Berke Breathed, the creator of the famous Bloom County, Opus and Outland comic strips, started publishing Bloom County strips again in 2015 on Facebook, to the mad delight of his masses of fans, including me. Why, after an absence of more than twenty years? Because he could do so without any editorial interference, and because it brings him joy. Joy. Just that. He recalls that he was drawing his first new image of “Opus” and suddenly found himself laughing out loud at his own cartoon. He was enjoying himself! Isn’t that marvellous? Life these days is so somber that it is a wonder when you can find something to do which brings you genuine joy. Just happiness, all by yourself, on your little ownsome, while doing no harm to others.
Lookin’ for that happy buzz
I realized last night that I missed making new music. I’ve been dealing with business stuff and I missed that feeling of joy I get when I listen to something that I’ve finished working on, and I realize that I like it! It tickles me pink! I feel warm and fuzzy and terribly pleased with myself! And I sometimes do a little jive around the room.
Not having felt like this for quite a while, I sat down and produced a new song called “Hirajōshi and Sky”, and after that made a music video of it. It was made with Artificial Intelligence systems. Yes. Well, AI and Logic Pro and my own tickling of the ivories. How does that work? Read on after the video.
How I wrote the track
This piece is built around two unique (in the truest sense) recordings, made on Google Magenta’s DDSP library (Differentiable Digital Signal Processing) platform, called Paint with Music. The platform allows you to convert the movement of online brush strokes on a canvas (in other words, a drawing that you make), into musical notes using the platform’s AI and machine learning.
When I discovered Magenta, it seemed to me to be the solution to my problem of wanting to represent my paintings in music, to blend the two senses. After many unsuccessful attempts to layer a melody over a static painting, and to try to match the expression in the painting with a melody, I tried Magenta. It resulted in interesting-sounding recordings around which I built this composition.
Bear in mind that each of these “melodies” are only a second or two long, and had to be looped and extended to have substance. They are unique because that moment, my hand movements, and the melody I painted into being, can never be replicated.
“Sky” and “Hirajōshi”
The first melody that I used in the composition – “Sky Melody” – is in Heptatonic scale. It contains bird-like stabs of sound. The brush strokes move on the canvas in time to the music.
The second melody – “Hirajōshi Melody” – is in the Japanese Hirajōshi scale, created by Yatsuhashi Kengyō. The scale was adapted from shamisen music and originally used for tuning the koto instrument. The notes of the chord are A♭; G; E ♭; D and C.
So what you are hearing in the soundtrack of the video is literally my hand drawing pictures with a virtual brush.
The resulting recordings had to be adjusted to fit the tempo and key of the composition, and was blended into about 13 other instruments and beats, with the piano score acting as harmony as well as counterpoint to the AI melodies. The video uses the original recordings made on the Magenta platform, plus royalty-free clips of a dancer made by Polina Tankilevitch, and published on Pexels.com.
The result for me? Joy! Isn’t technology wonderful?