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Behold the Ch!Ld


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female at microphone

Credit: Samsonova Karina

RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRZZZZ . . . Skiz awoke to a buzzing inside the lower back of her skull. It wasn't the jarring buzz of an alarm, nor the gentler bio-alert, telling her to take her meds. It wasn't the urgent "Item On Sale! Buy It NOW!!!" buzz, either. Rather, it was an incoming CommCall that was pulsing her neuro/vibrotactile implant. Who would be calling at this ungodly…? Oh no… Checking <date:time> in her retinal projection, she quickly realized that she had overslept, and was REALLY late for her session. That buzzing would be the studio CCalling to ask why she wasn't there using her (expensive) booked time.

Responding to the CCall without picking up:

(in a soft, low voice to the left)

"[reply.]"

            "[Coming Now.]"

        (to the right, in a normal voice)

(soft low voice to the left)

"[send. dismiss.]"

rrrrrzzzzp … the pulsing stopped. OK. Up, throw on jeans, t-shirt, hoodie, out the door and into a TRaxi to the studio. She could do a little work during the 15-minute trip there. "[WAIT! Hold on]" voice commanding the TRaxi. Back into the apartment to grab her important TDrive (Thumb Drive) which held all of her current projects. Back in the TRaxi, "[Go! Fast. I'll pay extra.]"

Fourteen minutes later, she was running into the studio building, the security AI opening each door as she approached. Down the last hallway, peeling off her hoodie, she entered the main studio, and tossed the TDrive onto the production console. The console woke up, purring, appearing to stretch itself. The furry console surface rippled, absorbing the TDrive, giving the appearance of a huge rectangular grey cat devouring a bulb of flesh.

The studio wasn't completely necessary, of course. Producers, composers, DJs, and artists had been making proper music in bedrooms, on airplanes, in coffee shops, or wherever for decades now, but Skiz liked the studio, partly because of the furry console. She also loved the feeling of just being there, since it was quite a bit larger and nicer than her living cube. Most of all, she had gotten used to the higher bandwidth links to the agents she used in her production work: HarryBlox (block chain music licensing), GettySamplz (repository of raw audio materials), CSpot (Cliche Spotter, an aesthetic evaluator/recommender), HC (Hit Composer), and HiG (Hook infringement Guardian).

Of course her TDrive had versions of all of these AI tools, and subsets of the databases they accessed. But a TD can only hold a zettabyte or so, and reading/writing the data coded into the DNA of that lab-grown clone of her own thumb takes some time. Working in the studio is significantly faster, with everything quantOptically linked to the massive servers on the BPB (Big Phat Backbone).

By the time she sat down, the console had already scanned the directories and diff files on her TDrive, and had synced itself to the current state of the latest project. She was actually quite far along on this song, which was good, because it was due to be delivered to MusiCorp by this evening. If she was late, the company would just take the song in whatever state it was in (locking her out of further modifying it), run it through some Als, and release it. She didn't want that to happen, because much of her income flows from tiny per-millisecond-listen royalties. So her interest in the song succeeding was much greater than MusiCorp's. The company would be releasing a few dozen songs worldwide leading up to the weekend, and they only needed for a couple to hit. Skiz wanted to make sure that her song would be one of those hits.

Leaning into the console, she rested both hands palms down, leaning her forearms into the surface. Tiny movements in the console fur gave her arms and hands a warm tingle. Speaking into the space between her hands, "[Two measures before final chorus… Play…]" The song begin playing, with the sound earning directly from the fibers of the console surface, surrounding her quite completely. She commanded, "[EQ… graphic… thirty six critical band…]," causing the furry surface to reshape beneath her hands and arms. Some fur fibers laid flat, others curved and receded, still others stood up, revealing a new surface that looked like a row of three dozen vertical 120mm slide potentiometers. "Knob" bumps in the "sliders" took on positions to match the EQ she had last applied at that point in the song, poised to be adjusted by hand or voice command. Using her fingers, she made a couple of quick fur-slider adjustments, replayed the segment, then commanded:

"[Stop.. New segment.. Bridge.. Guitar solo.. Sort of like Roger May's, from Love of My Life.]"

"{ALERT:}" piped up HiG, "{Use of that solo could be cost-prohibitive. Consider alternatives…}"

"[I know, I said LIKE that solo, not that exact solo. HC…]" she said into the now-flat fur surface. "{Yes…}" replied the AI. "[Maybe combine the Roger May solo with the Prince riff from the beginning of Doves Cry?]"

"{WARNING!!}" HiG yelled, "{Any use of Prince or Prince-like material will most certainly….}"

"[OK Fine.]" she interrupted HiG, clarifying, "[Combine the May solo with the Prince solo turned backward. Use Genetic Algorithm #7 to merge and mutate them, arriving at three different solos that are clear of any potential copyright issues. Play me those three]."

Seven seconds later, she was listening to the first solo. Not bad. The second one was much better, but the third one was terrible. "[OK… Use the 2nd solo, but change the five highest notes to E F E G F. Final five note durations: dotted quarter, eighth, quarter, quarter, and hold the last note. Transpose last two notes up one octave. Put final note in distortion feedback, and fade it into reverb over eight seconds. Play…]"

She listened to the result. Yep, that would do. Almost finished. Now for the vocals.

Ch33t@h (the artist) hadn't come out with a "new" song for a while. She had been dead for well over five years, and everyone knew it, but that didn't matter very much. Since MusiCorp owned the whole Ch33t@h catalog and the rights to all likenesses of her, the company could release "new" songs by the artist at any time, usually with back-channel press "leaks" that some previously unreleased gem had been "discovered" in an attic, or basement, or dusty book/record store, or on an old hard drive. Fans would vigorously argue over whether the new work(s) were her best work, or what period of her life they must have come from, but hardly anyone argued as to their authenticity. This was mainly because: 1) the fans wanted new (actually old, but new) music, really badly, and 2) the AIs, combined with engineer/producers like Skiz, were really good at this.

