In an era where artificial intelligence is transforming the creative landscape, Frostbite Orckings emerges as a testament to the thrilling possibilities at the intersection of technology and music. With the release of their groundbreaking album, The Orcish Eclipse, this virtual band not only captivates the metal community but also sets a precedent for future musical endeavors.
The inception of Frostbite Orckings is as unique as their sound, born from a moment of whimsical speculation among friends. The project was started by multi-instrumtnalist and Van Canto vocalist Stefan Schmidt, who also happened to work a day job in AI during his tenure in his band. As for the impetus of Frostbite Orckings, "I think it is comparable to a lot of silly ideas that come out of nowhere," Stefan reflects on the decision to embark on this AI-driven project.
The choice of orcs as their virtual avatars was not just for their imposing presence but also for their compatibility with the heavy, growling vocal styles that define the band's sound. "If you were to produce a band that doesn’t use any melody in the vocals, it is a lot easier than it is to produce the new Freddy Mercury if you know what I mean," Stefan notes. "We put as much energy as possible into the drums and guitars and then added a nice growling voice with it." This decision underscores their commitment to crafting a distinct identity within the metal genre, leveraging the stylistic attributes of these mythical creatures to enhance their musical expression.
"What is more serious than orcs, haha!" Van Canto cohort Bastian Emig jests, underscoring the blend of humor and seriousness that characterizes their approach.
Delving into the mechanics of their creative process, it's clear that Frostbite Orckings' music is deeply personal, a reflection of the duo's extensive experience and passion for metal. Bastian elucidates, " A lot of what you can hear from the orcs and the music when you listen to this band, it has quite a lot of DNA of the musicians who trained the AI, or who trained the band. We recorded things that we like and metal is the genre that we like and we feel quite comfortable in. Then you take a step back and you analyze, to annotate it to the software, for the software to make its own decisions and recombine music, it is pretty close to the intuitive decisions we would have made in the rehearsal room." This intimate connection between the creators and their creation ensures that each track resonates with the authenticity and energy of live metal music, despite its digital genesis.
The AI's role in the band is not to supplant the musicians but to augment their creativity, serving as a bridge between their ideas and the final compositions. "The basic material for the orcs is a drummer and a guitar player sitting together in a recording studio for 40 hours playing mostly thrash metal and some power metal riffs. Then combining it with other musical elements like chord progressions that are a bit more inspired by more epic sounding things and lyrics that are more fantasy based." Stefan explains, highlighting the extensive groundwork laid before the AI even begins its composition process.
"These are the creative decisions that are made before even starting to train the AI. And then when the system is composing something, our role is more like a producer’s; picking the right parts. If we just pressed the button it perhaps wouldn’t be a good song."
"So if there is an output of 10 songs on the album, you can be sure that we put in 100 times as many parts as what you can actually listen to on the album," Stefan adds. "There is also a selection process where we play ping pong with the AI, where it will generate something and we will tell it what to do from there."
This collaborative effort between human and machine ensures that the album reflects the band's artistic vision, with the AI acting as a tool for exploration rather than a crutch.
Despite the technological underpinnings of The Orcish Eclipse, Stefan and Bastian's commitment to authenticity remains unwavering. They emphasize the importance of a symbiotic relationship between the musicians and the AI, ensuring that every aspect of the album, from the lyrics to the mix, is a product of their direct involvement. "Everything you hear on the album is either trained by us or recorded by us, the album was mixed by us. This was all created by a very symbiotic relationship between humans and orcs," Stefan asserts, underscoring their hands-on approach to music production.
This dedication to authenticity extends to the way they view AI's role in the creative process. Rather than seeing it as a replacement for human musicianship, they regard it as an additional instrument, a source of inspiration. "We are always talking about AI like an instrument and as a tool. It doesn’t have to be all virtual bands, it can be a regular band that just gains some inspiration," Stefan remarks, encouraging other artists to view technology as a means to enhance, not replace, their creative expression.
The task of infusing genuine human emotion and technique into AI-generated music is a formidable challenge, yet Stefan and Bastian have approached it with a strategy that is both innovative and deeply personal.
"By feeding it with hours and hours and hours of our own music," Bastian begins, delving into their method of preserving the band's authentic sound. From their teenage years to the present, Stefan and Bastian's musical journey has been marked by a rich tapestry of experiences across various bands and genres, culminating in a distinctive style that is unmistakably their own. This extensive history of collaboration and experimentation provided the raw material for the AI, imbuing The Orcish Eclipse with the essence of their shared musical DNA.
Their approach goes beyond merely programming an AI with notes and rhythms; it involves a process of teaching the system the nuances of their music, from the aggressive energy of heavy guitars and drums to the subtle imperfections that give metal its raw, organic quality. "We like the energy of the heavy guitars and drums. But sometimes it seems to be sterile or overproduced," Bastian reflects, emphasizing their desire to retain the organic touch that often gets lost in modern production.
