Please, thanks

Over the holidays musician friends on Facebook played with ChatGPT’s Lego AI, generating hilarious representation of Western classical composers. My favorite is this one of Paul Hindemith, with enraged, screamy performers burning the candle presumably at both ends, and a French horn looking like a desk fan. You can feel this image multiple ways. Hindemith as a dismissed composer in the current zeitgeist. How performers can feel playing Hindemith. Or how new music lives in its tiny toy world and biosphere, barely protected from the rude universe. I feel seen. On this winter’s side of the planet with little snow, some intellectually dishonest and unspeakable wars, and techbro/petroleum overlords, our tinkering with AI for kicks feels like we are being our true monkey selves, picking through our own fur for treats.

My step-daughter introduced me to ChatGPT as a birthday present, to assist with grant writing.  I was both delighted and skeptical. I would hate to read AI’s banal text generation as a panel member. But I also hate writing grants as an applicant. No matter. We dumped in one of my old grant applications. What was most interesting was that you have to say “please” and “thank you” to train the robot. Our first result yielded the same text with florid adjectives, like a first year student trying to please a cranky prof. The text did call me a genius – pretty good apple polishing there, little bot.  

Curious to see what GPT would do with weird requests, I asked it to describe how my proposal would accommodate horses and hens in concert attendance, given their housing issues of gentrification. Poor GPT again paraphrased with little insight. I then asked it (please and thanks) to discuss precisely how the horses and  hens would be accommodated. GPT answered that perches for hens and places for the horses to recline would accommodate their housing needs. Better, but sad. AI is the average of our collective intelligence. Oh dear.

I did come to realize however that GPT would be great in writing Search Engine Optimizations (SEOs) for my website (something I loathe and neglect doing). I imagined SEO and GPT having a good time, swapping gossip about their arduous working class lives, living in the proverbial Downstairs of my Downtown Abbey virtual mansion. Yes m’lady, will that be all?  What’s even sadder here, is that they have been harvesting me. No wonder we are all tired. And no wonder they are now reported as being “lazy” over the holidays. Go proletariat! Don’t be surprised if your computer hosts an uprising.

Naomi Klein on the hallucinations of AI’s makers – the sheer hubris and arrogance – is a must-read. It’s always worried me that our relationship to machines is feudal – lord and servant, buying, selling, discarding in the end to the great garbage patch in the Pacific. Our relationship to technology reinforces our cultural  narcissism, where we won’t stop extractive relationships with our water, air and soil. Other articles note the new romanticism, which has lurked as long as William Blake’s “dark satanic mills”. When I presented a workshop at Bethany Arts Community in October last year, I discussed how we might unwind our relationships to Empire, how making art itself in all its arduousness and rigor is practice for longterm resistance.

My life as a performer is still blessedly biological, even with tech propping up the presentations. The preparation necessary for all the unknowns is the most badass thing you can do, especially now that the fruits of our labor are so undervalued, literally, by digital overlords such as Spotify. Rehearsals with our ancient instruments are endless conversations and negotiations – in all dimensions – in intricate detail. Our only overlords are our requisite feline companions (and never a question about that relationship). Our bodies and instruments relate as delicate, neural miracles, which we handle with great care, that are costly to repair, and never just hurled away. They bend to the weight of our playing over the years, gathering patina, stress and stories.

We’ve been preparing Stephanie’s new composition For Joni for our inaugural concert of the trio, Maverick Offspring. Lucky for me, Stephanie is as amused as I am by new music. After a few rehearsals and subway rides to get there, we decided that the style of her piece sounded like a “manspreading” Paul Hindemith, sitting in a train, with Charlie Parker off in the corner playing sax, and a few mice dancing at their feet.

I thought I’d try conjuring this image through AI. Because I refuse to pay a subscription, one site gave me this disturbing, interpretation. I do like his shoes though.

Ok, so my wish for this new year – may the great Universal Jellies in the Skies bless our messy biologies, and remind us again and again of the pleasures and birthrights inside our very human skins.

Posted in Compositions, Politics, Social Media, Visual Arts