Listen to how AI software wrote a ‘new’ Nirvana song

Artificial computer-generated tracks of Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse and Jim Morrison highlight new project that helps draw attention to mental illnesses

Since Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994, Nirvana fans have hypothesized about the music he would have made had he lived. But aside from “You Know You’re Right,” the lurid meditation on confusion that Nirvana recorded a few months before his suicide, and some comments he made to confidants about the possibility of collaborating with R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe or going solo, what he mostly left behind were questions.

Now, an organization has created a “new” Nirvana song

using artificial intelligence software to approximate the singer and guitarist’s songwriting. The guitar riffs vary from the quiet plucking in the style of “Come as You Are” to Bleach fury in the style of “Scoff”. And lyrics like “The sun shines on you but I don’t know how,” and a surprisingly anthemic refrain, “I don’t care/I feel like one, drowned in the sun,” have evocative, Cobain-esque qualities.

But aside from the vocals – the work of Nirvana tribute band frontman Eric Hogan – the song’s creators say that almost everything about it, from the turns of phrase to the reckless guitar playing, is the work of computers. Their intention is to draw attention to the tragedy of Cobain’s death by suicide and how living musicians can be helped with depression.

Kurt Cobain died at the age of 27 on April 5, 1994.

The tune, titled “Drowned in the Sun,” is part of Lost Tapes of the 27 Club, a project featuring songs written and mostly performed by machines in the styles of other musicians who died at age 27.

Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Amy Winehouse

Each track is the result of AI programs that analyze up to 30 songs by each artist and granularly study vocal melodies, chord changes, guitar riffs and solos, drum patterns and lyrics to guess what their “new” compositions would sound like. The project is the brainchild of Over the Bridge, a Toronto-based organization that helps members of the music industry who struggle with mental illness.

“What if all these musicians we love had mental health support?” says Sean O’Connor, who serves on Over the Bridge’s board of directors and also works as creative director at advertising agency Rethink. “Somehow, in the music industry, [depression] is normalized and romanticized….. Their music is seen as genuine suffering.”

To create the songs, O’Connor and his team turned to Google’s AI program, Magenta, which learns how to compose in the style of particular artists by analyzing their work. Previously, Sony used the software to make a “new” Beatles song, and electropop group Yacht used it to write their 2019 album Chain Tripping.

Nirvana proved to be one of the most difficult artists for machines to approach. Whereas an artist like Hendrix often built songs like “Purple Haze” and “Fire” with easily definable riffs, Cobain often played punky chord progressions that confused computers. “You tended to get a wall of sound,” O’Connor says of the Nirvana-inspired music Magenta produced. “There’s less of an identifiable thread running through all their songs to give you this big chunk of catalog that the machine could learn from and create something new.”

Listen to the lost tapes of the 27 Club (artists who died at the age of 27).

@wil-walteros Fuente: KORY GROW – Rolling Stone Magazine

Wil Walteros

Wil Walteros
Journalist - Periodista
Bogotá - Colombia

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