The Gradient
The Gradient: Perspectives on AI
Nao Tokui: "Surfing" Musical Creativity with AI

Nao Tokui: "Surfing" Musical Creativity with AI

On human-computer interaction in art, the AI DJ Project, and creativity.

In episode 95 of The Gradient Podcast, Daniel Bashir speaks to Nao Tokui.

Nao Tokui is an artist/DJ and researcher based in Tokyo. While pursuing his Ph.D. at The University of Tokyo, he produced his first music album and singles using AI, including a 12-inch record with Nujabes, a legendary Japanese hip-hop producer. After completing his Ph.D. research, he founded Qosmo, AI Creativity and Music Lab, in 2009. Since then, he has been actively working at the intersection of AI technology and art. Nao and his team's works have been exhibited at renowned venues such as the New York MoMA and the Barbican Centre in London. Their performances have also been showcased at various music festivals, including MUTEK and Sonar. Additionally, he is leading the development of AI-based music instruments at his newly founded company, Neutone. In 2021, Nao received the Okawa Publishing Award for his Japanese book on art, creativity, and AI. The book is scheduled to be released in English as "Surfing human creativity with AI — A user's guide" in November 2023.

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  • (00:00) Intro

  • (02:15) Nao’s background and how he got into AI and music

  • (05:10) Nao’s experiences as a DJ, collaboration with Nujabes

  • (07:10) HCI and music

  • (10:35) Leveraging the difference between AI systems and humans

  • (12:40) Total control vs total chaos

  • (13:45) Qosmo and the Neutone Project, misusable AI tools

  • (17:25) On music and “creating something new”

  • (21:00) Declarative and top-down vs. bottom-up creation, individual taste

  • (23:50) How generative AI enables humans

  • (26:25) On misusing technology and art

  • (32:00) Dawn Patrol EP

  • (36:00) A two-discriminator GAN for creating music in new genres

  • (37:45) The AI DJ Project

    • (38:20) The interactive vision of the project

    • (42:10) How AI chooses music, breaking from constraints

    • (43:15) Interpretability and how an AI system DJs differently

    • (45:15) How the project altered Nao’s perspective on DJing, the role of humans

  • (51:40) Nao’s book Creating with AI

    • (55:15) Human-AI interaction as joint improvisation

  • (58:10) Nao’s advice and takeaways for thinking about AI creatively

  • (1:01:32) Outro


The Gradient
The Gradient: Perspectives on AI
Deeply researched, technical interviews with experts thinking about AI and technology. Hosted, recorded, researched, and produced by Daniel Bashir.