AI, Music and Nature – The Artist’s Future Challenges
(Deutsche Version auf Seite 2)
When I look around in 2020 I realize that technology affects me more than I want to admit. It‘s more than just a tool already, it’s part of my reality. I even feel incomplete when I leave the house without my smartphone sometimes!
Because I‘m in the process of writing a new album at the moment I ask myself the question whether technology could affect my artistic creation and especially the intention behind it.
What is the mission of the musician if artificial intelligence will outshine the analytic skills of human beings?
Let us take a look at the evolution of humans and machines. In my observation the previous strengths of humans seemed to be represented by their hands, their brain and the resulting ability for complex communication and problem solving.
Until the industrial revolution, craft and physical work had a much higher significance. With their hands and minds humans created things manifold which didn‘t exist in this way before. They were building houses and tools, domesticated animals and so forth and thereby separated themselves from nature. If I think about the opposite of nature I think of things created by human beings (cars, houses, streets, machines etc.). Consequently there would be two poles: Man and Nature. Under this presumption I would observe myself as the opposite of nature as well.
With the advance of the industrial revolution the human hand and workmanship is progressively replaced by increasingly more efficient machines. The energy needed for work is now largely raised by external fuels, not by humans. Man’s former strength is only required in lower dimensions because of the enormous increase in machine efficiency. Agriculture and skilled manual jobs are losing importance. The capacity of the mind becomes the more important factor for humans to differentiate from the new machines: The ability to plan and deduce, to calculate and analyze.
With the dawn of the digital revolution mankind has to realize that the new machines they invented – computers – are indeed faster in analyzing and calculating. Stephen Hawking predicted in 2014 already that artificial intelligence would outshine the intelligence of humans very soon. We now appear to be the runner-up in logical thinking.
How does this affect my sense of self?
I now perceive three poles in the outer world: Nature, Humans and Technology. As a human being I can let the artificial intelligence do the thinking and analyzing and let the machines do the manual work. We will have to furthermore yield many tasks and responsibilities to the new machines and the AI, which might have made up a huge portion of our reality as we knew it. This comes with an increased need to rethink and renew our outer perspective and to move from polar opposition towards a closer relationship with nature again.
What does this mean for the creation of art?
I can easily assert that technology is used more and more extensively to create music. With the rise of the internet it‘s getting much easier to learn the particulars of music one is interested in. I am not forced to visit masterclasses with limited members but instead I can just download or stream the lessons of a great musician. With appropriate routine I can learn the techniques that I need without going a long way around. It’s now becoming rather difficult to limit yourself to one ability that you want to learn and stick to it to master it. Still, virtuosity and speed on the instrument are going through an inflationary phase in my perception. The internet is crowded with technically brilliant musicians. Many of the techniques that captured us in awe in the past are now everything but scarce goods. Besides, it would be easy for me to record a solo on 90% speed and let the computer push it to 100%. I claim that the vast majority of the audience wouldn‘t notice it at all.
On the production side of the process technology is already being used to correct human inaccuracies for quite a while. Rhythm is placed on an exact grid, every fluctuation in the performance is evened out. A singer’s intonation can be corrected in real time. Is an algorithm interpreting the music we listen to already?
Now here‘s the resulting question for me:
If technology can support and potentially take over parts of a musicians’ craft, how does the musician move more towards nature?
Nature in art and music?
Let’s look at what remains when we remove everything which is purely analytical or intelligence based from music. While imagining, one will realize that there’s plenty which can already be done by technology to some extent. Robots can already perform live. Even songwriting can be done by artificial intelligence.
I assume that it is everything about the empathetic and emotional aspects of music which will be left over. A musician composes his creations to express a certain part of their reality. People listening to that particular piece will possibly perceive a feeling of resonance or connection. I personally often felt that kind of connection when I listened to a song. After repeated listens, when I finally look up the lyrics, I mostly discover that the song fits my current personal development perfectly – or at least I interpret it that way.
Similar to the sentence „Good job!“, which can be meant as a purely positive compliment as well as sarcastically depreciating, the composer can combine a sinister sounding musical piece with positive lyrics. Then, through the combination of composition and interpretation, the emotional effect that moves me as a human being, arises. With the word „move“ I think about an inner process that encourages me to engage in personal reflection and self-development. I think that this is one if not the crucial point which differs us from technology and lets us observe ourselves as natural beings.
However, the question if AI can at some point in time replace the writing skills of a musician, therefore influencing or even manipulating the empathetic aspect, still remains. I am curious whether technology can interpret art on an abstract level and read between the lines one day.
Accordingly, it seems reasonable to me to not put too much energy into improving yourself on the technical side of musicianship. Of course it should still be part of a musician’s toolbox – the feeling of flow you achieve while playing fast arpeggios and the musical effect for a song are irreplaceable – but the value is decreasing because of the inflation I mentioned before. And it might just not fit into the zeitgeist of the future, who knows? So, what can we give to society as musicians? What is worth investing our time and resources into?
It seems that many people in many parts of the world isolated themselves from their emotions to some extent. They need to suppress their emotions in order to function. Just think about the second world war, whose emotional echo is still ringing into the next generations. The order had to be executed, regardless of what it does to others or even to myself.
It’s a very similar thing in today’s daily demands: You have to take care of your Job and your daily routine, there’s stress and hectic all around, always too many things demanding your attention – therefore emotions have to be pushed away. There’s no space to actually deal with them. It looks like this is something most of us acquired very early in our education. And it is so widespread that it seems to be a systemic issue. How meaningful and important it is to make yourself aware of your emotional life, is only being realized very slowly by society in my perception. It’s starting, however: There’s a school subject called „Empathy“ in Denmark already.
Emotional hygiene is a hugely important aspect in the life of a human being. I can become aware of the resistances and cycles in my life especially through the conscious observation of my emotional state. If I suppress emotions I likely get stuck and remain in endlessly repeating cycles of thoughts and habits, at the worst resulting in depression or addiction.
Jack Ma, the successful Chinese entrepreneur, recommends us to get wise instead of cumulating knowledge. And this could refer to our ability to read between the lines, be emphatic and to focus on our personal development. This is corresponding with my assumption of what will remain in music without the technical aspects.
How do I deal with fear and frustration? And how do I prohibit to feel bitter and approach life actively instead of making myself a victim? Many of the problems that are being discussed today can be traced back to fear. Especially the fear of a future, which doesn‘t even exist.
You need a strong sense of self to take care of your personal development. And that‘s where the artist can interact and support with an empathetic tie. He helps to uncover and understand emotions, to then disaggregate them and to reflect upon the inner emotional state. Through his empathy. Which technology can not (yet) do.
Will machines be capable of understanding emotions enough to artistically process them?
What is needed for this to happen? Which skills and abilities do algorithms need in order to generate emotional or psychological value for potential listeners?
And how can we as humans, as artists and creators, distinguish ourselves further from the machine?
What will the crucial skills and talents of people be, which need to be uncovered and developed as the digital revolution progresses?
Please share your thoughts, ideas and articles with us, which adress these things.
These questions are absolutely key for our future creative work and we are happy about your input!
Simon is a professional guitarist living in Hamburg, Germany, He composes music for Soulsplitter and works as a session player and teacher. With his art he likes to link musical with scientific approaches and use these to develop new perspectives on composition and self-reflection.