Golden Oldies Rachel Johnson
ROD VS THE ROBOTS
Those who live the moyen sérieux life – buying books in bookshops, never watching daytime television and subscribing to the soaraway Oldie – must be aware by now of CGI in films (computer-generated imagery – think Avatar and Jurassic Park).
I thought I was up to speed on this sort of stuff. But in January I sat next to a money man during a ‘straightforward shooting weekend’ (copyright Prince Andrew), at a stately home in North Yorkshire: ‘Whenever I go to a family office these days,’ he said, over estateshot partridge, ‘there’s someone sharp talking about AI in the music industry.’
Let me unpack that for you. The super-rich, as F Scott Fitzgerald said, are different. They seed and tend their assets with an eye to grandchildren as yet unborn. If what this chap said was true – that investors think artificial intelligence may re-monetise the moribund recorded-music industry – then we should pay attention.
Still, I’m not as interested in profit in the age of negative bond yields as in this: the golden generation of Brit rockers – Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, David Gilmour, Bryan Ferry, Paul Mccartney, David Crosby, Mick Fleetwood, Eric Clapton and Elton John – are all over 70. Indeed, some are well into their ninth decade.
To me, they are irreplaceable: the alchemy of voice, personality, timbre, flavour, creativity, drive, passion, body odour, hairstyle and so on is unique to each of them and cannot be bettered or replicated.
So can they really be replaced by machines? If AI is taking over all jobs, as we are always told, will ageing rockers be toppled not by Ed Sheerans and Stormzys … but by robots?
Roly Witherow is a top film-composer. So when I got back from Castle Howard (I knew you were wondering), I turned to him.
‘To the extent that music is patternbased, it should, in theory, if predictable, be able to be completely written by AI,’ Witherow said. ‘But asking an AI to write a conceptual piece of music in the style of Ligeti or John Cage seems like an insurmountable task.’
On this basis, a computer could compose passable Bach. In fact, computers already do; good enough to fool even advanced classical-music nerds.
In the interests of research, I listened to some AI pop until my ears bled.
Well. It might help someone who had no musical ability, as it provides quick access to a music library and basic composition tools. But until I hear an AI belting out Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? on stage in leather trousers, no robot is replacing Rod in my heart – or in my investment portfolio.