Liner notes: Magnet Train

A refresher: the Cotton Modules process called for Jesse and Robin to trade cassette tapes, each of us making selections, layering our own contributions, and sending a new tape back.

Jesse’s contributions were his own compositions; Robin’s were his collaborations with an AI trained on decades of recorded music.

A figure made from cutouts of several different photographs, lending him a jumbled quality

Here’s the very first glimmer of Magnet Train:

Tape 1, 2020-11-20, Jesse to Robin
Title: WREATH
Jesse

The clip above is the entirety of the piece I wrote: a drone with a dubious tonal center … but note the underlying pulse!

Robin

Apparently, I liked WREATH so much I decided to produce two different responses, and I included both on the tape I sent back to Jesse. Here’s the first one; you’ll hear that it starts with part of Jesse’s piece, then continues off on its own. That’s the AI generating a new continuation, with me coaxing and prodding it along:

Tape 2, 2020-12-12, Robin to Jesse
Title: WREATH EXPRESS
Jesse

I didn’t use the first half of this response, but it’s interesting! At 0:14, the AI brings in a jazzy piano motif; at 0:24, it morphs into a vaguely Caribbean steel drum sound.

Robin

I really didn’t remember this part at all; if Jesse had played it back for me and said, “remember this piano motif I added?” I would have believed him.

In the second half, at 1:00, our vocalist arrives. In this response, he sort of “sing-speaks” the lyrics. WREATH’s chugging pulse, along with the blaring horn, made me think of trains, so the lyrics reflect that. They’re a bit silly — it’s possible I was feeling loopy after a few failed explorations.

Jesse

That “blaring horn” is actually a detuned viola doing some unconventional pitch moves!

Robin

I thought WREATH EXPRESS was interesting enough to send over, but I wasn’t totally happy with the AI’s vocal performance, so I went back and started another one.

Tape 2, 2020-12-12, Robin to Jesse
Title: WREATH EXPRESS REDUX
Jesse

At 0:24, when the vocals come in, the AI also provides a staccato acoustic guitar playing in time with the pulse of the original piece. That guitar is very clear again around 0:38-0:48. The vocal has some rhythmic push and pull, which is common for lead singing, but the guitar is right on time.

Robin

Here’s the finished version of Magnet Train. It’s so interesting to hear how Jesse combined the two responses, cutting and sequencing them into one coherent whole!

Magnet Train2:37 Jesse

The first note we hear on this track is a synth voice I made for Shadow Planet. It sounds like maybe it was produced by the AI: scratchy, not quite in tune. I found that kind of element useful to help the AI material sit well in the mix with my composed music.

So, yeah: the AI is trying to sound like a human, and the human is trying to sound like an AI.

Robin

Here, for your enjoyment, are the lyrics to Magnet Train:

Oh
I need a fast train
Magnet train
Electric train
Lightwave train

Ah
Oh, ah
I need a faster train

I need a fast train
A magnet train
Electric train
A train as fast as my heart

I need a fast train
A magnet train
Electric train
A train as fast as my heart

Ah! Mr. President, please
I need a faster train