ChatGPT Writes a Song in the Style of Nick Cave–and Nick Cave Calls it “a Grotesque Mockery of What It Is to Be Human”

Pho­to by Bled­dyn Butch­er via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Last year, not long before Christ­mas, every­one on the inter­net received a shiny new toy in the form of Chat­G­PT, which by the pow­er of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence can near-instan­ta­neous­ly gen­er­ate most any text one asks it to. And after a bit of exper­i­men­ta­tion, one is inclined, nat­u­ral­ly, to turn such an impres­sive tech­no­log­i­cal achieve­ment to the most ridicu­lous pos­si­ble uses. Over the past few months, pas­tiche has proven an espe­cial­ly pop­u­lar use of Chat­G­PT: my own inter­est was first piqued, as I recall, by its gen­er­a­tion of instruc­tions for “how to remove a peanut-but­ter sand­wich from a VCR” in the style of the King James Bible.

It’s unknow­able what the author or authors of the Bible (depend­ing on how you hap­pen to con­ceive of its author­ship) would think of the results. But we do know just what Nick Cave thinks of Chat­G­P­T’s attempt to write a song in his style. You can read its lyrics at The Red Hand Files, the site of Cave’s ques­tion-and-answer newslet­ter (in which he has opined on these mat­ters before). Con­sist­ing of two vers­es, a cho­rus, and an out­ro filled with lines about “a siren’s song,” “the blood of angels,” and “the fire of hell,” the song was sent in by a fan named Mark in New Zealand, to whom Cave writes a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly thought­ful reply — or at least he does after deliv­er­ing his ver­dict: “This song sucks.”

“What Chat­G­PT is, in this instance, is repli­ca­tion as trav­es­ty,” Cave writes. “It could per­haps in time cre­ate a song that is, on the sur­face, indis­tin­guish­able from an orig­i­nal, but it will always be a repli­ca­tion, a kind of bur­lesque.” Gen­uine songs, he explains, “arise out of suf­fer­ing, by which I mean they are pred­i­cat­ed upon the com­plex, inter­nal human strug­gle of cre­ation.” But “Chat­G­PT has no inner being, it has been nowhere, it has endured noth­ing, it has not had the audac­i­ty to reach beyond its lim­i­ta­tions, and hence it doesn’t have the capac­i­ty for a shared tran­scen­dent expe­ri­ence, as it has no lim­i­ta­tions from which to tran­scend.”

“What makes a great song great is not its close resem­blance to a rec­og­niz­able work,” he con­tin­ues. “Writ­ing a good song is not mim­ic­ry, or repli­ca­tion, or pas­tiche, it is the oppo­site. It is an act of self-mur­der that destroys all one has strived to pro­duce in the past.” This is the act that Cave him­self has com­mit­ted to over and over again through­out his half-cen­tu­ry-long musi­cal career. But even if that act will lie for­ev­er beyond the grasp of an arti­fi­cial-intel­li­gence sys­tem, no mat­ter how robust, it also lies beyond the grasp of the many human musi­cians con­tent to crank out the same old songs for decades on end. Per­haps it is they, not the Nick Caves of the world, who should wor­ry about the likes of Chat­G­PT putting them out of work.

Relat­ed con­tent:

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

Lis­ten to Nick Cave’s Lec­ture on the Art of Writ­ing Sub­lime Love Songs (1999)

Demys­ti­fy­ing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand,” and How It Was Inspired by Milton’s Par­adise Lost

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Nick Cave’s Beau­ti­ful Let­ter About Grief

Nick Cave Nar­rates an Ani­mat­ed Film about the Cat Piano, the Twist­ed 18th Cen­tu­ry Musi­cal Instru­ment Designed to Treat Men­tal Ill­ness

Hayao Miyaza­ki Tells Video Game Mak­ers What He Thinks of Their Char­ac­ters Made with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence: “I’m Utter­ly Dis­gust­ed. This Is an Insult to Life Itself”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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 or on Face­book.

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  • Rod Stasick says:

    I read that so many peo­ple are upset about gen­er­a­tive AI pro­grams.
    They are a tool — not a be-all and end-all and they are cer­tain­ly not to be approached as an either/or propo­si­tion. This is clear­ly anoth­er exam­ple of some folks unable to expe­ri­ence nuance in their cre­ative and some­times, every­day activ­i­ties.

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