License to suck

AI is coming. We’ve all heard it. Depending on your knowledge your view of it may be more or less vague. Machine learning. Deep machine learning. There are many buzzwords for sure and a lot of people using them wrong or half-wrong. I better watch my tongue.

AI is seeping into music too. I think there was some artificial popstar from Japan or Korea a few years back. But AI is available for us all. Google Magenta is a series of free AI-powered tools for music making that can be used with Ableton Live. Helping your beats groove like your favourite drummer or continuing on the melody you’ve only written half of.

I’m sure the tools can be great and could take me in interesting directions. Still, I haven’t used them. Maybe that could be a challenge?

Anyway, for me the promise/threat of AI raises the question of humanity. What’s human in our music, what is important? What makes it feel real? I don’t intend to enter into any discussion if acoustic or finger-played instruments are more human than programmed, or let’s say quantized midi.

Maybe it is the human esthetic decision making that is important? Because no matter if I program my notes or play them in my choices will reflect my taste, my experience of the music that I’ve heard.

There’s this quote by Brian Eno:

“Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit – all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided.”

Well, what if we think about the human body as a medium for music? Its imperfections can now be avoided. We have auto-tune, we can correct mistakes, quantize and move notes in time.

Will this make pitchy vocal takes more desirable? I think we might already be there. AI can also emulate ”perfect imperfection” – perfectly lazy grooves slightly behind the beat etc, even with random mistakes thrown in for extra human-ness.

How do we compete? Do we need to? What is important? What do we want our music to be? Communication? Are we fine with the music equivalent of the AI-powered talk-bots we are getting at call centers?

I find asking myself these questions more interesting than any special answer. But lately I’ve had a growing feeling of my ”crapness” being allowed. There’s no best. There’s just different. Also when it comes to music equipment. I’m feeling less ashamed of my technical limitations on my instruments. I’m not the world’s best singer, guitarist – but neither am I the world’s best friend, dad or partner. I’m not even the worst. I’m half-crap in my own unique way. In music, as well as in life.

Maybe we’re not loved in spite of our shortcomings, but because of them.

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