Drowned In The Sun is the latest AI-generated track in the ‘Lost Tapes Of The 27 Club’ project. The track mimics the music of Nirvana.
There’s a lot to unpack here. Music-wise and ethics-wise. The idea that AI could ever formulate a song in the style of late Nirvana songwriter, Kurt Cobain initially seemed ridiculous, as well as controversial. After all, only one unreleased song, You Know You’re Right, was recorded by the band before the singers’ suicide.
However, there’s a lot more to this project than meets the eye. And the ear, to be honest. Let’s explore the broader context of the Lost Tapes Of The 27 Club project, as well as the Nirvana-style track. If this all seems a little too scary, feel free to dive into Cobain’s top 50 favourite albums of all time instead.
A Toronto-based company called Over The Bridge has been utilising the Google AI program, Magenta to create an intriguing new field of music. These AI-generated tracks make up the Lost Tapes Of The 27 Club project – in which the musical tendencies and styles of famous artists in the mythologized 27 club are re-imagined to create new songs. So far, they’ve created Man, I Know, (in the style of Amy Winehouse), You’re Gunna Kill Me (in the style of Jimi Hendrix), The Roads Are Alive (in the style of The Doors), and now, Drowned In The Sun, (in the style of Nirvana).
These computer-generated originals were created by getting AI to listen to “isolated hooks, rhythms, melodies, and lyrics” from the musicians, then made to generate their own. Next, an audio engineer would decide on the AI’s strongest parts, then arrange and mix the track, quipping a singer to sing the track as the musician would.
Isn’t this a little problematic?
Not this time. Over The Bridge is undertaking this project with admirable intentions. They’re creating the Lost Tapes of the 27 Club album to shine a light on the concerning link between musicians and mental health. Their website highlights that a worrying majority of musicians struggle with mental health and that this isn’t something to romanticise – it’s an issue that needs sufficient support, “Because AI will never replace the real thing,” (Over The Bridge). The company also hosts workshops and peer support for the music industry and researches the mental health crisis at hand.
Does Drowned In The Sun sound anything like Nirvana?
Sort of. What the AI achieved is astonishing, no lie. Still, while the track contains trademarks elements of Nirvana’s style, it’s miles away from a genuine Nirvana recording. Eric Hogan, the singer of leading Nirvana tribute band Nevermind, had the daunting task of imagining how Cobain would sing Drowned In The Sun. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Hogan said, “I would feel weird trying to assume what [Cobain] would do. They had to give me a little bit of a roadmap, and then from there it was fine”.
I guess the one hopeful thing is that ” “I don’t care/ I feel as one, drowned in the sun” doesn’t sound anything like Kurt Cobain, but like 14-yr-old me trying to write poetry that sounded like Kurt Cobain.
— Brian O’Neill (@oneillofchicago) April 6, 2021
At the Happy Mag office, the tracks’ musical tendencies reminded us most of Lithium and Dumb, and some of the lyrics certainly hold evocative moments reminiscent of Cobain’s penmanship; “The sun shines on you, but I don’t know how”. However, as Hogan said, it’s only a Nirvana vibe, not a Nirvana track. Have a listen below and see what you think.