over flowers and—lest we forget—appears, ever-so-briefly, to become slightly self-aware (“I can hear the music coming from the hall,” anyone?).

Why has AI-generated art advanced so much while AI-generated music is mired in Creepytown? That’s the question Kaleigh Rogers at Motherboard posed to Hang Chu, the University of Toronto doctoral student who was one of the people behind the 2016 AI-generated carol. “Composing good music is actually more complicated than we expected,” he says. “Music is not something where if you throw enough data at it and hope the algorithm can figure it out, it will work.”

Datawise, art is relatively easy for an AI to learn since huge swathes are similar—for instance there may be hundreds of images of the human face in all sorts of styles, but they are still recognizably a face. With music, each individual song has so much more variability when it comes to instrumentation, melody, tempo, timing and harmony. It’s difficult to find commonalities between songs, much less identify what makes music a “Christmas song” (just try to find a common thread between “Silent Night” and “Disco Christmas” to understand what the AI is dealing with here).

John Smith, a fellow at IBM’s AI research center, tells Rogers of Motherboard that AI that just does one element of music at a time—like developing a melody—finds better success than one creating music from the ground up. It seems, at least for the time being, the creative element of the human mind can’t be replaced when it comes to generating some music magic. “The computer can start to do more and more of the groundwork and prep work and even suggest different ideas,” he says. “But that leap of creative thought, that spark of imagination, still has to come from a human.”

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However, we may need AI to step in eventually if we want any new Christmas classics. Chris Lockery at Prospect argues that humans are just not writing the kinds of catchy Christmas tunes that are sung through the generations anymore, despite attempts from artists across the spectrum. Songwriters for a couple generations now have been writing sadder, slower, minor-scale music, which is the opposite of the major-scale, bell-based, swinging holiday music that’s binged in December. Then again, has Lockery just not been listening to Ariana Grande?

SMARTNEWS Keeping you current
It’s the Bicentennial of ‘Silent Night’
The classic Christmas tune was first composed as a poem, and it was set to music for the first time in the winter of 1818
Silent Night chapel
View of the Silent Night Chapel (Westend61 GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo)
By Jason Daley
SMITHSONIANMAG.COM
DECEMBER 17, 2018
“Silent Night” is such an iconic Christmas song that it’s hard to imagine it’s not some ancient folk tune that wafted out of the mist one wintery night. But the song did not spring from some holly- and ivy-lined fairy glade, instead the origin of the peaceful song comes 200 years ago during a turbulent time in Europe.

The continent was reeling in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars. Financial scarcity and insecurity abounded, further stoked by fires, floods and famine. But the conflict was, at least, finally over. In 1816, Josef Mohr, a Catholic priest from Oberndorf bei Salzburg, which had just come under Austrian rule, wrote a poem called “Stille Nacht" to commemorate the coming of peace. Then, he put the poem aside for two years.


He returned to the poem in the winter of 1818, according to CNN's John Malathronas, when the river Salzbach flooded into Mohr's parish church of Saint Nicholas. So the congregation could have music on Christmas Eve, Mohr asked school teacher and church organist Franz Xaver Gruber from the neighboring village of Arndorf to set his poem to music to be sung by two voices and a guitar. Gruber wrote the arrangement in an afternoon.

Because guitar was not an instrument approved by the Church, the duo waited until the conclusion of Christmas Eve mass before debuting the song. Mohr sang tenor and strummed the guitar while Gruber sang bass, with the congregation coming in on the chorus.

The song might have remained a one-night wonder, but when the organ repairman Karl Mauracher arrived, he heard the song and took the sheet music home with him to Tyrol, an area known for its choirs. The choirs began singing the tune, and eventually it was translated and spread around Europe. In 1839, it came to the United States when the Rainer Family Singers—think of The Sound of Music but more Dickensian—toured the New World.

According to Edward W. Schmidt at America magazine, by the 1850s, the carol was so popular and important that the Royal Hofkapelle (court orchestra) in Berlin wanted to trace its origins. The theory was that it may have been composed by Johann Haydn, the brother of well-known composer Joseph Haydn. Eventually, the inquiry made it back to Gruber, who wrote a brief history of the tune called “Authentic Origination of the Composition of the Christmas Carol ‘Silent Night.’”


The story doesn't end there. In 1912, according to the Austrian National Tourism Office, sculptor Joseph Mühlbacher wanted to create a memorial to the song’s originators. Though paintings of Gruber were made during his lifetime, Mohr always resisted having an image made. So Mühlbacher set about locating Mohr’s grave—yes, his grave—in the town of Wagrain, which was his last posting as a priest. He proceeded to dig up Mohr’s skull, using his remains to inform his sculpture of the two men. For several years, the skull remained in storage. When a chapel named after the song was constructed on the site of St. Nicholas church in the 1920s, Mohr's skull was embedded in the wall, where it remains today. Mühlbacher's sculpture of the two men, meanwhile, stands outside the Silent Night Chapel.

To celebrate the song's bicentennial, the Salzburg Museum is currently presenting an exhibit on its 200 year legacy, which will also be officially marked at 13 Silent Night locations around Salzburg, Upper Austria and Tirol.



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