On the 27th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, Engadget reports: Were he still alive today, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain would be 52 years old. Every February 20th, on the day of his birthday, fans wonder what songs he would write if he hadn’t died of suicide nearly 30 years ago. While we’ll never know the answer to that question, an AI is attempting to fill the gap.
A mental health organization called Over the Bridge used Google’s Magenta AI and a generic neural network to examine more than two dozen songs by Nirvana to create a ‘new’ track from the band. “Drowned in the Sun” opens with reverb-soaked plucking before turning into an assault of distorted power chords. “I don’t care/I feel as one, drowned in the sun,” Nirvana tribute band frontman Eric Hogan sings in the chorus. In execution, it sounds not all that dissimilar from “You Know You’re Right,” one of the last songs Nirvana recorded before Cobain’s death in 1994.
Other than the voice of Hogan, everything you hear in the song was generated by the two AI programs Over the Bridge used. The organization first fed Magenta songs as MIDI files so that the software could learn the specific notes and harmonies that made the band’s tunes so iconic. Humorously, Cobain’s loose and aggressive guitar playing style gave Magenta some trouble, with the AI mostly outputting a wall of distortion instead of something akin to his signature melodies. “It was a lot of trial and error,” Over the Bridge board member Sean O’Connor told Rolling Stone. Once they had some musical and lyrical samples, the creative team picked the best bits to record. Most of the instrumentation you hear are MIDI tracks with different effects layered on top.
Some thoughts from The Daily Dot: Rolling Stone also highlighted lyrics like, “The sun shines on you but I don’t know how,” and what is called “a surprisingly anthemic chorus” including the lines, “I don’t care/I feel as one, drowned in the sun,” remarking that they “bear evocative, Cobain-esque qualities….”
Neil Turkewitz went full Comic Book Guy, opining, “A perfect illustration of the injustice of developing AI through the ingestion of cultural works without the authorization of [its] creator, and how it forces creators to be indentured servants in the production of a future out of their control,” adding, “That it’s for a good cause is irrelevant.”