Ever want to be in a Kafkaesque mood while you’re driving? Or channel Sherlock while preparing for a difficult task? Meet TransProse, a new project that creates music out of the most salient characteristics within a novel.
Created by programmer and artist Hannah Davis and researcher Saif Mohammad, TransProse reads the text of a novel and determines the emotional mood of the narrative. The program draws from the NRC word-emotion association lexicon, a list of 14,000 words associated with eight basic emotions: anger, fear, anticipation, trust, surprise, sadness, joy, and disgust. TransProse uses the frequency of these eight emotions to create the tempo, scale, octave, and notes of the score. It also evaluates the ratio of positive to negative words in a book to determine the score’s key. Positive books are played in a major key while negative books are played in a minor key. The current version is just a starting point, according to its inventors, who acknowledge that the existing program is more of a way to translate the basic emotions of a novel rather than create beautiful music.
The program’s premise raises questions of subjectivity, of course. The emotional tone of a novel registers in different ways to different readers. What if reading a thriller makes you feel more excited than fearful? A musical score based on statistics won’t necessarily reflect your interpretations.
Regardless, the music coming out of TransProse is worth a listen. It’s an interesting way to see our most beloved books interpreted in an empirical manner. And TransProse will have its fair share of company. From movie renditions of books to photography series based fictitious meals, we can now add literary musical scores to the ever-growing genre of things based on novels.