AI:ART//#001

The first night I played with Midjourney I honestly felt I had fallen into a new universe. I tumbled through the wormhole and stayed there for days, watching the most absurd ideas I could think of come to life. It was just mind blowing. The images were well composed, beautifully coloured, deeply textured. Once my “Frank Gehry is a dystopian apple illustrated in Tokyo in the 70s” phase had passed (see above) I started to realise that it could be a powerful tool as well.

Unfortunately, music can rarely exist only as soundwaves, it needs to be on the screen as well. Album art and blog images need to be deeply connected to the music and the look can be very elusive. Writing music is a kind of relationship, a journey of mutual discovery and in the final stages of production it can all turn on a dime. This can make it very difficult to communicate with an artist, especially for an annoying micromanaging person such as myself.

As a result, all of the images on this site, so far, are from Midjourney.

Of course I’m worried about artists losing work but in my case I love photography, I studied architecture and I shoot video so I will always produce my own images. AI has become a great tool to help me with this. If you can ignore the 99% of crap that emerges, you can find some real magic in there. It’s more a process of curating than creating.

Sometimes there are real revelations, the AI can “prompt” me as much as I prompt it. I have developed a kind of dialogue with Midjourney.

As an example I was considering this picture as an album cover but something strange happened. I always thought that the image perfectly described “Never Alone” – a song about wandering the city with the spirit of someone you had lost. But the image also told me that I was wandering with grief and it changed the song’s direction. It helped me recognise this thing that has been lurking for so long, it became tangible. It’s so, so obvious when I look at the image now – that dark figure on the left – but somehow I had mentally blocked it.

Communicating with an image-producing AI seems frighteningly new but it is also an ancient idea. When humans first started having the kinds of thoughts that needed to be reproduced in the physical world, they began a dialogue with materials. Clay figurines, ochre on bark, the huge slabs of stone on Easter Island – the limitations and possibilities of the materials influenced the art and ideas. The results (rather optimistically) saved crops, improved fertility and kept the monsters at bay but they also influenced the very shape of civilisations. Despite the existential shock of it all, AI art is perhaps another such medium.

I do get annoyed when people claim AI art as their own. There seems to be a disrespect for the real artists whose work shaped these programs. Ordering a “Double soy baby chai latte” doesn’t make you a barista. There is currently a passionate debate about creative ownership – but no one can discount the power of AI as a creative tool.

I think the most powerful work moving into the future will be a return to primitive physical expression, vigorous ideas performed with passion. Digging up the earth and smashing it onto walls, humans digging deep within themselves to the places where computers will never go.

As musicians batten down the hatches for the next level of AI composers, I’m cautiously excited about the creative storm ahead.