Robotic musician 'listens' and creates his own music

A robot developed by researchers at Georgia Tech has a knack for music that would have made Beethoven jealous.

Shimon is robot that composes and plays his own beats. He uses a process called deep neural learning along with artificial intelligence to decode different genres of music eventually creating his own chimes on the marimba.

Dr. Gil Weinberg, the director of the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology, created Shimon nearly 10 years ago, but now the robot musician has learned how to do things on his own. Weinberg’s goal is to use the technology to collaborate with humans rather than replace them.


“Let’s invent what will be the new technologies that can enhance music that can let people play and create music in completely new ways,” Weinberg said. “One of them is building robots that combine digital brains that can understand music and physical bodies that can actually play music. Both of them enhancing what humans currently do.”

The new technology was debuted in a video at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Doctoral candidate Mason Bretan has worked for the past seven years to help develop Shimon into the budding artist that he is today. Shimon uses “deep neural networks,” Bretan says, to learn from the over 5,000 songs in his memory banks. Shimon now thinks like a human musician as he composes his songs rather than from note to note as he did before.


“When we play or listen to music, we don’t think about the next note and only that next note,” said Bretan. “An artist has a bigger idea of what he or she is trying to achieve within the next few measures or later in the piece. Shimon is now coming up with higher-level musical semantics. Rather than thinking note by note, it has a larger idea of what it wants to play as a whole.”

Shimon’s tunes are a mix of everything that he’s learned.

“They sound like a fusion of jazz and classical,” said Bretan. “I definitely hear more classical, especially in the harmony, but then I hear chromatic moving steps in the first piece, that’s definitely something you hear in jazz.”

Looking to the future, Weinberg hopes to one day have a symphony of both robots and humans playing together. So far Shimon has already played with a group of musicians in the past and he will perform live at the Aspen Ideas Festival this week.