Where are Photoshop filters for music?

Most people are somewhat familiar with Photoshop, the image editing program that has turbo charged the graphic design industry. And I think most people are generally aware that Photoshop has what are called “filters”—tools with which one can take an ordinary photograph and turn it into a blurry, Monet style painting, or a pointillist masterpiece, or a piece of pop art a la Lichtenstein. Here, for example, is an example of a filter that gives an image a black and white comic book effect.

How these filters work is a bit beyond me but one can assume the processes are tailor made for computation. To consider one example, if we realize that a color’s saturation level can be assigned a number, we then realize that to make an image desaturated (in the style of a water color painting) we could create a computational rule like: for each pixel with a saturation value higher than [some threshold number], set that pixel’s saturation to -20 below its current value. Repeat until it’s below the threshold.

So computation and filters have radically affected what’s possible with visual art. It struck me today, why hasn’t this happened with music?

To some degree it has. With MIDI manipulation software, it’s quite easy to swap one synth sound out for another—to make what was initially a trumpet sound like a xylophone, for example. (I find in practice, however, it’s not quite so simple, as how you play a part is dependent in the timbre feedback you get while you play it. When swapping instruments I sometimes have to redo the part.)

You can also easily modulate a piece of music to a new key, so that a piece written in the key of A# can be moved up to C.

But it strikes me that there’s a number of other ways one could use computation tools to make music creation easier. All of the following commands are the kinds of things I would like to be able to request in a program such as Garage Band. I’m using musical terms here that may not be familiar to non-musicians, but I’ll try to keep it simple.

  • Take all the block chords in the selection and turn them into 8th note arpeggios.
  • Harmonize this melody line in thirds.
  • Take my harmony and render it in the style of a ragtime piano. (I think this actually can be accomplished via the software “Band in a Box.”)
  • Take all the instances of a minor chord that precedes a chord a fourth away and change them into dominant 7th chords. (This would have the effect of “jazzing up” the sound of a song. I vi ii V7 would become I VI7 II7 V&.)

These are all “surface level” examples – I can think of plenty of filter ideas that would apply on a more granular level.

My point being that this sort of thing is eminently possible; indeed, it has been for years. Maybe it’s out there and I’m unaware of it, but that would surprise me.

This would of course make the production of music much* easier, and enable the exploration of creative ideas with much less effort. That said, it’s valid concern that this might make the world of music much worse, creating an mob of middling Mozarts who could render listenable but fundamentally undisciplined music. (I would likely fall into this group.) It’s reasonable to argue that the path to compositional virtuosity should require a degree of effort to travel. But these concerns are exactly the sort of thing I think we’re going to be confronting soon enough anyway.

*I originally mistyped this word as “mush” which is ironic since such software tools might result in a lot of musical mush.

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