AI-generated blues misses the human touch — and a metronome

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I heard a new song last weekend called “Soul of the Machine”. It’s a simple, old-timey number in E minor with a standard blues chord progression (knowing musicians would call it a 1-4-5 progression). In it, a voice sings about a soul trapped with a heart that once beat but is now cold and weak.

“Soul of the Machine” is not a real song. Or is it? It’s getting hard to say. Whatever it is, it’s the creation of Snow, an AI tool from a startup of the same name focused on music production. rolling Stone Said the song’s prompt was “solo acoustic Mississippi Delta blues about a sad AI”. And you know what? I doubt I’d give it a look if I heard it in a mix of human-recorded delta blues tunes. The track is technically impressive, convincing enough, and not that great.

I spent at least four nights a week on stage as a semi-professional or professional musician for 10 years or more. For some of that time, I played in a genre called Western Swing. Bob Wills is the most famous example of this style, but some very astute people say that more credit should go to Milton Brown, who pioneered early blues and swing acts like The Hocum Boys (featuring Big Bill Bronzey). drawn more directly than Or Bessie Smith. I preferred to play like Milton Brown.

I’ve played the basic chord progression of “Soul of the Machine” – and its variations – countless times. So, when I say chords go around in crazy ways, it’s because I’ve been going around that way too. Playing with rhythm and texture is about creating and releasing tension, and this song doesn’t do that. In contrast, notice the differences in the way Mississippi plays with the rhythm in John Hurt’s “It’s Nobody’s Business,” such as dragging the break or singing the section to a different beat than you’d expect.

But when I tried to play my guitar with “Soul of the Machine,” I couldn’t keep up with the tempo. The song just slows down, like a steam engine stopping. Bad tempos or strange chord changes are not wrong or bad in themselves – nothing in music is necessarily wrong or bad – but the people Those who struggle with rhythm are not that slow. Instead, their speed rises and falls. And when they choose a weird melody, it’s because they like how it sounds. AI has no such motivations.

Snow’s model can ultimately create music that doesn’t have quirky patterns—like dragging tempos or odd chord changes—that draw attention to its algorithmic core. But not making mistakes is what it takes to compete with human music.

As a musician, performing for a live audience was essential to making money and becoming a known quantity. But we also needed to be good. Doing it well means reacting during the show, delaying part of a song when the crowd likes it, or changing the setlist on the fly. When we were at our best, we created a symbiosis with our audience for a few fleeting moments or sometimes for an entire set. The best actors can do this at will. (I was not one of those actors.)

It’s hard to imagine Snow or anything like it being able to pull it off. So I don’t expect it to replace live music, which is one of the most important parts of the medium, anytime soon. But that’s only part of the package, right? Before we get to a robotic band that moves people to the dance floor or makes people cry in an auditorium, AI needs to move beyond the parlor trick of imitation and begin to demonstrate an understanding of what What moves people?

Snow co-founder Mickey Shulman said rolling Stone that the relationship between listeners and music makers is currently “so one-sided” but Snoo can fix that. He said Snow’s goal is not to replace musicians, but to “connect a billion people with music more than they are now.” The company’s founders “envisioned a world in which music would be immensely democratized.” This is an idea that people often float for AI art as well. It seems like a friendly, lofty goal, and I get the appeal — it’s not all that different from what made Neo learn kung fu through a neck plug. Matrix Such an attractive idea. no.

But I always get stuck on this word: Democratic. rolling Stone In this example I was paraphrasing, but many proponents of AI art have used the term “democratization” in extolling the benefits of creating text or art by algorithmic proxy, and this has troubling implications. That, somehow, creative people are guarding the gates of creation. the process

Even if that were true, it’s not very clear that Snow could help. It’s questionable whether tools like this are anywhere close to making the leap from digital facsimile to human-style creativity on their own.

Photo by Wes Davis/The Verge with ChatGPT

AI image generators have the same problems with details, like the image above, where I tried to get ChatGPT to give me something like Mike Mignola. hell boy. As a teenager, I would zoom in on the pages of Mignola’s comics as close as my eyes would allow me to catch the details. Here, the details make it worse, not better. My enjoyment is broken when I see missing feet or a jacket morphing into the arms of a fake Hellboy.

I sympathize with the desire to use AI to make up for any shortcomings I have as an artist, but whenever I talk about democratizing creativity, I can’t help but picture Can’t make someone argue with one of these doormen when they just can. Walk around them Just by doing creative things.

That’s not to say you won’t find people trying the art of gatekeeping, but I’ve found that before joining their ranks, I need help and encouragement rather than asking for my goodwill. There are other inspiring artists. You can sum up the attitudes of many artists with this quote from songwriter Dan Reader: “You can mess up the simplest song, and somebody’s going to laugh at you. And if they do, they’re going to laugh at me.” Might as well blow up, because no one laughs at you.

None of this is to say that AI needs to replace creativity at all to be useful. I wouldn’t argue if you told me you thought Dustin Ballard’s “There I Ruined It” AI voice parody song – which works because of its impressive singing ability and musical understanding – would work. Art is. And as the edgeAs shown in a December video by Becca Farsace, Boris Eldagsen spends months on AI-generated artwork that demonstrates how its “promptography” can create thought-provoking works.

In both cases, AI is not used as a shortcut to creativity. Instead, it expands on ideas they already have and may even inspire new ones. If anything, they reinforce the idea that if you want to create something, there’s only one way: just be creative.

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