Aimee Cliff interview

Could you tell me a little about TidalCycles - how does it work, and how have you used it in your work?

TidalCycles is a text based sequencer. It let’s us sequence things like samples or synthesis and it is very extendible. TidalCycles is actually a bunch of different things under the hood. The two main things are very powerful:

• Haskell which is a functional programming language (proper computer science folks love it). • SuperCollider which is a state of the art synthesis server (unparalleled cleanliness).

I use TidalCycles in one way or another in pretty much all of the music I make these days. I like to organise sound algorithmically. TidalCycles let’s me make recipes. It’s kind of like: “Do this, then that when or if another thing happened otherwise do the first thing again”. I like weighted probabilities. TidalCycles let’s me work by describing the likeliness of musical events occurring. I feel free and it makes me happy to sit at my computer exploring infinities of combinatorics.

When and why did you first become interested in the potentialities of collaborating with AI to create music?

I think I was about ten when I read William Gibson’s Neuromancer for the first time. AI has suffered some pretty substantial drift in terms of meaning since then as the term has come into wider use. AI successfully applied to the task of organising sound is totally feasible as quality of task completed is highly subjective. In practical terms I write a program that assists me in the task of organising sound as per my personal preferences. Right now we have programs. That’s not bad, but that’s it. Very narrow artificial intelligences. We’ve come a long way, we really have. When a true General Artificial Intelligence may arrive is very difficult to guesstimate tho. I’d for sure like to meet a General Artificial Intelligence to hang out and maybe try to make some music together but I don’t think I’m the first person they’ll call when they crack it.

Could you explain a little more about your stance on transhumanism & singularity, and how this intersects with your music practice?

I am looking forward to the most significant improvements to quality of life in all of history for every human being through the completion of some very difficult tasks. I believe that in order for every single consciousness to prosper and flourish we need to reach a height of abstraction which let’s us transcend our limitations. Not dying is first on the list. Anyone who wants Indefinite lifespan should get it. I don’t really regard this as radical. Reaching Longevity Escape Velocity is a yielded point on a chart starting from agreements we’ve already made like for example the hippocratic oath and the universal declaration of human rights. I write code that helps me write music. I put many simple instructions together and listen to the results as a kind of meditation on emergence. I’m just one person but as long as I’m alive there’s at least a chance I might influence someone in some small way to do some good in the world. Maybe to study Computer Science or maybe to give someone a hug when they really needed it. General Artificial Intelligence will be a program. It’ll be a bigger and better program than any program we’ve ever built before. I am certain that as the complexity of the programs we write increases we will become more apt for more and more tasks. Our most important journey as a species begins with programming. Erbody should do it! Through programming we can learn to structure our thoughts and to organise precious scarce resources towards desired outcomes. I want to increase dissemination of knowledge about programming because I think it’s in our species best interest. Some folks might say that my attempts at organising sound (and always talking about how great algorithmic composition is to anyone who’ll listen) is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I am convinced that it all matters because if we’re going to make it past The Technological Singularity it’ll be the closest call in history.

Do you think it’s important that artists lead the way in defining how AI influences/becomes a part of the music industry?

I think the focus of artists should always be actively engaged in the investigation of new tools to extend creative reach. The music industry is focused on making money. It is an industry. It sells music as a commodity. It does not regard it’s product as any different than say sugared water. I regard music as a higher calling so the music industry really rubs me the wrong way. The things I’ve seen that use the term AI in combination with music making are highly formulaic. They depend on a large corpus (database) of musical examples. There has to be a strong underlying consensus of popular cultural reference in order for it to work. I want to do the opposite. I want to make new music. I do not want to be part of a music industry. I want to be part of a community of composers sharing ideas freely.

A lot of people in the wider music community have anxiety about creative automation, and the prospect of AI taking the place of humans. How do you feel about this?

I love CGP Grey’s Humans Need Not Apply. It is very entertaining. The bits about music are delightful. I don’t feel threatened at all. I sell as little of my discretionary time as possible and spend as much of it as I can composing. The music I make is it’s own reward. Had I been in it for the money I doubt my music would sound anything at all like the way it does. I would argue that if you are optimising for monetary gain with regards to how you make your music then you are doing it wrong. The long term goal of humanity has to be Post scarcity. In the medium term I’d say seizing the means of production is still the best advice. If you’re worried about being replaced in some capacity then climb the ladder of abstraction and try to make your own thing to replace yourself on your own terms. Acquiring new skills is rewarding in a lot of different ways. Ultimately though systemic error needs to be addressed at higher levels of power.

A small part of this interview made the cut for an article published in Dazed, September 19 2018

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