Signing a Virtual Artist

I must say – this one surprised even me:

What does it mean to “sign” a band that doesn’t exist? While virtual bands have been put together ever since the Monkees of the Beatles’ 1960 era, to Gorillaz today. To be fair, Peter Tork could actually play music. And “real” bands have teams which create their “public image,” changing their appearance, speaking for them, tweaking their songs.

But in each case of these “old school” fakes, there were actual people creating music. If you admired the music or lyrics, the source ultimately was a human being. The band was a fantasy costume UI, built over the toiling studio musicians, writers, and marketers.

What happens when software is added? The first of these imaginary bands to be “signed” is “Skullz,” A simulated “mugshot” of these rebellious – nothings.

Skullz Orkid image
(sigh) a rebel, probably for “protesting” something or other…

To “go to a concert” by Skullz you buy “passes” (in other words, you get a digital token (NFT?). The music is supposed to be “emo pop,” and the band images show a “rebel” holding a police card (presumable they were “arrested”). I couldn’t bring myself to actually listen.

It’s a bit like a cover band – anonymous musicians in a Beatles cover band channeling what the original Beatles would have done. The innovation: just create the virtual band, instead of covering a real one lost to history.

The video (linked below) claims Skullz has a blowout debut. Presumably, that means that in the future you will be able to go into an online game and “meet” Skullz, and hear them “perform” – or rather, hear studio musicians play and use the Skullz UI to pretend they don’t exist.

But tech-utopians hope that…maybe…someday…the music will be written by the software! Skullz will complete it’s transformation to “real” AI!

The idea that someone thinks this is going to work – shows that people’s capacity for believing in “the invisible world” is unabated in our supposedly rational, secular society. In the first level, fake bands betray our desire to be fooled in an entertaining way. There are lots of cover bands. Discussing the members of an imaginary band is not so different from talking about other creatures like Obi-Wan or vampires as if they existed. “What would Jar Jar Binks do about racism?” kind of questions…

But there is a difference here – power. Folk songs are the product of the community of musicians. Cover bands cover stuff that musicians made. Virtual musicians are products of a company, combining the manufacture of the music and musician in software, and hiding the “soft” human, musician parts out of site. There is centralized control and ownership of everything, compared to distributed ownership in a folk song community – a flat, mesh-network.

Cover bands license music, implying there was a “real” band in the past. The licensing distributes power from the original band in a tree-style network of power.

With a game character band, all power resides in one group. The game creators grab IP from artists and musicians. The old licensing model isn’t there, despite the crazy “sign a virtual artist” language. The image below with an interview with the creators shows it all – guyz creating some artificial women (not really that different from a “living doll”) and manipulating them.

Watch the the swam of guys play with these female images….

…there are no girls here, not in the creation, or in any of the people who “call in” to the presentation in the YouTube video above.

Virtual bands seems to be an expression of rising “hive mind” mentality, discussed to great effect in You are Not a Gadget. The people creating the virtual band aren’t individually important, any more than you worry about individual liver cells in your body. Instead, they live through the emergent identity created by this digital media. If we can’t tell the behavior of the virtual band from a real band, the Turing Test requires that they think of the band as “real” – we have created a “hive mind” AI with an independent, emergent being.

Really, those “women” were the product of this guy’s efforts.

Pet Kirtley

There are no “girls” behind the scenes.

I’m not saying we’re fooled. Nobody is “duped” by virtual musicians – meaning they think this band exists when questioned. But they suspend belief because they “want them to be real…”

Consider that many religions don’t have an old man in the sky; but they do feature an unseen world that requires belief, even when “the trick” is in plain sight. Consider that statues in Egypt had a priest inside talking for the god, but nobody lost their belief in the gods, even if they could see said priest squatting behind the eye-slits.

If you challenged the faith of the people, they would have been very angry – it is not “just a joke.”

How much worse does it become when the unseen world is algorithmic?

Creating art and imaginary characters is one thing – a universal practice, possibly diagnostic of humanity. But past efforts were very manual – the equivalent of costuming real musicians in fancy digital outfits. What happens when the virtual musicians, their music is created by a “neural net?”

In my opinion, you don’t get an AI musician. Instead, making imaginary characters that deliberately try to fool you via a Turning test is a kind of religion.

Published by pindiespace

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