Off the Beaten Track: Using Deep Learning to Interpolate Between Music Genres

by   Tijn Borghuis, et al.
Universität Basel
TU Eindhoven

We describe a system based on deep learning that generates drum patterns in the electronic dance music domain. Experimental results reveal that generated patterns can be employed to produce musically sound and creative transitions between different genres, and that the process of generation is of interest to practitioners in the field.


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Generative Machine Learning

Many machine learning applications are concerned with pattern recognition problems in the supervised setting. Recently, however, a rather different set of problems has received significant attention, where the goal is to

generate patterns rather than recognize them. Application domains are numerous and diverse and very often involve the generation of data for multimedia environments. Examples include natural images [11], videos [12], paintings [13], text [14], and music [15, 14, 8].

Pattern generation is closely related to unsupervised learning, where a dataset

of patterns, sampled from an unknown distribution

, is given as input to a learning algorithm whose task is to estimate

or to extract useful information about the structure of such as clusters (i.e.  groups of similar patterns) or support (i.e.  regions of high density, especially when it consists of a low-dimensional manifold). In pattern generation, however, we are specifically interested in sampling new patterns from a distribution that matches as well as possible. Two important techniques for pattern generation are generative adversarial networks and (variational) autoencoders, briefly reviewed in the following.

Generative Adversarial Networks

Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) [10]

consist of a pair of neural networks: a

generator, , parameterized by weights , and a discriminator, , parameterized by weights

. The generator receives as input a vector

sampled from a given distribution and outputs a corresponding pattern . We can interpret

as a low-dimensional code for the generated pattern, or as a tuple of coordinates within the manifold of patterns. The discriminator is a binary classifier, trained to separate

true patterns belonging to the training dataset (positive examples) from fake patterns produced by the generator (negative examples). Training a GAN is based on an adversarial game where the generator tries to produce fake patterns that are as hard to distinguish from true patterns as possible, while the discriminator tries to detect fake patterns with the highest possible accuracy. At the end of training we hope to reach a game equilibrium where the generator produces realistic patterns as desired. The discriminator is no longer useful after training. Equilibrium is sought by minimizing the following objective functions, for the discriminator and for the generator, respectively:


where denotes the binary cross-entropy loss,

can be either a uniform distribution on a compact subset of

or, alternatively, a Gaussian distribution with zero mean and unit variance. Since

is not accessible, the expectation in Eq. (1

) is replaced by its empirical value on the training sample. In practice, fake data points are also sampled. Optimization typically proceeds by stochastic gradient descent or related algorithms where a balanced minibatch of real and fake examples is generated at each optimization step.

Autoencoders and Variational Autoencoders

Autoencoders also consist of a pair of networks: an encoder, , parameterized by weights , that maps an input pattern into a latent code vector , and a decoder, , parameterized by weights , mapping latent vectors back to the pattern space . In this case, the two networks are stacked one on the top of the other to create a composite function , and the overall model is trained to reproduce its own inputs at the output. Since typically , the model is forced to develop a low-dimensional representation that captures the manifold of the pattern associated with the data distribution . Training is performed by minimizing the objective


where the parameters and are optimized jointly and an appropriate reconstruction loss.

Variational autoencoders (VAEs) [9] also consist of an encoder and a decoder, but they bear a probabilistic interpretation. To generate a pattern, we first sample a vector from a prior distribution (usually a multivariate Gaussian with zero mean and unit variance), and we then apply as input to the decoder, in order to obtain . The encoder in this case produces an approximation to the intractable posterior . Specifically, is a multivariate Gaussian whose mean and diagonal covariance are computed by the encoder network receiving a pattern

as input. A VAE is then trained to minimize the difference between the Kullback-Leibler divergence

and the log conditional likelihood


Deep and Recurrent Networks

All the above networks (generator and discriminator for GANs, decoder and encoder for VAEs) can be constructed by stacking several neural network layers. In particular, our encoder for the VAE was based on three bidirectional long-short-term-memory (LSTM) 


recurrent layers with tanh nonlinearities, followed by four fully connected layers with ReLU nonlinearities, ending in a representation of size

. LSTM layers were used to capture the temporal structure of the data and, in particular, the correlations among note-on MIDI events within a drum pattern. Convolutional layers could have also been employed and we found that they produce similar reconstruction errors during training. We developed a slight aesthetic preference towards LSTM layers in our preliminary listening sessions during the development of the VAE, although differences compared to convolutional layers were not very strong. The decoder simply consisted of five fully connected layers with ReLUs. We used logistic units on the last layer of the decoder and a binary cross-entropy loss for comparing reconstructions against true patterns, where MIDI velocities were converted into probabilities by normalizing them in [0,1]. Details on the architecture are visible in Figure 


The discriminator and the generator networks for the GAN had essentially the same architectures as the encoder and the decoder for the VAE, respectively, except of course the GAN discriminator terminates with a single logistic unit and for the VAE we used a slightly smaller (two-dimensional) noise space, in order to exploit the “swirling” explorer described below in the “autonomous drumming” subsection.

