Massive Attack, Hacking a new kind of music

AI remixes, DNA archiving, AR concerts. It’s been 20 years since Mezzanine and Massive Attack’s experiment is still running.

Shortly after their trip to Silicon Valley in 2013, Del Naja appointed Andrew Melchior as the band’s chief technical officer. His job would be to discover, and introduce Del Naja to, new forms of technology, in the process turning Massive Attack into the first band to collaborate with AI.

Del Naja wanted to create and play music that changed as the listener moved through space – the way he’d heard it while moving through Magic Leap’s augmented rooms, and the sharing and machine remixing he’d seen in Will Wright’s work. “If artists didn’t take control of this future of music, we’d be powerless again,” says Del Naja.

Wright introduced Melchior and Del Naja to producer and composer Robert Thomas, chief creative officer at music app company RjDj. Thomas had just created an iOS app for the movie Inception, which mimicked the film’s surreal dream worlds. Thomas had adapted the widely used open source software Pure Data – which can take any kind of input and use it to control any kind of output, generating 3D graphics and video from music or even controlling external hardware like stage lighting or robotics. In the Inception app, Pure Data took inputs from the iPhone’s mic, camera and global position and used them to modify the movie’s soundtrack.

With Thomas, Massive Attack launched its first platform in 2016. Christened Fantom, it uses Pure Data live mix patches – algorithms that sample changes in time of day, speed of movement, social media notifications, how the phone is carried and GPS position, and use them to effectively remix the track in real time. The platform came with an EP of new material called Ritual Spirit.

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