March 23, 2019

Music AI systems may take over the music creation process from musicians

music AI system computer

Music truly has a way of unlocking our senses and deeper selves. From hyping you up at a rave and gym to helping you study and focus during work, it plays a key role in the everyday lives of many. It’s also a USD 130 billion industry, depending on which sources you rely on. However, music is about to be turned upside down by, you guessed it, AI systems.

Music in the age of AI systems

Wait, music is core to the human experience: how could a machine replace us? We invented it to begin with, right? Unfortunately, we’re already past that point. Ed Newton-Rex founded Jukedex, a musical AI designed to create instrumentals for various end goals. Looking for a new movie score? Look no further. The system is incredibly prolific: it cranked out over 1 million (not a typo) songs since its inception and shows no signs of stopping. New brands have joined since then, likely hoping to get a share of the background music industry which hit USD 660 million in 2017. As systems continue to improve, it’s only a matter of time until we start bumping AI-created music. If that sounds far fetched, Warner Music Group just signed Edel which creates custom mood-boosting sounds. The future is now (old man).

A cause for concern?

It’s no secret that AI systems might take everything over. They’re already terrifying governments with mass unemployment, to the point where we are now seriously considering Universal Basic Income (UBI). AI systems can already make art, so these further developments should not come as a shock. However, all this begs a much deeper and tougher question: are seemingly “creative” fields no longer a haven for humans? Machines already outperform us at a myriad of tasks, but surely they cannot take away what makes us truly unique: our ability to think and execute broadly. In many ways, time will tell just how far these systems will evolve. We’d venture to say that it’ll be far beyond what we imagine.

Taking a step back

Perhaps we assume that our innate creative abilities are beyond where they actually are. If we stick to pop music, many of your favorite hit songs were made using just four chords. The Axis of Awesome brilliantly illustrated this a few years ago with their now-viral video. This should not be surprising: music relies on simple and subtle mathematical formulae that best please our brains. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras (the one with that pesky theorem you couldn’t remember in high school) figured this out a long time ago. Turns out it doesn’t take all that much to please our brains with a nice tune. Given how seemingly simple it all feels, it may be no surprise that we can code this into a neat algorithm altogether. Should this put into question our core creative skills? Not all craft is the same, which is probably why we don’t compare Mozart to Nickleback.

Human history: a silver lining

It pays to know how machine learning systems work. To over-simplify, these programs rely on massive datasets to draw conclusions and hone their skills. Jukedex is the next iteration and uses deep-learning instead. However, music datasets require existing musicians’ work, begging new questions around copyright and royalties. If scientists feed “Crank Dat” into an AI system, Soulja Boy should get rewarded for his contribution.  Therefore, every prior musical piece ever created may play a pivotal role in these system’s development, opening new potential avenues of monetization for artists. More importantly, these systems exist because of human contributions, not the other way around. Humans should feel deep pride in their ability to generate meaningful things over generations. Music continues to stand the test of time, often blooming in our darkest times.

The larger picture

If we’re honest, AI systems will make great music within a few short years, but musicians should not worry altogether. Often times, music relies on great personalities that drive cultures forward. No computer can replace a human being, even though we do love our digital lives and identities. Even if it’s a hologram, seeing Tupac owning a stage feels more meaningful than watching HAL 9000 do the same. Tupac’s music tells a larger narrative of Tupac’s life and his environment (which people can latch on from a storytelling standpoint). Even if a computer were to write relatable lyrics, audiences would need to somehow empathize with a cold machine’s teenage angst. This seems like a stretch at best, but not entirely out of the question. Creatives should also rejoice at the idea that computers can speed up their workflow without impeding on their style. Computers can easily create, but they cannot easily connect. Time will tell if this continues.

House music will never die

Computerized music isn’t anything new. From synth tracks to Daft Punk and Kraftwerk, man and machine have worked intimately together for years. Your favorite trap beats were made on a really crummy sounding drum machine (yes, they meant to imitate those drums). In hindsight, this new wave of machines should not scare us, but rather give us hope to create better and deeper music. Tools remain just that: tools to improve a workflow. Humans will ultimately validate what is “good” compared to what is “bad.” If man and machine already work seamlessly, then (house) music will never die.

Look forward to more great tunes in the future. You can even go buy or steam our very own Delf’s new tracks here and unwind this weekend and enjoy it with beautiful imagery here.

March 23, 2019

What It Takes Book is a book by MAEKAN Community's Dillion S. Phiri and focuses on Africa's young creatives

Creative Nestlings Whatever It Takes Book Dillion S. Phiri

What It Takes is a book that documents the emerging creative class in Africa. The book published by Dillion S. Phiri, founder of Creative Nestlings, serves as a tool to connect Africa and beyond. The multi-faceted Creative Nestlings platform focuses on “nurturing a curious, creative, innovative and entrepreneurial mindset” across Africa. For the book, Whatever It Takes, Dillion and his team captured the story of 60 young African creatives and outlined their processes and challenges in an emerging world. It’s an exciting time for the continent of Africa and its diaspora. The intersection of global network and connective tools are resulting in some exciting opportunities ahead.

What It Takes is available now via hardcover for USD 48.63.

March 23, 2019

Ruined by Design is a book documenting the destructive history of design and how designers can fix their mess

Design continues to be a powerful tool that spans every part of our lives. Our interactions include consumer products and user experiences, to hidden forces such as algorithms. A new book by Mike Monteiro (of Mule Design Studio) titled Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It, investigates the damaging impact of design.

