“Humans feat. ChatGPT”? – Making Music To Cross the Digital Divide at the AI Musical Spectacular
Last weekend in Prague’s Dejvicka, the psychedelic tearoom A Maze In Tchaiovna hosted its very first (and perhaps a global original) AI Musical Spectacular. Photo credit: Ruby Dark.
Prague, Mar 14 (BD) – If anyone is taking bets on the buzzword of 2023, I’d put my money on “chatbot”. ChatGPT is perhaps the most popular of its kind, generating AI-powered content based on prompts from users. It can explain quantum physics to you as if you were a 6 year old, write an episode of Seinfeld, and can generate a whole website’s worth of copy in the time it takes me to open a Google Doc. Its creativity seems to know no bounds (even if its accuracy does).
Needless to say, there’s been a general sense of paranoia over what this new technology means for humanity. Will our natural creativity be phased out? Will entire industries become obsolete? Are the robot overlords becoming sentient and taking over?!
The AI Musical Spectacular provides an antidote to the sci-fi doom and gloom. Their unique performances harness the power of ChatGPT to create a one-of-a-kind collaboration between talented musicians, an imaginative audience and AI.
The performance took place deep within the labyrinth of A Maze in Tchaiovna. The basement was overflowing with spectators of all ages. The band known as The Kittens filled the stage with a keyboard player, drummer, guitarists and even a programmer. Taking centre stage was the group’s mascot, Chatty Kathy, a robotic scarecrow with a balloon for a head.
Jake, our host and occasional John Legend impersonator, conducted the evening. He would throw out a genre or style for the next song, such as pop punk or lounge music. Then, he’d ask the audience for theme suggestions. We had Swedish meatballs, the inauguration of General Pavel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you name it.
Jake then synthesised the various suggestions into a singular topic, which was fed to ChatGPT to generate the lyrics. The chatbot even generated chords too. Organiser Candice Lam said, “The musicians were really interested in cooperating with the tool and seeing where we could push it.”
Jake roused the audience into a chorus of “beep boops” while we waited for ChatGPT to work its magic. Once ready, the lyrics were broadcast on a screen above the musicians so that the audience could sing along too.
The Kittens improvised the songs on the spot, with a rotation of vocalists taking turns to sing the lyrics.
It sounds chaotic, but the performances were impressive. The Kittens produced catchy bops of all genres and the vocalists gave their all every time. A chorus as bizarre as “I need some help, it’s gone too far, to get this soup out of my VCR” has been in my head since the weekend.
Audience favourites included an indie rock song about a rooster using a dating app and a folk song about dinosaurs escaping a fatal meteor shower.
If the night taught us anything, it’s that there’s truly no bounds to human imagination. If anything, AI just enhances it. So is the anxiety around AI replacing human creativity justified? The organisers Candice and Otto had clearly thought hard about this question.
Otto, also known as Mr Autobot, is a programmer. On stage, he operated the chatbot. He said at first, he was scared of AI. “But the longer I actually use it, I realise it’s somehow extremely smart and extremely stupid at the same time. It’s an extension of human creativity, and I think it will be that way for a long time.”
Candice, a technical writer by day (and hip hop vocalist by night) said, “I think there’s an opportunity to still have fun with AI, it doesn’t always have to be scary. And I think we showed that tonight. The musicians could be really free with their music. Having the lyrics already there for you takes away a bit of a mental load and you can really try anything.”
Jake shared their sentiment. “Real art comes from this human need to express yourself. And tonight, the musicians’ experiences coloured the songs. It’s a genuine collaboration with AI, where humans inject the emotion.”
Sadly, A Maze In Tchaiovna is closing on 9 April. Owners Andy and Helen promised that the haven for everything absurd will reopen in some form. Currently, they’re planning on organising individual events after the space itself closes its doors.
They promise to go out with a bang though, with an eclectic line-up of events filling the calendar for the final month, including comedy, trivia and music. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind venue and well worth a visit. You can see the full schedule here.
As for the AI Spectacular, the success of last weekend has encouraged them to organise more. Stay tuned for announcements on their Instagram page.
In an era that’s creeping ever closer towards techno-dystopia, the AI Musical Spectacular shows a glimpse into an alternative future. What if AI and humans aren’t in competition with each other? What if we can be artistic collaborators instead?
(Disclaimer, this article WAS NOT written with ChatGPT. I’m still a technophobe at heart.)