Part 1

Name: Pleasurekraft
Members: Kalle Ronngardh, Kaveh Soroush
Interviewee: Kaveh Soroush

Nationality: American

Occupation: Producers, performers
Current Release: Pleasurekraft's Sex and the Machine EP is out now on Drumcode.

If you enjoyed this interview with Pleasurekraft, and would like to dive deeper into their work, visit the duo's official website. They are also on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud.

When did you first start getting interested in AI in relation to music?

Actually my interest in AI didn’t stem from its use in music per se, but rather from the more general perspective of how ubiquitous AI has become in our daily lives; from mundane tasks to cutting-edge science. Even now, what inspires me when thinking of AI is not its use in music, but its use in so many human activities, and how this pairing creates a feedback loop that gives rise to new ways of thinking and seeing the world.

Like our ancient hominid ancestors that first began using tools, that new relationship created a feedback loop with cascading consequences - in which the things we shape, end up shaping us in turn - giving rise to forms and ideas that would never have been possible without such symbiosis. Just as the first amphibians that crawled onto land could never have imagined us, so we too cannot imagine the ultimate results of Artificial Intelligence. Of course, a major caveat being that we do not destroy ourselves in the process.

It is these philosophical underpinnings of Artificial Intelligence that inspire me to find ways of incorporating such ideas into our music - more so in thematic content than in form.

The term AI is an interesting one when it comes to creativity. What, would you say, does intelligence mean in relation to music?

I think this is such a deep question - and I think what it means to music is a microcosm of what it means on a much more fundamental level to all human endeavors. I would ask a broader question: what is ‘intelligence’? And if we, as biological organisms, are attempting to create, or in some ways mimic, human cognition, then what does it mean for it to be called ‘artificial’?

I remember reading somewhere a derogatory quip that ‘Nature can’t build a computer’. But this is wrong on at least two different levels. Nature, as a process, is itself computation. Of course, the inputs, feedback loops, and causal arrows are much too great to be fully grasped by the human mind. So, we have come to a point in our evolution where we are attempting to build machines that can ‘think’ - or display ‘intelligence’. And because we are the creators of these machines, we call them artificial. But this is the second sense in which that earlier statement is incorrect.

Not only are machines and all the various components that comprise them made up of the elements cooked up in the nuclear furnaces of stars, albeit a different combination of elements than those of biological, carbon-based life. But they are designed by a biological lifeform, homo sapiens.

Homo sapiens are natural entities created by nature. We like to think, ‘Oh no, but we have culture and society and therefore we can subvert natural processes to our own ends.’ But this is just missing the deepest fundamental truth, where does culture and society come from? Minds. What are minds? They are the emergent property of a constellation of interconnected biochemical processes. So, in fact, Nature can build a non-carbon based computer, it just required the intermediary of a specific evolved primate to do so. We err when we think of ourselves and our cultural artifacts as separate from nature - because the minds they spring from are themselves artifacts of natural processes. Furthermore, intelligence is usually defined in human terms.

But the more we learn about the subtle forms of communication and intelligence distributed throughout nature, most of which we are still completely oblivious to, we see how our understanding of intelligence is solipsistically juvenile and what issues arise when we use our own intelligence as the benchmark by which we judge the great diversity of non-human minds around us, be they biological or silicon-based.

AI is still a fairly young field of interest within the arts. From a historical perspective, what do you feel were important milestones in its development?

I’m sure everyone who is still reading at this point is familiar with Alan Turing and the concept of Turing machines, Von Neumann architecture, and perhaps even Claude Shannon’s Information Theory. However, it’s sad that many have forgotten one of the godfathers of our digital age - and someone who Shannon learned much from - Norbert Wiener.

He was the father of a multi-disciplinary movement in the sciences called ‘cybernetics’ (no it doesn’t have anything to do with Terminator 2) - and one of his most important contributions was the concept of feedback loops. How society would inevitably change as a result of new technologies that would have feedback effects back into society - leading not only to accelerating technological advancements, but how humans would come to relate to one another (see his book The Human Use of Human Beings). In many ways his ideas (among others) are the seeds from which songs like “Panopticon (The Patron Saint of Global Surveillance)” and “Sex and the Machine” sprang from.

