La BronzeThe meeting point was a dreary park in Montréal’s Quartier des spectacles. Two buses were parked there. This, however, was nowhere near a field trip to the zoo… Even though the scraps of information we had about this evening led one to believe we were going out to a llama petting zoo, the only animal-like element turned out to be the bear mask worn by the woman who welcomed us on the bus. We’d been invited to a one-of-a-kind experience to get acquainted with La Bronze’s newest album, Les corps infinis.

“I really wanted it to take place somewhere that wouldn’t be your typical venue, says Nadia Essadiqi, aka La Bronze, the day after, still amazed by the reactions to her unusual show. “I love surprises, and I wanted to provoke things in a way that would put mystery at the heart of the whole record launch.”

After about 20 minutes on the road in the bus – Les corps infinis blaring from the speakers – we stopped by a seemingly abandoned building, that turned out to be the home of The Montréal Foundry. As in, “the place where one strikes while the iron is hot.”

“I wanted a really fucked-up place,” says La Bronze. “I asked a friend, and she took me there. I loved it, because there were a lot of possibilities, a lot of space, and we could use everything: the blacksmiths, the fire, all of it.” That, and the fact the heat from the foundries’ flames was perfect for the album’s opening track, “Canicule” (“Heatwave”).

In that hot place, we were welcomed to a makeshift bar, located between an assortment of metal tools and a wrought-iron staircase. The only thing reassuring La Bronzeabout the makeshift bathroom – literally, four small walls surrounding a toilet – was that there was a first-aid kit inside it. In the main area, three blacksmiths were busy heating up metal, surprising the incredulous crowd each and every time sparks flew.

After the spectacle of fire, La Bronze – wearing a yeti costume – took to the stage, lighting her own face with a blue light. The songs followed one another feverishly. Nothing else mattered for anyone who was there. It was a universal experience. “It was such a great evening,” says La Bronze, still emotional. “People were grateful to live something entirely new.”

The show we witnessed, stage-directed by Yann Perreau, was memorable for several reasons. One of them was the arrival on stage of four French horns – arranged, on the album, by Mathieu Pelletier-Gagnon – who played the last pieces of the evening. But also because Nadia’s mother and her friend, who together with her, sang the solemn Arab chant that opens “Khlakit Fkelbek.” “It’s a traditional Moroccan chant that’s sung at weddings and other important events,” says the singer-somngwriter. “It talks about God, and it’s a really symbolic song.”

La Bronze“Khlakit Fkelbek” is the first song she’s written in Arabic. “Language is just a medium, to me,” she says. “What matters is the essence, the emotion. I could write in Mandarin. I’d love that. Actually, no, I couldn’t, it would really not be any good!” she laughs.

Ever since she sang an Arabic version of Stromae’s “Formidable”, a cover that has so far been watched more than 2.5 million times on YouTube, Europe has opened up. “That experience really re-connected me with my roots,” says la Bronze. “It really wasn’t hard to write in Arabic afterwards. The purity of this project became self-evident. I dove right back into my origins. It was easy.” Partnerships to release the album in Europe are being formalized, and the artist admits to being “flabbergasted” by the opportunities that materialized in the wake of that cover.

Following her eponymous album, released in 2014, and Rois de nous, an EP released in 2016, this new flame has powered La Bronze’s Les corps infinis. “My producer [Clément Leduc] and I stepped into an imaginary bubble and we shared the same vibe from start to finish,” she says. “When I create music, there’s nothing too pre-meditated or rational. I never have a work plan. It’s all instinct.”

From this unbridled and free creativity emanates a powerful vibe of freedom that permeates all of her work. “I have this feeling that I can access it with greater and greater ease,” she says. “It’s my biggest quest, as a human being, and this record makes me feel much more at ease with who I am, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it made me more mature or adult… I still feel like a teenager in my daily life.”

Thanks to Clément Leduc and Francis Brisebois, La Bronze was able to expand on the idea of creative bubbles at the  SOCAN House in L.A. “‘Canicule,’ ‘Beaux’ and ‘Les corps infinis’ were recorded there,” she explains. “The change of scenery was awesome, and we also took in the nightlife, the palm trees, the beach.” The change impacted her artistic approach, and became a way to “explore new inner zones,”  she says. The final product is a collection of 11 songs that range from ethereal electro-pop to rock, “but all of them were composed on the piano”, La Bronze is quick to point out. “That’s how I can dive into my emotions.”

To her, all stages of the production are like different canvasses, where she draws her own sketches. “I’m involved in all of the composition processes, and I have to OK with everything, right down to the press release,” says la Bronze. “It’s super-important to me.”

