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Durham University



Publication details for Professor Nick Collins

Collins, Nick (2016). A funny thing happened on the way to the formula: Algorithmic composition for musical theatre. Computer Music Journal 40(3): 41-57.

Author(s) from Durham


Algorithmic composition methods must prove themselves within real-world musical contexts to more
firmly solidify their adoption in musical practice. The present project is an automatic composing program trained
on a corpus of songs from musical theater to create novel material, directly generating a scored lead sheet of vocal
melody and chords. The program can also produce output based upon phonetic analysis of user-provided lyrics. The
chance to undertake the research arose from a television documentary funded by Sky Arts that considered the question
of whether current-generation, computationally creative methods could devise a new work of musical theater (the
research described here provides but one strand within that project). Allied with the documentary, the resultant
musical had a two-week West End run in London and was itself broadcast in full. Evaluation of the project included
both design feedback from a musical theater composer team, and critical feedback from audiences and media coverage.
The research challenges of the real-world context are discussed, with respect to the compromises necessary to get such
a project to the stage.