In January this year, Music Ally spotted a new artificial-intelligence music startup pop up on investment site Angellist.
Called AI Music, the London-based firm said it was “evolving music from a static, one-directional interaction to one of dynamic co-creation”, with its CEO Siavash Mahdavi having a background in 3D printing and an engineering doctorate in evolutionary robotics.
We were intrigued, but the company wasn’t quite ready to talk about its plans. Now it is, having been announced in April as one of two AI startups (Vochlea is the other) to be joining the Abbey Road Red incubator at Abbey Road Studios.
“AI has always been something that’s of interest to me. Even when I was 16, I started an AI society at school,” Mahdavi tells Music Ally.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the concept that we could automate, or intelligently do, what humans think is only theirs to do. We always look at creativity as the last bastion of humanity.”
“When everything gets overtaken, everything gets autonomous, what is there left for us to do? Are we all just going to play guitar and hang out or do sculptures while these drones are flying our food deliveries and we’re getting into autonomous Ubers?”
Mahdavi notes that a lot of development around AI thus far has focused on automation and industrialisation rather than the question of whether computers can be creative.
“I knew how to do startups and I had a phD in AI. But I’ve always been interested in music too: I play the piano. I thought: ‘Is there something that could be done that combines the two together, and maybe philosophically addresses this paradigm of creativity and artificial intelligence,” he says.
“Can the two meet? Or is it more around automation. So I started exploring quickly what you can do. Could you press a button and then write a symphony?”
That’s a similar origin story to Australian AI music startup Popgun, which Music Ally interviewed recently. It originally planned to “build an AI that’s going to have a top 40 hit” before plotting another path. AI Music, too, cooled on the idea.
“We thought about it, but not for too long. On the one hand it’s really difficult to do, but also I don’t know how useful it is. It’s very difficult to do, and I don’t know how useful it is,” says Mahdavi.
“Musicians are queuing up to have their music listened to: to get signed and to get on stage. The last thing they need is for this button to exist.”
So what is AI Music doing instead? Mahdavi describes the company’s technology as “almost like AI with stabilisers” and then later as “augmented intelligence”. It’s about using AI to adapt existing tracks, rather than to create music. It’s less of a Jukedeck or Amper Music, in AI startup terms, and more of a Weav Music.
“We’re not generating music from scratch. That’s explicitly not what we’re doing. We’re looking at using AI to shift the way in which music is consumed,” says Mahdavi. “Can a song that is sent your way interact with you in some way? We’re shape-changing the music.”
Read more on Musically