Are AI-generated songs a “grotesque mockery” of humanity, or is it just an opportunity to create a new kind of music? | Jeff Sparrow

earlier this week, A fan named Mark Nick Cave, for reasons not entirely clear, sent in some lyrics written “Nick Cave style” by the ChatGPT AI system.

Suffice it to say that Cave was not pleased with the algorithmic tradition.

“With all the love and respect in the world, this song is rubbish, a hideous mockery of what it means to be human, well, I don’t like it very much.”

Fair enough: why would he do that?

But cave on his Red Hand Files blog It raises issues relevant to all of us, as we reflect on what the AI ​​revolution will mean for our lives and careers.

For Cave, ChatGPT couldn’t write an “original song” but only a “reprise, kind of ironic.” This is because, he says, true songs arise from “the complex inner human struggle of creation”:

It is what we humble mortals can offer, which artificial intelligence can only imitate, the transcendental journey of an artist forever grappling with his imperfections. This is where human genius lies, deeply rooted within those limitations, yet transcending those limitations. “

Now, artists have been concerned about the stifling effects of technology since time immemorial.

Back in 1906, Composer John Philip Sousa An argument, in very familiar terms, against a futuristic invention called the phonograph.

“So far, it’s been the totality of music, from its first day until then,” Sousa said, along the line that made it an expression of a state of soul. Now, in the twentieth century, come to these talking and playing instruments, and offer again to reduce the expression of music to a mathematical system of speakers, wheels, gears, discs, and cylinders.”

You can find similar denunciations of electric guitars, synthesizers, drum machines, auto-tuning, and just about every new development in making or recording songs.

However, time and again, people have discovered ways to employ technology in exciting and innovative ways.

Think back to the golden age of hip-hop: how producers used sampling—a technique many considered plagiarism—to make an entirely new kind of music.

This example—in particular, the post-sampling legal restrictions—also shows how the possibilities associated with a particular technology depend on the socioeconomic context in which it appears.


After all, most pop songs aren’t the result of individual geniuses, and they haven’t been in a long time. Dating back to 1910, The New York Times A piece may be published with a title “How Ballad Factories Make a Big Hit”.

She explained, “At present, the consumption of songs by the masses in America is as constant as their consumption of shoes, and the demand is similarly met by factory production.”

Then as now, companies in hard business embraced whatever methods they might make as much money as quickly as possible.

To disrupt pop music — and many other fields, too — artificial intelligence doesn’t need to show genius. It must only be good enough that its cheapness in comparison to human labor exceeds any appreciable decrease in quality.

A few years ago, in his book song machineJohn Seabrook chronicles how Swedish producers like Denniz Pop, Max Martin, Dr Luke, and more are transforming contemporary music. To create iconic songs for the likes of Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Beyoncé, production wizards start with simple chord progressions on laptops, distribute the files to a wide range of singers, beatmakers, hook writers, songwriters, and tastemakers, and then mix digital snippets from multiple contributors. In all seamless.

David Hajdu from The Nation describes the method Not so much industrial as post-industrial, as it involves “mining through the vast digital repository of recordings of the past, by simulating or referencing them through synthesis, then manipulating and integrating them.”

AI fits this type of songwriting perfectly.

Max Martin has been known to give Britney Spears the disturbing lyric “Hit me baby one more time” because, as a non-native English speaker, he misunderstood teen slang in text messages. However, as songwriter Ulf Ekberg explained, “It was to our advantage that English was not our mother tongue because we are able to treat English very disrespectfully, looking only for the word that sounds good with the melody”.

Does anyone really think that Martin and his team wouldn’t have used ChatGPT, had the software been around at the time?

None of this suggests that AI is in and of itself an obstacle to musical creativity. The problem lies not so much with technology as with a social system that immediately directs every innovation to profit, regardless of the consequences for art or society.

If there’s money to be made with “Nick Cave-style” AI-generated songs, that’s what we’ll get, no matter how low the scores get.

It probably wouldn’t affect Cave himself too much, given the loyalty of his fanbase. But the same logic applied elsewhere is threatening Serious consequences for ordinary people.

After all, an AI doesn’t have to be a genius to put you out of a job. It just needs to be convenient – and a little cheaper.

Geoff Sparrow is a columnist for Guardian Australia

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