A York song is representing the UK in a new version of the Eurovision Song Contest. Have a listen!

Tom, Nancy and some young musicians perform the song

Mesdames et messieurs, we have an important musical announcement.

The Eurovision Song Contest may have fallen victim to the coronavirus emergency. But the artificial intelligence version of the contest is going ahead – and York is flying the flag for Britain.

Two York academics are the team behind the UK’s entry to the competition, hosted by the Dutch public broadcaster VPRO. Partly computer generated, it goes something like this:

The competition aims to explore whether AI can help humans to compose songs on a par with Eurovision hits like Cliff Richard’s Congratulations (which won for the UK in 1968) or ABBA’s Waterloo (Sweden, 1974).

Dr Tom Collins, from the University of York’s Department of Music, and his wife, Dr Nancy Carlisle, from Lehigh University, USA, wrote and recorded the UK’s entry – an eerie ballad called Hope Rose High.

They used an algorithm written by Tom, which generates new material in the style of an existing body of music.

Judged for Eurovision-ness

The old-school Eurovision Song Contest in 2016

After setting the algorithm to work analysing a data set of 200 previous Eurovision songs, Tom programmed it to generate 30 four-bar melodies, chord progressions, basslines, and drum beats.

The lyrics were also generated by an algorithm before Nancy paired them with melodies and chords that seemed to fit well together. Tom then added a baseline and arranged the song with some human touches.

Tom said:

  • The song and video have all come together in a bit of a hurry while my family and I are on lockdown through the Covid-19 outbreak.

    Rather than pitting man against machine, I hope this contest will increase public understanding of how AI can increasingly be used as an aid to humans in the creative process as opposed to a replacement.

    I think we will see the use of AI increasingly in the music scene. In creative industries many people struggle with the ‘blank page’ problem, where creativity is stifled by having too many options.

    AI can help by providing stylistically appropriate jumping off points.

Hope Rose High will compete with 12 other entries from across Europe and Australia – genres range from piano ballads to punk to pop songs.

Voting for the competition opened on Friday (10 April), with the winners announced in May. You can vote here.

The entries will be judged by the public and a panel of AI experts on criteria including lyrics, originality and “Eurovision-ness”.

Hope Rose High is available via the ethical streaming platform Ujo Music in addition to other streaming platforms.