High-tech Japan uses AI in composing song to welcome pope

Pope Francis boards his plane at Rome's Fiumicino airport on Nov 19, 2019, to depart for a one-week trip to Thailand and Japan. The song, "Protect all Life - The Signs of the Times", is based on the theme of the Pope's Japan visit. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Few aspects of life escape the high-tech touch in cutting-edge Japan, including an official song written to welcome Pope Francis when he visits the country from Saturday (Nov 23).

Written by Mr Jun Inoue, the song, Protect All Life - The Signs Of The Times, is based on the theme of the Pope's Japan visit and was partly composed using an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered program Mr Inoue created that can write a piece of music in a few seconds.

The producer and composer, who has written for top bands such as Arashi, and is Catholic, said he agonised over using the AI program, but finally decided to include it because the history of music and technology were intertwined.

"I thought I should give everything I had to the song, so I decided to put in all the cutting-edge technology I had," he told Reuters. He shares composing credit with Amadeus Code AI.

The song, which was written at the behest of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan, will be played at masses in the city of Nagasaki as well as Tokyo, and comes in several versions, including instrumental and karaoke.

There are also dance steps and stylised hand gestures that are the Japanese sign-language version of the lyrics, with a teaching video posted on the official website for the Pope's visit.

Mr Inoue hopes worshippers at the public masses, to be held at stadiums, will sing and dance along with the song.

While the footwork is simple, consisting of side-to-side steps in time to the music, the sign language may take a bit more time to master.

"There are a lot of people who live in a world without sound and I would like them too to understand the meaning of the lyrics and the message," he said.

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Theme songs for papal visits have been composed before. One has been unveiled for Thailand, where Pope Francis will visit before Japan.

His visit from Saturday to next Tuesday, which will also include Hiroshima, is only the second papal visit to Japan and the first since Pope John Paul II's visit 38 years ago.

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