I was listening to Will Guyatt on the radio this morning. In case you are unfamiliar with his name, his Linked In profile describes him as a communications consultant and technology journalist. For you and I read ‘Geek’! If there’s something new on the net, some innovative techno toy or an astonishing new phone app, he will have been there, done that, got the T-shirt and blogged or vlogged a review.
This morning, in conversation with presenter Darren Adams on LBC, the topic was music generated by Artificial Intelligence. I learned that not only is there such a thing as original tracks produced by robots but they can apparently create sounds and words to match the style of famous bands. Sort of. This is effected by inputting every track ever produced by a band, including all the lyrics they ever wrote and then the ‘bot is put to work writing and recording something similar, a bit like a tribute band with new material. The result puts me in mind of Dr Samuel Johnson’s response to diarist James Boswell’s comment that he had heard a woman preaching, unheard of back in the eighteenth century.
“I told him I had been that morning at a meeting of the people called Quakers, where I had heard a woman preach. Johnson: "Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all." “.
So pithy, so patronising, the perfect put-down! I too was surprised to find this quasi-plagiarism done at all and having Googled a few samples, I can attest to the fact that it’s not what I’d call done well. Here is a critique of a few of the famous bands so far bastardised, with efforts ranked lowest to highest in merit by New Musical Express. I include mini-clips of their equally pithy put-downs. You can find the full list and reviews on the NME website under the header ‘All the rock songs written by AI bots – ranked and rated in order of… greatness?’
AC/DC Bot name: AI/DC
When decrypting the heft and poetry of AC/DC, Funk Turkey’s AI exposes some of its strengths and limitations. and it certainly needs to brush up on its grasp of human innuendo. “Great balls / Big balls / Too many women with the balls,” goes the suitably meaty chorus before the programme appears to interface with an online slang dictionary and starts shouting “BOLLOCKS! KNACKERS!” And with confirmation that the song is unequivocally about testicles, the essential enigma of AC/DC dissipates. Game over.
The Beatles Bot name: Sony CSL Research Lab
Unlike the rest of this list, ‘Daddy’s Car’ was entirely composed by AI, music and all. Researchers created FlowMachines, capable of learning to mimic a band’s style from its entire database of songs, fed it the complete works of The Beatles and got… well, a wonky Air. “Take me to the diamond sky… Good day sunshine in the backseat car,” Cold computer psychedelia – eerie stuff.
Red Hot Chilli Peppers Bot name: Red Bot Chili Peppers
Funk Turkey turned his lyric mangling gadgetry upon RHCP, and it clacked out some absolute beauts. “I’ll be there – can I find your papa / And spank you upon your mama?” it opens, It goes on to rhyme “meth lab” with “rehab” and ends byfilling the screen with one endlessly scrolling word: ‘CaliforniaCaliforniaCaliforniaCalifornia…’.
Nirvana Bot name: NirvanAI
Funk Turkey’s finest moment thus far. His laptop reincarnation of Kurt Cobain serves to prove that Nirvana managed to never become cliched or formulaic. Lines such as “In all we are is all is gay”, “I wear a gazeless stare” and “I could eat your heart-shaped box for food” are recognisably Kurt but not comically so
The site conveniently includes play buttons on each track so you have a listen and decide for yourself. As you’ve probably gathered, many of the lyrics are totally unintelligible and the sounds don’t even come close to a decent tribute band but what else would you expect from a dog walking on its hind legs! I do like the Bot names, though – presumably they’re written by a real-life programmer!
Another frightening development in the world of music is a website entitled theselyricsdonotexist.com subtitled ‘Lyrics Generated using Artificial Intelligence’. The intro reads ‘Generates completely original lyrics for various topics, uses state of the art AI to generate an original chorus and original verses. You can choose the AI songwriter lyrics topic, lyrics genre and lyric mood’
In other words, a site for lazy songsters and if the NME samples are anything to go by, don’t expect Shakespearean sonnet-ry or Lennon-McCartney poetry. My guess is that the result won’t make a lick of sense!
And for those stuck for both lyrics and tune there’s withalysia.com , complete with handy Apple or Android app which will generate the entire thing. Users can click on ‘Original Lyrics’, ‘unique Melodies’ or ‘In-App Voices’. Grateful user’s comments include "I found Alysia to be an amazing collaborator that made it possible for me to make music. Without Alysia, I would have been lost.", from one James Morgan, Artist and "Alysia is the beginning of a new era of music composition. It's an outstanding app that makes it easy for anyone to create great music." from Gwendolyn, Singer
In other words, it’s for totally talent-less souls who want to be famous. Sadly there are all too many in that category around today. Music-wise you might say we’re heading for Rock Bot-tom – two puns in one, there - Beat that, Bot!