In a context where women are increasingly vocal about their desire to be more involved in their music, La Bronze is no exception. As a matter of fact, she’ll have the privilege of sharing her bold spirit with young women thanks to the series Code F on Vrak TV. “The message I want to get out with that show is to own who you are, from A to Z,” she says. “No circumstance can rob you of your essence, or diminish the grandeur of your existence. I want women to stand up and impose their puissance.”

As for the future, La Bronze foresees a career path where out-of-the-ordinary environments will become more common, in order to make life onstage ever more exciting. “We’re going to take this album as far as it can go,” says the musician with aplomb. “I’m satisfied with every fraction of a second of every song I have in my hands, right here.”

Loud makes no bones about his ambition and totally owns his thirst for grandeur on Une année record (A Record Year), his first solo album – produced by his Loudlongtime partners in crime, Ajust and Ruffsound. Armed with a variety of tones and flows that he uses with uncanny versatility, the rapper – who made a name for himself in Loud Lary Ajust – rhymes about his accomplishments, hopes and angst. A few weeks before his first foray into France – where his album will be released by a Universal subsidiary – the 29-year-old Montréaler re-visits the writing process for his 10 new songs.

“So Far So Good”
“We wanted to start with a bit of a shocker, a warning that sets the tone for things to come. There are a lot of melodic songs on the album, but I thought it was important to open with something a little rougher and more self-assured, so that right from the get-go, it’s clear we aren’t messing around. The tone is commanding, it’s straight to the point. Personal considerations begone.”

“Nouveaux riches” (“Newly Rich”)
“Here, we go in a completely different direction, with something a lot catchier. That song is the symbolic sequel to “56K [the standout track on his New Phone EP], because the writing is very similar. The point, here, is to take advantage of the slow beat in the background to drop ‘quotables’: nicely crafted sentences that stick in your mind, and that you can easily quote. Through it all, there are touches of humour, which I consider quite tricky to pull off. I don’t really like joke rap, so I had to be careful to avoid falling into a character. I had to find my balance.”

“Il était moins une” (“In the Nick of Time”)
“That’s me looking back at my teens and appraising my musical journey. The challenge was to write a very long verse that started with my youthful ambitions and ended with a consecration of sorts. The conclusion is a little more abstract, but in a nutshell, it means we worked hard and managed, barely, to sneak our way to success. The words ‘il était moins une’ [‘in the nick of time’] mean that it might not have worked out… It was obvious to me that I needed to tell that story over a classic rap beat at 90 beats per minute, not over a trap or R&B beat. I can imagine Nas or Prodigy rapping over this.”

“It’s a song about patience that is very much who I am; I’m not a hurried person. When I first heard the album after the mixing and mastering, this is the one that stood out for me. It’s based on a very classic songwriting principle that amalgamates the form and the content. The cheesiest example I can think of would be a singer that says ‘My heart stops’ just as the music stops. I didn’t even notice it at first, but my flow was quite dense during the verses, and the sentence ‘These things take time’ slowed down my cadence and allowed me to let go of my angst. That format allowed me to gather a bunch of disparate ideas, and to put out there that even though we sometimes lose our focus in our fucked-up lives, we need to let time do its thing.”

“Devenir immortel (et puis mourir)” (“Becoming Immortal (and Dying)”)
“The inspiration for this is Jean-Luc Godard’s movie Breathless, written by François Truffaut. I went to see that movie at Théâtre Outremont a couple of months ago, and one of the lines shook me, which I immediately jotted down in my phone: ‘Devenir immortel, et puis, mourir… ’ I was with Will [who directs his videos], and the first thing we talked about when we walked out of the theatre was Loudthat line. It asserted itself as the song title before I even wrote a single line. It’s a somewhat pretentious way to express the fact that I’d like to give everything I have and leave an impression behind with my work. Ultimately, I believe this desire for immortality motivates all creative types, but rap allows one to express it more honestly than other musical genres.”

“Toutes les femmes savent danser” (“All Women Know How to Dance”)
“That’s my very first radio-formatted pop song. All I’m missing to make the 3:20 mark is the bridge and a third verse. [Laughs] Seriously, though, I’m a fan of pop music, most notably Taylor Swift, whom I consider an influence. Several of her songs on 1989, like ‘Blank Space’ or ‘Wildest Dreams,’ are pop masterpieces, in my opinion. We asked for the help of guitarist Pierre-Luc Rioux, who’s worked with David Guetta, to co-write the song. He came up with several loops that Ruffsound and Ajust arranged. As for me, the title came first, once again. The basic idea is to say that no one is irreplaceable, and that even though it peters out with one person, or you get excited with a love that’s going nowhere, it’s all good, there will be others. I’m not putting down women by saying they’re all the same; I’m saying that a relationship is not an end in itself.”

