On a rainy day in Margate outside the Turner Contemporary, twelve large, differently coloured horns play a song. Every two minutes, an AI machine within them generates a new tune comprised of voices that sound eerily like robotic children. This is Yuri Suzuki’s creation: ‘The Welcome Chorus’.
A sound artist, designer, and electronic musician, Suzuki puts all his skills to work in this piece, which uses AI to transform the voices of Kent residents. By going to libraries throughout the region, Suzuki was able to obtain recordings of locals speaking on their life experiences. The recordings were then introduced to AI software that in turn, transformed the voices into melodies.
On the day I visit, the sounds exude melancholy, as if reflecting the gloomy weather. “Does it react to seasonal changes?” I ask Suzuki about his austere machine. He laughs. “No, they react to your voice, here let me show you.” He says confidently, “voice is coming back” into a cylinder outfitted with microphones placed directly in front of the horns.
I say “hello my name is Zoe” into the microphone - a predictable sentence uttered with a tone of caution, as if my message is going to be heard by someone listening below.
After two minutes, the machine produces another morose melody, sounding, ever so slightly, like the noises we had just made. The mysterious artwork has a mind of its own, literally.
“There’s no music about the presence of Margate. I decided to create an AI-based project, a democratic way to collaborate together in creating one piece of music,” says Suzuki. “The piece uses algorithms, such as machine-learning from AI, to educate itself on melodies and sounds,” he explains. Machine-learning is a branch of AI based on the idea that through data, systems can figure out how to identify patterns and make decisions, with little to no human intervention.
Through this very humanistic quality of learning, the machine itself acquires a sense of personhood. The creation of this exterior, unbiased artist, further exemplifies the egalitarian principle of Suzuki’s work.
The point of the machine, I understand from Suzuki, is to bring people together, their voices joining simultaneously through song. In this way, everyone who contributed previously and those who visit the exhibition effectively become part of the work. It’s a level of interactivity few pieces manage to attain.
‘The Welcome Chorus’ shows how technology can function as a democratising force, bringing individuals together by breaking them down, using parts to make a whole. In fact, each horn represents a different district of Kent, a cartographical representation through colour and sound.
The piece also illustrates how technology can enhance art and indeed, even create art itself. It invites us to consider the future of visual artwork, and how AI can harness our human abilities and fashion something artificial, but entirely new.