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SANTA CRUZ — Decades after a UC Santa Cruz computer professor announced the discovery of a technology that can accurately mimic the style of any composer, a small Santa Cruz company has commercialized the idea in a free smartphone app that lets every user play along as if they were studied musicians.
Recombinant Inc., a company hoping value-added downloadable music can revitalize the relationship between musicians and their fan base, introduced JamBandit on the Apple App Store in March.
“It extends the creative abilities of nonmusicians,” said Dave Park, who serves as chief executive officer of Recombinant from his home base in Elk Grove.
A former music agent and talent scout, Park founded the company with David Cope, a former UCSC music professor and author, and Keith Muscutt, the former assistant dean of arts at UCSC who has worked closely with Cope through the years and currently works as chief operating officer.
The company is focused on technology stemming from decades of research by Cope in the realm of music and artificial intelligence, who has been able to stump music experts with instant computer-generated, original-sounding Bach pieces. In a double-blind test, experts listened to Bach pieces alongside music generated by Cole’s algorithms and incorrectly selected the original pieces 89 percent of the time. Cope is now the chief technology officer of the company.
Some songs free
JamBandit users can try out the technology on a small library of free songs in the app, then download any of thousands of original songs for 99 cents each. They can play along with a song, produce a recording and share it online.
“Now you have a choice of experiencing the music passively or getting in the driver’s seat and having an opportunity to experience it interactively,” Park said.
Like the popular play-along video game “Guitar Hero,” the user plays music on a touch screen, but in this technology, sounds are made with a sweep of a finger and tapping or pressing a finger anywhere on a screen to create original pieces in the same creative style of a selected composer. By identifying the unique compositional elements in a song, the technology creates a musical safety net so that a player can do no wrong.
“All you have to do is think about the contours of music,” said Recombinant music analyst John Seales, who describes the app as a new kind of musical instrument. “You can imagine the music goes up here and, down here, there is a sweep. That’s an amazing thing, to just concentrate on that and not worry about the key. To me, it’s about being able to directly translate your physical emotion into melody. That’s the most satisfying thing to me as a musician.”
Linking with fans
JamBandit is one way to bridge the growing chasm between musicians and their fans, Park said, noting that changes in the music industry have made it increasingly difficult for new artists to get decent record deals. Park said he was looking for a kind of utopian celestial jukebox, in which every song would find its fans and every fan would find their songs.
“Every step of the way there are gatekeepers — producers, managers, disc jockeys, program directors,” he said. “From time to time, any number of great songs and artists would break through but there were a great many very significant artists and songs that were continually falling through the cracks.”
One of the problems Park saw was a declining value of recorded music.
“Even major artists are having to discount music recordings bundled with concerts or products,” Park said.
The company was incorporated in 2005, after a complex, several-year decoupling of Cope’s work from the university, which freed up his patents for commercialization. At that time, the founders had no product to sell, just technology without a commercially viable application. They considered licensing the technology to large companies but were unable to settle on a product or service.
Without musical skills
The mission of JamBandit is to help a population of nonmusicians be able to experience having a voice in the music, to “put the fan in the band.” It may also help artists sell more music, Park said.
The company hopes the free download users will soon translate to paying for licensed music.
“I think what we’re doing now is the thing we feel best about and strongest about,” Park said. “It has a very good economic model to it and does the most good for both artists and fans. There is something restorative about being able so help this world of artists sell their work.”
The company has raised about $500,000 from private individuals and industry partners. Park said the company would raise additional money in the next few months to establish an office in Santa Cruz.
“There are obviously very deep roots in the community and there is a significant talent pool to draw from,” he said. “We’d like to think that even folks from the South Bay, Peninsula and Silicon Valley might be tempted to move to the county.”
JamBandit is available free for iPhone, iPod and iPad, and will be available for Android later this year. The app comes preloaded with a few songs to test drive. Additional songs are priced at 99 cents.
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: A privately owned music technology company commercializing products based on a language-based platform created by former UC Santa Cruz professor David Cope. The technology can read patterns in music and recreate pieces that accurately mimic any composer. The company recently released JamBandit, an application for the iPad, iPod and iPhone that allows users to instantly play any composer’s unique style, record it and share via social media channels.
APP DESCRIPTION: An interactive music application enabling expert performance from players, regardless of experience or training.
HEADQUARTERS: Personal residences in Santa Cruz and Elk Grove. Pending office in Santa Cruz.
LEADERSHIP: Dave Park, chief executive officer.
FREE DOWNLOAD: http://appstore.com/jambandit
This story about JamBandit’s music app appeared here.