Audio & Machine Learning (pt 3)

Part 3: Audio Generation using Machine Learning

Image processing and generating using machine learning has been significantly enhanced by using deep neural networks. And even pictures of human faces can now be artificially created as shown on Images however are not that difficult to analyse. A 1024px-by-1024px image, as shown on thispersondoesnotexist, has “only” 1,048,576 pixels; split into three channels that is 3,145,728 pixels. Now, comparing this to a two-second-long audio file. Keep in mind that two seconds really can not contain much audio – certainly not a whole song but even drum samples can be cut down with only two seconds of playtime. An audio file has usually a sample rate of 44.1 kHz. This means that one second audio contains 44,100 slices, two seconds therefor 88,200. CD quality audio wav files have a bit depth of 16bit (which today is the bare minimum in digital audio workstations). So, a two second audio file has 216 * 88,200 samples which results in 22,579,200 samples. That is a lot. But even though music or in general audio generation is a very human process and audio data can get very big very fast, machine learning can already provide convincing results.


Before talking about analysing audio files, we have to talk about the number one workaround: midi. Midi files only store note data such as pitch, velocity, and duration, but not actual audio. The difference in file size is not even comparable which makes midi a very useful file type to be used in machine learning.

FlowMachines is one of the more popular projects that work with midi. It is a plugin for DAWs that can help musicians generate scores. Users can choose from different styles to sound like for example the Beatles. These styles correspond to different trained models. FlowMachine works so well that there is already commercial music produced by it. Here is an example of what it can do:


Midi generation is a very useful helper, but it will not replace musicians. Generating audio on the other hand could potentially do that. Right now, generating short samples is the only viable way to go and it is just in its early stages but still, that could replace sample subscription services one day. One very recently developed architecture that seems to deliver very promising results is the GAN.

Generative Adversarial Networks

A generative adversarial network (GAN) simultaneously trains two models rather than one: A generator which trains with random values and captures the data distribution, and a discriminator which estimates the probability that a sample came from the training data rather than the generator. Through backpropagation both networks continuously enhance each other which leads to the generator getting better at generating fake data and the discriminator getting better at finding out whether the data came from the training data or the generator.

An already very sophisticated generative adversarial network for audio generation is WaveGAN. It can train on audio examples with up to 4 seconds in length at 16kHz. The demo includes a simple drum machine with very clearly synthesized sounds but shows how GANs might be the right direction to go. But what GANs really have to offer is the parallel processing shown in GANSynth. Instead of predicting a single sample at a time which autoregressive models are pretty good at, GANSynth can process multiple sequences in parallel making it about 50,000 times faster than WaveNet.

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