better than 8-track

I’m done recording for the next album, titled Diversion. 9 tracks, an hour and 3 minutes. I’ll master it over the next few days and plan to release on Bandcamp Friday, May 6.

The artwork is already taken care of thanks to Wombo Dream, an “AI” art app that creates stuff based on a text prompt. How it responds to various prompts varies a lot. I would describe it as vaguely, inhumanly impressionistic with a lot of accidental surrealism. It does interesting textures and gives the vague idea of something, but the specifics so often just don’t work. It’s great for inventing glyphs and sigils, making piles of machinery or forests or mountains, or an impression of a spreadsheet or chart. It’s not so good at putting together a non-nightmarish animal or human, or a “story” in a scene or knowing when to stop. For instance:

“businessmen shaking hands” in “fantasy art” style
“boiling pasta” in steampunk style
“clown juggling bowling pins” in synthwave style
“robot walking a dog” in ukiyo-e style

So in some sense it’s like what I’ve said about the “ambient” aspect of my music — it gives a sense of a scene, a time and place and general events, but despite some depth of detail and texture, it does not tell a specific story.

  • But is it art?”
    • Oh please don’t. That is the most tedious question ever.
  • “Is it good?”
    • This has no objective or meaningful answer.
    • But if you find the images somehow compelling, then… sure, it’s good.
  • “Will this replace human artists?”
    • Entirely? No.
    • But if you just need something whipped up ridiculously fast and cheap? Particularly with a more sophisticated tool like DALL-E where the specifics aren’t so hilariously broken? Yeah.
    • Maybe think about this in terms of drummers vs. drum machines. The “replacement” is not total. Drum machines that sound pretty dull are easy; to sound good, you need a human to work it like the creative tool that it is. Drum machines enable new creative directions that live human drummers couldn’t (or at least, didn’t) go, but they don’t mean people don’t value a good human drummer or enjoy drumming anymore.

A couple of weeks ago I watched the documentary “Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Dungeons & Dragons.” The better fantasy artists could convey a lot of story, a sense of character, in a single still image scene. You could see it and easily imagine you knew some things about that Halfling thief’s personality, what her voice sounded like, how she got into this mess and the kind of tricks she’ll pull to get out of it again. I have my doubts that any AI in the next 10-20 years will be able to do that, at least not without a human pulling a lot of its strings… in which case, we’re still talking about a human making art.

At any rate, I think the wonkiness of Wombo has a sort of combination charm/creepiness and it will make at least one cool album cover for music like mine.

T-Bone Burnett (whoever that is?) and Bob Dylan have teamed up to announce “the pinnacle of recorded sound.” Which is basically, a lacquer analog record that is recorded in a one-off way, no duplication. So it’s like an NFT but a physical thing.

There are all kinds of reasons to hate and mock this. But mostly I am amused to be able to say my releases have outsold a Bob Dylan record, as well as Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.

Recent reads:

Robert Jackson Bennett, Foundryside and Shorefall: fantasy set in a Mediterranean-esque city ruled by merchant houses whose magical “scrivings” bend the rules of reality. E.g. self-propelled carts that roll because its wheels believe they are going downhill. There’s a sort of programming language behind it — and a deeper language behind that, with more permissions to rewrite reality (and humanity) that is the source of all kinds of trouble. A decent read and clever system, but didn’t really have the emotional pull for me that some authors do.

Brandon Sanderson & Janci Patterson, Skyward Flight: Technically three novellas in one book, but it’s a continuous timeline from one into the next with different protagonists. Set in the YA series with spaceship dogfights, psychics who can teleport entire space stations, a scumbag empire called the Superiority that wonders why the (heavily oppressed) “lesser races” are so gosh-darn aggressive, and Doomslug. I was well entertained.

Charles Stross, Quantum of Nightmares: a novel in the horror/comedy Laundry Files series, where at this point, the UK is ruled by a god/demon called “the Black Pharaoh,” the US narrowly avoided a coup by Cthulhu cultists, and superheroes and supervillains are running rampant because reality is very… leaky. This one involves the attempted kidnapping of a quartet of spoiled rich superpowered children, the worst possible supermarket chain to work for getting a bit Sweeny Todd with 3D meat printers, and of course a cult. It was probably the grossest of the series so far, though not necessarily the scariest, but still funny and clever and riveting.

Charles Stross, Escape from Yokai Land: this was billed as “Book 12 of the Laundry Files.” But it’s a short novella for the price of a novel, and it’s set between books 7 and 8 — practically ancient history at this point. It doesn’t advance the plot or tell us anything about good old Bob that we didn’t already know. It lacks almost everything that makes the series so good. There were a couple of chuckles in it at best. I am disappoint.

Reading now: Charlie Jane Anders, Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak: so far it’s early yet and it has not yet got its hooks in, but I’m giving it a chance. It’s the sequel to Victories Greater Than Death, a YA “chosen one” space opera where the characters were refreshingly considerate and kind, and was as much about about emotional struggles and internal conflicts as galactic ones. The sort of thing the Sad Puppies would absolutely hate, because people respecting each other’s boundaries and gender identity is just the worst.

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