Wed 12 Mar 2008
Microsoft, in their desperation to get the drop on Apple’s ability to spin gold out of new gadgetry innovation, are frantically searching for something, anything, in an effort to increase their cool factor. They are not good at this. Maybe you remember Zune? Or The Surface? Well, Zune was just a case of imitation I guess, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that no-one aside from Tom Cruise is going think that a table is a better interface for a computer than it is a thing to stop your coffee falling on the floor.
Mr Gates’ wizards’ latest Next Big Thing is called MySong*
Here, let the Ian Simon, Dan Morris and Sumit Basu, the brains behind MySong at their lab at Microsoft Research, tell you all about it:
MySong automatically chooses chords to accompany a vocal melody, allowing a user with no musical training to rapidly create accompanied music. MySong is a creative tool for folks who like to sing but would never get a chance to experiment with creating real original music.
OK, so that’s a big ask: you sing, MySong plays along. If someone told me that some software dudes had accomplished that feat, I’d be mighty impressed. But, you guessed it – in the manner of most things Microsoft, it kinda sorta of works. Only kinda sorta. That might be sufferable† when it’s software that deals with word-processing or spreadsheets or operating systems, but when it comes to music, ‘kinda-sorta’ is nothing short of disastrous.
Check out this video tour of the features of MySong, including someone using it to make an accompaniment for her rendition of The Way You Look Tonight.
Old Blue Eyes she ain’t. And that’s part of the reason that MySong is destined to be a Surface-class turkey. The inventors of MySong continue with their spruik:
Come on, you know who you are… you sing in the car, or in the shower, or you go to karaoke clubs, or you just once in a while find yourself singing along with catchy commercial jingles.
Yes. Apparently, this invention is being pitched at people who can’t sing, and who, very sensibly, restrict their efforts to places where no-one else can hear them. In the YouTube example above, the woman crooner dishes out an out-of-tune vocal line, and MySong responds by providing a suitably toneless accompaniment. Perfect! But what the hell are you going to do with that??? My brain just makes little fizzing noises when I try to work out whether the Microsoft thinktank has actually thought this one through.
Let’s just do a bit of psychological reverse engineering. If someone is an average-to-bad singer, what’s the thing that they’d really like to see in a piece of software of this kind? I’d guess it’d be something that made them sound like Frank, or Dean, or Celine, or Aretha or maybe even Elvis, swinging onstage to the beat of a thirty-piece Big Band – something they could play around to their friends and say ‘Hey, this is me! I could be doing Vegas!’
Instead, with MySong they end up with a terrible recording of their out-of-tune moaning backed with clunky tuneless noodling on synthetic instruments that they would only dare play in the shower or in the car. Sum advance: zero.‡ Or possibly negative, if you factor in psychological damage.
True enough, it’s only early days for MySong, and maybe it might turn into something one day. But hey Bill, here’s a tip: when your boffins come to you with this kind of project, you ask them if it’s Vegas-worthy. If they say no, send ‘em back to their cubicle. For God’s sake don’t let them go public with it!
Persevere through the YouTube vid if you can, faithful Acowlytes. It has some real clunkers. For example, here’s a screen shot of some of the controls you can set on MySong:
Man oh man. In a Microsoft Music World there’d be a button for everything. Happy, jazzy, jivey, jolly! No thinking required!
But here’s a how it should really be:
I’m sure the technical feat that Messrs Simon, Morris & Basu have accomplished is of some magnitude, but all their toil amounts to further fuel for the fire of what I shall now call The Reverend’s Rule: Just because you can get a computer to do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should.
ADDENDUM: In a curious piece of synchronicity, the dudes at Celemony, the genii behind the awesome pitch tracking/correction software Melodyne, have announced their new software Direct Note Access. To explain briefly: Melodyne allowed you to take a musical recording of a single monophonic instrument – a violin, or a trumpet, or a voice, for instance – and gain control over every note, so that you could pitch correct errors, or even create harmony melodies by arranging the first recording as a second part. Now, DNA allows you to do the same thing with polyphonic recordings. That is, you can take a recording of a guitar strumming chords, and then unravel the recording to gain control over each individual note of the chord. It is nothing short of astonishing. Check it out.
*Apple’s insistence on calling all its products “i” something is irritating enough, but Microsoft’s ‘My’ prefix is so pathetic as to be almost a cry for help. I wonder what Freud would make about this all blatant ego-technocentricity? Aside from anything else, aren’t they just plain embarrassed to be so obviously unoriginal?
†Although, quite honestly, I really don’t know how anyone can put up with the clunky retarded piece of techno-obfuscation that is Windows. Having to recently field a number of Windows ‘issues’ for Violet Towne, I am completely convinced that the only reason it exists is some kind of plot to keep IT nerds employed.
‡Well, zero for punter, $$$ for Microsoft. Hmmm. I guess that wouldn’t be the first time they’ve palmed off something of useless utility onto someone who didn’t actually want it.