Grammy-winning artist Miguel on collaborating with the tech company Endel to make a 'generative' AI music project that adapts to a listener's movement

·10 min read
Miguel Endel music project thumbnail
Endel
  • Miguel spoke to Insider about the making of a "generative" AI music project he released with the tech company Endel this week.

  • In the exclusive interview, Miguel discussed the project's aim to promote wellness and gave his perspective on future implementations of AI in music.

Grammy-winning artist Miguel spoke to Insider last week about his work with the tech company Endel on a "generative" AI music project that dropped in Endel's app on Monday.

Insider beta tested the project, called "Clarity Trip," ahead of a phone interview with Miguel. Set to ambient instrumentation and spare, wordless vocals from Miguel, the dynamic project uses your phone's accelerometer and step counter to adapt Miguel's production to your movement.

In the exclusive interview, Miguel discussed the making of the project and its aim to promote movement and wellness. He also touched on how his meditation practices intersect with music, and gave his perspective on future implementations of AI in music, including in his own work.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Miguel, this is a remarkable piece of generative music here.

Man.. when they were describing how it would work, I kinda had to go, "Okay, wait a second. Rewind. Okay, say that again. How's this gonna work?"

[Laughs].

You know, just kinda trusting the guys and getting them what they needed, then letting the algorithm do what it's programmed to do. It's been such a dope experience. So yeah, man, I'm glad you're enjoying it. And what's awesome is that it's different every time. So, hopefully it's good enough to have you come back time and time again. And yeah, really happy with it.

What drew you to the project initially?

I mean, to be honest, just the "what the fuck" factor was enough. Just the idea of it, taking parts that I created, then having an algorithm tailor the listening experience to the listener's movement. It sounded interesting and cutting edge, and also the team made me feel real comfortable. They seemed like they had a real sense of what they were going for, and they trusted me, and it felt it was going to be really collaborative. And it proved to be, absolutely collaborative. And the guys are excellent. So yeah, that was the drawing factor, the team and just the possibilities, and it being cutting edge.

With the concept behind it in mind, how do you approach creating the body of music that you put into it?

I mean, again, I have to give the team some credit, a lot of credit actually, 'cause they were so patient. I feel like at every turn I was like, "Okay, wait. So, how are we breaking this down?" Because I'm usually imagining a piece of music in.. I'm always starting with maybe a finished something, something finished in my mind is sort of the guiding light, and every choice is always sort of to get to that point of whatever that finished portion was in my mind. With this, it's sort of more about understanding your choices and then letting the finished product be sort of a question mark, you know? So it was just more about trusting that each piece that you're adding is reflective of your perspective, your choices, your personality, and so on and so forth.

And I think that's the most exciting is that I didn't have to be the visionary here at all. Not only was it collaborative in terms of piecing it all together, but every time any person listens to it, it's a collaboration with the algorithm, with the program. So, it's sort of a nice, I think, new way of imagining the possibilities of music, and how we'll integrate human and technology in expression. I feel like it's just a really dope.. if nothing else, a really amazing new step in a direction of the future in music and creativity.

I gotta tell you, it took a minute for me to get it right. I started on a walk through Downtown Brooklyn, getting stopped at a light with an ambient chord hanging, someone yelling some shit at me..

[Laughs].

I'd imagine you worked this out with scenic California landscapes in mind, a different type of environment.

[Laughs]. Yeah. You know, it was absolutely meant just to help add in that atmosphere, and then also like for those of us who aren't in that atmosphere, to hopefully kind of take you to that same place and that same feeling. So yeah, hopefully it added to your experience and maybe transported you a little bit. I think that's what great music does. I think that was the other interesting possibility, was that in some way, shape, or form, like allowing technology to emote, giving the machine the pieces to emote, and seeing what happens? I think just the sheer.. like just the idea of it is wild, to think that these are possibilities. But I think it's also really fun. And as an experiment, just another step in new ways of creating, which I'm all about. I'm all for that.

Miguel
Miguel. Ethan Gulley

For you personally.. let's say.. if you're on an ideal walk, what do you get out of it from like a mental health standpoint, or what do you hope to get out of like a hike, for example?

