If you heard Drowned In The Sun introduced on radio as a previously unreleased song from Nirvana, it’s highly likely that you’d take the DJ’s words at face value. In reality, the song is an AI composition, created as part of an initiative raising awareness of mental health issues in the music business.
Drowned In The Sun was created as part of a project titled Lost Tapes of the 27 Club, created by Toronto-based non-profit organisation Over The Bridge, with the intention of drawing attention to the tragedy of Kurt Cobain’s death by suicide 27 years ago, and raising awareness of how mental health issues continue to affect musicians and creatives in the music industry. The project has previously given birth to ‘new’ (ie, AI generated) songs from Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, and The Doors.
"What if all these musicians that we love had mental health support?” Sean O’Connor, one of the directors for Over the Bridge asked Rolling Stone. “Somehow in the music industry, [depression] is normalized and romanticized … Their music is seen as authentic suffering.”
The ‘new’ Nirvana song was created by feeding MIDI files into Google’s AI program Magenta, which learns how to compose in the style of given artists by analysing their past work. Vocals for the song are provided by Atlanta musician Eric Hogan, frontman of Nirvana tribute act Nevermind: The Ultimate Tribute To Nirvana.
“[Drowned in the Sun] is accurate enough to give you that [Nirvana] vibe, but not so accurate to where someone’s going to get a cease-and-desist letter,” Hogan told Rolling Stone. “If you look at the last quote-unquote Nirvana release, which was, You Know You’re Right, this has the same type of vibe. Kurt would just sort of write whatever the hell he felt like writing. And if he liked it, then that was a Nirvana song. I can hear certain things in the arrangement of [Drowned in the Sun] like, ‘OK, that’s kind of an In Utero vibe right here or a Nevermind vibe right here. … I really understood the AI of it.”
Hear for yourself how close Hogan and AI came to pulling off an authentic Nirvana vibe.
“I think that you’re going to have a lot of people who are going to vilify this and are going to look at it like, ‘Oh, it’s the death of real music,'” Hogan admits in Rolling Stone. “But I’m totally fine with it. Used as a tool, I think it’s pretty cool. I don’t know what’s going to happen legally in the future. Once you start going down the road of where it starts to really sound good, maybe then you start to have an issue with that.”
To find out more about the Lost Tapes of The 27 Club project, and Over The Bridge, visit the organisation’s website.