The Marimba Robot That Composes and Plays Its Own Music


At the Georgia’s Institute of Technology, Shimon plays some marimba jams. Shimon is also not human, but a robot using deep learning and artificial intelligence to play music of its own creation. Being fed a variety of over 5,000 songs from Beethoven to Lady Gaga along with a library of 2 million motifs and riffs, Shimon is one of the world’s first synthetic musicians.

Mason Bretan, a Ph.D. student and Georgia Tech, perfected Shimon’s musical abilities after seven years, enabling him to comprehend music played by humans and extemporize over the pre-composed chord progressions.

“An artist has a bigger idea of what he or she is trying to achieve within the next few measures or later in the piece,” Bretan says in an interview. “Shimon is now coming up with higher-level musical semantics. Rather than thinking note by note, it has a larger idea of what it wants to play as a whole.”

As long as researchers continue to feed Shimon different source material, the music-creating robot will produce a different sequence that can’t be predicted by researchers. And the robot definitely has a style. A musician himself, Bretan says Shimon is a fusion of jazz and classical.

While Bretan fine-tuned Shimon’s musical brain, Gil Weinberg, Bretan’s advisor as well as a director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Music Technology, is Shimon’s original creator. Weinberg created Shimon to explore if robots could generate music that humans would find beautiful.

Shimon is only one of many robotic creations to come out of Weinberg’s lab, which have created robotic prosthesis for a drummer, a robotic third arm for drummers, and more other music-assisting robots.

If Bretan and Weinberg have anything to do with it, creating music may soon no longer be a human-exclusive talent.

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