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Is It a Computer or Is It Bach? Program Fools Even Music Experts

A Yale computer scientist has developed a program that creates music close enough to Bach's that people have trouble telling the two apart.
Yale University / YouTube

A Yale computer scientist has developed a program that can create pieces of music close enough to baroque master Johann Sebastian Bach's work that people have trouble telling the two apart. "Kulitta," as creator Donya Quick calls it, learns from music provided for it to analyze, and creates new pieces on demand in a matter of seconds.

The resulting music is very similar to Bach's, but completely original — even experts were occasionally fooled, and in tests, over 100 students judged the pieces to be the work of a human.

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Kulitta knows the ins and outs of every one of Bach's famous chorales, and applies the rules that govern that music to make new pieces. "You begin with an unlimited palette, and then apply different rules and decision-making strategies to filter it all down," explained Quick in a news release. "For something that would take at least a day for a human, Kulitta can do it in a few seconds or less."

That doesn't mean composers are doomed. Kulitta can only imitate what it already understands, and of course it doesn't really know a "good" piece from a "bad" one — but Quick thinks it could be just "another tool in the toolbox" for musicians. A Kulitta-generated piece might jolt a songwriter out of a rut, providing an endless source of ideas and inspiration.

Quick is experimenting with combining genres — adding jazz bits to classical, for instance — and her next big goal is to mash up Metallica with Mozart. "I'd like Kulitta to do a rock symphony," she said. "That's my pie-in-the-sky."