Some readers have noticed that I often take shots at Google on this blog, but seem to give Microsoft a pass. I assure you that I am not a Microsoft fan boy–in fact, Microsoft’s enterprise search subsidiary, FAST, competes with Endeca more than Google does. But today I’ll prove that I’m an equal-opportunity critic by talking about Microsoft Songsmith.
The idea is brilliant, at least in theory:
Just open up Songsmith, choose from one of thirty different musical styles, and press record. Sing whatever you like – a birthday song for Mom, a love song for that special someone (they’ll be impressed that you wrote a song for them!), or maybe just try playing with your favorite pop songs. As soon as you press “stop”, Songsmith will generate musical accompaniment to match your voice, and play back your song for you. It’s that simple.
What do the critics say? Here’s what Randall Stross writes in the New York Times
How satisfying are the musical results? Microsoft lets you hear for yourself in a promotional video titled “Everyone Has a Song Inside.” The video is getting more attention than the software because it’s awful, in unintentional ways. “Notes on ‘Camp’, ” the 1964 essay by Susan Sontag, identifies a category of art that isn’t campy, just “bad to the point of being laughable, but not bad to the point of being enjoyable.” The Songsmith video is exactly that.
But I have to wonder if the researchers and product developers at Microsoft imagined what would happen when they released Songsmith into the wild. People have been taking actual vocal tracks from pop songs and feeding them into Songsmith. The results are–well, I’ll let you judge for yourself from this rendition of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”