Artificial selection

What happens when artificial intelligence creates images that match the lyrics of iconic songs: “Starman” by David Bowie, “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, “Mr. Blue Sky” by ELO, and more.

Lyricists should write concrete enough to be evocative, but vague enough to allow each listener their own personal interpretation. The 1960s and 1970s saw a particularly rich balance found between resonant ambiguity and massive popularity – aided, as many involved admitted, by the use of certain psychoactive substances. Half a century later, the visions induced by these same substances offer the closest comparison to the striking fruits of visual artificial intelligence projects like Google’s Deep Dream a few years ago or DALL-E today. Naturally, perhaps, these advanced apps will sooner or later be powered by psychedelic song lyrics.

The video at the top of the post features the Electric Light Orchestra’s 1977 hit “Mr. Blue Sky” illustrated with AI-generated imagery directly from his words. This came as a highly anticipated venture for the Youtube channel SolarProphetwhich also set up similarly AI-accompanied presentations of comedic songs already filled with goofy imagery like Lemon Demon’s “The Ultimate Showdown” and Neil Cicierega “It’s going to get weird.”

Youtuber Daara also created ten entries in this new genre, including Queen’s “Do not stop me now” Eagles’ “Hotel California,” and (recently featured on Open-Culture) Kate Bush’s “Run up that hill.”

Just above appears a video for “Starman” by David Bowie with AI visualized lyrics, created by Youtuber Aidontknow. Established isn’t too strong a word, since DALL-E and other apps currently available to the public provide a selection of images for each prompt, leaving it up to human users to provide aesthetic details – and, in the case of these videos, to select the result that best suits each line. One of the pleasures of this particular production, aside from the child boogies, is seeing how the AI ​​imagines various starmen waiting in the sky, all of whom look suspiciously like Bowie from the early 70s. Of all his songs from this period, surely “Life on Mars?” would be the number one choice for an AI music video – but then its imagery might just be too weird for current technology to handle.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts about cities, language and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter books about cities, the book The Stateless City: A Walk Through 21st Century Los Angeles and the video series The city in cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshallon FacebookOr on instagram.