Imagine whistling your favorite song. You might not sound like the real deal, right? Now imagine your rendition using auto-tune software. Better, sure, but the result is still your voice. What if there was a way to turn your voice into something like a violin, or a saxophone, or a flute?
Google Research’s Magenta team, which has been focused on the intersection of machine learning and creative tools for musicians, has been experimenting with exactly this. The team recently created an open source technology called Differentiable Digital Signal Processing (DDSP). DDSP is a new approach to machine learning that enables models to learn the characteristics of a musical instrument and map them to a different sound. The process can lead to so many creative, quirky results. Try replacing a capella singing with a saxophone solo, or a dog barking with a trumpet performance. The options are endless.
And so are the sounds you can make. This development is important because it enables music technologies to become more inclusive. Machine learning models inherit biases from the datasets they are trained on, and music models are no different. Many are trained on the structure of western musical scores, which excludes much of the music from the rest of the world. Rather than following the formal rules of western music, like the 12 notes on a piano, DDSP transforms sound by modeling frequencies in the audio itself. This opens up machine learning technologies to a wider range of musical cultures.
In fact, anyone can give it a try. We created a tool called Tone Transfer to allow musicians and amateurs alike to tap into DDSP as a delightful creative tool. Play with the Tone Transfer showcase to sample sounds, or record your own, and listen to how they can be transformed into a myriad of instruments using DDSP technology. Check out our film that shows artists using Tone Transfer for the first time.
DDSP does not create music on its own; think of it like another instrument that requires skill and thought. It’s an experimental soundscape environment for music, and we’re so excited to see how the world uses it.