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Nick Cave on why composing awesome music will remain a human-only occupation

A guest post by Peter Van

Nick Cave has an opinion on the capacity of AI to write a good song. In this wonderful article, he replies to a Slovenian fan named Peter. As somebody using myself music and soundscapes in my performances and immersive learning experiences, it felt like he was addressing me directly.

The initial claim that AI will soon be able to make you feel in certain ways stems from Yuval Noah Harari’s book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.

“In the future AI will simply be able to map the individual mind and create songs tailored exclusively to our own particular mental algorithms, that can make us feel, with far more intensity and precision, whatever it is we want to feel.”

Cave disagrees: his argument is that – although music made by AI may make us feel certain emotions – AI is incapable of creating true ‘awe'. He uses examples from Nirvana, Iggy Pop, Nina Simone, Jimmy Hendrix, Prince, etc. In his humbleness, Cave forgets the awe he creates himself in his own recordings and live performances.

Nick Cave at Rock Werchter 2018

“What we are actually listening to is human limitation and the audacity to transcend it. Music has the ability to touch the celestial sphere with the tips of its fingers and the awe and wonder we feel is in the desperate temerity of the reach, not just the outcome.”

Cave concludes (and this is our favourite quote)

“AI would have the capacity to write a good song, but not a great one. It lacks the nerve”


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