According to Monteiro, design has been ruthlessly efficient. The world is working as intended based on the conscious decisions of designers. But the outcomes have been disastrous. It’s now time for designers to reclaim their roles as gatekeepers for the sake of a better world.

Why we’re interested

Design has been lauded as a solution to all problems. But depending on context, we’ve received limited upside. The task of repurposing the focus of design towards positive outcomes is daunting. It’s our hope that his book brings clarity into the changes and applications we can make to better the narrative.

Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It is available for Kindle pre-order on Amazon for USD 10. The paperback version will release on April 12.


The world is working exactly as designed.

The combustion engine which is destroying our planet’s atmosphere and rapidly making it inhospitable is working exactly as we designed it. Guns, which lead to so much death, work exactly as they’re designed to work. And every time we “improve” their design, they get better at killing. Facebook’s privacy settings, which have outed gay teens to their conservative parents, are working exactly as designed. Their “real names” initiative, which makes it easier for stalkers to re-find their victims, is working exactly as designed. Twitter’s toxicity and lack of civil discourse is working exactly as it’s designed to work.

The world is working exactly as designed. And it’s not working very well. Which means we need to do a better job of designing it. Design is a craft with an amazing amount of power. The power to choose. The power to influence. As designers, we need to see ourselves as gatekeepers of what we are bringing into the world, and what we choose not to bring into the world. Design is a craft with responsibility. The responsibility to help create a better world for all.

Design is also a craft with a lot of blood on its hands. Every cigarette ad is on us. Every gun is on us. Every ballot that a voter cannot understand is on us. Every time social network’s interface allows a stalker to find their victim, that’s on us. The monsters we unleash into the world will carry your name.

This book will make you see that design is a political act. What we choose to design is a political act. Who we choose to work for is a political act. Who we choose to work with is a political act. And, most importantly, the people we’ve excluded from these decisions is the biggest (and stupidest) political act we’ve made as a society.

If you’re a designer, this book might make you angry. It should make you angry. But it will also give you the tools you need to make better decisions. You will learn how to evaluate the potential benefits and harm of what you’re working on. You’ll learn how to present your concerns. You’ll learn the importance of building and working with diverse teams who can approach problems from multiple points-of-view. You’ll learn how to make a case using data and good storytelling. You’ll learn to say NO in a way that’ll make people listen. But mostly, this book will fill you with the confidence to do the job the way you always wanted to be able to do it. This book will help you understand your responsibilities.

March 22, 2019

The Blackwing Volume 811 is a Dr. Maya Angelou-inspired pencil

Black Wing Library Pencil inspired by Maya Angelou

Blackwing, purveyors of some of the best pencils around, has unveiled the Volume 811 also known as “The Library Pencil” inspired by the late Dr Maya Angelou. The pencils are part of their limited edition series.

  • At a speech at the New York Public Library, the late Dr. Angelou described the humble library as “a rainbow in the clouds” so that “in the worst of times, in the meanest of times, in the dreariest of times… at all times the viewer can see a possibility of hope.”
  • 811 refers to the section of the Dewey Decimal System containing some of Dr. Angelou’s most famous works and works from other inspirational writers
  • The pencil features an emerald green finish and gold ferrule inspired by the iconic green lamps found in libraries around the world
  • The body is made of incense cedar, with a firm Japanese graphite core, aluminum ferrule, and dust-free eraser
  • It’s coated with a phosphorescent topcoat, making it a literal light in the dark
  • A pack of 12 will run you $24.95 USD

Available now at Blackwing in limited quantities.

March 21, 2019

Akiko Shinoda discusses why Japanese designers are too modest

japan fashion week Akiko Shinoda

Akiko Shinoda, the current director of international affairs at Japan Fashion Week, is on a mission to bring light to more Japanese creators. In an era where fashion is ultra connected, Japanese designers still remain focused on their local market which suffices to sustain business. As competition heats up, Japanese fashion may need to adapt or it will lose its position as a cultural leader.

Japanese should be looking to expand

For Akiko Shinoda, Japan’s fashion scene is as strong as ever. Local designers are in demand and as such not pressed to expand operations overseas. In addition, designers typically speak little to no English, often a barrier to pushing their work beyond. However, Shinoda wants this to change and for typically shy creators to go beyond their comfort zone and showcase their work elsewhere. By embracing uncertainty, local talent can become the pioneers of tomorrow.

A gilded age of fashion

Perhaps the most important take-away is how Japan’s global fashion revolution in the 80’s has run out of steam. Back then, designers like Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons burst through the scene. It was then followed by the Urahara movement and the pioneers of streetwear such as Hiroshi Fujiwara, Jun Takahashi of UNDERCOVER, NIGO of A Bathing Ape, and Shinsuke Takizawa of NEIGHBORHOOD.  Today, very few designers have made headway with a few noteworthy exceptions. Shinoda notes that regional competitors such as Korea and China are making great strides to potentially dethrone Japan as a cultural powerhouse. For example, Korea leverages private business and government bodies to attract international demand. As such, Korea is taking the reins through K-Pop, K-Fashion and K-Beauty.

Why Japanese mindsets need to change

As Shinoda points, out, most Japanese designers focus on quality and craft above all else. This means that brands spend little to no time trying to branch their message out to international markets, losing out on potential opportunities. As such, Shinoda wants to leverage international events to tell these stories in greater depth and ensure Japan’s dominance continues. With fashion as a key export, we hope to see more Japanese designers break onto the scene.

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