Artificial intelligence to restore 4,000 Gregorian chants forgotten for a thousand years

“Kerry Ellison! / Kristi Ellison!” (Lord have mercy / Christ have mercy) … More than a thousand years ago, monks from various monasteries and monasteries in Europe reciting their prayers Sing all day. Eight times, every three hours: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline, aided by manuscripts containing neumes (music notes), odes, and how to sing, solemn, showy. It happened in the Middle Ages, often painted black by wars, plague and famine, but also enlightened by cathedrals and manuscripts. Just a blink of an eye later in history, at the end of the nineteenth century, monks Benedictine Abbey of SolesmesSt. Louis, in northwestern France, began to capture volumes with Gregorian chants created between the 9th and 11th centuries. a work which they developed in their own homes and in the homes of other monks in much of the continent. The religious Solesmes feared that times of war, fire and destruction would come again. They were not wrong in their vow, a few years later a world war broke out.

The final jump in this story leads to the year 2023, when the European Commission’s project, Repertorium, Headed by Jaén University, by collecting those images from the hymns depicted by the French monks. A function in which, thanks to artificial intelligence, they can check whether these songs are already registered in the databases, hallelujah, or if they are not registered. In this case, they will be able to transfer it to sheet music so that it can be interpreted by Gregorian groups and record it so that we can listen to it on CD or in an application, hallelujah. In addition to Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy (Milan Polytechnic), the United Kingdom (Oxford University), Finland (with a group of experts in sound processing) and Lithuania (National Orchestra Orchestra) participate in this program.

Julio Carabias, researcher at the Polytechnic School of the University of Jaén, in charge of the Repertorium project, at the Montserrat Church, Madrid, on July 14.Santi Burgos

Julio Karabias He is the researcher who coordinates the Repertorium, an initiative that “promotes cultural heritage and the arts” and “preserves European musical heritage,” he says over the phone. Sixty proposals were submitted from across the European Union and three were selected, each proposal funded with €3 million. One is Repertorium”. It is an idea born from the Department of Communications Engineering of the Linares Polytechnic School, affiliated to the University of Jaén, in collaboration with the company Odratek (Netherlands).

If all those pictorial Gregorian chants had to be cataloged by hand, it would take a lot of time and money. “About 400,000 negatives have been preserved.” Logically, not all are in good shape. “We digitize this material, that’s simple, but we also extract all its information (melody, rites, texts, place in the liturgy) thanks to artificial intelligence through a system called Deep learning (Deep learning). Then, it will be checked if this song is already included in digital music libraries that exist on the Internet. “If it is not there, it is historical material that we will bring back,” explains Karabias. Among those negatives, in addition to those in Solesmes and elsewhere in France, “there are those of Spanish and German monasteries.” Repertorium promoters assure that the resulting technology will be open source so that it can be used with other musical modalities.

The monks of Solesmes themselves, having a workshop of excavations to study their historical material, “estimated that about two million pieces of Gregorian chant would emerge from these 400,000 negatives, which are the ones we shall compare to see whether they are recorded or not.”

Schola Antiqua Collection, on display at Plock Cathedral in Poland.
Schola Antiqua Collection, on display at Plock Cathedral in Poland.Caesar

But not everything is as easy as it might seem. This AI needs people to train it to think like a human. This task will include Complutense Institute of Musical Sciences (Iccmu) – Founded in 1989 and directed by Álvaro Torrente – The University of Alicante. Torrente explains that Iccmu’s musicologist will “help catalog the music videos”. “You have to keep in mind that they are manuscripts from different scribes and times.” About 127,000 songs will be manually indexed to mark this AI. The French clergy estimate that “eventually there will be about 4,000” who will come to life, songs that may not have been performed in centuries and of which there are no copies.

The next step would be, finally, to be able to hear them again. It is scheduled to take place in the Convent of Santa Maria Magdalena de le Baru [sureste de Francia] And Karabias confirms that about 2,200 hours have been recorded and a concert will be held at the end of 2025. In addition, all these new songs will be integrated into an existing application, It’s called Neumz, “a kind of Gregorian Spotify,” notes the researcher. There will also be workshops, conferences and publications. However, all this happens “when the Gregorian is not living its best moment because there are few people in the religious communities,” says Juan Carlos Asensio, president of Spanish Association for the Study of Gregorian Chant, It was created in 2002 and participates in the Repertorium.

