Houston Matters

How a SHSU math professor’s work with AI helped recreate the music of a lost opera

Martin Malandro talks about how software he developed was used to create the world’s first artificial intelligence-assisted opera.

The opera “Andromeda” being performed in Lithuania as a part of the 700th anniversary of the country’s capital city of Vilnius.

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Andromeda is an historical Baroque-style opera written in the 1600s by a composer named Marco Scacchi. While the lyrics of the opera, written by librettist Virgilio Puccitelli, have been preserved, the music had long been considered lost.

But Lithuanian composer Mantautas Krukauskas wanted to change that. He set out to recreate the music as best he could, based on the existing lyrics.

To do that, he sought help from a piece of software created by Martin Malandro, a math professor at Sam Houston State University, who's a musician and an amateur composer on the side.

Malandro's software, called Composer's Assistant, uses artificial intelligence to help composers come up with ideas for elements to use in their work. He “trained” the AI model on about 65 million examples of copyright-free or public domain pieces of music, mostly in the classical, choral, and folk music genres.

Sam Houston State University math professor Martin Malandro created artificial intelligence-based software called Composer’s Assistant, which can help composers devise elements of their musical works.

Krukauskas came across Malandro’s work, and he and some developers further modified the open-source program to learn from the original composer's existing body of work in order to come up with a new approximation of what that lost opera might've sounded like.

The finished piece, which is thought to be the world's first AI-assisted opera, was performed during the 700th anniversary celebrations of Lithuania's capital city of Vilnius.

In the audio above, Malandro tells Houston Matters producer Michael Hagerty how the software works, and how it’s intended for composers to use in their work — and not to put them out of a job.