An artificial intelligence algorithm has created “new” Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana songs

We’ve heard AI-generated songs mimic the work of AC/DC, Metallica and more. Now artificial intelligence software has generated “new” Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana tracks, along with other artists and bands with members who died at the age of 27, to help raise awareness for the importance of mental health support amongst musicians and members of the music industry.

The Hendrix song, You’re Gonna Kill Me, and the Nirvana track, Drowned In the Sun, are part of a new project by the Toronto-based organization, Over the Bridge, which has put together a compilation, all created via artificial intelligence, in the style of musicians who died at the age of 27.

The release, titled Lost Tapes of the 27 Club, also features songs in the style of the Doors and Amy Winehouse, all made through Google’s AI program Magenta, which analyses an artist’s previous work in order to learn how to compose like them. An additional AI program was used to create the lyrics.

The AI algorithm listened to isolated hooks, rhythms, guitar riffs, chord changes, solos, melodies and lyrics of up to 30 songs by each artist, and then “learned” from the music, generating a string of all-new sonic information.

“[W]e took 20 to 30 songs from each of our artists as MIDI files and broke them down to just the hook, solo, vocal melody or rhythm guitar and put those through one at a time,” explained Sean O’Connor, who is on the board of directors for Over the Bridge and also works as creative director for the advertising agency Rethink, in an interview with Rolling Stone

“If you put whole songs through, [the program] starts to get really confused on what [it’s] supposed to sound like. But if you just have a bunch of riffs, it’ll put out about five minutes of new AI-written riffs, 90 percent of which is really bad and unlistenable. So you start listening through and just finding little moments that are interesting.”

For Drowned In the Sun, the very Cobain-like vocals were handled by Nirvana tribute band front man Eric Hogan – everything else was computer-generated.

Explaining how he approached the vocal, Hogan told the publication that, at first, “I was like, ‘I don’t know how to [sing] this.’ I had to have the guy who came up with the AI track mumble and hum [the tune]. I would feel weird trying to assume what [Cobain] would do. They had to give me a little bit of a roadmap, and then from there, it was fine.”

Regarding the concept of AI-generated music in general, Michael Scriven, a rep for Lemmon Entertainment, whose CEO is on Over the Bridge’s board of directors, said that the Lost Tapes of the 27 Club project serves to underline how much human involvement is still required in creating this computer-based music.

“There’s an inordinate amount of human hands at the beginning, middle and end to create something like this,” he said. “A lot of people may think [AI] is going to replace musicians at some point, but at this point, the number of humans that are required just to get to a point where a song is listenable is actually quite significant.

“We’re not going to push a button and replace these artists,” added O’Connor.

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.