Mouse on Mars - AAI Music Album Reviews

Mouse on Mars - AAI Music Album Reviews
The experimental duo have long embraced music’s anarchic potential. Their latest project, exploring the nuances of machine intelligence, might be their most confounding and ambitious.

Mouse on Mars believe in the creative potential of chaos. “Music is a strong anarchic force,”Jan St. Werner, a member of the duo, told the New York Times in 2018, effusing about its propensity for mutation and cross-fertilization. In a genre often premised on the reliable pleasures of steady beats and familiar tropes, Mouse on Mars revel in the unpredictable. At the time of the interview, St. Werner and his bandmate Andi Toma were promoting their album Dimensional People, a lab experiment involving custom-built percussion robots, bespoke mobile apps, and three-dimensional sound spatialization, plus the voices of Amanda Blank, Spank Rock, and members of the National, Beirut, and Bon Iver, among dozens of others. A volatile mix, it made good on the group’s interest in music’s joyfully intractable nature.
St. Werner’s observation about music’s mutability might double as the mission statement for the group’s new album, AAI. The title stands for “anarchic artificial intelligence,” and it may be their most uncategorizable project yet, using AI as both form and content, structure and subject matter. On the surface, AAI sounds like a continuation of some of the ideas on Dimensional People. Longtime percussionist Dodo NKishi’s forceful polyrhythms drive the songs, which come wrapped in weird, shimmery textures that glisten like oil slicks. There are long, hypnotic drum jams and short, disorienting atonal bursts; at the center of it all is the voice of Louis Chude-Sokei, a Boston-based professor of African American studies. He contributes an accompanying essay—part theory, part speculative fiction—that lays out many of the album’s themes about machine intelligence, and some songs double as philosophical lectures. In the early track “Speech and Ambulation,” Chude-Sokei muses, “We reduced language to symbols and assumed that machines were merely the perfection of logic. We did not imagine them capable of desire…. What we still don’t know is what machines want. Now that they are no longer defined by computation, how will they talk?”

In a sense, the song is an answer to that very question. It turns out that the voice is not really Chude-Sokei’s, but rather that of an AI that has been trained to mimic his speech. If you listen closely, you can detect traces of this sleight of hand; there’s an occasional strangeness to the pronunciation, like a non-native speaker testing an unfamiliar word. But there is no gotcha moment, no big replicant reveal; Mouse on Mars have bypassed the easy drama of deep fakes to delve into the realm of synthetic essence. Where Dimensional People’s voices were often run through electronic processing until they sounded almost like synthesizers, here the voice is a synthesizer, in effect. Working with software tools designed by the Berlin startup Birds of Mars, among other technical collaborators, Mouse on Mars are able to “play” the AI’s voice as though it were a software instrument, changing its speed and pitch, glitching its enunciation, even altering intonation and emotional resonance.

Out of this manipulation come the album’s other voices: a chorus of weird, wraithlike sounds, part human and part machine. Constantly mutating, they assume all sorts of forms: stuttering beatboxing, silvery vocoder, glitched-out gobbledygook. These layered voices are chopped up and spun into a rich, mercurial fusion of rhythm and melody: basslines, arpeggios, drones, and even drums seem to have been fashioned out of scraps of the AI’s voice. On “Walking and Talking,” the effect is akin to some of Matthew Herbert’s madcap escapades in sampling, stretching the telltale sounds of speech into a teetering architecture of rhythm and tone; on “Go Tick,” chopped-up syllables take on the syncopated gait of DJ Rashad’s rolling footwork.

Chude-Sokei’s text raises provocative ideas, but it’s not always clear how they are meant to play out on a musical level. He writes of machines, long relegated to second-class status, clamoring for subjecthood. “What are the anarchic sounds we are hearing?” he asks. “Are tools again seeking recognition?” But it’s impossible to determine how much of the album is the product of machine intelligence. Is there really a ghost in the machine, or are Mouse on Mars simply nudging a digital Ouija board? But perhaps it doesn’t matter. For all their conceptual bent, Mouse on Mars have never let their concepts eclipse the music; part of the pleasure of the duo’s output is its very inscrutability. Decades later, I still have no idea what’s actually happening in an album like Instrumentals or Autoditacker; the soundsbeckon in their mystery.

That’s equally true here. And even a passing familiarity with AAI’s conceptual framework reveals a neat narrative flow embedded in the album. The record obliquely tells the story of an AI coming into being—pulling itself up by its boot disk, assuming something like autonomy. Early in the album, there’s a sense of nascence in the wordless humming and intricate drumming, as though the rhythms were the precondition for artificial life; halting, speech-like sounds gradually congeal within this musical equivalent of the primordial soup. Soon, the AI is babbling absent-mindedly away, proudly intoning, “I’m walking, I’m a walking machine/I’m walking, I’m a walking machine.” By the album’s midway point, “Artificial Authentic” has arrived at pure, ebullient pop. And with the record’s final stretch, the AI is off and running. It apes its “parents” on “Seven Months,” which recalls the curious sound of early albums like Radical Connector. It invents new languages on the cryptic “Paymig.” And on “New Definitions,” the album’s climax, drums and synthesized voice strut triumphantly into the future, a thrilling new breed of IDM.

Throughout their career, Mouse on Mars’ work has doubled as an interrogation into the nature of creative practice. Along those lines, perhaps AAI is not just an album about AI, but a way of suggesting that all art is a form of “artificial,” trans-human intelligence—a node, however minuscule, in an unfathomably vast neural net. After all, an artwork does not just mimic; it poses questions as well as answering them; it takes on a life of its own; it generates desires that only it can satisfy. (Machines “made new desires possible, some so powerful that only machines could satisfy them,” writes Chude-Sokei.) With a bit of luck, an artwork may even reproduce itself, if a smidgen of its DNA is passed along via sample, quotation, or simple inspiration.

The concept of an anarchic AI may seem counter-intuitive; isn’t the whole point of machine learning to make the world more efficient? But AAI, which St. Werner has described as “a dialogue with technology,” proposes a kind of thought experiment: What might it mean to grant machines agency, and even empathy? It is also an ethical proposition, a reminder that art can help shape a better world. As Chude-Shukei writes, “New life always announces itself through sound.” Listening for it, suggests Mouse on Mars, is on us.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Mouse on Mars - AAI Music Album Reviews Mouse on Mars - AAI Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on March 08, 2021 Rating: 5


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