Tag Archives: Artificial Intelligence

Elvis Live(s)

In 2023 Taylor Swift set a record for being at the top of the Billboard album chart, the Billboard 200, more frequently than any other individual: 68 weeks. Swift has been releasing albums since 2006, when her self-titled disc dropped. Her first album at the top was her second, Fearless (2008), which racked up 11 weeks there, or 16% of her total run (so far; she’s probably added to her dominance by the time you read this).

Swift took the top spot from Elvis, who, with 67 weeks, is the second solo artist on the list.

(Both have a ways to go to be at the overall top of the Billboard 200 cumulative list: the Beatles have marked 132 weeks.)

Elvis’ Billboard 200 numbers are for 10 albums released between 1956 and 2002, with that last date being pretty damn good for a guy who died in 1977, or 12 years before Taylor Swift was born.

In Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, if we use the Syd Field three-act structure from his Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting (1979), the Confrontation occurs in a Las Vegas that resembles the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. A dirty bomb apparently went off in Vegas, although it seems as though it was a neutron bomb, given that with the exception of the massive statues that are being reclaimed by the desert, the casino hotels still stand, which gives Rick Deckard, portrayed by Harrison Ford, a place to live, hidden away from the Wallace Corporation. (Apparently he’s been there since the time of the first Blade Runner film, which is set in. . . 2019.)

As Ryan Gosling’s K, in 2049, wanders through the casino that houses Deckard, he goes into a theater, where a glitchy Vegas-era holographic Elvis performs “Suspicious Minds” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” about which Deckard, after engaging in a fist fight with K, says, “I like this song.” Elvis first released the song, which is based on a melody from a French composition of 1784 (“Plaisir d’amour”), in 1961. Deckard is in his 30s in the first film, which means he would have been born in 1989 at the latest or 1980 at the earliest: either way he was born after the 1969 residency at the International that is associated with Elvis and that rhinestone-decorated white jumpsuit.

Evidently, Elvis continued to have resonance maybe in the future (it is not disclosed when Sin City became Empty City, so it based on the setting of the first film in 2019, it could have been anytime between then and 2040, based on the idea that the ruin-like nature would have taken at least nine years to be as manifest as it is). Maybe that future is. . .2024.

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On the Potential Problems of AI & Music or “Avast, Me Hearties!”

Universal Music Group recently filed some comments to the U.S. Copyright Office as part of “Artificial Intelligence and Copyright: Notice and Request for Public Comment.”

“Some” is something of an understatement, as it runs 99 pages.

However, this is not entirely surprising, as the company presents itself:

“UMG owns the most extensive catalog of recordings in the industry, covering the last hundred years of many of the world’s most popular artists.”

If we go back 100 years, to 1923, it is notable that one of the most popular songs of the day was “Yes! We Have No Bananas,” which portended a potassium deficiency among those doing the Charleston.

Continuing in its modesty, the filing goes on to point out:

“Collectively, UMG owns or controls a catalog of sound recordings and musical compositions of incalculable artistic, cultural, and economic value.”

One wonders whether that last adjective isn’t the one that they would have liked to have used exclusively but then realized that the U.S. Copyright Office is part of the Library of Congress and so artistic and cultural value have more currency there.

Continue reading On the Potential Problems of AI & Music or “Avast, Me Hearties!”

New Beatles: Now And Then

Video: Beatles – “Now And Then”

Directed by Peter Jackson. Single out now.

Like millions of other teenagers in 1964 my mom bought the “I Want to Hold Your Hand” single after she saw them on the Ed Sullivan show. I still have her copy.

I’ve loved the Beatles for as long as I can remember but the weekend after John Lennon was murdered, I went to Pando to learn to ski and as I went up and down the bunny hill the loudspeakers were blaring a local radio station that was playing nonstop Beatles music in memoriam. That’s the first time I heard “I am the Walrus” and that’s when they became my favorite band. I was nine.

Paul McCartney has mourned the loss of John Lennon for over forty years. To see him and Ringo in this new Peter Jackson-directed video interacting with their old friends (and old selves) is touching in a way that surprised me. I’ve gotten old and grumpy. I wasn’t even particularly excited about the idea of a “new” “Beatles” song. I had heard John’s original demo. It was dreary.

And I had already been fooled by “Free as a Bird.” It sucked. And “Real Love” was unnecessary; the version on Imagine: John Lennon (1988) was better. So now Paul has resurrected the third song from those 1995 sessions, the song that they abandoned because George thought it was “fucking rubbish.” How could it possibly be anything but embarrassing?

