AI’s creative potential is becoming established in the visual arts. Now musicians are tapping neural networks for funkier grooves, tastier licks, and novel subject matter.
What happened: Aaron Ackerson, whom the Chicago Sun-Times called “a cross between Beck and Frank Zappa,” produced his latest release with help from the latest generation of generative AI. MuseNet helped generate the music and GPT-2 suggested lyrics. DeepAI’s Text To Image API synthesized the cover art.
Making the music: “Covered in Cold Feet” began its existence as an instrumental fragment scored for violin, piano, and bass guitar.
- Ackerson fed a two-bar MIDI file into MuseNet, which spat out a few more bars based on his raw material.
- He tweaked MuseNet’s output to his liking using his digital audio workstation. Then he fed that material back to MuseNet, which expanded by a few bars more, repeating the process until he had a composition he was happy with.
- “Early in the process, I had MuseNet generate continuations of my simple idea in a lot of different styles, and most did not find their way into the finished song,” Ackerson said in an interview with The Batch. “The one I decided to use followed the main melody with what would later turn into the beginning of the guitar solo.”
- That solo combusts into righteous shredding near the 1:25 mark, a triumph of manual dexterity as much as AI.
Writing the lyrics: The groove reminded Ackerson of the band Phish. So he fed a list of that band’s song titles to Talk to Transformer, an online text-completion app based on the half-size version of GPT-2.
- “Covered in Cold Feet” was his favorite of its responses to the original list.
- He repeatedly fed Talk to Transformer the phrase “covered in cold feet again,” and curated the lyrics from its responses.
- Talk to Transformer doesn’t generate rhymes, so Ackerson added them manually.
Behind the music: The artist composed his first AI-assisted song in 2017 using the Botnik Voicebox text generator. He fed the model bass and melody lines from 100 of his favorite songs translated into solfège (a note-naming system that maps the tones in any musical key to the syllables do, re, mi, and so on). The model spat out fresh note pairings, many of which he had never before considered using. The result, “Victory Algorithm,” is a slide guitar-fueled psychobilly foot stomper.
We’re thinking: AI skeptics worry that computers, if allowed to do creative work, will erase humanity from art. No worries on that point: Ackerman’s personality comes through loud and clear. We look forward to hearing more from musicians brave enough to let computers expand their creative horizons. (For more on MuseNet, see our interview with project lead Christine Payne.)