University of Southampton: Jazz ‘robot’ visits Turner Sims

The ‘Jazz Transformer’, a computer algorithm designed to authentically improvise jazz compositions using artificial intelligence, is set to perform at the University of Southampton.

The non-human guest will play alongside new Southampton-based professional ensemble the Dan Mar-Molinero Jazz Orchestra at the Turner Sims on Highfield Campus (19 March).

The concert, directed by Dan Mar-Molinero – Head of Jazz, Pop and Musical Theatre in the University’s Music department – will feature two leading voices in international jazz, Julian Argüelles (saxophone) and Jasper Høiby (bass). Also performing are former Southampton students and University staff.

The Jazz Transformer algorithm is an agent developed by engineers in Taiwan that creates new jazz, drawing on data from over 500 solos of jazz greats, from Charlie Parker to Wynton Marsalis. The concert will feature material from the Dan Mar-Molinero Jazz Orchestra’s debut album, to be released in the summer, featuring Argüelles and Høiby.


Dan comments: “It’s going to be fascinating having both the human element and artificial intelligence come together in one concert to improvise and entertain, as we ask the question – can a computer really compose great jazz? I can’t wait to explore this and I look forward to an evening of great music, creativity and discussion.”

The project came about through a collaboration between Dan and Dr Thomas Irvine, Associate Professor in Music and Alan Turning Fellow at the University. Dr Irvine, who is also a Non-Executive Director of the Southampton Web Science Institute, leads the project ‘Jazz as Social Machine’ – examining how humans and machines can work together in the field of musical improvisation, and what this might tell us about the future of human-machine interaction, AI art—and jazz itself.

“One of the striking things about working with Dan and the Jazz Transformer,” Tom observes, “is not that the machine is better than the human or vice versa, but that together they can do musical things they can’t do on their own. As Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the Web and former Southampton professor says, in a social machine ‘no one knows everything, but everyone knows something.’ There is a lesson here for how we relate to machines.”

Before the performance there will be a roundtable discussion chaired by Dr Irvine featuring Dame Wendy Hall FRS, Regius Professor of Computer Science at the University and Executive Director of the Web Science Institute.

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