Welcome again to the Mumubl.com newsletter and my thoughts on the goings on in the music industry. Often I leave these as I have a few topics buzzing round my head and never know which to go with. Leaning towards this came in the wake of the recent Ed Sheeran “Let’s get it on” court case and I’ll explain below. The other topic I may revisit is streaming, ok the chances are I’ll definitely revisit it at some point. Having written about it reasonably recently – “Is it time for streaming to grow up?” I found an excellent piece on music business worldwide with Tom Gray from #brokenRecord which is well worth your time reading, that addresses a lot of the questions I left in the air. Be sure to check that out before I get round to writing about it all again!
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[main image : Photo by Vegan Feast Catering on Flicker]
Currently checking out – “This stupid world” by Yo La Tengo
Ed Sheeran recently successfully defended another copyright lawsuit in the US for copying from Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s get it on”. The general consensus, certainly in the mainstream media, was that it was a win for common sense. That a loss for Sheeran would, as the Washington Post put it, lead to a situation similar to “a painter wondering if they can use a certain shade of red without getting sued”. That positive consensus was interestingly bucked on the Dada Drummer Almanach substack with “Got to give it up – Ed Sheeran’s victory for AI“. What’s very interesting to note is this is also the first post I’ve seen mention the hot topic of AI.
Amidst the general dislike for Sheeran and the music he makes, the article draws some interesting comparison with what will likely be lawsuits against generic pale imitations thrown out by AI.
As a songwriter, he is proto-AI: a blender of cliché. He is indiscriminate, prolific, fast, bland and very, very richDada Drummer talking about Ed Sheeran – https://dadadrummer.substack.com/p/got-to-give-it-up?utm_source=direct&r=jaido&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=email
There is a question that cuts to heart of AI issues and artistry in general and where you sit on it will define a lot of how you feel about it. That is – are we really genuinely creative? Are we any more than the sum of our experiences? Are we bringing anything to the creative process that is not built on what’s gone before?
It feels almost natural to say “yes”, to rail against the premise of the question – of course we are creative, of course we are adding something ethereal into the process. Yet I find this hard to square with the actual creative process. Everything we bring to table is shaped by what has gone before, of course our influences shape what we do even if they are obscure that doesn’t make them less of a building block. Even if the influence comes from outside music, see the recent release “The first two pages of Frankenstein” by The National for example.
It’s the same in all walks of life, science and technology are all building on what’s gone before, big leaps and changes are often achieved by bringing in obscure, unthought of influences. James Dyson combining a vacuum cleaner and a saw mill cyclone for one such example, but that doesn’t make them entirely plucked from the ether by creative genius.
The most obscure innovations and changes in music can be traced back to what’s gone before, we can see the evolution of styles and genres throughout music history. The very fact we use the term “evolution” gives some hint as to how interconnected the past of music is.
This I would refer to as the “everything is a remix” stance after the fantastic video series on creativity from filmmaker Kirkby Ferguson, I’ve mentioned it here before but do check it out at https://www.everythingisaremix.info/. The premise being everything creative is simply remixing, reusing and combining things to make something new. Sometimes as closely as an Ed Sheeran song, sometimes thinly veiled and less obvious.
“Remixing, reusing and combing to make something new” would be a very easy way to describe current AI, or more accurately the Large Language Model type of system we have now (I’ll just use AI to refer to it though as everyone seems to). I find it hard to be convinced that AI in this respect is doing anything less creative than what a person would do. The big difference is that currently AI is an extension of a human user, it’s a tool that doesn’t create anything off it’s own back. Whilst it’s taking these disparate elements it’s doing so at the behest of a person who is the catalyst for the AI’s creative / remix process, which also lands us at the question of who owns what is output by an AI? Is it a tool for the human user or is it an owner of the creative endeavour itself?
I’ve always hewn close to the “everything is a remix” model of thought, I think we are generally what we eat when it comes to making music. Even if we aren’t always combining obvious elements like chord progressions, scales, drum beats – but are instead bringing in things from farther afield, new technologies from other areas for example. But we are still the catalyst in those situations, much as we are with the current AI setup. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how the eventual court cases pan out for AI, and they will come, especially when with the seeming opposites of the Blurred lines case and the aforementioned Ed Sheeran case we have no legal consensus.
In the meantime I guess it’s worth keeping it interesting by eating lots of varied music.