Listen to an AI sing an uncannily human rendition of ‘Jolene’

AI graphics tools have received most of the press. But music engine models have been slowly making big strides in recent years. Holly Herndon is at the head of that revolution. He also developed (with partner Mat Dryhurst) Spawn, a singing neural network, for his latest album. Proto and released Holly+ (in partnership with Never Before Heard Sounds) to the public last year, allowing anyone to use Holly’s voice model. Now he has released a new single, from which his digital twin comes only.

This cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” sounds perfect on first listen. Yes, it’s slower and quieter, but Ryan Norris, who handles the instrument, doesn’t take too many liberties with the arrangement or the sound palette. He simply replaces frantic desperation with plaintive resignation.

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What’s recorded is that every vocal note, right down to the breath before the harmonies start, is done by Holly+. (That’s right, “breath”.) No one has ever seen a silent house here. Some of the words are a little weird and there are some digital things sometimes, if you listen to them carefully. But overall, this digital version of Holly Herndon’s real voice is amazing in its ability to mimic its creator.

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Until now, most of the major imaging experiments with AI focused on creating generative sounds or synth melodies. This is (as far as I know) the first time a mechanical model has taken the mic solo on a pop song.

Herndon first previewed the track back in March at Sonar Festival, but it largely flew under the radar until getting a proper release this week. (BTW: Go check out the show from Sonar for some really wild demonstrations of the Holly+ technology and Never Before Heard Sounds.) You can try to recreate the above action by recording in your own work of Jolene and upload it to Holly +, but. do not expect the same accuracy of results through the online program. While it’s fun, artists who are serious about using AI to grow their business should look to Spawning, a company founded by Herdon and Dryhurst earlier this year.

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