Fig. 1: Architecture of the variational autoencoder used to interpolate drum patterns. Top: Encoder; Bottom: Decoder.

Electronic Dance Music Dataset

One of the authors, who is a professional musician, used his in-depth knowledge of EDM to compose a collection of drum patterns representative of three genres: Electro, Techno, and Intelligent Dance Music (IDM). In all patterns, the following six instruments of a Roland TR-808 Rhythm composer drum machine were used: bass drum, snare drum, closed hi-hat, open hi-hat, rimshot, and cowbell. The TR-808 (together with its sisters TR-606 and TR-909), was integral to the development of electronic dance music and these six instrument sounds are still widely used in EDM genres today which makes them suitable for our interpolation approach. All patterns are one measure (4 bars) long, and quantized to 1/16th note on the temporal scale. At the intended tempo of 129 BPM, it takes 7.44s to play one measure. Patterns were constructed with the help of the Ableton Live music production software, and delivered in the form of standard MIDI files. After checking for duplicates, a data set consisting of 1782 patterns resulted, which is summarized in Table I.

Each drum pattern was represented as a two-dimensional array whose first and second axes are associated with the six selected drum instruments and the temporal position at which a MIDI note-on event occurs, respectively. Note durations were not included in the representation as they are irrelevant for our choice of percussive instruments. The duration of four measures results in a array for each pattern. Values (originally in the integer range [0,127], then normalized in [0,1]) correspond to MIDI velocities and were used during dataset construction mainly to represent dynamic accents or ghost (echoing) notes that may be present in some musical styles. In our representation, a zero entry in the array indicates the absence of a note-on event.

Fig. 2: Ten sample drum patterns in the EDM dataset. Instruments from the top are (1): bass drum, (2): snare drum, (3): closed hi-hat, (4): open hi-hat, (5): rimshot, (6): cowbell. Pixel intensities correspond to MIDI velocities. Top row: Electro-Funk; mid two rows: IDM; bottom two rows: Techno.
Style # of patterns Playing time
IDM ,525s (1h 15m 25s)
Electro ,135s (1h 25m 35s)
Techno ,602s (1h 0m 2s)
Total ,782 ,261s (3h 41m 1s)
TABLE I: Electronic Dance Music Dataset

Generating interpolations

Fig. 3: Building transitions by interpolating drum patterns in their representation space.

Both techniques discussed above were used to generate sequences of drum patterns that interpolate between genres.

Using VAEs for start-goal interpolations

When using VAEs, it is straightforward to create an interpolation between a starting pattern and a goal pattern as follows (see also Figure 3):

  1. Apply the encoder to the endpoint patterns to obtain the associated coordinates in the manifold space of the autoencoder: and ;

  2. For a given interpolation length, , construct a sequence of codes in the manifold space:

  3. Apply the decoder to each element of this sequence, to obtain a sequence of patterns: ; note that (unless the autoencoder underfits the dataset) and .

Linear and spherical interpolation

In the case of linear interpolation (LERP), the sequence of codes is defined as


for , . In the case of spherical interpolation (SLERP), the sequence is


where . [17] offers a thorough discussion of the benefits of SLERP in the case of image generation. We found that SLERP interpolations produced musically more adventurous and expressive results and thus we used them in our experimental evaluation.

Crossfading vs. interpolation in the representation space

Fig. 4: Top: Interpolation in the pattern space (i.e., crossfading) between two MNIST characters; Bottom: interpolation in the representation space.

We remark the significance of performing the interpolation in the representation space: rather than generating a weighted average of two patterns (as it would happen with crossfading, which consists of a linear combination as in Eq. 6 but using identity functions instead of and ), we generate at each step a novel drum pattern from the learned distribution. To help the reader with a visual analogy, we show in Figure 4 the difference between interpolation in pattern space (crossfading) and in representation space using two handwritten characters from the MNIST dataset.

Pattern novelty

A quantitative measure of quality and novelty of patterns generated by models such as VAEs or GANs is not readily available. We observed however that several of the patterns produced by interpolating between start and goal patterns in our dataset are genuinely new. In Figure 5

we visualize the result of two-dimensional principal components analysis (PCA) showing all training set patterns and those generated by interpolating between a subset of them. It can be seen that trajectories tend to respect the distribution of the training data but include new data points, showing that novel patterns are indeed generated in the transitions.

Fig. 5: PCA plot of training data (black dots) and a set of possible start-goal interpolations obtained with a deep LSTM VAE (labeled by the genres of the start and goal patterns).