"In terms of the AI stuff we would rather use it to keep an organic touch to it, to keep the imperfections rather than to make it more perfect to keep up with production nowadays. So the drums for example, we don’t use the technology to make the beat I was playing perfect. Instead we feed it to the AI, the playing of Stef, me and other musicians, so the AI would learn how this band actually sounds. So when the AI starts composing it naturally takes over all the organic stamps that there is in the music and transfers it into new compositions, which keeps the authenticity alive."
This dedication to authenticity raised questions about audience reception—would listeners accept music generated by an AI as genuine? The answer, it seems, is a resounding yes. The feedback from listeners, including those familiar with Stefan and Bastian's previous work, has been overwhelmingly positive. "It is also some kind of proof that people who listen to the orcs and were not involved in the process, but know me and Bastian, former colleagues or former bandmates, they all say ‘This sounds just like you,’" Stefan adds, highlighting the AI's success in capturing their musical identity.
This project was not just about leveraging artificial intelligence to produce a groundbreaking album; it was about translating their passion for metal into a format that an AI could understand and extend creatively.
Stefan shares, "Recording for 40 hours was fun," highlighting the initial excitement of laying down the tracks that would teach the AI the essence of their music. However, the real challenge lay in the painstaking process that followed. "It took one and a half years to explain to the system what we actually played," he reveals, underscoring the complexity of making AI comprehend the nuances of their sound. This endeavor required meticulous attention to detail, as they navigated "thousands of elements and files," a task that was as demanding as it was crucial for the album's authenticity.
Beyond the technical hurdles, the project was a deeply emotional endeavor for both musicians. Stefan admits to forming a strong bond with the virtual band, reflecting the personal stakes involved: "The most challenging part is not to fall too much with this band or taking it personal if someone doesn’t like it. We are really bonded to the orcs."
Bastian echoes this sentiment, reminiscing about the joy of creation that reminded them of their early days making music. "We just made music again as if we were 17 and that was beautiful," he says, capturing the project's nostalgic value. Yet, he also acknowledges the challenges of balancing the artistic and technical aspects: "It’s a lot of data... sometimes it's a little too little music and too much data and analyzing."
Despite these challenges, the duo is hopeful about bringing Frostbite Orckings to live audiences, envisioning a future where their AI-generated music can be experienced in concert settings. "I’m a big fan of that orc band and hope there will be some ways to bring that band on the stage," Bastian notes, looking forward to potentially performing alongside their digital creations.
The creation of The Orcish Eclipse stands as a testament to the possibilities at the intersection of music and AI, driven by Stefan and Bastian's unwavering commitment to innovation, authenticity, and the sheer love of metal.
The creation of The Orcish Eclipse has significantly shaped Stefan and Bastian's views on the convergence of technology, creativity, and music. Stefan articulates this experience, stating, "My personal view was supported by doing this." In contrast to their traditional music projects, where the use of technology is carefully moderated to maintain the essence of their sound, this venture into AI-generated music represented a pivot. "In our main bands, we don’t use all the technology because we don’t like it in that context," Stefan explains, highlighting their usual restraint in applying technological tools.
Yet, the approach for The Orcish Eclipse was markedly different, embracing the vast capabilities of technology to forge new artistic paths. "But for this project, it is the opposite. We want to use everything that is available," he says, indicating a deliberate shift towards fully leveraging technology. This project illustrates how, when harnessed creatively, technology can serve as a powerful medium for artistic expression, pushing the boundaries of conventional music production.
As they contemplate the future, Stefan and Bastian envision bringing Frostbite Orckings to live audiences, translating their virtual experience into a tangible, electrifying performance. "There is definitely a goal to take this 'virtual band'... and have a great audience in a great venue, real artists on a real stage," Stefan shares, looking forward to bridging the gap between the digital and physical realms.
As our conversation with Stefan and Bastian of Frostbite Orckings concludes, their reflections bring a blend of nostalgia and humor, revealing the lighter, more whimsical aspects of their artistic journey. Stefan's favorite dinosaur, the Brontosaurus, harks back to the early days of their musical collaboration. "In our very first band we had a very low tempo song that we called 'Brontosaurus' because it sounded like a dinosaur walking," Stefan shares, illustrating how even prehistoric inspirations have left their mark on their music. Bastian, with a chuckle, chooses the T-Rex, drawing an amusing parallel to their music's powerful delivery. "I would go with a T-Rex because sometimes I see this huge orc drumming with these small arms and it reminds me of a T-Rex and it's really funny," he says. This lighthearted finale underscores not just the depth of their creativity but also the joy and playfulness that fuel their innovative venture into AI-generated music.
Frostbite Orckings and their debut album, The Orcish Eclipse, stand as a landmark achievement in the world of music, a bold exploration of what happens when the raw power of metal meets the limitless potential of AI. Stefan and Bastian's journey is a compelling reminder of the endless possibilities that await at the intersection of technology and creativity, a call to artists everywhere to embrace the future with open arms and open minds.