Artificial Intelligence Meets Christmas Spirit

Artificial Intelligence Meets Christmas Spirit

Everyone knows what makes a great Christmas song. You need a catchy tune, sleigh bells and maybe even a choir. But if machines were to write music, how different would our favourite Christmas carols sound?

Thomas Holm, a contestant on Norway’s popular musical talent show “The Voice”, grew up listening to the festive sounds of traditional Christmas carols and Nat King Cole. But this year, he’ll be singing a different tune. Alongside the Christmas classics ‘Winter Wonderland’ and ‘White Christmas’, Thomas will be performing a carol written using Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence technology.

thomas-holm-in-studio-1

Christmas has always been important to Thomas. Every year he spends the holidays working as a nurse at a state-run shelter, together with his family, and playing Christmas concerts across Oslo. This year will be no exception.

Thomas’ collaboration with Microsoft started earlier in 2016, when the Microsoft Norway team heard him perform at a local jazz club.  The team were working with Capgemini Norway on an Artificial Intelligence project with a festive twist: a brand-new Christmas carol written by a computer. But they needed Thomas’ musical talent to take their song to the next level.

The new song, ‘Joyful Time in The City’, was created in two short weeks by Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence technology. The melody and lyrics were formed through detailed analysis of over 50 classic Christmas carols, which the computer used to construct its interpretation of what makes a great carol. Machine Learning tools identified patterns in the tunes and used those to predict what should come next. The final result is a heart-warming mix of Christmas carols from decades past and popular songs from the present day.

The capacity of machines to process large quantities of data and recognize patterns far surpasses that of humans. But this wasn’t enough to create a catchy Christmas song. With only fragments of melodies and lyrics, the song still needed an artist’s touch to reach its full potential.

surface-pro-4-used-in-studio

When Microsoft approached him to take part in the project, Thomas jumped at the chance. It was a great opportunity to experiment with the creative potential of new technology. “Technology has always inspired artists to push boundaries,” Thomas said. “But this time the machine had to come up with the music itself.”

Together with Turbonegro drummer, Tommy “Manboy” Akerholdt, Thomas worked to refine the lyrics produced by Artificial Intelligence, creating a new song that conveyed the magic of Christmas.

tommy-akerholdt-interview

As Thomas’ involvement shows, the role for Artificial Intelligence in music is firmly in collaboration with people. “I’m not afraid that AI will take over music,” Thomas said. “It could be a great band member though!”

In the future, Artificial Intelligence may be able to create songs from start to finish. As we enter a new year and a new chapter in the history of man with machine, Thomas believes this will be embraced by the music industry. “Only a few things are sacred in music,” Thomas said. “You can’t think about it in a traditional way, and we should always move forward and make the most of the creativity these new technologies can offer.”

Check out ‘Joyful Time in the City’ here!

Joyful time in the city

Text and melody from Artificial Intelligence

Joyful time in the city

With a frosty go glistening

In the single beginning

Here comes Santa Claus

 Underneath the angel dreams

We smiled at the villages in our hearts

 So we smile in our old ways

Joyful time in the city

 Silver bells in the blind-greasy

Players of your sinners say

They bend for the God born king

Bye bye lullaby

 Underneath the angel dreams

So we smile…

Soon it will be once upon a time

I used to be looking your way

And so we smile in our old ways

Joyful time in the city