Special for Infobae of The New York Times.
Last month, when “Heart on My Sleeve,” a track attributed to artificial intelligence versions of Drake and The Weeknd, became an unauthorized hit online, many in the music industry voiced their concerns about the next legal and creative risks. Yet Grimes, the pop singer and producer who has long been captivated by visions of the future, saw an opportunity.
For years, Grimes had experimented with nascent technology in the realm of generative artificial intelligence, using the imperfect tools at his disposal to create a lullaby, a set of meditations, a ChatGPT-style Grimes chatbot, and lots of art. visual inspired by science fiction and anime with services like Midjourney and Stable Diffusion.
However, Grimes found the rapid popularization of voice emulation filters acceptable—tools that allow users to modify existing voices to sound like someone else, particularly famous artists like Drake, Michael Jackson, or Taylor Swift— it was more than a novelty. They could be a teachable moment, a source of inspiration, and even a side business.
“I will split 50 percent of the royalties on any AI-generated hit song that uses my voice,” Grimes tweeted to his followers, who number over a million on that platform, referring to the copyright of the recording itself. ; Grimes clarified in an interview that the composer would be entitled to all proceeds from the composition or publication. “Feel free to use my voice without penalty. I have no record label or legal ties.”
Then she and her team launched Elf.tech, easy-to-use software that helps producers and songwriters—hobbyists and professionals alike—make their song sound like it was sung by Grimes. So far, more than 15,000 vocal transformations have been performed using the tool, called GrimesAI-1, and more than 300 full songs have been submitted for distribution on official streaming services with the help of the Grimes team behind the scenes.
In a recent Zoom call, Grimes — who has two children with businessman Elon Musk — discussed the project to date, reflecting on how her out-of-body celebrity status and longstanding obsession with artificial intelligence have made her the perfect vehicle. for experimentation. She also gave her feedback on five songs created with the GrimesAI software. Here are some edited excerpts from the conversation.
P: “Heart on My Sleeve” seemed to be a turning point. What was that moment for you, that you have been experimenting in this field for years?
A: I was excited in almost every way, even though there was talk of the risks. I love artificial intelligence, but I’m a little concerned that there isn’t anything resembling a debate about it, so I think this was very helpful. And I was excited that we could fully access this technology now, because five years ago we tried to do the voice of Grimes and we just didn’t get it.
P: Where does your journey with artificial intelligence begin?
A: The truth is that it started when I was a girl, which is perhaps strange. Last year, we were going through my old notebooks from college and we came across a bunch of theories about artificial intelligence. I have always talked about this, although it was not possible before. But I started to delve into the possibilities of art a little before the time of cryptocurrencies. That’s when we first tried to get Grimes open source, in 2018 or 2019.
P: What does it mean that Grimes was “open source”?
A: I am very interested in the art of identity. We’re trying to sell my soul—ten percent of it—in a legally binding deal. But nobody cared and also the price is so ridiculously high that nobody will ever pay it: about 10,000 million dollars. But if they buy it, then I accept my fate and it will have been worth it.
P: And how do you go from that to Grimes being open source on a musical level?
A: I feel like maybe these things hurt me less than an average person, because the number of ego deaths I’ve had to go through to keep functioning is pretty high. That weird, nasty feeling a lot of people get when they hear their voice used in a way they didn’t want… I’m just the subject of a lot more crazy press than the average person. I’m very used to it.
Grimes started because I was in a very punk scene and it seemed daring to wear a pink dress and dance and make pop music. Part of what I was interested in doing back then was pissing people off. Even now, what are the limits? What is the Overton Window of Art? What is allowed?
P: How would you explain to your grandmother, for example, what you are doing now with artificial intelligence?
A: People still get very angry and say, “I want to hear something that a human being did!” And I think: humans did all this. You still have to write the song, produce it, and sing the vocals. The part that is artificial intelligence is taking the harmony and timbre of the voice and moving it to match my voice, rather than the person’s original voice. It’s like a new microphone.
P: How do you deal with the idea that someone could make a hateful or obscene song with Grimes’s voice?
A: The good thing about the music industry being so against it is that it seems pretty easy to kill things off. But I also think it’s good that there’s a time to shock or shock extremists. As far as making AI safer and more productive and culturally useful, it’s good to get things out of the system when they’re less disruptive and less popular. I don’t care so much that Grimes is the mechanism.
P: Where do you draw the line personally?
A: I think it’s clear that insults, hate speech and apology for violence are not a joke. Conveniently, no one has actually done anything wrong and I kind of feel like it’s not even that exciting to do.
P: Do you think an artificially intelligent Drake or Grimes negates the need for a real Drake or Grimes?
A: No, I don’t think so. Maybe it’s just my opinion, but in a way I want that. Feeling how amazing it is to create beautiful art in general is something that hasn’t been available to a lot of people: a lot of time and energy, years of technical training. I think it’s valuable that there’s a tool where if you have a beautiful idea, you can make something beautiful and have access to it.
Canadian artist Grimes in Los Angeles on Oct. 24, 2020. (Elizaveta Porodina/The New York Times)