Future Tech Loves Sound: What CES 2023 Offered the Live Industry

Perhaps it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that artificial intelligence reached a tipping point in the latter months of 2022, but AI certainly had a moment. 

AI-generated portraits swept social media sites like a flood. Even the most staid legacy media organizations turned over some of the tedium of producing the grist that feeds the daily news beast to AI. Algorithmically-created chats crept closer to indistinguishability from genuine human conversations.

This, of course, sparked plenty of debate about whether the portraits qualified as art or if robots would eventually replace flesh-and-blood journalists (let’s hope not). If an algorithm is simply using a photograph taken by one human and glomming it into a style created by another, is that art? Is it pastiche? Is it theft?

As they become more accessible, more affordable and, yes, more “real” (whatever that means), are AI and virtual reality the next logical step in the way human society functions or are they machetes clearing the metaphorical ties that bind?

These are, almost certainly, questions better left for philosophers and ethicists and art historians and questions that, almost certainly, will never have easily agreed upon  answers.

What is true, those philosophers tell us, is often hard to define. But facts – stubborn little things, as John Adams said – are easier. And it’s a fact that the time of merely handwaving or trying to ignore the rise of AI and VR is past and the future is here.

Those facts were made manifest in Las Vegas at the Consumer Technology Association’s annual celebration of whizbangery: the Consumer Electronics Show, the four-day debutante ball for the latest in gadgets and doodads.

Tucked in the aisles between the oddities (the spoon that allegedly improves the taste of foods) and the life-saving (a lamp that can detect falls) and the no-doubt future successes (a fitness-tracking collar for dogs), there were a handful of inventions and innovations and conceptions that may well impact what live looks like in 2023 and beyond (even if “live” doesn’t mean “alive”).

Take SceneKey from Meloscene. In short: it’s an interface that imports music made with real-world instruments to a VR studio.

WALKING INTO THE FUTURE: People visit the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show CES in Las Vegas. Photo by Zeng Hui / Xinhua / Getty Images

Conceptually, this seems like one of the most basic and obvious applications of VR. From an artistic standpoint, it allows for instantaneous cooperation between collaborators, who no longer need to be confined to the same studio to make musical magic (there’s certainly been some bands in the history of rock ‘n’ roll who would have had less tumultuous careers had this always been available and generations of managers could have been saved from months of heartburn). It also could democratize the creative process, allow for much broader sourcing as musicians try to find their way to the perfect song.

Because SceneKey creates an immersive VR studio that is accessible to far more people at any given time than a traditional recording space, it opens up new possibilities for fans to interact with artists. And it provides a whole new revenue stream for those artists as it presents the possibility of mass-marketing the creative process instead of just the output of that process.

Korean company Verses Inc. won one of CES’ Innovation Awards for its Meta Music System. It’s multifaceted and complex. On the one hand, think of it as providing a score for users as they explore the metaverse. The music a user hears as they explore the world would be fully customizable and unique, the algorithm fitting it to the action – a deepening glissando as an avatar falls below an ocean, twinkly staccato xylophones if they are gazing at a night sky. New inputs will become available to users who discover them in the metaverse. In addition, the application will allow for artists to “exist” in the metaverse, each with their own music available for interaction and collaboration with fans.

Is the metaverse too … meta? How ‘bout a little real-world TLC courtesy of curated music? InDJ is an AI service that creates playlists based not just on a user’s mood, but location, situation and, with the right connectivity and permissions, health. We’ve all reached for The Cure’s “Disintegration” when we’re feeling blue or cranked up Grand Funk Railroad’s “American Band” on a warm summer night with the windows down (we’ve all done those things, right?). InDJ extends that concept. For the artist, it offers another avenue to get eardrums exposed to their music. Maybe someone out there has written the perfect song for a person with a slight toothache cruising through West Virginia on a Tuesday; theoretically, inDJ could match that song to that person.

Technological advances – once they do reach the tipping point – often serve as great diffusers of ideas and art. The ethics may be fraught, the philosophical considerations difficult, but there’s no doubt AI and VR are tools that artists and their teams will have work with.