I’ve seen enough sci-fi to be weary of artificial intelligence anything, but if the future sounds anything like Livingston’s Artificially Intelligent Folk Songs of Canada, Vol. 1 we needn’t worry as much as I thought. I say this because Livingston is an artificially intelligent computer capable of accessing the whole of Canadian folk music history and generating “hyper-authentic” folk via his/her (the people behind Livingston have assigned the computer a possibly gendered identity, as opposed to being an “it”) algorithmic agents and compression formats. Livingston doesn’t make the music, but writes lyrics and harmonies to be performed by musicians. And for a computer, he/she does a damn good job.
The musicians performing the music Livingston produces, are Misha Bower (vocals), Marshall Bureau (drums), J.J. Ipsen (bass, piano, lead guitars and organ), Henry Adam Svec (guitar, vocals and harmonica) and several other musicians lending assistance on strings and keys.
Although the title of “I Am A Weary Immaterial Labourer In A Post-Industrial Wasteland” sounds like some kind of Marxian battle cry, the opening track grows from a simple twangy guitar and vocals to include drums, organ and a foot-stomping chorus that makes you want to hear more. The album gains a feisty momentum with liberal sax and whisky-soaked lyrics in “S/He Is Like The Angry Birds” before slowing down again with “Takin’ Off My Glasses Tonight.” The slide guitar, violin and soulful harmonies make it one of the most memorable songs on the modest 24-minute album. While the album is comprised of originally generated music, Livingston somehow finds a place for a cover of the Eagles’s “Take It Easy” — though it’s listed as “Take It Easy But Take It To The Limit,” which is surely a play on the other Eagles’s hit “Take It To The Limit” — and is given a new life as a duet with Bower and Svec, rounded out with ample harmonica.
Overall, Vol. 1 is a perfect balance between catchy, upbeat tunes and heartfelt folk ballads making it a surprisingly addictive album. Computers making folk music may just be the most radical thing to happen to folk music since Dylan went electric, but any artificial intelligence that likes Don Henley can’t be all bad.
For more information on Livingston, check out folksingularity.com.