The charts of 2046, of course, 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. While AI busies itself concocting its own form of music, though, what better way to convince us that it’s a harmless bit of fun – and in no way plotting to enslave and farm the human race for methane – than to throw out a song or two?
Though artificial intelligence music dates back to Alan Turing’s experiments with computer-generated melodies in 1951, and Bowie was working with digital lyric randomizers in the ‘90s, it’s only recently that AI-generated music has come into its own. Adverts and computer games often bypass copyright and licensing issues by creating their own soundtracks using programmes such as Jukebox and Amper, which create music from basic parameters such as mood, tempo and genre.
Meanwhile, musicians including Holly Herndon and Francois Pachet have made albums with AI collaborators. Plus the art of the deepfake has emerged thanks to programmes that can consume an artist’s entire work and recreate new examples based on the patterns it finds. Jay-Z, for instance, recently had to take action against YouTubers posting fakes of him rapping Billy Joel songs and speeches from Hamlet.
The rock world hasn’t escaped such treatment, either. It’s almost as if, after a hard day of guessing 123 billion possible passwords for your PayPal account and flogging all your data, even a hot-around-the-circuitboard AI needs to kick back, grab a guitar simulator and knock out a cover or two. Here are the best least worst of the AI-created rock songs so far – ranked!
8Nickelback, ‘Nobody Died Every Single Day’
Bot name: Nickelbot
The only positive about Nickelback is that they can’t continually make music. There’s a merciful limit to what they can play; at some point – oh, blessed relief! – they have to sleep. So the idea of a machine cranking out Nickelback songs 24/7 is more terrifying than any rogue AI getting hold of the nuclear launch codes, and this early example is dire warning indeed. By force-feeding a Markov Chain programme Nickelback lyrics until it vomited sawdust and Sunsilk, YouTube’s Funk Turkey – aka Arkansas comedy musician Kirt Connor – came up with this gnarled grunge-lite monstrosity featuring lines such as “And then we see the car! / You’re never gonna be lonely / Drink everything in sight”. We’re going to have to.
7Morrissey, ‘Bored With This Desire To Get Ripped’
Bot name: Botnik feat. Morrissey
Botnik are a group who’ve developed a programme similar to predictive text for songs, which you can train to suggest words and lyrics from a catalogue of source material. Tracks on their ‘The Songularity’ album (see what they did there?) include an AI Beach Boys and a computer mash-up of Bob Dylan lyrics with bad reviews of restaurants on 4th Street, Manhattan.
In this case they’ve fed in both the lyrics of Morrissey and Amazon reviews of a home work-out DVD at the same time, and from these raw materials the algorithm has woven some quite memorable lines of cross trainer miserablism. “Just to see results I really started to cry”, their rather poor Moz impersonator sings, “I was wasting all my money and my overall health / On a Government scheme designed to push myself to die”.
6The Strokes, ‘I Don’t Wait To Be There’
Bot name: Botnik feat. The Strokes
Sometimes you start to feel sorry for the machine, sifting through the not-exactly-deathless lyrics of Julian Casablancas for anything it can turn into Grammarly’s idea of dazzling wordplay, knowing that its human operators aren’t exactly Funk Turkey in the band impersonation stakes. “Please don’t make me go back to your place”, “So long my favourite person” and “I just need a city to love” are the best it can muster here, and Botnik have a spirited if amateurish stab at making it sound like NYC 2001. Exactly the sort of thing that will convince the AIs that we’re a superfluous species only good for the vanadium they can extract from our bodily tissues.
5Metallica, ‘Deliverance Rides’
Bot name: MetallicAI
Devil horn emoji. From the guy who brought you Nickelbot (in fact, most of the online AI pastiches are the work of Funk Turkey, who writes the convincing musical parody to accompany the computer generated lyrics) comes MetallicAI’s grunting charger, a gruesome metal barrage involving an impressively accurate Hetfield avatar wailing “Hell is the one who waits for you” and “Open your eyes… death!” The software certainly doesn’t shy away from references to mortality here, perhaps knowing it’s destined to be rendered obsolete by Elon Musk inside eighteen months.
4AC/DC, ‘Great Balls’
Bot name: AI/DC
When decrypting the heft and poetry of AC/DC, Funk Turkey’s AI exposes some of its strengths and limitations. Some hard-worn wisdoms emerge (“You fool around, you women, with too many pills – yeah”) but also much digital foolishness. “I’m gonna ride on the dog a touch too much,” it suggests, having clearly not been programmed with any Angus Young/golden retriever weight ratios, and it certainly needs to brush up on its grasp of human innuendo. “Great balls / Big balls / Too many women with the balls,” goes the suitably meaty chorus before the programme appears to interface with an online slang dictionary and starts shouting “BOLLOCKS! KNACKERS!” And with confirmation that the song is unequivocally about testicles, the essential enigma of AC/DC dissipates. Game over.
3The Beatles, ‘Daddy’s Car’
Bot name: Sony CSL Research Lab
Unlike the rest of this list, ‘Daddy’s Car’ was entirely composed by AI, music and all. Researchers created FlowMachines, capable of learning to mimic a band’s style from its entire database of songs, fed it the complete works of The Beatles and got… well, a wonky Air. “Take me to the diamond sky… Good day sunshine in the backseat car,” it goes, dreamily montaging Beatles phrases like Noel Gallagher on heavy duty tranquilisers, while the music takes a lengthy road trip through uncanny valley via Brian Wilson’s gaff. Cold computer psychedelia – eerie stuff.
2Red Hot Chili Peppers, ‘Tool Shed’
Bot name: Red Bot Chili Peppers
Gathering an encouraging YouTube following akin to the Honest Trailers guy (“do Placebot! Do Bot Dylan!” etc.) Funk Turkey turned his lyric mangling gadgetry upon RHCP, and it clacked out some absolute beauts. “I’ll be there – can I find your papa / And spank you upon your mama?” it opens, capturing not just the Chili Peppers’ essential funk strut but also their parental pervosity. It goes on to rhyme “meth lab” with “rehab” and gives its virtual Keidis a bit of authentic funk scat: “ba-di ba-da bazumba crunga cong gone bad”. It could only have been more on-the-nose if the system had crashed, filling the screen with one endlessly scrolling word: ‘CaliforniaCaliforniaCaliforniaCalifornia…’.
Bot name: NirvanAI
Funk Turkey’s finest moment thus far. His laptop reincarnation of Kurt Cobain serves to prove that Nirvana managed to never become cliched or formulaic. Lines such as “In all we are is all is gay”, “I wear a gazeless stare” and “I could eat your heart-shaped box for food” are recognisably Kurt but not comically so, and Turkey frames them with faithful steals from ‘Lithium’, ‘About A Girl’ and ‘…Teen Spirit’ that are more tribute than pastiche. Do AIctic Monkeys!