If you are aware of the ongoing dialogue singer-songwriter Nick Cave has with his fans through his open forum, The Red Hand Files, you know that you’re routinely in for a treat.
His blog allows fans to submit open questions, which the singer answers in beautifully penned replies that reveal his considerate nature on all matters relating to creative expression, grief, as well as a wide range of topical subjects.
In his latest entry, Cave shared his take on songwriting using artificial intelligence and ChatGPT, a chatbot launched by OpenAI last November. It’s an artificial intelligence chat that has been trained and designed to hold natural conversations.
Responding to a fan named Mark who sent him lyrics to an algorithmically generated song “in the style of Nick Cave”, Cave wrote that “with all the love and respect in the world,” the track is “bullshit” and “a grotesque mockery of what it is to be human”.
Here’s the song the AI came up with:
In the depths of the night, I hear a call
A voice that echoes, through the hall
It’s a siren’s song, that pulls me in
Takes me to a place, where I can’t begin
I am the sinner, I am the saint
I am the darkness, I am the light
I am the hunter, I am the prey
I am the devil, I am the savior
I walk the streets, with my head held high
I’ve got my demons, but I’ll make them fly
I’ll dance with the devil, and I’ll play his game
I’ll be the one, to call his name
I’ve got the blood of angels, on my hands
I’ve got the fire of hell, in my eyes
I’m the king of the abyss, I’m the ruler of the dark
I’m the one that they fear, in the shadows they hark
So come with me, to the edge of the night
Where the darkness and the light collide
We’ll walk the line, between the good and the bad
And we’ll see, who comes out on top in the end.
Because no one can encapsulate things quite like the King of Alternative Rock, here is Cave’s answer:
“Since its launch in November last year many people, most buzzing with a kind of algorithmic awe, have sent me songs ‘in the style of Nick Cave’ created by ChatGPT,” he wrote in his response. “There have been dozens of them. Suffice to say, I do not feel the same enthusiasm around this technology. I understand that ChatGPT is in its infancy but perhaps that is the emerging horror of AI – that it will forever be in its infancy, as it will always have further to go, and the direction is always forward, always faster.”
He continued: “It can never be rolled back, or slowed down, as it moves us toward a utopian future, maybe, or our total destruction. Who can possibly say which? Judging by this song ‘in the style of Nick Cave’ though, it doesn’t look good, Mark. The apocalypse is well on its way. This song sucks.”
He described ChatGPT as an exercise in “replication as travesty” and that while it may be able to write a speech or an essay, “it cannot create a genuine song.”
“Songs arise out of suffering, by which I mean they are predicated upon the complex, internal human struggle of creation and, well, as far as I know, algorithms don’t feel. Data doesn’t suffer. ChatGPT has no inner being, it has been nowhere, it has endured nothing, it has not had the audacity to reach beyond its limitations, and hence it doesn’t have the capacity for a shared transcendent experience, as it has no limitations from which to transcend.”
“ChatGPT’s melancholy role is that it is destined to imitate and can never have an authentic human experience, no matter how devalued and inconsequential the human experience may in time become.”
Ever self-aware, Cave acknowledged that he could be taking all this “a little too personally” but stated that he is a songwriter engaged in the process of songwriting – referring to the fact he is currently writing the new Bad Seeds album, the follow-up to 2019’s ‘Ghosteen‘.
However, he says that songwriting is “a blood and guts business” that “requires my humanness.”
He finished the letter by referring to lyric manufactured by the AI to better summarise his thoughts.
“Mark, thanks for the song, but with all the love and respect in the world, this song is bullshit, a grotesque mockery of what it is to be human, and, well, I don’t much like it – although, hang on!, rereading it, there is a line in there that speaks to me – ‘I’ve got the fire of hell in my eyes‘ – says the song ‘in the style of Nick Cave’, and that’s kind of true. I have got the fire of hell in my eyes – and it’s ChatGPT.”
You can read the letter in full here.
"The emerging horror of AI": an anti-artist tool?
ChatGPT is the latest software generating uproar around AI-generated art, leading to a growing frustration with the way society devalues art.
The chatbot has been source of concern in several fields since its launch in November 2022, especially in education, considering the artificial intelligence’s use in essay and exam cheating, as well as its ability to bypass plagiarism detection tools.
Like the Lensa app before it, which has drawn the ire of digital artists who claim the works it generates are based on stolen art, ChatGPT also raises questions of copyright and ethics, as it is trained on large amounts of data that enable it to make predictions about how to string words together in a meaningful way. This data could include copyrighted output, and there is currently no legal protection for songs “written in the style of”.
Many rightly fear that it will undermine and potentially destroy the work of artists.
“I am not against artificial intelligence, I want to make that clear,” Spanish artist Amaya Díaz told Euronews Culture, referring to Lensa. “If it’s a tool for us to use, and if people learn to value what we put in our work, I think it will be fine.”
However, being an artist doesn’t resume itself to imitation and these AI-generated “artworks” have the capacity to feel anti-artist.
“We as artists are very used to our work being used without consent. I think the reason this is becoming such a big deal is because we are very exhausted.”