What Happens When Artificial Intelligence Listens to John Coltrane’s Interstellar Space & Starts to Create Its Own Free Jazz

Some enjoy free jazz as soon as they first hear it; oth­ers think it sounds like music from an alien civ­i­liza­tion, a lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ence fit only for a jazz fan as high as a kite. But how about as high as a space probe? Out­er­he­lios, a 24/7 stream of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence-gen­er­at­ed free jazz, comes designed for broad­cast into out­er space by Dad­abots, a col­lab­o­ra­tion between musi­cians-turned-pro­gram­mers CJ Carr and Zack Zukows­ki (or, accord­ing to their about page, “a cross between a band, a hackathon team, and an ephemer­al research lab”). Hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly built an AI-gen­er­at­ed death met­al stream (about whose cre­ation you can read in this com­put­er sci­ence paper), they’ve looked to the skies and trained their neur­al net­work on John Coltrane’s Inter­stel­lar Space.

“These duets between Coltrane on tenor (and bells) and Rashied Ali on drums sound like an annoy­ance until you con­cen­trate on them,” writes Robert Christ­gau in his orig­i­nal review of the 1974 album, “at which point the inter­ac­tions take on pace and shape.” The neur­al net­work “lis­tened to the album 16 times,” says the offi­cial Data­bots descrip­tion on the Out­er­he­lios stream, “then con­tin­ued to make music in the style.”

The project draws inspi­ra­tion from NASA’s probes Voy­ager 1 and 2, which “launched in 1977 car­ry­ing a mix­tape Carl Sagan made called The Sounds of Earth. It fea­tured Blind Willie John­son, Chuck Berry, record­ings of laugh­ter, Beethoven, Bach, Stravin­sky, along with dia­grams of human repro­duc­tive organs,” all “intend­ed for an audi­ence of intel­li­gent extrater­res­tri­al life­forms.”

Where­as The Sounds of Earth “used a sta­t­ic music for­mat pre­vi­ous­ly record­ed by peo­ple,” Out­er­he­lios fol­lows on Bri­an Eno’s ideas about gen­er­a­tive music by invent­ing a Coltrane album that nev­er sounds the same twice. “For a few min­utes, it’ll pro­duce plau­si­ble-sound­ing free jazz,” writes Futurism.com’s Jon Chris­t­ian. “Then the drums will segue into an inhu­man trill, or the horns will dis­in­te­grate into a cacoph­o­nous wash of sound. Let’s just say that it’s not your dad’s jazz” — even if your dad hap­pens to be John Coltrane, or indeed Bri­an Eno. But per­haps it will give NASA just the inspi­ra­tion it needs to get the next Voy­ager launched. The sound of the orig­i­nal Inter­stel­lar Space got Christ­gau think­ing beyond nations: “Euro­pean, Ori­en­tal, African — I don’t know. But amaz­ing.” Could the likes of Out­er­he­lios get us think­ing beyond the solar sytem?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Carl Sagan Sent Music & Pho­tos Into Space So That Aliens Could Under­stand Human Civ­i­liza­tion (Even After We’re Gone)

Hear the Declas­si­fied, Eerie “Space Music” Heard Dur­ing the Apol­lo 10 Mis­sion (1969)

The Secret Link Between Jazz and Physics: How Ein­stein & Coltrane Shared Impro­vi­sa­tion and Intu­ition in Com­mon

Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Pro­gram Tries to Write a Bea­t­les Song: Lis­ten to “Daddy’s Car”

Nick Cave Answers the Hot­ly Debat­ed Ques­tion: Will Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Ever Be Able to Write a Great Song?

Space Jazz, a Son­ic Sci-Fi Opera by L. Ron Hub­bard, Fea­tur­ing Chick Corea (1983)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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Comments (3)
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  • Dave Kingsbury says:

    Not unlike Cap­tain Beef­heart on ‘Trout Mask Repli­ca’, though the good cap­tain is much more fun!

  • Inside Out says:

    The grit­ting of the teeth and tight­en­ing of the stom­ach mus­cles real­ly give a sense of Dynam­ics and a cleans­ing effect son­i­cal­ly. I can walk away from the moment and nev­er repeat the clo­sure I felt. The arti­fi­cial has lost sun­rise to it. There’s no tomor­row. Although tru­ly the soul has no rhythm the same.

  • kufuf says:

    ai is obvi­ous not ready to under­stand the sheer genius of mr Coltrane

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