Mood Modulation of Music

Imagine your favorite piece of music such as Canon in D, Bolero, or an excerpt from Carmen where an app lets you control the emotional evolution of the piece while it plays. This is precisely the work being prototyped by PhD student Bing Yen CHANG and Prof. Andrew Horner in the Computer Music group.

Listeners can direct where the music goes emotionally like a Movie Director guides how the composer develops the score. It is a new form of active listening! Listeners can take their favorite music to places it has never gone before, but could! They can bring out different emotional potential of the music - even some that may be deeply hidden in the music.

For example, imagine Canon in D, but with an Angry tone - rendered in harmonic minor with a menacing quality like Phantom of the Opera or The Empire Strikes Back. Or, perhaps Tragic like a funeral march, or Lively like a Celtic folk dance on Irish flute, or Tenderly-Romantic like a love ballad. You don't have to imagine anymore, check it out: Canon in D.

Every piece of music can be shaded or shaped to bring out the full range of emotional characteristics, in a similar way that Monet's Rouen Cathedral appears in dozens of different characters depending on the light and color (i.e., time of day, weather, lighting, shadows). He uses the same subject, the same viewpoint, the same style, but the different lighting and colors produce different moods.

Paintings from Monet's Rouen Cathedral series

Paintings from Monet's Rouen Cathedral series.

How can we similarly "shade" or "color" music so that is has different mood or emotional characteristics? The three main musical parameters for excitement level are pitch register (i.e., which octave), tempo, dynamics. We see this in real-life in over-excited trumpet players, who always want to play higher, faster, and louder! For the mood of the music (how positive or negative it is), the main musical factors are the particular mode of the music (e.g., major or minor), to a lesser extent the overall pitch range (high or low), and other melodic and harmonic aspects.

In the near future, imagine bringing to life your own Carmen! Though your control of the music, play the matador Escamilla in the bullfight scene, and guide the music to parry the charges of a furious bull in the dusty ring while the screaming crowd cheers and gasps. Or, guide Carmen's dance that mesmerizes the carousing soldiers in the opening Habanera scene. Or, through your own emotional twists in the music, play Carmen in the final tragic encounter with her jealous former lover Don Jose outside the bullfight stadium with defiant bravado. What happens if Carmen successfully fights back? Or, what if she escapes to the bullring, facing off with Don Jose, Escamilla, and the bull, writing a new ending to the opera, with your version of the music telling the tale!