These A.I.-Generated Songs Raise Awareness About Mental Health in the Music Industry
Every music fan knows the roster of iconic artists who died young, particularly those who passed around age 27, and gained unfortunate membership in what some have deemed the “27 Club.” When the cause is preventable, such as suicide or addiction, the tragedy can be all the more painful.
With such prevention as a goal, the Canadian nonprofit Over the Bridge was created by a team of music veterans and health experts to raise awareness about mental illness in the industry, and to provide resources for those struggling with it. Last month, the organization partnered with Google’s Magenta, an A.I. program that analyzes an artist’s past works and learns how to compose new tracks in a similar style, to create the Lost Tapes of the 27 Club, a series of songs meant to sound like posthumous releases by late rock legends including Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Amy Winehouse. The algorithm studied around two dozen tracks by each artist in order to identify the traits and tendencies exhibited in guitar solos, bass lines, drum patterns, and lyrics. Members of tribute bands recorded the ensuing songs, often to impressive effect (as demonstrated by Eric Hogan, of the Nirvana tribute band Nevermind, who sings the “new” Nirvana song “Drowned In the Sun”).
Most will see the effort as homage—but is it in any way sacrilege? “The potential of A.I. creating music has been a hot topic for a while,” says Ace Piva, a musician and addiction recovery coach who co-founded Over the Bridge and serves as its executive director. Some people will undoubtedly find the songs controversial, he continues, but the lack of work being done to support musicians from a psychological standpoint is an equally contentious issue. “We hope that people take away the project’s core message,” Piva says, “which is that it’s time to talk about, and do something about, mental health in the music industry.” While these computer-generated tracks aren’t to be confused with those written by humans, they’re rendered intelligently enough to stoke our auditory memories, inviting listeners to ponder the importance of a musician’s emotional well-being, and the great songs these great artists might have left unsung.