FEATURE: 2018: A Stasis Odyssey: Is Artificial Intelligence the Natural Way Forward for Music?



2018: A Stasis Odyssey


ALL PHOTOS (unless stated otherwise): Unsplash

Is Artificial Intelligence the Natural Way Forward for Music?


THE title of this piece…


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

refers to the 1968 film directed by Stanley Kubrick – adapted from a short story by Arthur C. Clarke – but, actually, there are comparisons between that Science Fiction classic and exciting developments in music! 2001: A Space Odyssey is about an imposing black structure and the way it provides a connection between the past and the future. When Dr. Dave Bowman and other astronauts are sent on a mysterious mission their ship's computer system, HAL, begins to display increasingly strange behaviour – that leads up to a tense showdown between man and machine that results in a mind-bending trek through space and time. Maybe things are not quite that dramatic and cinematic - but the way man and machine/technology interacts is being explored and evolved. A lot of musicians favour the electronic/digital revolution because it means they can compact and streamline their music into a hand-held device. If you, before, took musicians on the road to provide backing; it would involve ferrying and impractical journeys. Now; many artists can put those backing tracks onto a device and play them at gigs – there are few wage packets and less hauling and work needed by the artist. I will explore the new developments being proposed in music but there are those who prefer things the way they are. There is that human connection and the ability to bond with an audience: music is about the physical revelation and spiritual depth! Songs are written by humans and replacing them with processed vocals and animated figures take away the traditional and obvious joy one would get seeing an actual musician up there.


Many artists see the way music and interaction are becoming distant; the way we play and enjoy music is becoming less physical and connected! Many of us are spoiled and demanding so we always want new music and things right in front of us. A lot of mainstream artists, such as Loyle Carner, feel songs are like chapters in a book: one must wait for them to come together and not be so impatient and greedy. The Internet and streaming mean music can be released instantly and reach millions: people are always on the hunt for something and have lost a degree of patience and discipline. My thoughts have been compelled by an article the BBC wrote that explored breakthroughs happening in the music industry. Developments and advancing music is welcomed: it means we can explore new possibilities and, actually, make music richer and more promising. Technology has been a part of music for a long time but the drive towards new arenas is putting some off. If we continue to explore the limits of modern technology...does that mean the conventional gig risk extinction?! Will we see our favourite artists replaced by holograms (more on that) and watch gigs from our laptops only?! Will we make improvements and steps regarding sound and quality if we remove the physical, human component?! A lot of feedback comes from gigs and the way an artist performs...


Nuances and on-the-fly changes can make a song stronger or different. That decision comes from audience reaction during the gig and it is important having that interaction. We got to gigs (most of us) to experience something real and deep. We bond with the artist(s) and, from the performer’s viewpoint, they want to see the look on people’s faces and get that hit. Many are questioning whether genuine, quality Rock will make a comeback: that is going to be harder to achieve if we feed everything into a machine. It all boils down to those who want to preserve the human element and hear real strings, voices and beats (and other instruments). Whilst I am part of that camp; I am excited by some development occurring. Before I move onto the A.I./holographic point...the technological breakthroughs we have made has provided musicians greater scope and possibility – able to connect with people from their own home. Musicians can record material on a laptop and broadcast shows without having to travel – saving on costs and able to reach more people than performing in a single venue (viewers around the world can log in and watch). In the case of Noel Gallagher’s album, Who Built the Moon? – he recorded and produced a lot of his material on a laptop. Software, laptops and new technology mean artists can produce different-sounding notes and experiment with sounds in a different way.


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

They can create symphonies and huge sounds with the click of a mouse. Were one to attempt that with an orchestra then the cost and logistics of putting that together would be immense. Technology has helped so many musicians reach others and get their music heard: that might not have been possible were they to rely on studios and hiring musicians. Fairly new horizons like block-chain technology mean releases can get sent from the creator to consumer without infringement of copyright and piracy issues. DJ Gramatik become the first artist to ‘tokenise’ himself – meaning fans could buy tokens using cryptocurrency. A lot of these developments are new – so it is hard to know if any problems will arise – but the way music can go from the musician to fan is changing. It is a lot quicker; you can disintermediate distributors and the middle-man and protect the actual product from misuse and any unauthorised copying or distribution. Whilst there are many who want to conserve the heritage and humanity of music; many out there are excited by the greater role A.I. is playing. One of Japan’s biggest Popstars is Hatsune Miku. It is a humanoid singer that has captured the imagination of the Japanese people. It is not a shock such an advanced and technology-focused nation would embrace an alternative in J-Pop. It is, specifically, 3-D holograms that are making the news...


