AI Software Creates “New” Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, Doors & Amy Winehouse Songs: Hear Tracks from the “Lost Tapes of the 27 Club”

What would pop music sound like now if the musi­cians of the 27 club had lived into matu­ri­ty? Can we know where Amy Wine­house would have gone, musi­cal­ly, if she had tak­en anoth­er path? What if Hendrix’s influ­ence over gui­tar hero­ics (and less obvi­ous styles) came not only from his six­ties play­ing but from an unimag­in­able late-career cos­mic blues? Whether ques­tions like these can ever be giv­en real flesh and blood, so to speak, by arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence may still be very much unde­cid­ed.

Of course, it may not be for us to decide. “The charts of 2046,” Mark Beau­mont pre­dicts at NME, “will  be full of 12G code-pop songs, baf­fling to the human brain, writ­ten by banks of com­poser­bots pure­ly for the Spo­ti­fy algo­rithm to rec­om­mend to its colonies of ÆPhone lis­ten­ing farms.” Seems as like­ly as any oth­er future music sce­nario at this point. In the mean­time, we still get to judge the suc­cess­es, such as they are, of AI song­writ­ers on human mer­its.

The Bea­t­les-esque “Daddy’s Car,” the most notable com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed trib­ute song to date, was “com­posed by AI… capa­ble of learn­ing to mim­ic a band’s style from its entire data­base of songs.” The pro­gram pro­duced a com­pe­tent pas­tiche that nonethe­less sounds like “cold com­put­er psy­che­delia — eerie stuff.” What do we, as humans, make of Lost Tapes of the 27 Club, a com­pi­la­tion of songs com­posed in the style of musi­cians who infa­mous­ly per­ished by sui­cide or over­dose at the ten­der age of 27?

The “tapes” include four tracks designed to sound like lost songs from Hen­drix, Wine­house, Nir­vana, and the Doors. High­light­ing a hand­ful of artists who left us too soon in order to address “music’s men­tal health cri­sis,” the project used Magen­ta, the same Google AI as “Daddy’s Car,” to ana­lyze the artists’ reper­toires, as Rolling Stone explains:

For the Lost Tapes project, Magen­ta ana­lyzed the artists’ songs as MIDI files, which works sim­i­lar­ly to a play­er-piano scroll by trans­lat­ing pitch and rhythm into a dig­i­tal code that can be fed through a syn­the­siz­er to recre­ate a song. After exam­in­ing each artist’s note choic­es, rhyth­mic quirks, and pref­er­ences for har­mo­ny in the MIDI file, the com­put­er cre­ates new music that the staff could pore over to pick the best moments.

There is sig­nif­i­cant human input, such as the cura­tion of 20 or 30 songs fed to the com­put­er, bro­ken down sep­a­rate­ly into dif­fer­ent parts of the arrange­ment. Things did not always go smooth­ly. Kurt Cobain’s “loose and aggres­sive gui­tar play­ing gave Magen­ta some trou­ble,” writes Endgad­get, “with the AI most­ly out­putting a wall of dis­tor­tion instead of some­thing akin to his sig­na­ture melodies.”

Judge the end results for your­self in “Drowned by the Sun,” above. The music for all four songs is syn­the­sized with MIDI files. “An arti­fi­cial neur­al net­work was then used to gen­er­ate the lyrics,” Eddie Fu writes at Con­se­quence of Sound, “while the vocals were record­ed by Eric Hogan, front­man of an Atlanta Nir­vana trib­ute band.” Oth­er songs fea­ture dif­fer­ent sound-alike vocal­ists (more or less). In no ways does the project claim that MIDI-gen­er­at­ed com­put­er files can replace actu­al musi­cians.

They’re affec­tion­ate trib­utes, made by play­ers with­out hearts, but they don’t real­ly tell us any­thing about what, say, Jim Mor­ri­son would have done if he hadn’t died at 27. Yet the cause is a noble one: a rejec­tion of the roman­tic idea at the heart of the “27 Club” nar­ra­tive — that men­tal ill­ness, sub­stance abuse, etc. should be glam­or­ized in any way. “Lost Tapes of the 27 Club is the work of Over the Bridge,” notes Fu, “a Toron­to orga­ni­za­tion that helps mem­bers of the music indus­try strug­gling with men­tal ill­ness.” Learn more about the project here and about Over the Bridge’s pro­grams here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Writes a Piece in the Style of Bach: Can You Tell the Dif­fer­ence Between JS Bach and AI Bach?

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

Experts Pre­dict When Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Will Take Our Jobs: From Writ­ing Essays, Books & Songs, to Per­form­ing Surgery and Dri­ving Trucks

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

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Gloria M Wright says:

    .. Amy had s0 much to say! And this, although it mim­ics at best, the tem­po.. and per­haps her voice(in min­i­mal degrees); … Is not close to pro­vid­ing the feel­ing Alyssa music/songs/harmonies did. Sor­ry.

    But to the soft­ware engi­neers I will say: good job. I just can’t see how AI could ever repro­duce actu­al, heart­felt feel­ing and emo­tion that is expressed through instru­ments and vocals..(?).. it comes and flows from the heart. [Is my own per­son­al belief, for what it’s worth.]

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