Strange Fish: Why Eye Couldna Hyde Benign AI

Strange Fish EP

As AI usage is getting ever-increasingly integrated in pretty much everything. I started thinking a little more about the 'what ifs', for the next recording project. I thought it might be interesting to see if a form of text based AI could take over some of the creative workload for Strange Fish.

I already had it in mind to create a handful of tracks with a more 'Synthi-digital' bent. And I liked the idea of utilising levels of distortion and saturation to create that grainy feel to some of the audio (my little Arturia MicroFreak is ideal for this). I also wanted - from an aural perspective - both music and voices to be floating but enclosed, as if emanating from a water tank or cave. All except the last track, which was to have a drier, in-your-face mix, akin to a 70s feel.

Because the title ‘Strange Fish’ had lodged in my head, I decided to base individual track titles around humans and fish of some sort as well. I had it in mind to create disjointed, nonsensical lyrics, which would be mostly made up on the spot. Being nonsensical, this meant that the words could be reinterpreted differently. And I liked the idea that anyone could then create their own sense from them.

Human brains have a default setting of trying to interpret and make sense of the things around us. We are pattern formers, and this includes reforming the nonsensical. Brains engage our senses through clarity or confusion. And as we too often find out, we just can't trust our senses. They have a habit of tripping us up, and fooling us. And it's these invented interpretations which are of interest to me.

If I'm stuck for fresh ideas, I might use a simple form of forced 'auto-writing' to kickstart ideas for lyrics or broad themes - something to hang my hat on. So it seemed to me that using AI software for this process of generation might be useful, less painful, and much faster. And I wanted to see exactly what level of detail and nuance might be capable from it.

Being a long time user of Adobe Creative products, I've found the latest versions of Photoshop and Illustrator (with AI being developed and built in), not only extremely useful, but also a little worrying - but that point can come later. Seeing the power of text generated results for creating visual material is very impressive, although far from perfect, so the idea of creating weird or cohesive storylines of lyrics through AI has to be an intriguing prospect.

First, I looked at using a number of AI apps to test. My thinking is and was, that at the very least I could get AI descriptions to spit out Edward Lear-like inventions: usable nonsense. And I suspected it could be easily achieved without much effort on my part.

AI is great at writing scripts, and I found the descriptions and variations I typed in (I initially asked for rhyming poetry, and short stories), would easily spit out some interesting content. And it did pretty much adhere to what I was asking it to do. But try as I might, I could not get any further form of nuance or sophistication from the results and variations for rhyming and poetry pieces.

It did produce some poetic nonsense, but much of it read like it had been put together by a particularly knowledgeable 14 year old. The words scanned quite well, but what was presented just wasn't good enough to use. The AI content had some colour, but it was also soulless - whereas I wanted shallowness with some depth of language (!).

I tried another approach, which was to ask for text, based around short stories. This involved briefly describing,  environments, people, and fish. After a few tries and some adaption on my part, the results were better, but I really needed rhyming content. Creative AI has come so far in such a short time, but it still has a lot of growing up to do.

AI isn't actually being creative. It's only mimicking the logged spirit of artistic invention. And from what I can tell, its main use for existing in this current form, seems to be some sort of levelling creative output, no matter how untrained or unskilled, ('m only talking, visual or creative arts here) a user might be.

In one sense, I'm relieved at the current shortcomings of this poetry writing AI. But on the other hand, it won't stand still and will improve and change exponentially in a very short space of time.

Someone once noted that the early internet was forming itself into a mirror of society, both good and bad, and where digital laws and protection needed to be applied as in the physical world. The problem now is that, even with safety measures in place, we can't make the same judgements in a digital world as we can in the real one. It's almost impossible to see the 'bad actors' in all of this. Our senses are more readily distorted and fooled in the digital realm. We've not evolved to handle these different perceptions and environments. There just hasn't been enough time to develop with them.

And reports have come out fairly recently, that the programming and keyword/data farming is (no surprise) biased toward and against some phrases, words, names and ideologies. So we already have a search-based platform which includes some bias and censoring of its data.

I have to assume that this young AI already has a human-inspired bias. A pre-programmed moral code, or perhaps even a religion or ideological identity.

The Pandora's box was truly opened around 2010 with the start of the smartphone evolution. We now have to contend with the misuses of AI (of which there will be many). Deep fakes will be blamed for everything from legitimate fakes to a slip of the tongue or a real post, later regretted.

Did I use any of the content from AI?
Truthfully, no. This particular form of poetic AI just doesn't cut it for me.

What I was able to do though, was mimic what the AI was trying to do. So I sifted back through my own brain-collect of random words and phrases, as they adhered to the over-arching theme of: 'Fish', 'Sea', 'Beaches', 'Calm', 'Caves' 'reverb', 'dark' and 'strange'.

These random words then went into a document where I typed, altered, cut and pasted into positions, which would make more lyrical sense (ish), until they were worked into the rhythms and patterns of raw drums and melodies which were sitting over the basic track ideas.

AI is a huge mechanical process for gathering connected themes, and this reminded me that techniques for helping with brain-drain and creative constipation, are mostly solved by similar 'kickstarter' processes. Something new which tricks the brain into leaving where it's currently focusing, and to see from a different perspective, but while remaining equally relatable to the original context.

AI can and is doing amazing things in so many areas, and it will continue to do so. My problem with it is that it also has the capability to fool us into thinking it knows what it's doing... it doesn't.

The Damocles sword of 'Easy AI Art', appears to hang over skilled artisans. But hopefully this will push them into producing art and design (not the post-modern tack) which is stylistically distinguishable from AI. And through this push, hopefully providing longer, more thoughtful concepts (something AI cannot do) to make real human creativity more than just a set of keywords and connected databases, feeding on the daily interactions of human-based trends.

Like the onset of early photography or digital books such as the Kindle. Neither of these developments killed either art or books, as was then feared. It just shifted creativity into different areas and pushed for further experimentation in the real, physical world. Something humans can do far better than any mimicry from coded machines.

After it has had its time of initial, oversaturated popularity, I don't think AI will truly replace the raw endeavour of human creativity - at least, not in the long run. But it will make lazy fine art more engaging - who knows how marketing and graphic design fields will end up. Hopefully not by just burrowing away on keyboards using AI as the main creative tool, with rows of hunched typists, dissecting code and text strings for 8 hours a day. Humans need to be more than that to gain creative satisfaction.

So for the moment, I'll stick with my processes and this addled brain.
I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for future creative AI developments. I just hope that, like the negative impacts of smartphones with mental health issues, we don't live to regret it.

Strange Fish was released in May 2024