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Score! Software Writes Music Based on Book's Content

A New York artist has created a system that composes a custom soundtrack for stories based on the emotions it detects within them.
Image: A woman lies in the grass reading a book and listening to music
A woman lies in the grass reading a book and listening to music.Carlo Allegri / REUTERS

If you can never find the perfect music to accompany your reading, perhaps that's because the music wasn't specifically written for that book. A new system does just that — but there's a long way to go before every story has its own soundtrack.

TransProse is a project from programmer and artist Hannah Davis, who presented the idea for her master's thesis at NYU. You put a story or book in one end, and out the other comes a bit of piano music ostensibly made to reflect the tone and emotions of the plot and characters within.

A woman lies in the grass reading a book and listening to music.Carlo Allegri / REUTERS

The system utilizes a technique by collaborator Saif Mohammad, a research officer at Canada's National Research Council. His work links certain words and phrases with emotions. Armed with such a list, a computer can breeze through the text and get a general idea of its emotional trajectory: "Romeo and Juliet" might start pleasant and grow grim, while "Much Ado About Nothing" stays light and airy for its duration.

Telling a story with music, even without words, is one of the oldest traditions. Ancient poets sang their epics, and classical composers like Stravinsky and Strauss strove to infuse their works with narratives.

Don't expect any detailed symphonies from TransProse just yet, though; right now, the ability of the software system to compose music is fairly limited, and it produces spare piano melodies that wander through various keys over the course of a minute or so. You can listen to a few examples at the TransProse page.

It's still a very early prototype, but the idea is exciting. Why not have a dynamic soundtrack for your book, every chapter a new piece? Or let you preview the emotions of a plot via carefully engineered chord progression? Mixing text with music is an old art, but it may soon also be a new science.

[via TechHive]