The SAFE project teaches computers to understand your musical vocab

The vocabulary we use to describe music can be tough enough for a human to grok (really, what does it mean when a guitar riff is "crunchy"?) but a team of tinkerers from Birmingham City University aren't interested in helping people understand that language. Nope -- instead, they've cooked up a way to teach your computer what you mean when you throw around words like "bright" or "fuzzy" or, yes, "crunchy" with a program they call the SAFE Project.

Spearheaded by Dr. Ryan Stables, the SAFE Project in its current form is a plugin for existing audio workstation software that lets would-be music producers apply effects by typing in words instead of fiddling with settings. The real magic happens on the backend, though: once you punch in a word (say, "airy"), the plug-in passes that descriptor along to the team's server, which draws upon the power of the crowd to give your music a twist. That's right, the crowd: the secret sauce of the project is that it draws on settings presets that users tag and upload to continually redefine what aural effects those words actually describe. In a way, it's almost like a living musical brain living in the cloud you can call upon when your music needs some pizzazz, and it's only getting better. Stables says the team is working on a way to let users suss out the sonic spaces between words by applying effects that are partway between two descriptors.