The First Track of the First Album Composed and Produced by AI

The first pop album composed and produced by AI, and Taryn Southern.


At Big Think, we’ve been intrigued for a while about the intersection between artificial intelligence/machine learning and creativity. There was a crazy AI-written movie script a while back, and a couple of attempts by AI at producing music . In one case, it generated a melody and basic chords (hiding, admittedly, somewhere inside a splashy arrangement contributed by a human arranger and performers). In another case, Google AI produced some, shall we say, abstruse piano fragments. But we haven’t seen anything like this before. Singer/songwriter — and YouTube starTaryn Southern is working on an collection of songs whose instrumental backings were created entirely by an AI program (Southern writes the melodies and lyrics).

The appropriately futuristic, palindromic title for the album is: I Am AI. The first single, “Break Free,” came out a couple of weeks ago.

The video effects at the end are also AI-generated, by Google’s Deep Dream. (TARYN SOUTHERN)

One of the things that’s immediately striking about “Break Free” is that it sounds so normal. It’s not bloops and bleeps, nor is it... well... as completely insane as previous attempts have seemed.

The AI app Southern is using is called Amper. It’s a web-based tool in which you set some basic parameters for the music you want, and Amper creates, or renders, it for you. If you don’t like what Amper comes up with, you can render again. Its creators promise the app never repeats itself, presenting you with a new chunk of music with each render. Southern tells Big Think that she’s done this as many as 134 times to get what she was looking for in a particular piece of music. 

The few criteria you provide Amper are pretty simple. You can choose from among four styles.

(AMPER MUSIC)

You can select your instrumentation.

(AMPER MUSIC)

You can also pick your tempo — in minutes and seconds, though unfortunately not bars — and you can select the key you want.

And that’s it. Amper is not really designed for writing songs, per se. It’s more about generating music backgrounds for videos, games and augmented reality projects. Southern says the company told her she was the first artist using it for songwriting as far as they knew, and they’ve been learning about their own program from what she’s doing with it. One obvious question that comes to mind is who exactly owns the Amper-created songs, Southern or Amper? How about Southern and the person/people who wrote the Amper algorithms? When asked about this, Southern laughs, saying, “We are working through those issues.”

Southern is a self-described “music hacker” who settled on Amper for its high quality after investigating a few other AI-music platforms. She says she loves expressing herself through words and melodies, but after dealing with the expense and logistics involved in recording her music with other humans, she became intrigued with the possibilities of AI: “I got excited that I could do this on my own.”

While the process is cumbersome — especially looking for the right music to fit around a pre-conceived melody, as with “Break Free” — it holds obvious promise. She’s enjoying working with Amper as a creative challenge, thinking of it as a “fun box to play in for an album.” An easier approach would be to let it devise instrumental backings on top of which melodies would be crafted, and that’s a method Southern’s currently exploring. “Right now, I’m writing more to the AI.” She’s also considering layering more human performances on top of the Amper material to add more “interesting textures,” making the AI more “just an inspiration point.”

Amper rendering music (AMPER MUSIC)

There’s a video at the bottom of Amper’s home page that reflects just how new all of this is, and its somewhat hyperbolic claims reveal the unclarity many of us share in trying to envision AI’s rightful place in our lives and in the creative process. Amper’s co-founder and CEO Drew Silverstein says that the creators of Amper believe “the future of music will be created by the collaboration between humans and AI.” It’s hard to know what to make of this.

On one hand, music, art, and other media may be the ultimate forms of human expression, communicating feelings and ideas, as they do, on a unique level. What would AI have to do with that — does AI have a need to express itself?

(ADVENT via SHUTTERSTOCK)

On the other hand, using it as Southern does unquestionably makes sense. You’ll have to decide for yourself, though, if AI is really her collaborator, or simply a tool her own talent and musical taste allow her to effectively employ.

It should also be said that Amper’s primarily aimed at people who express their creativity visually, and simply need original (and free) music that complements their vision, “instantly and with no experience required.” This may be why you set the length of Amper music in minutes and seconds, to match a video’s length. Statements in the video like “We are enabling millions and millions of people to express themselves, and to express their creativity…” and promoting the benefits of “lowering the bar” only really make sense if Silverstein’s addressing visually oriented people.

It would seem that AI music generation would be of the least use to a musician who specializes in composing, and wouldn’t want to shift the responsibility elsewhere. For that person, lyric-writing AI could be a heaven-send. Still, in 2017, it’s as likely to be just about as ridiculous as the movie script we mentioned earlier.

Southern points out an issue that comes from making the creative process so frictionless. “There’s a rub in using something like AI to fuel a creative project,” she says, because, “there’s no need to learn how instrumentation works. We’re seeing this across every creative field. Does it make the person less creative? Does it bring the art form down? I don’t know.” Still, she says, “I’d rather see people have tools to express themselves than not, because that’s an entry point into a different way of thinking and a different way of expressing.”

Ready for the future (TARYN SOUTHERN)

When AI is really fully capable of creating entire songs and recordings — with music, lyrics, and performances — it’s likely we’ll all be at least initially curious to hear what it sounds like. And the field is still so young. As AI becomes more and more alive and individuated — we’re thinking Data on Star Trek TNG — it may well have something very much like feelings and a soul. And it may have something of its own that it absolutely has to express.

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Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.