2018 Innovation

NSYNTH SUPER

Short List
ClientGOOGLE
Category A01. Innovative Technology
TitleNSYNTH SUPER
Product/ServiceMUSICAL INSTRUMENT
Entrant GOOGLE CREATIVE LAB London, UNITED KINGDOM
Idea Creation GOOGLE CREATIVE LAB London, UNITED KINGDOM
Production GOOGLE CREATIVE LAB London, UNITED KINGDOM
Credits
Name Company Position
Google Creative Lab Google Creative Lead

Why is this work relevant for Innovation?

NSynth Super is a hardware interface that enables musicians to interact with sounds made with the latest machine learning technology, without needing the specialist skills required to work with ML directly. We created an interface that enables musicians to explore this new world of sounds in an intuitive way through a format they’re familiar with: a synthesizer. As well as designing the interface, we made our designs available as an open source project on GitHub, enabling musicians and makers from around the world to create their own NSynth Super interfaces and start making music with them.

Background

Magenta is a research group within Google, exploring how machine learning can help musicians in new ways. One of their first projects was NSynth a machine learning algorithm that uses deep neural networks to learn the characteristics of sounds, then create thousands of completely new sounds based on these characteristics. To make the algorithm more easily accessible, we took the sounds that NSynth generates and put them into a musical instrument that enables musicians to play them in a more intuitive way. We call it NSynth Super.

Describe the idea

We had to find a way to organize the over 100,000 output sounds of the NSynth algorithm and put them into an instrument to make it intuitive for musicians to play. Using dials in each corner of NSynth Super, artists can select up to four source sounds (out of sixteen options, from a clavichord to a car engine) to define the space of sounds they’d like to explore. By dragging their fingers across the space between these points, they can play thousands of unique sounds which combine all four of their acoustic qualities. It fits seamlessly with a musicians’ existing equipment. All they need to do is plug in a MIDI controller, like a keyboard, and use the touchscreen to explore new sounds. We wanted lots of musicians to access NSynth Super, so we made all of the source code, schematics, and design templates available for download on GitHub.

What were the key dates in the development process?

6 April 2017 - Magenta creates NSynth (Neural Synthesizer), a novel approach to music synthesis using machine learning. 13 March 2018 - Magenta and Creative create NSynth Super, and release the open source hardware on GitHub.

Describe the innovation/technology

The NSynth algorithm works by learning the characteristics of any real-world sound. By learning these characteristics for multiple sounds, it is then able to synthesize new sounds that exist between them, that have those characteristics of the input sounds in varying amounts. NSynth Super is an interface that makes the world of sounds created with the algorithm accessible to musicians. The designs for NSynth Super, including all software and hardware source code, have been released on GitHub for musicians and makers around the world to create their own instruments.

Describe the expectations/outcome

As an open-source project, results for NSynth Super are difficult to track. So far, we can see 1487 GitHub stars, 138 forks, and hundreds of downloads of the software. Musicians and makers from around the world have also been sharing the NSynth Supers they’ve made, and the music they’re making with them, from homebrew makers to established touring artists. Some people have even began selling their own versions of NSynth Super online, and creating 3D printable versions. The project has received coverage from The Verge, CNBC, and Wired.