IN THIS PHOTO: Roy Orbison/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Rob Orbison (‘The Big O’) died in 1988 but he is embarking on a tour this year – good work if you can get it! Backed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; ‘he’ will play Cardiff on 8th April. His son, Roy Orbison Jr., hope this landmark will see the hologram play its own Las Vegas residency. Tupac, Elvis Presley; Gorillaz and Michael Jackson have appeared in hologram form and played ‘live’ gigs. Whilst the projection cannot interact with the audience and, essentially, mimic movements like a robot could – maybe this is where music is headed. Some quarters are uneasy having a dead artist resurrected without their consent – and a bit unnerved by the whole concept. Whilst it is a strange experience; many of us wouldn’t have had the chance to watch artists like Michael Jackson and Roy Orbison play. Not only does the upcoming Orbison concert provide a unique collaboration but a demonstration around holograms and what is possible. The concert will have those live musicians but incorporate Orbison’s music in a more sentient and visual manner. The only way we can connect with departed musicians is watching older videos and listening to their music. It is impossible to watch them in the flesh so, in a way, this is a way of making the impossible real. Long-gone artists can collaborate and, like Orbison, they can have their music backed by orchestras.


Maybe the full capabilities and possibilities are years off but it seems holograms and A.I. are here to stay. We will never get rid of real music and abandon the form as we know it: in many ways; A.I. will bring music to new people and places. If you cannot afford to see an artist or are physically unable; they can be projected in your home and you can experience the concert without leaving your room. Some see that as a gateway to the disbandment of live gigs – where performers and fans share a space – and a step towards human disconnection and sloth. The reason, I feel, holograms and A.I.. can transform music is to make the impossible realised. We can get music to far-off places and revive deceased artists; increase the possibilities of what a live show is and, for many living artists, augment their existing music. M.I.A. was at Meltdown last year and pondered the political activism of A.I. – whether something artificial could provide the physicality and humanity needed to provoke revolution and reaction. That is a downside for sure: the fewer human elements available; the less chance we have of inspiring politically-minded music. That is needed in the modern scene - so we have to be aware of that pitfall. Many bands welcome 3-D mapping and virtual-reality. Artists can make their music more interactive and create spellbinding light displays and electronic sets. It means there is not a guy sitting on stage playing a guitar or scratching records.


IN THIS IMAGE: Gorillaz/IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

3-D mapping manipulates objects and creates a completely new feel and look. It means that can come into a set and provide fresh depth and layers. These advancements mean the live set is more immersive and, as such, will bring more people in. I have discussed how fewer people are going to gigs and supporting new artists. It is creating genuine concern but the addition of 3-D and A.I. could provide the same spectacle and entertainment as your favourite box-set. Bands/artists who are getting a bit tired and old – and do not want to keep touring – can, like Gorillaz, go anywhere in the world as often as they please. Whilst Damon Albarn and his crew are in the same venue as their animated selves; they do not have to rely on this in future years. They can sit back and take their music around the world without expending any energy. It will be possible, as the band attests, to preserve the music of artists in a more secure and impressive way than V.H.S. and D.V.D. Many of us have old tapes of our favourite artists from childhood. Gone are V.H.S. recorders so, unless they have been released on D.V.D.; we have lost quite a lot of the past. A.I. is, essentially, the modern-day form of V.H.S. Given, it is more advanced but it means we can ensure music from today is available decades down the tracks.


It is clear the possibilities are very exciting and alluring. These advancements are, literally, the future – they will become more commonplace and continue to grow and solidify. The idea of seeing Roy Orbison come to life in Cardiff is a sight that brings mixed emotions in me. I love the fact new people can see the great man live and right in front of them. I wonder whether the success and popularity of these kinds of concerts will mean every dead artist will come to life and feature on a stage near you. The sense of privacy violation and mawkishness is hard to shake off. As this phenomenon becomes more embedded and ingrained; I guess we will see it as normal and natural. We use virtual-reality and A.I. to simulate dinosaurs, sea-life and specimens we could not otherwise view for ourselves. It seems inevitable that the music world would look to venture into this avenue. My reservations aside – whether it will be expensive to sustain and whether the ordinary person has the technological capabilities to see A.I. concerts from home – I feel economic and ergonomic issues will be addressed and resolved.  It will inspire industries like film and T.V. to use the technology and push the boundaries of what is possible on the big and small screen. It can feed into all areas of the art and the classrooms – used as an educational tool and way of bringing the past (vividly) to life.


I feel A.I. and 3-D is a few years from being viable and truly revolutionary - but its practical advantages are inspiring and very exciting. Musicians can take their music further, physically and audibly, and add new levels and elements in. The amount of data A.I. carries and produces means live performances can be enhanced and elevated – in terms of theatrics, technical possibilities and how we can interact with the past. It is not only about projecting an artist, living or dead, in a unique environment: the way we can collaborate with immaterial forms and technologies can change music for the better and open new horizons. From gigs to recordings through collaborations and the way we hear instruments – all very promising and intriguing. So long as we do not let the machines take over too much – and completely replace physical performance/music as we know it – then that is fine. Knowing how far to go and when to stop is almost as hard as anything else. If a balance can be struck - so we understand why human interactivity is why most people go to gigs and buy music - then there is no reason why A.I., 3-D and other forms of innovation cannot have their place. Unlike disturbing system-error codes and man vs. machine battles; our advancement and curiosity will be much more harmonious (than 2001: A Space Odyssey). Artificial Intelligence might not seem like a natural development and next stage but, for many different reasons, it is…


THE future of music.