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Flex Council wields Artificial Intelligence to create his new single, “December Song”

 “I upgraded Google Magenta’s DDSP algorithm from mono/16kHz to stereo/48kHz,” described Josh, the producer behind Flex Council when talking about one of the projects he is working on. It’s just the kind of nerdy music-related thing that makes me curious. What the hell is he talking about?

If you really want to know what all of those words above mean, you can give it a spin here. Still didn’t make much sense to me, but I liked the resulting music and I wanted to learn more about his process.

Flex Council sprang to life by chance — during a YouTube interview between Andrew Ng and Ian Goodfellow a vast creative potential of generative adversarial networks was revealed; a type of AI algorithm based on competition. What followed was a two-year research and production journey. There was a lot to do and learn in order to incorporate some of these ideas into a music project. First was learning a programming language called Python and then a bit of research into machine learning theory. Then after surveying the most relevant algorithms, creating datasets, and rendering the resulting audio, it was all stitched together in Ableton Live. The finished tracks reflect the genres of the datasets used — slowcore, vaporwave, indie rock, folk, hip-hop, and classic rock.

“‘December Song’ is a departure from my other Jukebox-based tunes,” admits Josh when talking about his latest single. “It derives from multiple songs rather than a single song. The key to getting everything to fit together was matching the tempos and key signatures, in this case 75 bpm and G Major (or a related key.) I was also looking for chord sequences similar to the ’50’s progression’ which is I-VI-IV-V, like in “Earth Angel” and “Stand by Me” — a progression which most people would characterize as sentimental or melancholic.

“This was useful to narrow down the emotional scope of the track,” continues Josh. “For lyrics, I consulted an online lyrics generator. This particular generator allows you set the tone of the lyrics, which I set to ‘very sad.’”

“I also used a source separation algorithm called Spleeter to isolate the vocals in the Jukebox runs. Audio restoration software like Steinberg’s SpectralLayers and Zynaptic’s Unchirp/Unfilter helped to reduce some of the sonic artifacts. The Jukebox models are from Cocteau Twins, The Cure, Ashanti, Tricky, Stevie Nicks, and The Weeknd.”

I know that Artificial Intelligence has been quite a buzz word over the past 4 or 5 years. The way that Flex Council is using AI seems more collaborative however. It’s also very interesting to get a view behind the process of how the music is made. For me, all of this makes the idea of “AI + Music” feel less mechanical… less like “I pressed the the ‘AI’ button, this is what came out” and more like a band working together on a composition. Only in this band, one of the members is an AI.

Flex Council – December Song

Airplane – Magdalena Bay (Flex Council Remix)

Cover photo by Tim Tiedemann