"Brisbane's Bob Dylan" Jordan Merrick takes us through the journey of putting together his new album, 'Winner Take Nothing' and the realisation that human-made artwork will always outdo AI.
2023. Doomsday. Mid Journey has replaced artists. ChatGPT writes prose far superior to that of Hemingway & Dylan. AI voice generation has resurrected the greats, much like Frankenstein and his monster. Creativity is no longer that of legend but of prompts.
Every artist has heard this tale of woe, horror and destruction. Nick Cave eloquently wrote of songwriting, “By which I mean they are predicated upon the complex, internal human struggle of creation and, well, as far as I know, algorithms don’t feel. Data doesn’t suffer. ChatGPT has no inner being; it has been nowhere, it has endured nothing, it has not had the audacity to reach beyond its limitations, and hence, it doesn’t have the capacity for a shared transcendent experience, as it has no limitations from which to transcend.”
The fact Cave had to answer a question about AI songwriting is itself a Pandora’s Box not many expected to open. Once opened, how can we not look inside?
As this wild world of generative AI grew in popularity, I began writing my third album. While AI was never in the crosshairs, it quickly found itself a home among my thoughts. Not in the generative sense, but that of a new world both beautiful and horrifying. As AI continues to grow, where does the human experience sit? Could generative AI actually replace music? Could things such as Apple's Vision Pro be more immersive than nature itself? The more I delved, the more questions would arise.
During this time, I wrote Song For A Room. It felt like standing at the crossroads of digital and analog eras. On one hand, the song detaches from reality through fiction. On the other, it is a pursuit of individuality in a conformist world. Above all else, it was a reminder that the enduring power of art transcends the limits of reality. As I reflected on the song, one line kept standing out - Hemingway wrote Winner Take Nothing.
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As many creative writers would agree, your best work is often found in random moments of creative flow. I had no idea why my subconscious referenced a book I hadn't read in years. My own generative AI (Read: brain) had dumbfounded me, so I dusted off my old copy and got to reading.
The book itself is a series of short stories set in the aftermath of World War 1. The characters dealt with existential questions and the harsh realities of their time—the disillusionment of being human in a time of upheaval and uncertainty.
Slowly but surely, it became clear what my subconscious was hinting at. Society then and society now face the same existential questions. Life is filled with uncertainty and looming change. Questions asked about the nature of the human condition and the future of connection. One hundred years had passed since Hemingway wrote this book, yet it felt so relevant.
While that may seem like doom and gloom, it gave me comfort. Humans have always faced challenges, and challenges have always been overcome. While AI is a brand new challenge, it became very clear to me that we are up for the fight.
I decided to embrace this challenge. Let the thrill of change kick in and do away with an age-old fear of what's to come. It felt only fitting to name this third album after the book that inspired this learning. From then on, album three was Winner Take Nothing.
While writing music has come naturally to me, brush and pencil had always proven a challenge. If it isn't a stick figure, it is out of my artistic reach! While I had an idea for the cover art, there was no way I could draw anything close. So, I enlisted the help of the very tool that started these questions - Mid Journey.
With a little experimenting, I finally entered: Nuclear Bomb going off in the horizon while a boxer has his hand raised, black & white, Banksy sketch.
An idea I could never dream of having drawn up myself was now a reality. It was beautiful, yet hollow - a contradiction all too common with AI art. I took the idea to my friend - the incredible artist James Alley, who used this image prompt to design the album cover.
In this moment, the true difference between AI and human art revealed itself to me. AI could not capture the subtlety of Brisbane City in the background or the importance of walking towards conflict. It lacked the connection between humanity and their homes—the fear of global conflicts and the bravery it takes to face them.
If AI was the tool, humanity was the hammer.
I asked ChatGPT what it thought of this, to which it replied: The analogy of AI being the tool while humanity is the hammer encapsulates the idea that AI serves as a means to an end, with its true impact determined by how humanity wields it.
Who knows where the future of AI will take us? If this last year has taught me anything, it's that there is no substitute for mind, body and soul. The human experience will break us. It will show us love. It will make us smile. It is unique. Through this experience, art, creativity, and words will always belong to those brave enough to look, hear and share. To connect with human art is to connect with humanity itself.
Winner Take Nothing is out now.