Absolut Adopts Machines & Artificial Creativity

Art from the Absolut Choir installation
By all likelihood you’ve heard of the vodka company’s Absolut campaigns. Recently they launched Absolut Machines, a new campaign that’ll be running for a year and centers around two artificial creativity projects; AI systems that compose music on accompanying mechanical instruments and can be watched & interacted with via live video feeds.

The Absolut Machines

By visiting Absolut Machines you’ll eventually find yourself on a page with two live videofeeds, presented in an old-school, gray window system. One of the machines is placed in Stockholm, Sweden and the other in New York City. The machines at these locations are music-composing AI systems you can interact with to augment the music they generate.

Absolut Machines dot com screenshot

The interaction sessions are recorded and you can get a compressed quicktime video of your visit sent via email or download it from the “Gallery” tab which lists all recent videos.

Think Artificial VIP Access
Dearly devoted Think Artificial readers have been allotted VIP codes that allow cutting to the front of the line to interact with the machines. Leave a comment on this entry and I’ll mail it to the address you enter in the comment form. Alternatively you can contact me directly. Note that there’s a limited supply of codes and they’ll be distributed on a first come first served basis.

Obligatory disclaimer: To participate in this giveaway you must be at least 21 years of age.

Absolut Choir

The Absolut Choir is a system composed of speech synthesizers implemented in the physical form of 10 robotic characters. Each of the machines, or choir members, has a unique voice ranging from women, to tenors and sopranos. A “mother character” virtually conducts by synchronizing and distributing sounds to the other members, each of which contains a Linux box for processing and a speaker.

Absolut Choir. An overview of all the robotic singers.

As the Choir starts singing, the user may input words to the machine. As the machine receives the words, it immediately uses them to generate a musical composition and lyrics. The robotic choir follows the lead of its human partner, and with the help of generative algorithms, the machine engenders a melody, tempo, dynamics, timbre and lyrics inspired by the user-generated input. The composition is also infused with the machine’s current mood and from the most recently analyzed words input by previous users. A lot of short words with many consonants may result in a fast arpeggio-like song, while softer words may result in a slower composition. [Absolut Press Kit]

The sound feed was suffering from some technical difficulties when I tried the choir. But the video worked, and the choir was receiving my lyrics glorifying Think Artificial (I figured I’d attempt to create a themesong for us).

The video compilation I received afterwards was okay. But I discovered that the lyrics were (intentionally) rendered hieroglyphic by the choir, so it sadly doesn’t make the cut as our themesong.

Absolut Quartet

The Quartet is quite different from the Choir. The machines are three; the main one is a marimba which the system plays by shooting rubber balls into the air, aimed at the marimba keys it wants to hit — or multiple balls if the objective is to play a chord. It’s quite fun to look at.

The marimba rubber ball blaster, design and implementation
The marimba rubber ball blaster implementation and design.

The Absolut Quartet under construction
Overview of the Quartet under construction.

The second machine is a series of glasses which basically replicate the “finger on a wine glass trick”. The glasses are spun, each tuned to a various pitches, and small robotic fingers touch them to produce sounds. The third part of the installation is an automated percussion instrument.

And then there’s the fourth part, us – the users. At the beginning of a session the human user plays notes on a miniature piano. The melody played dictates what kind of music the Quartet will produce, or in other words, your input is the machines inspiration for a following 3 minute song.

The machines are brainchilds of Dan Paluska and Jeff Lieberman. Both of which attend at MIT and have many cool projects in their backpack that combine aesthetics, artificial intelligence, kinetic sculpting and robotics.

Dan Paluska and Jeff Lieberman holding the Quartet rubber ball shooting device

Looking Closer at Robotics in the Media

This project is not an academic foray into the realms of creative AI, but rather a project intended to be looked at in terms of aesthetics. That being said: The artificial creativity of the machines is very primitive. If we take for example how the Quartet works; the software takes the melody played by a human user and compares it to a pre-existing collection of songs. Once a similar match has been found the machine mixes the two together producing the ultimate outcome. What interested me more than the software implementation of creativity was the overall aesthetic appeal of the project. In addition to Jeff and Dan’s artwork, the media related to this campaign was superb (partly handled by Noise Marketing, creators of the Appleseed website).

When exploring how we are creating our world; augmenting our environment — it’s intriguing to zoom out of AI context: How we (humans) advertise and perceive products is environmental augmentation. The ultimate sentiment is to be aware of the augmentations. To study them. Be aware of their effect and purpose; and to adapt and further develop whatever it is we want to achieve.

When I saw AI-colored advertisements from a major company (a company that essentially has nothing to do with machines) I immediately wondered whether it gave an indication of the public appeal of robots in Western societies. Certainly, machines in general play a larger role in everyone’s lives than ever before; and the same can be said about robotics even though we’re still in very early stages of that development. When we note that Puma has been sporting robotic-prosthetic cyberpunk campaigns as well, I think we can at least safely venture that robotics are on the rise in terms of public interest.

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