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.

Empathic music?

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.



Comments are closed.

  1. Prosti 2 years ago

    Hi Simon, “Wo werden die entscheidenden Fähigkeiten und Talente des Menschen zu finden und entwickeln sein, wenn die digitale Revolution weiter voran schreitet?” Diese Frage, die Du gg. Ende Deines Posts stellst, hat sich mir geradezu aufgedrängt. Sie erscheint mir persönlich besonders wichtig. Besonders bedeutsam – und richtig – erscheint mir, dass Du bewusst nach dem WO fragst, und nicht nach dem WIE. Ich bin, generationsbedingt, ganz alte Schule. Üben mit ‘nem Zerrer vor’m Röhrenradio, raushören vom quitschenden Tape, im besten Fall von Platte, in Echtzeit. Ich habe noch nie am Computer etwas gespielt, weil sich das schlicht mit meinem Begriff von spielen nicht verträgt. Als mir ein Freund Anfang der 90er erkären wollte, was das Internet ist, habe ich ihm kein Wort geglaubt. Die digitale Revolution spielt(e) also keine allzu große Rolle in meinem Leben. Und dennoch: Auch ich brauchte regelmäßig Abstand. Abstand von meiner geliebten Musik auf hunderten Kassetten oder Platten. Abstand von der (wunderschönen) Stadt, in der ich lebte. Abstand vom Gitarre üben bis das Radio glüht (wörtlich!). Denn auch all das ist ja letztlich mit Technologie verbunden. Nach 6 Wochen Ostsee – wie freute ich mich auf “Creeping Death” von meinem Metallica Tape! Wie habe ich den Geruch der Stadt, das andere Licht förmlich in mich aufgesogen! Wie viele neue Ideen konnte ich auf der Gitarre ausprobieren! Ich glaube, Menschen, die völlig im Einklang mit der Nature leben bzw. lebten, brauchten und brauchen einen solchen Abstand nicht. Die oben zitierte Frage hat in mir das Bild eines Pendels bewirkt. Je weiter das Pendel zur einen Seite (digitale Revolution) ausschlägt, desto weiter in der anderen Richtung liegt möglicherweise der Ort, an den wir uns zurückziehen müssen, um unser Menschsein, unser Selbst, unsere Kreativität zu finden? Ich meine das jetzt gar nicht im esoterischen Sinn, sondern eher banal, ganz praktisch. Je mehr Technologie Du in Dein Leben und Deinen kreativen Prozess lässt, desto weiter musst Du Dich vielleicht von Zeit zu Zeit davon entfernen. Und da ein Pendel bekanntlich niemals an den selben Ort zurückschwingt, führ eine solche Reise stets an neue Orte. Und diese Orte, gegenüber der “Technologie-Seite” des Pendels sind es möglicherweise, wo die entscheidenden Fähigkeiten und Talente schlummern? So, und jetzt schreibst Du einen Song zum Thema “Pendel”. Setzen. 🙂

    • Author
      Simon 2 years ago

      Moin Prosti! 🙂 Ja, wo unsere Stärken liegen, wird definitiv eine spannende Frage werden. Ich denke, dass in der Kunst auch immer ein Spiegel der Gesellschaft erkennbar ist. Im Prinzip ist die Frage, worauf wir unseren Wert legen. Wenn wir mathematisch bis ins letzte Detail ausgearbeitete und durch Software geglättete Musik erschaffen, schaffen wir eine Verbundenheit zum logischen Aspekt des menschlichen Denkens. Aber wie gesagt, werden künstliche Intelligenzen uns da überlegen sein. Die Frage ist also, ob wir uns bewusst dazu entscheiden, uns diesen Spiegel vor unser Gesicht zu halten und uns damit identifizieren. Mischformen aus Technologie und menschlicher Emotionen in der Kunst sind auch möglich. Man setzt die technischen Möglichkeiten wie z.B. Autotune mittlerweile ja als Stilmittel ein. Bei solchen Technologien kommt mir dennoch die Frage auf, inwiefern man sich davon abhängig machen möchte.

      Die Pendelbewegung ist eine gute Vorstellung! Damit wirkt das Verhältnis von Mensch, Natur und Technologie nicht so statisch. Ich denke, das passt gut in die nächste Writing-Session! 🙂 Mir kam die Idee einer Art Etüde, bei der technische Lead-Gitarren mit emotionalen Harmonien und Streichern zusammenkommen. Quasi eine Symbiose zwischen Emotion und Logik, die durch geordnetes Chaos einen gemeinsamen musikalischen Zielpunkt erreicht. Mal sehen, wohin das führt 😉

  2. Toby 2 years ago

    “(…) many people in many parts of the world isolated themselves from their emotions to some extent.”
    This is absolutely true, and with that I suggest a fourth pillar, apart from your very fitting “Nature – Human – Technology”-Dynamic: Society. Society limits the freedom of the individual and shapes general perception by encouraging or enforcing the perspective of a majority or ruling force. While we find comfort in society and can absolutely crave human connection, the interpersonal and intersocietal relationships we build may vary by orders of magnitude. Humans are not designed to be exposed to as much information as we are today. A small group can seem comforting and trustworthy, while being isolated in a society may feel overwhelming and disconnecting. The larger the groups we form, the thinner the common core gets that all members of any given society share and which will shape future generations of these societies as the “proper” way to act, even though the individual perspective could differ greatly from that, and thus alienate individuals from the society it generates. And just with that, the imposed or imagined rules that limit our individual spirit in it’s expression and shape our conciousness clash with the roots of the human, which are still very much in nature. There is so much that technology was not able to free us from, and it is the most inherent flaw in AI as well: Operating on a set of rules, or generating a set of rules from a flawed system that can never represent every single aspect of any individual human because the perception of individual humans is gouverned by the rules of human society. That’s why I think we still have a long way to go before we can even consider AI to be a significant threat to individual artist’s crafts. The artistic merit still comes largely from novelty and the thoughts and worries the presence of AI in art implies, but once those are explored to a sufficient degree, there will be a long time until AI transcendes the human ability to emulate true individuality. Anyway, great thoughts and a good read! 🙂

  3. Fenix 2 years ago

    Hey Toby, thank you for your input!

    Society and culture are indeed hugely important factors to identity, habitual patterns and the filter through which reflection of individuals can take place. I see very very strongly how the paradigms of western societies (like the need to accomplish something at a young age or to maintain a certain status) impact me and my well-being, even though I intellectually revoked them long ago and would like to refuse to give them power over myself.

    I think the focus should shift way more towards small collectives and communities, where core values can be more specifically catered to the needs of the respective individuals and the environment rather than trying to fit whole nations, regions, classes etc. in one category…


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