Well it turns out it’s pretty good.

Through demixing technology they were able to isolate John’s vocal from the piano on his shitty cassette and clean it up with the same A.I. that Peter Jackson’s team used so successfully on the audio footage in Get Back. They released a 12-minute film about how they did it.

None of that would matter if the song was rubbish. And it’s not. Not anymore. Paul ditched John’s terrible, unfocused bridge and an unfinished second verse. And those edits make the song better. Way better. Plus there’s a pretty, George Martin-esque orchestral score and a slide guitar solo that Paul plays in the style of George Harrison, another tribute to an old pal. There’s a lot of love put into this. As Stephen Thomas Erlewine put it, “a way of communing with the departed.”

And the video plays on all of that. It seems like this kind of CGI would be goofy but it works. There’s a scene where 80-year-old Paul is listening to a playback and you can see his emotions in his face, see him playing back memories in his mind. You want so badly for him to be able to hang out and goof off with his young friends again like he can in this video. You can tell that Paul misses those guys so much and misses making music with them. Peter Jackson’s video gives him (and us) the opportunity to visualize it. It takes the past and mixes it up with the present in a way that can only exist in our imagination.

The Beatles: web,amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Continue reading New Beatles: Now And Then

Artificial Authors & Blank Bands

“Finding my books on the Books3 data set was disappointing and disorienting: writing is how I’ve made my life, artistically, and—this is important—practically too. . . . Books and writing are how I pay my mortgage, my children’s tuition, my grocery bill. To see my work so cavalierly stolen and used, without my consent, by corporations eager only to increase their own profits, is frankly terrifying.”—Elisabeth de Mariaffi, in The Walrus

Books3, if you’re not familiar with it, is a dataset of books—thousands of them (as in around 183,000)—that were downloaded from pirated sources—so the authors received nothing for their work—and then used to train the AI language models of several companies, including Meta and Bloomberg.

Odds are, you’ve not heard of de Mariaffi.

Odds are, you have heard of Mark Zuckerberg and Mike Bloomberg.

Bloomberg is estimated to be worth $96 billion. Zuckerberg? About $115 billion.

Neither probably thinks about making their mortgage payments or the size of the grocery bill.

There are lawsuits against Books3 by authors and other interested parties.

There are lawsuits against OpenAI for illegally using authors’ works. There are some more famous writers—Jodi Picoult, George R.R. Martin, George Saunders, John Grisham, Jonathan Franzen—involved in suits, as are some, well, outliers, like Mike Huckabee and Sarah Silverman.

While the name brands probably aren’t too concerned about the price of a gallon of milk, what is notable about these undertakings is that these people are trying to protect their work from the potential unfair reuse of manipulated variants thereof that would lead to increased corporate profitability and no benefit redounding to them.

Think about it: Books3, used by humongous corporations, didn’t even plunk down $20 for a copy of The Firm.

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“There’ll Be Spandex Jackets. . .”

A painting known as the de Brécy Tondo recently went on display Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Bradford, England. This is notable because the painting, for decades, has been controversial.

Some people claimed it was painted by Raphael. Others claimed it was a copy of the artist’s Sistine Madonna alterpiece done sometime during the Victorian period, more than 300 years after Raphael worked.

The conclusion that the work was done by the artist and not by some imitator was largely predicated on artificial intelligence. Of course.

Hassan Ugail, a professor at the University of Bradford, and the director the its center of visual computing, developed an AI model that was evidently trained on Old Masters.

Hassan told The Guardian, “My AI models look far deeper into a picture than the human eye, comparing details such as the brush strokes and pigments. Testing the Tondo using this new AI model has shown startling results, confirming it is most likely by Raphael.”

Somewhat more substantive that it was done in the 16th century not the 19th is that Howell Edwards, a molecular spectroscopy professional at the University of Bradford, determined the pigments used were Renaissance-era appropriate. Odds are that some Victorian didn’t chance upon a cache of 300-year-old paint and decide to fake a Raphael.

Whether it is actually the work of the artist is something that, until someone invents a time machine, will never be completely known, AI techniques notwithstanding.

How do we know that the de Brécy Tondo wasn’t painted by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino’s dad, Giovanni Santi, who had been a painter, as well?

Continue reading “There’ll Be Spandex Jackets. . .”

