Published on April 13th, 2021 | by Emergent Enterprise0
There’s a New Nirvana Song Out, and It Was Written by Google’s AI
Rock n’ roll has nearly always been about being rebellious about established standards. It has unleashed unprecedented creativity and music giving artists a channel to share their most passionate ideas and goals. That’s why today’s post from Vanessa Bates Ramirez at SingularityHub seems antithetical to rock music. With a song created by artificial intelligence, in this case a Nirvana-like grunge tune, is it really creativity? Perhaps the muse of Kurt Cobain weaves its way through the algorithms and 1s and 0s of the AI but it lacks the element that can’t be heard – the motivation and desire to be heard by the artist. Yes, AI can crank out cookie cutter songs, screenplays, videos or photographs. But, it will never replace the heart and soul of the artist and their ability to introduce something completely new to the world. Rock on.
One of the primary capabilities separating human intelligence from artificial intelligence is our ability to be creative—to use nothing but the world around us, our experiences, and our brains to create art. At present, AI needs to be extensively trained on human-made works of art in order to produce new work, so we’ve still got a leg up. That said, neural networks like OpenAI’s GPT-3 and Russian designer Nikolay Ironov have been able to create content indistinguishable from human-made work.
Now there’s another example of AI artistry that’s hard to tell apart from the real thing, and it’s sure to excite 90s alternative rock fans the world over: a brand-new, never-heard-before Nirvana song. Or, more accurately, a song written by a neural network that was trained on Nirvana’s music.
The song is called “Drowned in the Sun,” and it does have a pretty Nirvana-esque ring to it. The neural network that wrote it is Magenta, which was launched by Google in 2016 with the goal of training machines to create art—or as the tool’s website puts it, exploring the role of machine learning as a tool in the creative process. Magenta was built using TensorFlow, Google’s massive open-source software library focused on deep learning applications.
Here’s how a computer was able to write a song in the unique style of a deceased musician. Music, 20 to 30 tracks, was fed into Magenta’s neural network in the form of MIDI files. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, and the format contains the details of a song written in code that represents musical parameters like pitch and tempo. Components of each song, like vocal melody or rhythm guitar, were fed in one at a time.
The neural network found patterns in these different components, and got enough of a handle on them that when given a few notes to start from, it could use those patterns to predict what would come next; in this case, chords and melodies that sound like they could’ve been written by Kurt Cobain.
To be clear, Magenta didn’t spit out a ready-to-go song complete with lyrics. The AI wrote the music, but a different neural network wrote the lyrics (using essentially the same process as Magenta), and the team then sifted through “pages and pages” of output to find lyrics that fit the melodies Magenta created.