Man. I mean, I typically hike for clarity. That was actually not intentional, 'cause I know that the piece is called "Clarity Trip." But yeah, that's the goal, and that's what I normally get from just any exercise, but specifically like hiking, getting out of my space, getting out of my workspace, and just sort of recalibrating. That's what normally happens for me when I'm on a hike, or when I go on a walk or get out of the house and get some exercise, man.

Is that the best form of meditation for you? I can't like.. I don't know how people sit down and meditate..

[Laughs].

.. maybe I've got like undiagnosed ADHD or something. But do you prefer to like get moving?

You know, there's a couple of things that are meditative for me. Music is meditative for me. I would say that, yeah, hiking for me is absolutely.. it brings me that very similar kind of mental peace, recalibration. But no, I love to meditate as well, and often I do it with music that helps get me kind of in a good space. So, that's what I think the goal of each one of the states that we built out for the algorithm to use.. the idea was to create music that sort of made each one of those experiences, whether you're in a static state, like if you were sitting down and meditating, having a piece of music that would help you in that state or help add to that experience. And as you progress in movement, we tried to build something that really helped add to that experience. And I think, with the help of the team, we were able to create something that's gonna add value to people, and that's pretty much all you can hope for when you make things. Is it gonna add value? Is it gonna help people? Is it going to do something for someone? So, yeah.

What type of music would you say is meditative for you? Are you the type of artist who would prefer instrumental music in that type of space?

Yeah. Absolutely, more instrumental music, for me, is meditative. Because as a songwriter, I pay attention to lyrics, so it's hard to shut that off. So yeah, if I'm looking to meditate, it will absolutely be with music that is just instrumental. Often like not even melodic. Sometimes it's just tones, with no arrangement. I think that's.. I mean, scientifically it's proven that certain tones help put you in different states of mental activity.

miguel
Miguel. Ethan Gulley

Do you go with like a Brian Eno-type vibe? What artists would you go to?

Man, I love.. I mean, jazz can be that way from me. I'm a big Miles head. And even though I know the melodies, it still for whatever reason can be meditative for me. I think because it's not lyrical, and more expressionist, especially the stuff that I like to listen to from Miles. It's not arranged, so it feels likes it's less of a.. I don't even know what the word would be right now.. You gotta excuse me, it's Friday. I'm like, "Huh? What?"

[Laughs]. I'm in the same boat.

But yeah, I mean, in terms of stuff I listen to, honestly, for meditative music, it's normally like downtempo jazz, or it's literally like frequency tones. So not anything arranged. It's just more tonal.

I was looking at this Brian Eno speech on generative music. This guy said that, after experimenting with generative music, he couldn't listen to a normal record the same, it was "very difficult" for him. Has this mode of composition shifted your perception at all? Has the project changed the way you think about things musically at all?

Well, it absolutely opened up the possibilities, because understanding now that you can give.. you can actually program something to.. like AI can analyze the way a musician generally creates, and then create based off of that, and create pieces of music that would mimic those sorts of choices. I think the better and better we get at programming.. I mean, the possibility of programming, according to my past choices and then giving the machine a set of sounds or tones, or specific choices, and then letting it do things that are based on what it's analyzed about my past choices. I think that's an interesting way of integrating AI. I think there's just so many different ways, and that's just like.. that's just one run. You can assign it to do specific tasks.

I think the possibilities are endless. I think it's an interesting space in general. As technology becomes more and more integrated, it's only going to become.. it's just the way things are going, you know? Humans are gluttons for convenience, and technology obviously makes things a lot more convenient. So, as we progress, I feel like it's just the natural way things are gonna go. So, finding ways that we work with technology, I think is just sort of a natural progression. And yeah, it's just interesting to sort of start playing with and imagining new ways that we may use algorithm and AI and computer learning to help us create new, interesting things that we haven't done before.

Do you see that factoring into your solo work at all? As such an organically talented musician, do you see that type of technology implementing into what you do, into the music itself?

Just collaborating with the Endel team, I think the hope is that we continue to collaborate and find new ways to implement the technology. So I would love to. I think right now.. not everybody has an Endel team and AI that can do what they program it to do. So, I think it's early, but that's sort of why I jumped at the chance because it's these new ideas that will absolutely be normal in time. So, being able to be one of the first to jump in and learn about it and learn about the process, and be able to witness firsthand the possibilities was what made it a no brainer.

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