How artificial intelligence is influencing creativity at this year’s Sónar Festival

The modern music industry has a contentious relationship with technology – some musicians have said publicly that they believe it’s changed the relationship between artists and listeners. But many musicians have found new ways to incorporate developments in artificial intelligence, machine learning and even new ways of using old hardware to push the label of “computer music” into a genre with something for everyone. Darren Cunningham, who performs under the moniker Actress, has been experimenting with artificial intelligence using his AI creation Young Paint – which he doesn’t always perform with, though earlier this year, he used it to re-work the German composer Stockhausen’s Welt-Parlament opera. “I was always interested in computers,” he says. “So I used that as a driving force, so technology could function as a creative pathway.” Through using technology in inventive ways, musicians like Cunningham are also able to extend the possibilities of what they can do on a stage or at a live show. Artificial intelligence’s influence on creativity is often cast in hyperbolic terms – from the fear that it could make all music sound the same, to the idea that it will start to take over musical processes. Holly Herndon, who will also be performing at Sónar, recently released an album with an AI baby, Spawn, which was built using the input from a human choir, as well as a computer program. Her work is different from the work of other musicians that use AI such as electronic musician K Á R Y Y N, who creates audio glitches to use as beats in her music. Audiences may be increasingly open minded, too – how musicians are using technology has pushed that forward. Now, audiences at big festivals are excited by the prospect of someone using artificial intelligence on stage, even if they might not fully understand the process. “I move sounds around live, I’m figuring out problems on the fly, and I allow the computer to make certain decisions, so each set is always unique. It’s a live performance of my process,” says Cunningham. “I think my audience turn up.” These shifts also inform the way that other kinds of technology has cross-pollinated into the music industry. Audiovisual shows have spread over the last year, from intimate performances to huge festivals such as Sónar, in a bid to give audiences a feast for the eyes as well as their ears. Daito Manabe, a Japanese artist, programmer and DJ is no stranger to bringing multiple disciplines together – he’s created drone-aided dance performances, interactive websites and moving projections for live shows. He will be bringing a live audiovisual show to Sónar. During the performance, he will be hooked up to an MRI scanner. “With the help of brain decoding research, I’m trying to reconsider relationships between the audio and the visual elements by extracting images,” explains Manabe. Fellow electronic artist K Á R Y Y N mentioned to Sónar that she thinks of the computer as a creative entity in its own right, rather than merely an accessory. In the new frontier of music, a computer can be creative too – it just depends on who’s using it. Manabe is one of a few artists performing at Sónar who will be incorporating unexpected elements into their performances – British musician Murlo will bringing their live A/V show, created entirely from their own animations, to Sónar, as will Caterina Barbieri, with her immersive A/V show, which will feature on the Resident Advisor stage, incorporating elements from science and technology alongside cutting edge electronic sounds. Day time events range from ambient music, with sets from European artist Diego Navarro, to an experimental light and laser show from creative studio Hamill Industries. Other artists performing at Sónar range from Holly Herndon, who will be performing with her AI baby, Spawn to powerhouse DJ’s such as Palms Trax and Peggy Gou, to hip hop icon A $ AP Rocky. Sónar’s eclectic and wide ranging musical offerings ensure that there’s something for every festival-goer.