I think the video for “Panopticon” is pretty self-explanatory, but with our new EP on Drumcode Sex and the Machine we were really thinking about our own cognitive limits when it comes to envisioning machines with an interior life. The repeating vocals in the song, ‘Thinking nothing. Feeling Nothing’ are pretty much the way we view our machines. And I fear that is how we will continue to think about them. Of course, this grants us license to do whatever we please with our inventions without recourse.

But if you truly believe that what we call ‘mind’ is not some special extra thing that exists on its own (the way many religious people conceive of ‘soul’), but rather, that mind is simply an emergent property of a constellation of smaller biochemical entities working in concert - then you have to concede that once a threshold is crossed - anything with the sufficient amount and right type of connections, for example, could be classed as having ‘mind’ in a robust sense.

This is what is often referred to as ‘substrate independence’ - the idea that the biological, carbon-based substrate that is our brain is not the only template that can give rise to mind - that even something silicon-based, if possessing the right kind of characteristics (many of which we simply have not figured out yet) could be classified as having a mental state - an inner world. That has deep ethical implications for our silicon-based creations - and even though our technology is not at the point where this is a tangible concern, there is no reason to think that it will always remain this way.  

How would you describe the shift of moving towards a process where AI is more deeply involved?

For the sake of not repeating myself - and sheer boredom on the part of the two readers left at this point - I think this is covered enough in the other answers - so I’ll refrain from yet another long-winded explanation of how exhilarating I think it all is.

I’ll just quote the sample at the end of “Nostalgic for the Future” from our last album Love in the Age of Machines:

‘We are going to remake ourselves, and it will rip free all of the anchors that have until now, told us who we are as human beings.’

In how far has working with AI led to creating different music for you personally? Are there creative ideas / pieces which you could not have realised before?

I would say again, from a thematic standpoint absolutely. So much of the lyrical content in our songs are explicitly touching these themes - although we don’t incorporate AI-based music production algorithms in producing our tracks. But tracks like “Nostalgic for the Future” perfectly encapsulate these themes without making use of music production AI to create the form of the track.

As you can hear in the track - we sampled a biophysicist who sums the whole thing so perfectly:

‘We are now becoming objects of conscious design. Until now, we have been reshaping the world around us, changed everything that’s external to us, but somehow we imagined that we were going to remain the same, that we ourselves would not get caught up in this process.’

And this feedback loop of our creation is an endless source of exhilaration and inspiration for me that then goes right into the music. Somewhere, the ghost of Norbert Wiener smiles contently from his grave knowing how right he had gotten it all.   

Some deeper experiments into AI-generated music allow a glimpse at non human musicality. From your own experience, in which way is it different from our human musicality?

I think we’re only beginning to glimpse these differences.

For starters, much of what we feed in to these systems as input for initial learning is human music to begin with, from which we expect some manner of pattern recognition to occur and give us some output. And while there are increasing instances of AI produced music that have surprised the scientific and artistic community, I think it’s the pathways that these minds end up taking as they get further away from the inputs we built in to them that is truly fascinating.

In a way it’s analogous to what happened with Google DeepMind’s Alpha Go - in which an AI trained on the ancient chinese game ‘Go’ beat one of the world’s premiere players. In the documentary of the same name - there is a section in which some of the moves the AI makes baffle all the spectators, because they were moves that in the millenia(!!!) that homo sapiens had been playing this game, a game of their own invention, not a single carbon-based mind had thought to make such moves in those in-game situations. In an incredible display of un-human intelligence, we learned a new way to play a game that we had never - even collectively - ever imagined.

This type of event has a rich history involving different AI programs that have displayed similar feats in other human designed games - all to the shock, awe, and sometimes fear of the human designers.

So, what will the musical trajectory of such minds be? Only time will tell, but as they say, I’m here for it!

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