Selecting one of the musical sketch books of the dead artist, Skiz found a page with some lyrics scrawled on it, enough and interesting enough to justify a whole new song. She laid the book face-down on the console surface. The fur flattened and turned translucent, emitting a faint blue glow. Two seconds later, she heard Ch33t@h's voice begin speaking the words.

Commanding through the console: "[HC: Infer melody from verse 1 backing track…]" The speaking turned to singing. "[Sadder please…]" caused a mode change, and distinctive voice quality shift. "[Not that sad…]".

HiG piped up, "{This melody is too similar to seven historical songs, four of which MusiCorp has no primary, intrinsic, or derivative rights to…}".

HarryBlox chimed in. "{Searching…. Located… Calculating estimated royalties.}".

Sighing, Skiz commanded the AIs, "[HC: Use Genetic Algorithm #11 to modify the melody, iterate with HiG and HarryBlox until royalty free …]". The console fur pulsed and stood up a bit, oscillating in waves like a wheat field in the wind.

The melody got worse, and worse, until it was pretty much just two alternating notes. That would not do at all. "[Stop… push… bang bang]" "[HC: Randomize melody over octave range]" "[pop… execute]". Skiz had learned archaic shell commands in her 3rd grade computing history course. They made her work go a little faster, but mostly they appealed to her nerdy side. HC ran GA#11 again on the new randomized melody, iterating with HiG and HarryBlox. The resulting melody was rapidly shaping up… to be equally horrible.

Skiz groaned and decided to take a new tack. Speaking to the console, "[Delete melodies. Speech mode for lyrics, spoken-word prosaic style. Let's have some fun]"

"{Yep!}" purred the console.

"[Gimme a microphone… RCA 77DX.]" The flat fuzzy surface rippled, and a 2" silo-like tower rose from the center. "[UA 610 Tube Preamp…. DBX 160 Compressor, female backing vocal settings. Lexicon 224 Reverb, very wet. …. Record… Start…]".

As the backing track played, and the resynthesized voice of the long dead Ch33t@h spoke the words to her poem, Skiz began to sing a high, haunting descant to the underlying musical themes from the backing tracks. She closed her eyes, letting the composition and the poetry guide her. Singing higher, flowing like a hawk soaring over the musical landscape, the result was sounding quite good, and, best of all, the AI nagbots were silent. Until…

"{ALERT…}, a human voice (from MusiCorp) broke into the session: "{What is that singing?}"


Much of her income flows from tiny per-millisecond-listen royalties, so her interest in the song succeeding was much greater than MusiCorp's.


"[Uh… It's me?]", Skiz said tentatively. "[Sorry. I'll return to the Ch33t@h voice synthesis.]"

…pausing… "{No. Complete project in that style, with your own voice.}" commanded MusiCorp.

Uh, OK, whatever, Skiz thought. Within two hours, she had completed the song, and eSigned it over to the mastering, transcoding, marketing, and release bots at MusicCorp. The fur console burped out her TDrive, purred, and slumped silent. The project was out of her hands now, which felt good, but it felt really odd to have released something with her own voice on it.

…..

After submitting the song on Thursday, she had turned off all of her devices, including her CCalls and alarms. Saturday morning she was sleeping in, recovering from celebrating the completed project, but something really weird was going on. Face down on the pillow, she could feel something relentlessly poking her in her side. At first she had dreamed that it was her childhood cat Bowie (now long gone), but as she woke up, realizing it couldn't be Bowie, and feeling another stabbing prod, she sat up with a start. Her TDrive had crawled out of her bag, up onto the bed, and was urgently jabbing her in the ribs!! OK, very strange, and had definitely never happened before.

She spoke aloud, "[News…]"

The walls lit up with news feeds and images. Her lower neck started buzzing immediately. The feeds that first caught her eye were the music industry rags, where the fan forums were on fire about the newest Ch33t@h release. Most threads centered around the startling news that apparently Ch33t@h had a previously unknown daughter, and that mystery child's voice was the one floating high above the new song, as her mom poured her heart out in spoken-word.

Skiz chuckled at the nefarious creativity of music marketing people. She started laughing, almost hysterically. How gullible fans are.

"[Comms on… Sort messages by importance…]"

Trying to compose herself, she settled back, preparing to deal with the message queue, still laughing out loud. Her laughing didn't last long, as the realization came that her that life was about to change in every way. A new star isn't born every week (monthly, maybe). The world would be expecting more songs, and a concert tour featuring Ch!Ld (the artist name the adfolk had made up for the angel-voiced baby girl of Ch33t@h). The fans would demand it. The record company would REALLY demand it.

"{Messages: URGENT Incoming Comms from MusiCorp….

URGENT: Please eSign and return this new artist contract immediately….

URGENT: Please eSign and return these name and legal identity change forms…

URGENT: A plastic surgery appointment has been made for Ch!Ld. This Tuesday at 11:AM.

Fasting recommended prior to this appointment…

URGENT: Studio is booked for Ch!Ld tomorrow, 9:AM. New backing tracks already on TDrive.

URGENT: Ch!Ld has a voice-only interview scheduled with MVTVZ tonight from 7-7:15PM.

    URGENT: … …

        URGENT: … …

            URGENT: … …}"

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Author

P-Ray is the creative/artistic moniker of Perry R. Cook, who is professor emeritus of computer science (also music) at Princeton University. Cook is advisor and IP Strategist to social music company Smule, and co-founder of online arts education company Kadenze.


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