As machines create more-perfect vocal and instrumental performances, a funny thing is happening: humans are catching up.
The normal assumption about machine learning or “cyborg” technology is, as technology improves, we’ll augment ourselves with more technology. But that misses the fact that humans, both individually and socially, are also smart and adaptable. We start to learn from the tech.
I once met Stewart Copeland (The Police, composer), and he talked about this very phenomenon. A lot of the sound of The Police involved Stewart’s playing routed through various effects. In short, it was something he conceded he couldn’t play on his own. But as the popularity of those tracks grew, he noticed that human drummers were starting to emulate the exact resulting rhythms – possibly even without being aware of the effects routings that produced them.
Drum machines, of course, have had a similar impact. You frequently hear drummers playing with machine-like precision, employing patterns that you simply didn’t hear before. In classical music, we’ve also seen a rise in global musicianship that has produced a level of instrumental virtuosity unheard of in past centuries. Whether the link was intentional or not, even the compositional demands of works like Ligeti’s Continuum have a link to George Antheil’s piano rolls and machine music.
But maybe the best illustration is this: here’s what happens when a vocalist starts to sing like AutoTune.
The singer here is Ukrainian star Aida Nikolaychuk, born in Odessa.
The, uh, actual reality show is obviously staged (as reality shows are). But having heard other recordings and live performances from her, it seems to me she is mimicking some of the distinctive pitch curves of a pitch follower. (Precise pitch itself, of course, predates auto correction – this to me is more about the distinctive quality of vibrato and pitch changes.)
This is an old story. But as discussion of AI and machines learning to emulate humans meets trans-humanism, it’s worth flipping the coin to look at human transformation through organic means. It’s not just the machines we add to ourselves, but the way we evolve to adapt to those machines, that may shape that direction.