Kurt Cobain's sound is still being heard twenty-seven years after his death, thanks to artificial intelligence (AI) software.
Nirvana fans have been asking since then what new music the legendary grunge band has created over the years. In pursuit of a response, one community has turned to latest technology.
Lost Tapes of the 27 Club is a computer-based project that writes and performs songs in the styles of musicians who died at the age of 27, such as Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Amy Winehouse.
Every track was generated by AI programs that analyzed up to 30 songs by each artist, researching things like vocal melodies, chord changes, guitar riffs, solos, and more to guess what a "new" composition would sound like, according to Rolling Stone.
The Lost Tapes of the 27 Club was produced by Over the Bridge, a Toronto-based group that aims to raise awareness about Cobain's tragic suicide and how living musicians can seek support for depression.
"Drowned in the Sun" uses machines to replicate Cobain's songwriting and guitar abilities, with vocals provided by Eric Hogan, lead singer of Nirvana's "ultimate tribute" band, Nevermind. Hogan drew parallels between Nirvana's seminal albums In Utero and Nevermind, the latter of which is the name of his cover band, and the recent Nirvana-esque track he released in Cobain's style in an interview with Rolling Stone.
"['Drowned in the Sun'] is accurate enough to give you the [Nirvana] vibe," Hogan claimed, "but not so accurate to where anyone is going to get a cease-and-desist letter." "If you compare this to Nirvana's most recent album, 'You Know You're Right,' you'll notice a similar vibe. Kurt would only write whatever he felt like writing at the time. And if he enjoyed it, it was a Nirvana tune. 'OK, that's sort of an In Utero vibe right here or a Nevermind vibe right here,' I can hear in the arrangement of ['Drowned in the Sun.' I fully grasped the AI aspect of it."
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Sean O'Connor, a member of Over the Bridge's board of directors, told Rolling Stone that his team employs Google's AI software Magenta to analyze the compositions of these artists' previous songs as MIDI files, which the computers then use to generate new hooks, vocal melodies, and rhythms. For the lyrics, O'Connor and his colleagues use a standardized AI algorithm known as an artificial neural network to interpret artists' lyrics so that the program can use a few words as a jumping-off point before guessing the cadence and tone in a "trial and error" phase.
However, O'Connor explained why the Nirvana-style recordings were the most difficult to create. He told Rolling Stone, "You tended to get a wall of sound." "There's less of a discernible common thread running through all of their songs to give you this massive catalog from which the computer might simply learn and produce something new."
Over the Bridge goes beyond remembering the legacies of The 27 Club members when it comes to Cobain's suicide almost three decades ago. The charitable organization helps artists, local/road crew, and others in the music industry to pursue needed mental health services by posting resources on its Facebook page and hosting peer support group meetings over Zoom.