A software instrument for start-goal interpolations

The trained VAE (in the form of a Tensorflow model) was embedded as a plugin in Ableton Live Suite 9 for Mac OS, a program that is widely used by performing and producing musicians in EDM, and that enables the construction of software instruments via the programming environment

Max for Live. During performance, musicians first specify a start and a goal pattern (chosen from the dataset), and the length of the interpolation. This can be conveniently done within the Live user interface. The controller (a small Python script) then produces the required sequence of patterns using the VAE and the resulting MIDI notes are sent to Live to be rendered in audio with a user-specified soundset. The whole process is fast enough for real-time usage.

Using GANs for autonomous drumming

In the case of GANs, Step 1 of the procedure we used to create start-goal interpolations with VAEs is not readily available. We attempted to “invert” the generator network using the procedure suggested in [18] but our success was limited since training patters are largely not reproducible by the generator. Although unsuitable for start-goal interpolations, we found that GANS are very effective to create an autonomous drummer by exploring the noise space in a smooth way. Exploration can be designed in many ways and here we propose a very simple approach based on the following complex periodic function


for and constants , , , . Using a GAN with , the real and the imaginary part of are used to form the two components of vector . The resulting “swirl” in noise space is illustrated in Figure 6.

Fig. 6: Swirl in GAN noise space associated with Eq. 8.

Evaluation experiments

Although patterns generated by VAEs and GANs are novel, we still need to establish that they do add something new to the current practice of EDM and that they are of interest to its practitioners. To this end, we designed three experiments where we asked professional musicians to assess the quality of the generated patterns. The identification experiment aims to verify if practitioners are able to tell start-goal interpolations apart from start-goal crossfades; the task experiment aims to assess how much musicians appreciated and were able to make use of the drum interpolation as a compositional tool; the robot experiment aims to rate the aesthetic quality of the autonomous drumming produced by the GAN when generating patterns by swirling in the representation space. The goal was to answer the following questions:

Q1: Are musicians able to tell interpolations and crossfades between genres apart during listening sessions?

Q2: How do practitioners rate the novelty, adequacy, and style of the “instrument” for creating interpolations between genres?

Q3: Are the drum tracks generated by moving or interpolating smoothly in the representation space of VAEs and GANs useful as a material for musicians in composition and performance?

Identification experiment

The goal of the experiment was to answer Q1. Subjects were asked to listen to pairs of transitions, a crossfade and an interpolation. Both straight and mixed pairs were formed, in which starting and goal patterns were identical or different, respectively. Three drum patterns for each of the three genres were chosen from the dataset. Nine different transitions using these patterns were specified in a design that includes a transition for each possible pair of genres in both directions, as well a transition within each of the three genres. Interpolations and crossfades had a length of 6 measures (24 bars, 44.7s playing time). For interpolations, the endpoints were the VAE’s reconstructions of the start and goal pattern. Crossfades were produced using a standard function (equal power) of Logic Pro X.

The difference between an interpolation and a crossfade was explained to the subjects in the visual domain using an animated version of Figure 4. Every subject was asked to tell apart 6 pairs, preceded by one practice pair to get acquainted with the procedure, and received no feedback on the correctness of their answers.

Task experiment

The goal of the experiment was to answer Q2 and Q3. We used the creative product analysis model (CPAM) [19], that focuses on the following three factors: Novelty, Resolution, and Style. Each factor is characterized by a number of facets that further describe the product. For each facet, there is a 7-point scale built on a semantic differential: subjects are asked to indicate their position on the scale between two bipolar words (also referred to as anchors). Novelty involves two facets: Originality and Surprise. Resolution considers how well the product does what it is supposed to do and has four facets: Logicality, Usefulness, Value, and Understandability. Style considers how well the product presents itself to the customer and has three facets: Organicness, Well- craftedness, and Elegance. In this experiment, subjects were allowed to choose start and goal patterns from those available in the dataset in order to create their own interpolations using our Ableton Live interface. In this experiment, subjects were allowed to choose start and goal patterns from those available in the dataset in order to create their own interpolations using our Ableton Live interface.

Robot experiment

The goal of the experiment was to answer Q3. We used in this case the Godspeed questionnaire [20] a well-known set of instruments designed to measure the perceived quality of robots, based on subjects’ observations of a robot’s behavior in a social setting. They consist of 5-point scales based on semantic differentials. In our case, observation is limited to hearing the artificial agent drum and thus we chose to measure only two factors: Animacy (three facets: Lively, Organic, Lifelike) and Perceived Intelligence (three facets: Competent, Knowledgeable, Intelligent).

