Computer program analyzes performers

October 13, 2008 12:12:12 PM PDT
Could a computer replace one of the judges on American Idol? Already, a high-tech company from Spain has developed a program that coaches a singer and analyzes a performance.

Robert Cowan is singing, "I feel you, Joanna" from the musical Sweeney Todd. His performance is being judged by a computer program called Skore, by Barcelona Music and Technology.

Computers, of course, can detect changes in pitch, timbre, timing and harmonics. But this software visualizes the results in a way that humans can read -- and provides a score.

For instance, Esteban Maestre of BMAT points out, "The warmer colors on the sceen mean there is more energy in that frequency component."

We brought the technology to the Conservatory of Music in San Francisco, to get the opinion of a professional voice teacher, and some serious students of music.

First, Elise Marie Cordle, a Junior Voice Major at the Conservatory, sang, "I will always love you. I will always love you."

Watching a computer screen in the audience, Cowan observed, "Elise's straight tone, before her vibrato, is more even than mine. Mine is kind of bumpy." Maestre agreed.

Could this become the third judge in an Idol competition? Well, it already has for the Spanish version of American Idol. Auditions were held online, and winners were determined by their Skore score, and by fan feedback.

"We got thousands of performances recorded," says Maestre, "and people giving ratings. So, our way of telling whether the computer was right or not is by comparing to the human ratings."

Cowan acknowledges, "It's telling you scientifically what you're doing. And you can't argue with that."

Pamela Frey, Chair of the Voice Department at the Conservatory agrees, but adds a word of wisdom.

"What the audience perceives as perfection is not necessarily what the computer perceives as perfection. So, if a singer does not have a great voice, or does not sing in tune, it doesn't make any difference if they touch the hearts of the audience."

Cordle believes, "a computer does not have a mind, or a heart."

Maybe so, but does Simon Cowell?

Related links:

Skore singer software by

  • BMAT - Barcelona Music & Audio Technologies
    Phone in USA: 415-738-9770
    Address: Llacuna 162, Barcelona 08018, Spain

  • Music Technology Group

    San Francisco Conservatory of Music
    Note: Many performances are free to the public
    50 Oak Street, San Francisco CA 94102-6011
    Main Phone: 415-864-7326


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