Whistle While You Work (By Yourself)

Several years ago I spent some time living with my brother and then-new sister-in-law. Probably because I felt somewhat awkward with them in a one-bedroom apartment, I would whistle so that they would be aware of where I was. Not that I was some sort of great whistler (in case you are, you might want to know that The Masters of Musical Whistling Competition will be held in Hollywood in September), but I figured that it both served its purpose and was somewhat tuneful.

But then my sister-in-law said to me one day, “Don’t you ever whistle a song?” and that essentially ended my whistling then and pretty much since. After all, I thought that I was sufficiently melodious, riffing on well-known songs of the day. To her it was nothing but a series of high-pitched undifferentiated sounds emitted by my lips.

ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, has released an AI model called “Ripple.” Apparently one can sing or hum something into the app and then the AI expands that with an instrumentation. Suddenly, everyone is a musician of sorts.

Realize that during Q1 of this year there were 120,000 music audio files uploaded to streaming services each day, according to Luminate. Ripple was released at the end of Q2.

Presumably a non-trivial number of those 120,000 files made my whistling sound like I was channeling Molly Lewis, not making perceptually random toots.

Now imagine what is going to happen now that there is the opportunity for people to go “hnnh, hnnnh, hnnh, hnnnnnnh. . . .” and achieve orchestration for their efforts, slight those they may be.

Continue reading Whistle While You Work (By Yourself)

Learning to Write

Let’s say you want to write a sonnet. This means you have 14 lines, typically written in iambic pentameter, and separated into an octave of eight lines (or two quatrains that sum to eight) as well as a sestet, or a six-line stanza. And you then choose a rhyme scheme. There’s, for example, the Shakespeare approach: ABABCDCD EFEFGG. Or you might opt for the Petrarchan sonnet: ABBAABBA CDCDCD.

Or let’s say you’re feeling somewhat more adventurous and decide to pen a villanelle. Here you are going to write five three-line stanzas and end with a quatrain. However, the first and third lines of the first stanza are alternatively repeated in the subsequent stanzas. The consequent rhyme scheme is: ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA.

Or, frustrated with either of those, go for a haiku. This is certainly simpler: three lines with a combined 17 syllables, with five in the first and third and seven in the middle.

(Writing a haiku/can cause a feeling of calm/as others frustrate)

Regardless of which form you follow, assuming that you’re writing in English, there are some 470,000 words that you can use.

However, if you’re opting for the sonnet or the villanelle, there are a few more challenges, in that there are several words in English that don’t rhyme. Yes, orange. But the colors purple and silver don’t have rhymes, either. Wolf and walrus. And many others.

So there are restrictions, or boundaries, that are necessary in order to create something within a particular form or genre. Things can be done differently (Shakespeare published 154 sonnets), but in order to be in a particular form there are things that must be there.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the lawsuit brought by the heirs of Ed Townsend against Ed Sheeran in which it was claimed that there was a copywrite violation with Sheeran using chords and rhythms from “Let’s Get It On” in “Thinking Out Loud.”

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On the one hand, there are the dollar figures, which in themselves are somewhat difficult to come to any reasonable grips with unless you are someone who spends their time being a quant, professionally or recreationally, and if you are one you look at this number and wish that you’d been calculatedly clever enough to have bought a piece of the action before the number dropped:

$2.181 billion

Which, in itself, doesn’t seem that big a deal until you look at it like this:


Which is a significant number of places after the dollar sign.

That, according to MusicBusiness Worldwide, is the Q1 cash generation of Sony for its recorded music and music publishing operations.

An increase of 9.7% over the same period last year.

But now as we move to the other hand, there is something that is truly odd, or at least a little bit unusual.

Here are the musicians who generated the greatest revenue and what got them there:

  • SZA: SOS
  • Miley Cyrus: Endless Summer Vacation
  • Harry Styles: Harry’s House
  • Depeche Mode: Memento Mori
  • Beyoncé: RENAISSANCE
  • Måneskin: RUSH!
  • Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series Vol. 17: Fragments-Time Out of Mind Sessions (1996-1997)
  • Michael Jackson: Thriller
  • Harry Styles: Fine Line

The first thing that is atypical is the fact that Dylan is on the list. The week in October 2016 when Dylan received the Nobel Prize for Literature, Money magazine of all things had a story about Dylan’s chart performance. (Let’s face it: you can readily imagine Money writing about the likes of Ben Bernanke or Paul Krugman, Nobel economics laureates, but Literature? Dylan?)

