The internet is one note away from writing an entire song
Harnessing the opinions of a crowd seems like it would result in absolute chaos. However, this sort of swarm intelligence has managed to to predict the winners of the Kentucky Derby, often thought to be the holy grail of gambling. It's also been used to predict 11 out of 15 winners at the 2015 Oscars.
Now, we're on the verge of seeing what happens when this collective intelligence is harnessed for a creative cause.
Over the last year, 67,036 people from 147 countries have pooled in their aesthetic sensibilities to write a song. Now, with only one note remaining, possibly the greatest experiment in songwriting is almost at an end. And the final product seems to indicate that crowd-sourced music can actually work.
Crowdsound.net, the website serving as the medium for this experiment, introduces itself as "an experiment in crowd-sourced songwriting. A melody is currently being generated, note by note, in real-time, using the popular vote of the crowd."
The experiment is the creation of Brendon Ferris, a Dominican Republic-based programmer. Speaking to NewScientist, Ferris explained his logic: "If the crowd decides what the next note is, then there must be something there that appeals to the most people. The song should sound good to everybody."
The system is simple but smart. Ferris has already pre-determined the chord and verse structure of the song. The audience then gets to vote on each note within this structure.
Initially, each note would only be selected after a minimum of 50 votes, however, as the site exploded in popularity, the limit was increased. The last note, which is currently being voted on, already has over 18,000 votes.
Surely that many votes would result in a cacophony, right? Besides, this is the internet, where crowd opinions result in Boaty McBoatfaces. The result is actually quite the opposite.
While only a skeletal structure, meant to be embellished on by professional musicians, the melody is actually rather nice, even if it isn't exceptional. Here's a slightly jazzed up version created by one of the participants in the experiment:
While a coherent end product generated by the internet seems surprising, it really isn't when you realise that Ferris' inspiration for Crowdsound were instances of mass collaboration online like Wikipedia and Reddit.
Also read -Project Magenta: now AI is making music
Music and lyrics
With the final vote almost in place, one would imagine that the website has served its purpose. On the contrary though, it's about to enter an even more ambitious stage - crowdsourced lyrics.
With each note corresponding to a syllable, the crowd will get to vote on the lyrics to accompany the completed song. This, one imagines, is where things will get out of hand. After all, there's only so much havoc one can wreak when offered just a set of musical notes. Words, on the other hand, offer the potential for large scale disaster. Remember Microsoft's Twitter chatbot?
Ferris though has preempted this, putting in place a system to avoid it. Users will be able to select from the most popular words submitted as well as the most recent. They will also be able to add their own words. However, Ferris is relying on the crowd to monitor things so they don't get out of hand.
Users will be able to flag words deemed silly, offensive or controversial. Once a word has been flagged by multiple users, it is deleted.
Sure, given the internet's penchant for mischief, things could still go horribly south. But, considering the success the site has had in creating the music, we're allowing ourselves some hope.