Fans of Nirvana may do a double-take when they hear ‘Drowned in the Sun,’ a new song created by artificial intelligence that simulates the songwriting of late grunge legend Kurt Cobain.
Engineers fed Nirvana’s back catalog to Google‘s AI program, Magenta, which analyzed it for recurring components and then developed an entirely new track.
The voice on ‘Drowned in the Sun,’ is 100 percent human, though—provided by Eric Hogan, lead singer of the Atlanta Nirvana cover band Nevermind.
The song is just one release from The Lost Tapes of the 27 Club, a project developed by the nonprofit Over the Bridge, which spotlights mental health issues in the music industry.
Other AI-generated ‘lost’ tracks have taken their cue from Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse, who, like Cobain, died at age 27.
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Over the Bridge used Google’s AI, Magenta, to generate a ‘new’ Nirvana song, ‘Drowned in the Sun. The system was fed dozens of Nirvana songs, stripped down to their individual elements and inputted one at a time
According to Over the Bridge, 71 percent of musicians report experiencing anxiety and panic attacks, and 68 percent have experienced depression.
Suicide attempts are twice as common in the music industry than in the general public.
‘This issue hasn’t just been ignored. It’s been romanticized, by things like the 27 Club—a group of musicians whose lives were all lost at just 27 years old,’ the group said in a statement.
Over The Bridge hopes sharing these ‘new’ works will encourage more music industry insiders to get the mental health support they need, ‘because even AI will never replace the real thing.’
In addition to ‘Drowned in the Sun,’ the Lost Tapes of the 27 Club set list includes ‘The Roads are Alive,’ inspired by the Doors; ‘You’re Gonna Kill Me,’ created using Jimi Hendrix’s catalog; and ‘Man I Know,’ Magenta’s take on an Amy Winehouse song.
Twenty to thirty songs from each artist were fed into the program, which analyzed every facet from lyrics and vocal melodies to note choices and guitar riffs.
The songs had to be stripped down to their individual elements and inputted one at a time, Over The Bridge Board Member Sean O’Connor told Rolling Stone.
The Lost Tapes of the 27 Club aims to raise awareness about mental health issues in the music industry with AI-created tracks inspired by artists who died at 27. It includes ‘You’re Gonna Kill Me,’ created using Jimi Hendrix’s catalog and ‘The Roads are Alive,’ inspired by the Doors
‘If you put whole songs through, [the program] starts to get really confused on what [it’s] supposed to sound like,’ he said.
‘Drowned in the sun’ chorus
I don’t care.
I feel as one.
Drowned in the sun now.
I feel as one.
Drowned in the sun.
Google launched Magenta in 2016 using TensorFlow, the company’s massive open-source software library focused on deep-learning applications, with the aim of training machines to create music and art.
AI is notorious for having trouble expressing emotion, whether it’s funny knock knock jokes or heartfelt Valentine’s Day messages.
But Cobain’s lyrics were often inscrutable, making Magenta’s lines for ‘Drowned in the Sun’ feel authentic.
It was a bit harder to nail the instrumentals—Cobain didn’t favor easily identifiable riffs like Morrison or Hendrix.
‘You tended to get a wall of sound,’ O’Connor told Rolling Stone of the Nirvana-inspired output.
‘There’s less of an identifiable common thread throughout all their songs to give you this big chunk of catalog that the machine could just learn from and create something new.’
Hogan, who started fronting Nevermind six years ago, says ‘Drowned in the Sun’ feels like a Nirvana song ‘ but [it’s] not so accurate to where someone’s going to get a cease-and-desist letter.’
‘If you look at the last quote-unquote Nirvana release, which was, ‘You Know You’re Right,’ this has the same type of vibe,’ he told Rolling Stone. ‘Kurt would just sort of write whatever the hell he felt like writing. And if he liked it, then that was a Nirvana song.’
Mimicking Nirvana’s instrumentals proved difficult, producers said, because Kurt Cobain didn’t favor easily identifiable riffs like Morrison or Hendrix
‘I can hear certain things in the arrangement like, ‘OK, that’s kind of an In Utero vibe right here or a Nevermind vibe right here,’ he added. ‘I really understood the AI of it.’
There will no doubt be fans of these artists who think the project is sacrilege, but Over the Bridge isn’t making any money from the AI-generate songs.
Any donations will go to helping musicians and music industry insiders struggling with mental health.
And AI-generated music is nothing new: In 2016, Sony released ‘Daddy’s Car,’ an original song distilled from the Beatles’ oeuvre.
The following year researchers created a ‘Bot Dylan’ computer capable of writing its own folk music.
In 2020, film student Elis Weiss used Calamity A.I, machine learning model capable of producing written content, to create a ‘new’ song for the hit musical Hamilton.
The AI returned a full song with four verses very much in the style of the Broadway hit.
However, the system added a few extras: The famed patriot declared Eliza gave him syphilis, for example, and announced Hillary Clinton was his new lover.