AI, or Artificial Intelligence, is rapidly shaping the future of music, but electronic outlier Grimes predicted it years ago. She’s since launched Elf.Tech, her own AI vocal generator platform, after recently giving a keynote on the power of AI at IMS Ibiza and encouraging fans to use her voice on songs created by AI.
Grimes has now released her first official AI song, ‘Cold Touch,’ a collaboration with Kito, an Australian-born, LA-based DJ and producer. The icy electronic banger quickly went viral after Kito teased it on Instagram, and it even piqued the interest of Grimes, who describes herself as “transhumanist industrial Taylor Swift with a smattering of happy hardcore” – we couldn’t put it better ourselves. Kito explains.
“I had a studio session in London a couple of weeks ago with two writers I adore, Nina Nesbit and Fred Ball, and I had just seen Grimes post her invitation for people to use her AI-generated voice.” It just seemed like a really interesting thing to try, so I brought it up when I arrived at the studio. Nina and Fred were both enthusiastic, so no convincing was required.
Elf.Tech is a simple idea: you upload a voice and have it transformed to sound like Grimes. She’s taught her AI to recognise her voice. It does have some limitations, which they are constantly working to improve. I believe there is a lot of confusion about how AI is being used in songs right now, and AI will remain messy for a long time. Everyone is exploring new territory. So much is attached to a voice – an identity, a story – that I think mimicking an existing artist without their permission is morally questionable; who knows what releases they’re planning or what stage their project is at creatively?
It’s also not AI that’s creating this song; it’s humans. It’s just a tool that humans use to mimic another human, so perhaps we should think about how AI can expand our creativity rather than just using it to replicate things? But it’s obviously exciting to hear and see that as well. ‘Cold Touch’ was written, produced, and assembled by humans; only the voice is generated by AI. However, in order for that to work, a real human voice must be used as a guide so that the AI can map it.
I’d never used AI before, but I’m fascinated by voice manipulation in film.
It felt like an extension of that in some ways, with the added challenge of writing a song as if it were a collaboration with Grimes. We wrote it from the viewpoint of an AI attempting to comprehend love. I believe that love is the most human thing, and that it could be said to define consciousness. It’s both terrifying and exciting to think about and write about.
The song initiated a new creative process for me; simply sharing something raw and unfinished and receiving a response that prompted a very quick release… the polar opposite of how I usually work. I wasn’t nervous because I just wanted to be a part of the experiment.
I was hoping Grimes would see it, but I didn’t have high hopes. ‘Hey, this is really cool!’ ‘Do you think it’s cool as well?’ I did, however, make jokes about going viral with [producer and DJ] Leon Vynehall.
Leon and his wife Moxie are good friends of mine, and I stayed with them while in London; I produced the song while sitting at their kitchen table with headphones on. I went into Leon’s studio to listen to it through his speakers. He added some bits and helped me quickly finish structuring it before telling me to sit there and listen to it while he filmed me. That’s what I said online that night.
It exceeded my expectations by connecting me with Grimes and allowing me to discuss ideas with her. The art discussion was also enjoyable. We were interested in doing things differently than usual and involving people in decision-making. Especially since we were both indecisive. The obvious thing seemed to be to use an AI-generated piece of art for the cover, but that immediately felt gimmicky in the context of my releases.
I’ve used the artwork of artist and photographer Alec Marchant on previous covers, including ‘Recap’ with VanJess and Channel Tres and ‘Alone With You’ with Aluna. I’ve seen the deer image before and have always admired it… and in a strange way, it made perfect sense to me for this song.
It’s a metaphor for our strange and awkward relationship with using AI for creative expression.
I remember seeing Grimes perform at a festival in London and being completely blown away by her energy on stage and how completely immersed she seemed in the moment. It feels incredible to see her reaction to the song. It’s an unusual way to work with an artist. I actually joked that this song would lead to that, but I had no idea it would actually happen. We’re talking about doing a Grimes version and experimenting, but nothing is finished yet.
I’d like to work with her in person because her creative energy is enticing and I admire her ability to do things quickly.