President of the Spanish Association for the Study of Gregorian Chant, Juan Carlos Asensio, at a rehearsal for the choir he directs, Schola Antiqua, at Montserrat Church, Madrid, on July 14.
President of the Spanish Association for the Study of Gregorian Chant, Juan Carlos Asensio, at a rehearsal for the choir he directs, Schola Antiqua, at Montserrat Church, Madrid, on July 14.Santi Burgos

Every Tuesday, Asensio and the 13 other members of the choir he directs, Old school, with four decades of history, rehearsed in Madrid’s Montserrat Church: “Do-mi-niii!, do-mi-niii!” Asensio comments on his companions before singing this part together. Schola Antiqua is among the groups responsible for translating the songs that are being recovered for the recording, as will take place in the Monastery of Santa María del Parral (Segovia).

Asensio explains that “all religious rituals have historically had a lyrical expression to address their divinity”. Gregorian music appeared in the eighth century, as an amalgamation of different musical materials that existed in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire. It is known that at the coronation of Pepin the Short [rey de los francos, padre de Carlomagno] In 754, the pope’s choir sang at the recital in Reims. The king liked it so much that he decided that from then on it would be interpreted, and the singers of Gaul adapted their repertoire according to the taste of their king, mixing it with the original.” It was Charlemagne who led to the great diffusion of the Gregorian language, marked by a single melody, over the back of the empire that he had forged. Medieval documents indicate that choirs were made up of five or six soloists and that the rest of society did not have good voices.

In those times, the most common name for this musical overture was “Simple Hymn,” adds Asensio, “but they ended up taking the name of Pope Gregory I.” [fallecido en 604, conocido como San Gregorio Magno]Which, by the way, suffers from chronic hoarseness.” “In the middle of the nineteenth century, with the rediscovery of antiquity, they began to study manuscripts of songs to interpret them in the most faithful way because logically there were no recordings. In addition, this can be done in each monastery in one way. He explains that a German does not pronounce Latin like a Spaniard.” This religious music continued until the convening of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), when the liturgy changed and Latin was downgraded.

French Monastery of Santa Maria Magdalena de Baro, where 2,200 hours of restored Gregorian chant will be recorded.
French Monastery of Santa Maria Magdalena de Baro, where 2,200 hours of restored Gregorian chant will be recorded.JM Rozier

What is sung in the Gregorian? He continues: “The basis is the Book of Psalms.” “There are 150 poems from the Old Testament, which is about 85% of the repertoire. There are also texts from the New Testament, the words of Christ repeated, and poems by medieval authors… The repertoire consists of many thousands of pieces, but at the liturgy about 3,000 are sung between masses and services.” Fans can hear it in Spain, among other places, in Leyre Abbey (Navarra), Santo Domingo de Silos (Burgos), Cuelgamuros (Madrid), and Poblet (Tarragona), in its Cistercian form; Montserrat (Barcelona) and female San Pelayo (Oviedo).

As for the best preserved Gregorian manuscripts, Torrente asserts that “some of the most important manuscripts are in France and Switzerland”. He asserts: “The music was transmitted by heart, later, in churches or cathedrals, the great hymns were transcribed. Europe was unthinkable without this kind of music.”

manuscript paper
A sheet of manuscript “Calendar, Progressive, Sacraments” with liturgical chants in Latin about the Ascension. This work is dated around the year 1000 and is attributed to a monk named Hartker.Stiftsbibliothek Collection, St. Gallen (Switzerland)

Immersive in karaoke in the orchestra

The second goal of the European Repertorium project is to “create artificial intelligence tools that will allow companies to get new products so that the European music industry can grow,” explains Julio Carabias, coordinator of this program. In the case of classical music, “we will develop systems so that each person listening can, through an application, react, for example, to emphasize some instruments or suppress others, or if they are musicians, they can play that note at home and join in the concert, as if they were playing with that orchestra.” “This is what we call immersive karaoke,” Dolby audio is realized in the Dolby system.

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