In November of last year, an intriguing musical collaboration took place at Stockholm University of the Arts: a fusion of human and artificial intelligence. The performance commenced with musician David Dolan, seated at a grand piano, playing his music into a microphone. Simultaneously, a computer system, masterminded by composer and Kingston University researcher Oded Ben-Tal, attentively “listened” to the composition, extracting data on pitch, rhythm, and timbre. Then, in a manner reminiscent of a human collaborator, the AI system contributed its own accompaniment. This unique performance featured a blend of transformed piano sounds and newly synthesized elements, resulting in an ethereal and texturally rich auditory experience.

In a landscape often characterized by concerns about machines replacing human creativity, this harmonious collaboration between human and machine challenges such narratives. While there have been apprehensions about AI encroaching on various creative domains, such as journalism and art, some artists, particularly musicians, are intrigued by the possibilities of AI augmenting human creativity rather than supplanting it.

Composer Oded Ben-Tal, who orchestrated this AI-human partnership, believes that creativity encompasses multiple facets, including inspiration, innovation, craftsmanship, technique, and dedication. He contends that computers can play a supportive role in these aspects of creativity. The concept of computers generating music has been contemplated since the inception of computers themselves. Ada Lovelace, a mathematician and writer, once envisioned Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, an early computer, as a potential tool for generating complex and scientific music compositions.

In the realm of popular music, artists like Ash Koosha, Arca, and Holly Herndon have embraced AI to enhance their creative work. Holly Herndon, in particular, has explored the intersection of technology and music with her “AI-powered vocal clone,” Holly+. She emphasizes the opportunity that technology offers to expand artistic horizons rather than viewing it through a dystopian lens.

Even in the context of AI chatbots like ChatGPT and Bing, artists have engaged with the emotional responses these AI models evoke in humans. Bogdan Raczynski, for instance, discerned a range of emotions in the chatbots’ interactions with humans, leading him to offer “comforting live performances for AI.”

Oded Ben-Tal suggests an alternative perspective to the often-pervasive narrative of humans versus machines. While generative AI can be disconcerting due to its apparent display of creativity, he sees it as another instrument, a technology within a lineage of creative tools. For him, generative AI is akin to turntables, which revolutionized music by enabling artists to scratch records and incorporate new sounds.

However, the introduction of AI into creative domains also raises questions about copyright and the role of AI in music generation. Issues surrounding potential misappropriation of creative content and the need to credit AI-generated works are areas of concern. Musicians can currently use AI to collaborate outside their expertise, drawing inspiration from AI-generated compositions in genres they may not be familiar with.

Looking ahead, there is a tantalizing prospect that AI could seamlessly manifest an artist’s vision. The idea of a musician holodeck, an AI system that can access and generate any conceivable sound, presents exciting possibilities. Yet, in the music industry, algorithms are already impacting artists’ careers, with platforms like Spotify influencing musical trends and listener preferences.

In this evolving landscape, some artists, like Bogdan Raczynski, aim to navigate the wave of AI integration rather than be overwhelmed by it. Acknowledging the inevitability of developing a relationship with AI, Raczynski aspires to cultivate a reciprocal partnership rather than a self-centered one.

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