New music is no longer a thing, thanks to a pair of lawyers who created an algorithm to write every single musical melody that can possibly exist. Rather than claiming all music as their personal property, however, the duo have released their entire catalog of tunes into the public domain, in the hope that this will bring an end to copyright lawsuits.
Lawyer, musician, and programmer Damien Riehl came up with the idea after realizing that all singer-songwriters are essentially walking on a “melodic minefield”, because there are only a finite number of melodies that can exist. As such, with each new song that gets written, the chances of creating something genuinely unique decreases, and the possibility of writing a melody that has already been recorded by someone else increases.
In a recent Tedx Talk, Riehl explains that this wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the ridiculous nature of copyright laws, which state that a piece of music becomes copyrighted the moment it is recorded. Even worse, it is possible to be sued for “subconscious infringement”, whereby an artist may have to pay a settlement to another artist even if they claim to have never heard the song that they are accused of copying.
Riehl sites numerous such cases, revealing how George Harrison was found guilty of subconscious infringement after the chorus to his song My Sweet Lord was deemed to be too similar to a track called He’s So Fine by The Chiffons. In another example, Radiohead were forced to name a group called The Hollies as co-writers of their song Creep, which apparently included a melody that also appears in one of the latter band’s songs.
To try and bring an end to such cases, Riehl teamed up with Noah Rubin to create an algorithm that could produce every 12-note melody that has ever been written or can ever be written, using one octave of musical notes. The algorithm uses the same ‘brute force’ technique that hackers use when attempting to steal passwords, by essentially generating every possible combination of characters.
A total of 68 billion melodies were generated, which are now all available at allthemusic.info.
The pair argue that their algorithm highlights how musical melodies are essentially just numbers arranged in a particular order, and that since numbers can’t be copyrighted, music should also not be constrained by infringement laws.
"No song is new. Noah and I have exhausted the data set," explains Riehl. "Noah and I have made all the music to be able to allow future songwriters to make all of their music."