The piece says, in part, “For all of Dylan’s acclaim and notoriety, and also for how phenomenally prolific ‘the voice of a generation’ has been. . .you might assume he is one of the best-selling artists of all time. Hardcore Dylan fans know that just isn’t the case.”

His sales numbers have not been in the least bit great, at least in the context of Big Selling Artists.

Continue reading Billions

Live Forever: The Lost Tapes

Members of the British band Breezer are big fans of Oasis.

This is not unlike being a dodo bird enthusiast. The dodo, which was indigenous to the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, became extinct in 1681. Said British enthusiasts can visit Oxford and see a head and a foot of a dodo. Or go to the British Museum and see a foot. But the dodos (unless efforts being undertaken by Colossal Biosciences are successful: Beth Shapiro, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, says she has sequenced the dodo genome: don’t these people see movies?), aren’t coming back

And while Liam and Noel Gallagher are not extinct, Oasis isn’t coming back. The band had a good run. Established 310 years after the end of the dodo (might as well keep the metaphor going), the band dissolved in 2009.

But unlike a head and a foot and various other bones, the band left behind 14 albums (seven studio, two live and five compilations), one EP, 28 singles, 19 promotional singles, six DVDs, and 37 music videos, so there are certainly a whole lot of artifacts. To say nothing of the fact that in addition to the two brothers, Paul Arthurs, Paul McGuigan, Tony McCarroll, Alan White, Gem Archer, and Andy Bell are still non-extinct and all of the above are in their 50s, so demographically they have a non-trivial way to go.

Bobby Geraghty, singer, songwriter and producer for Breezer, told The Guardian, “We just got bored waiting for Oasis to reform.”

So he set about training an AI system to “sing” like Liam. He said, “Obviously, our band sounded exactly like Oasis. So then all I had to do was replace my vocals with Liam’s.”

The result is a 33-minute album, The Lost Tapes Volume One, by AIsis.

And Liam Gallagher tweeted out a response having heard some of it: “it’s better than all the other snizzle out there.”

Continue reading Live Forever: The Lost Tapes

Who Are They?

When is a band not a band? That is, generally it would be thought that a group of people get together and decide that their individuality will contribute to a collective undertaking that will be known under a given label, or name. They don’t lose their individuality. But their performances with others are subsumed by the work of the band. It can become the case that except for fans the name of the collective is known while those of the individual members aren’t. So if a member or two happens to leave the band only to be replaced by others, it very well may be that the “band” continues to exist much as it did before, although for those who are fans the absence of the performer(s) may be enough for them to consider the band disbanded.

In some cases it is thought that there are individuals within a band—considering the band as a collective—who are more instrumental to the existence of the band as a whole than others may be and so as long as they are part of the performance, the band continues to exist.

An abiding example of this is “The Who.” The band began in 1964. The members were Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon.

Albums the band released include:

  • My Generation (1965)
  • A Quick One (1966)
  • The Who Sell Out (1967)
  • Tommy (1969)
  • Who’s Next (1971)
  • Quadrophenia (1973)
  • The Who by Numbers (1975)
  • Who Are You (1978)*

But in September 1978 Keith Moon died. Kenney Jones replaced him. Oddly, or appropriately, Jones was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—as a member of the Faces/Small Faces.

The band kept performing and recording. Then in June 2002, John Entwistle died. Entwistle was replaced by Pino Palladino.

Consider: The Who became what is considered to be The Who not merely as a result of Townshend’s playing and writing and because of Daltrey’s pipes and performance. The drums and the bass played a fundamental part of the sound that people became familiar with.

Yet there seems to be an idea that because Townshend and Daltrey were up front, their continued existence and participation are the things that would make a post-Moon and Entwistle organization essentially what it had been before, that the performances are of The Who, not “The Who.”

Isn’t it conceivable that starting in October 1978 and certainly July 2002 that the remnants of The Who, when performing or recording, should have been more appropriately titled Who2 or something of the like? Whatever it was it was not the band that formed in 1964.

But is a band more than a brand? If you have a box of Tide you probably think of it as, well, Tide. And it is Tide. But it isn’t the Tide that was invented in 1946. The formulation is different but the brand name remains the same.

To treat members of a band as being fully replaceable is to really not have a band so much as a brand.

Continue reading Who Are They?