Talking Bluegrass with Artificial Intelligence

Anyone who writes for a living, or simply enjoys good writing, has probably given some thought to the notion that artificial intelligence could someday making human scribblers redundant. The degree to which computers trained to do so can create written pieces, using proper rules of grammar, and with more advanced software, the styles of noted authors.

The same is happening with visual arts and music, with computers being able to generate images based on a wide variety of artistic periods, and thematic music as well. The more sophisticated programs generate music so convincing that trained musicians often have trouble picking AI-written from human composed works.

So, sooner or later, the idea has to come to bluegrass, and Portland, Oregon grasser Richard Melling has taken a stab at using AI to write about bluegrass on his blog, Talking Bluegrass with Artificial Intelligence. Melling is a retired kindergarten teacher who plays guitar, reso-guitar, and mandolin, and performs in Portland with the Ross Island Ramblers.

Richard isn’t trying to push the tech forward or break down any barriers, he is mostly having fun with free AI interfaces available online, and seeing how much they have already been taught about our music.

And it turns out it’s quite a bit. In a post last month, he queried an AI chatbot about Flatt & Scruggs. Here is a part of their exchange:

Human: Why did Flatt and Scruggs leave Bill Monroe’s band? 

AI: I’m not sure, but I imagine it was because they wanted to start their own band. 

Human: Were they successful? 

AI: Yes, Flatt and Scruggs were very successful. They had their own band, which was very popular in the 1940s and 1950s. 

Human: What is your favorite Flatt and Scruggs song? 

AI: My favorite Flatt and Scruggs song is I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight. It’s a very pretty and lyrical song. 

Human: What is your second favorite Flatt and Scruggs song? 

AI: My second favorite Flatt and Scruggs song is I’m a Man of Constant Sorrow. It’s a very catchy and upbeat song. 

Human: And your third? 

AI: My third favorite Flatt and Scruggs song is I Saw the Light. It’s a very beautiful and spiritual song. 

Not exactly Neil Rosenberg or Gary Reid-level knowledge, but not bad for a general application.

In another interaction, the AI fared less well, resorting to guesswork and generalization when going deeper into the catalog.

 Human: I’d like to talk about two great Stanley songs — Rank Stranger and Harbor of Love. Can we talk about their deeper meanings? 

AI: Sure! Rank Stranger is a song about how we are all strangers in this world, and how we should help each other out. Harbor of Love is a song about how love can be a safe place for us to go when we’re feeling lost or alone. 

Human: Tell me about the line that says, “They knew not my name, and I knew not their faces”? 

AI: The line is about how we are all strangers in this world, and how we should help each other out. 

Human: and where is that “Beautiful home by the bright crystal sea”? 

AI: The line is referring to Heaven, or a place where we can be at peace. 

Human: Can you tell me about the great ship that will anchor in the harbor of love?  

AI: The ship is a symbol of hope and love. It represents how we can come together and help each other in times of need. 

If you enjoy silliness like this, as I do, regular visits to Talking Bluegrass with Artificial Intelligence may be your cup of tea.

More frightfully, Richard asked the AI today to write an article for Bluegrass Today about his dog’s new album, making it as ridiculous as possible.

Human: Can you make up an article for a magazine about Hobbes Doggy Dog’s new bluegrass CD, I Love Bacon, and his subsequent tour of the Cape Verde Islands? Can you emphasize that all breaks are banjo breaks, and can you mention each island and major city he will be visiting in March?

AI: Sure, here’s a possible article for a magazine about Hobbes Doggy Dog’s new bluegrass CD, I Love Bacon, and his upcoming tour of the Cape Verde Islands:

Hobbes Doggy Dog, the lovable and talented banjo-playing pooch from Nashville, Tennessee, is back with a brand new bluegrass CD that’s sure to have your tail wagging and your paws tapping. Entitled I Love Bacon, the album features 12 tracks of toe-tapping, hound-approved bluegrass tunes that will have you howling along in no time.

But that’s not all, folks. In March, Hobbes will be embarking on a tour of the Cape Verde Islands, where he’ll be performing in every major city and island along the way. From the bustling capital city of Praia on the island of Santiago, to the picturesque beaches of Sal on the island of Boa Vista, Hobbes will be bringing his unique brand of canine-inspired bluegrass to fans across the archipelago.

One thing that sets Hobbes’ music apart from other bluegrass bands is his use of the banjo. In fact, all of the breaks in his songs are played on the banjo, giving his music a distinctive and lively sound that’s sure to get your feet moving. So whether you’re a fan of bluegrass, banjo, or just good old-fashioned fun, make sure to catch Hobbes Doggy Dog on his Cape Verde Islands tour in March. It’s a bark-out-loud good time that you won’t want to miss!

Beware publicists everywhere, and Mr. Bluegrass Manners.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.