A long interpolation of 512 bars (124 measures) was generated using the trained GAN, by “sweeping” the code space with a complex function. Six segments of 60 bars each were selected from the MIDI file, 9 measures preceded and followed by half a measure (2 bars) for leading in and out. These MIDI files were rendered into sound using an acoustic drum soundset in Logic Pro X (Drum Designer/Smash kit), where the parts of the rimshot and cowbell were transposed to be played by toms. Acoustic rather than electronic drum sounds were used to facilitate the comparison with human drumming. Subjects were instructed that they were going to listen to an improvisation by an algorithmic drummer, presented with one of the 6 audio files (distributed evenly over the subject population), and asked to express a judgment on animacy and perceived intelligence.

Experimental procedure

The experiments were conducted with subjects active in the wider field of electronic music (DJs, producers, instrumentalists, composers, sound engineers), that were familiar with the relevant genres of EDM. Their experience in electronic music ranged from 2–30 years (median 7 years, average 8.75). They were recruited by the authors from educational institutes and the local music scenes in Krakow (PL), Cuneo and the wider Firenze area (IT), and Eindhoven (NL). Experiments took place in a class room or music studio setting, where subjects listened through quality headphones or studio monitors. All audio materials in the experiment were prepared as standard stereo files (44.1 kHz, 16 bits).















(a) (b)
Fig. 7: (a): Task experiment box plots (n=16, 7-point scale); (b): Robot experiment box plots (n= 38, 5-point scale).


We now present and discuss the experimental results.

Identification experiment

This experiment was conducted with 19 subjects using 18 distinct stimulus pairs. 13 identification errors were made in 114 pairs. For each pair correctly identified by a subject 1 point was awarded (0 for a miss). Subjects achieved an average score of and (out of 3) for straight and mixed interpolations, respectively. In total they achieved a score of (out of 6). A Chi-squared test confirms that participants scored better than chance (critical value ). Clearly, subjects are able to tell interpolations and crossfades apart in a musical context.

Task experiment

Fifteen subjects with knowledge of the means of EDM production were invited to construct an interpolation with the Ableton Live interface as described above (six of them had previously participated in the Identification experiment). We asked them to rate their experience (process and result) on the CPAM scales. Figure 7(a) summarizes the results in a set of box plots, one for each of the facets. Median scores for all facets are 6 (for Value even 7). The average scores for the facets of the factor Resolution (Logicality 6; Usefulness 6.13; Value 6.5; Understandability 5.8) are generally slightly higher than those for the factors Novelty (Originality 6.13; Surprise 5.94) and Style (Organic 5.82; Well-craftedness 6.06; Elegant 5.88). Although we did not use the CPAM to compare different solutions for generating transitions between drum tracks, subjects judged the process for creating interpolations and its results against their background knowledge of existing techniques such as crossfades. The relatively high scores on all facets indicate that developing the current prototype into an interpolation instrument will be of value to practitioners in the field.

Robot experiment

We asked 38 subjects to listen to a drum track produced by the trained GAN and to rate the robotic drummer on the scales for Animacy and Perceived Intelligence. Figure 7(b) summarizes the result in a set of box plots for the aspects. The median score on all aspects is 4, with the exception of Lifelike where it is 3. Average scores are higher for the aspects of Perceived Intelligence (Competent 4.24; Knowledgeable 3.95; Intelligence 3.84) than for those of Animacy (Lively 3.89; Organic 3.45; Lifelike 3.13). Comments written by the subjects indicate that they judged Perceived Intelligence mainly with respect to the construction and evolution of the patterns, whereas for Animacy the execution of the patterns was more prominent: absence of small variations in timing and timbre of the drum hits pushed their judgments towards the anchors Stagnant, Mechanical, and Artificial. This could be addressed with standard techniques to “humanize” sequenced drum patterns by slightly randomizing the note onsets and velocities, and rotating between multiple samples for each of the instruments, but for this experiment we used the patterns output by the GAN without such alterations. Even though this measurement just sets a first benchmark for further development, the high scores for Competent and Knowledgeable are encouraging as they suggest that the deep learning process has captured the genres in the dataset to a large extent.


Our tool has already potential applications. First, it can be used to improve the process of producing (and delivering) libraries of drum patterns as the trained network can generate a large number of patterns in the style represented by the training data. Second, it can support the workflows of dance musicians in new ways. Generated interpolation tracks can be recorded inside the tool to create fragments to be used in post-production or during live performance as a foundation on which a DJ or instrumentalist can layer further musical elements. In addition, VAEs or GANs can be trained on materials created by individual users, providing users with a highly customized software instrument that “knows” their personal style and is able to generate new drum tracks in this style for post-production or in performance.

There are several directions that can be followed to further enrich the drumming space, including the generation of tempo for tracks that require tempo that varies over time, and the generation of additional information for selecting drum sounds in a wide soundset. A more ambitious direction is to extend our approach for generating whole sets of instruments (bass lines, leads, pads, etc.) in EDM, which involves not only note onsets but also pitch and duration.


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