One of the more exciting developments for me personally as a composer is not so much the deep learning systems as an expert system called the Orb Composer. Developed in France by Richard Portelli, the system is like an orchestrator in a box, and a bit more.

Richard fell in love with classical music when he was 18. Captivated by the richness of the music he set about studying scores while listening to the music on CDs. He analyzed the musical forms, deconstructing the compositions to learn about the structure and the language of the master composers—a pastime not unfamiliar to me as a budding young composer spending countless hours in the Queensland Conservatorium’s library poring over musical scores to learn the language of emotion.

Richard had a day job as an IT developer and in 2015, combining his passion for music composition and technology, he founded his company Hexachords to experiment on AI-based music composition. His desire was to give everyone the opportunity to compose music from their creative ideas or emotions, without having to learn the complex and often technical knowledge of a composer and orchestrator.

Orb Composer, which is to be released early 2018, is a system that can, like many AI music systems, produce a length of music with a specified genre, intensity, length, and so forth. But where Orb Composer departs from the other tools is its ability to be the composer’s best and most flexible friend. The graphical user interface (GUI) looks rather like a digital audio workstation (DAW)—like Logic Pro X or Pro Tools—and offers a multitude of options.

To start a composition, say a 2-minute underscore for a scene in a film, you drag an element into the timeline. Each of these elements has a particular structure that spans the length of time you want it to last (e.g., the introduction). Within that block you can also specify elements (e.g., the intensity) by drawing a curve or the momentum of that particular section. Then there’s a full orchestral layout of instruments and you can see which instruments have been selected for that section along with a lot of fine-grained detail about how each of those instruments are going to perform. You can add or delete instruments, and play the role of orchestrator with a global view of the orchestral structure.

With all the elements in place, the melodic and tonal structure, the orchestration, the overarching intensity, momentum, and stylistic choices, the system generates the music. The composer may have put in his own melodic theme and the system will work with that, or he may have listened to what the system created and then modified that to his liking.

Want a variation on the theme for the next section, but only with the strings and woodwinds? No problem! That will be ready for you in a second, literally. Need to score that next 15-minute scene with the same thematic material but with a lot more intensity? Done! With the Orb Composer, you don’t need an orchestrator or hours spent laboring over the DAW rewriting the material.

The Orb Composer is not a DAW itself—it doesn’t have the capacity to plug in your sound library and throw away your Pro Tools set-up. It interfaces with your DAW to utilize the sounds and will output the MIDI events, which you can then import to whatever DAW you like to refine the digital performance with samples, or produce a score for the orchestra.

When Richard demonstrated the Orb Composer to me I wish I’d had this tool when I was scoring for film—not to alleviate me of the creative process of coming up with melodic themes and textural ideas, but to save countless mechanical hours of orchestrating, generating variations on a theme, or just variations in orchestration. I think this tool is going to be an invaluable asset for the serious composer who will be able to use the tool to work faster, especially for creating scores for film, TV, and games. I guess serious art composers will not want to give up any of the process to a system like the Orb Composer for their next commissioned piece, but for the rest of us who have to work quickly and efficiently while maintaining a creative edge in the commercial world, this is going to be a great tool.


This has been an excerpt from the Nov-Dec 2017 issue of the Age of Robots magazine.