I used to play in a woodwind quintet in college, and it was a lot of fun. Sometimes a professor would sit in if someone wasn’t available, and we could really get cooking then. My instrument was the clarinet at the time. I wrote some music for the group, but it wasn’t very good. Some of the ugliest music I’d ever heard. It made sense on paper, but when it was played, you could tell that that was the first time it had actually been heard. That’s one reason I really like playing with samples and a laptop. I can instantly hear how terrible my music is sounding at the time I think of it.
Today’s music started out as a MIDI file of the Star Spangled Banner, scored for four voices. The music for what is now the U.S. national anthem was written by John Stafford Smith, who wrote it for a musical social group of which he was a member. Later, the brother-in-law of Francis Scott Key mentioned that the poem Scott had just finished, originally titled “Defence of Fort M’Henry”, matched the rhythm of the Smith tune. Amateur musician meet amateur poet, and the rest is history. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is very challenging to sing, but that hasn’t stopped many people from making the effort regardless of the challenge.
I pulled a MIDI file of the song, and quickly discovered that it was written in 3:4 time. All the inputs to the deep neural network Coconet must be in 4:4 time, and 32 1/16th notes long. So I set about to double the duration of the first beat of each measure. There’s some precedent for this. Whitney Houston performed it in 4:4 at the 1968 Super Bowl. It’s charming, in a very relaxed way. I had to do this to continue my technique of feeding existing music into Coconet, and then having the deep learning model generate its own harmonizations.
After obtaining around 100 synthetic Banners, I then selected a few to go through an algorithm that extends the durations of time steps that include notes not in the root key of the song. This process stretches out the interesting parts and rushes through to conventional cadences. Unless they cadence in a chord whose notes are not in the key of C major. All these alterations create something quite unlike the original tune.
I scored it for nine instruments: flute, oboe, clarinet, french horn, bassoon, piccolo, english horn, Bach trumpet, and contra bassoon.