ISU professor creates AI — named Pop* — able to compose music


ISU CS professor Dr. Paul Bodily

Dr. Paul Bodily performs a song written by Pop*, an artificial intelligence system Bodily created. | Courtesy Idaho State University

POCATELLO — A computer scientist from Idaho State University has created an artificial intelligence system able to compose music.

Pop* — pronounced Pop Star — is the brainchild of Paul Bodily, an assistant professor of computer science at ISU, seven years in the making.

Music composition and creation of meaningful musical pattern formations were are things difficult to understand for a computer. The problem, Bodily says, was called “long-range dependency,” according to a news release from ISU.

“Basically, it’s really hard for AI to generate sequences of elements — like music or language — where what elements are chosen in one part of the sequence depend on what elements are chosen in a completely different part of the sequence,” Bodily says in the release.

Computers have long been able to string together notes or lyrics. But Pop* is able to create motifs.

Bodily used popular nursery rhyme-type songs, like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and pop classics like John Lennon’s “Imagine,” to teach Pop* an understanding of chords, pitches, rhythms and lyrics.

“One of the first compositions Pop* generated was this really somber, pensive song with the lyrics that went, ‘And I think I am just a lie,’” Bodily said. “I was floored by how much it moved me. We humans all deal with feelings of inadequacy at times, but beyond that, here is an AI system that seems to be questioning its own validity and doing so in an artistic, creative way.”

Pop* will entered into the AI Song Contest 2022 — a battle-of-the-bands-type competition, according to the release.

As Bodily continues his work with Pop*, he will look toward using the system for therapeutic purposes. His research will be geared toward the pairing of adaptive AI like Pop* with people, and how that infuses the human creative process to help the person through difficult times.

“My vision is to integrate Pop* into a mobile app in which the user is prompted for thoughts or feelings, and then Pop* and the user work together to create a meaningful musical expression of or reaction to those ideas,” Bodily says. “The system could be designed to help the user share these creations or find other like-minded creators with whom they could connect. My hypothesis is that a tool like that could be quite powerful in helping people address various mental health challenges.”

A selection of Pop*’s music is available for listening here.

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