“SWG” (featuring Lary Kidd)

“This one’s a reflection on what men are willing to do to impress or conquer women. They’re observations that avoid being moralistic. I didn’t show Lary what I’d written because I wanted him to do his thing, no censorship. All I told him was the song’s title, ‘Sleeping With Girls,’ and he went in a completely different direction. Not long ago, he would’ve been much more vulgar, but in this case, he decided to come at it from a social angle.”

“Hell, What a View”
“It all starts from the chorus, which had been bouncing around in my mind for a long time: ‘Cancelle tous mes rendez-vous/ J’prends plus d’entrevue, vous parlerez entre vous/I finally found a place where I see none of you / And I’ve been thinkin’ to myself… Hell, what a view’ (the first two lines: ‘Cancel all my appointments / I’m not doing any more interviews, talk amongst yourselves’) From that point on, all the verses justify this desire for exile, and bolster my need to say ‘fuck all y’all.’ The creative principle is the same as on ‘Nouveaux riches,’ because slow beats are conducive to impactful lines. It’s the type of song that takes me a long time to write.”

“On My Life” (featuring Lary Kidd and 20some)
“I’ve been wanting to collaborate with 20some, one of Québec’s most meticulous rappers, for a long time. He is super-precise and efficient, but somewhat underestimated compared to the other guys in Dead Obies. I gave him carte blanche and, in the end, he recorded a two-minute verse! I really wanted him to do something like that, a bit like Rick Ross’s very long verse at the end of Kanye West’s ‘Devil in a New Dress.’ It’s a classic brag-rap song that doesn’t have a specific subject. That kind of freedom allows everyone to say whatever they feel like.”

“Une année record” (“A Record Year”)
“That one’s an old NeoMaestro song, to which we added live arrangements of guitar, saxophone, piano… Because it’s the album’s last song, I used it to wrap things up and re-visit all of the album’s themes. The result is a soul number like I like ‘em, like some Jay-Z classics on The Blueprint or The Black Album.”

Une année record is out now in stores and on most streaming platforms.

The digital revolution has brought pain and promise to the music industry. Now, artificial intelligence (AI) looms on the technological horizon as the next great disruptor.

Machines that write songs? Software that scores music for film and corporate videos? They’re not some distant sci-fi novelty, they’re already here, assisting human composers – but also threatening to replace some of the work previously done exclusively by humans.

Last year, researchers at Sony Computer Science Laboratories released a song in the style of the Beatles, called “Daddy’s Car,” created by the AI application Flow Machines (a research project funded by the European Research Council, and co-ordinated by Sony CSL Paris).

French startup Aiva (Artificial Intelligence Virtual Artist) is an AI composing app rooted in classical music and aimed at the synch market.

According to Aiva’s creators, “We have taught a deep neural network to understand the art of music composition by reading through a large database of classical partitions written by the most famous composers (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, etc.). Aiva is capable of capturing concepts of music theory just by doing this acquisition of existing musical works.”

Aiva’s first album, Genesis, is available on Soundcloud. And this year Aiva became the first composing app to do a deal with a performing rights organization; all music composed by Aiva is automatically registered with SACEM.

And while smaller AI music startups are sprouting like dandelions in spring – witness some of the ingenious applications on show at the Techstars Music Accelerator in Los Angeles – Google, Microsoft, IBM, Apple, and Amazon, are all investing heavily to stay at the forefront of the AI revolution.

Last year, Google launched Magenta, a research project aimed at pushing the limits of what AI can do in the arts. This is done using artificial neural networks – computer systems inspired by the neural networks of the human brain.

“The deep-learning revolution comes courtesy of the computer-game industry,” writes Larry Hardesty, in MIT News. “The complex imagery and rapid pace of today’s video games require hardware that can keep up, and the result has been the graphics processing unit (GPU), which packs thousands of relatively simple processing cores on a single chip. It didn’t take long for researchers to realize that the architecture of a GPU is remarkably like that of a neural net.”

Arne Eigenfeldt sees AI as a creativity booster, rather than a replacement for human creation.

IBM is exploring a range of music-related AI applications, including Watson Beat. Explains IBM researcher Kelly Shi, “Watson Beat composes music by ‘listening’ to at least 20 seconds of music, and then creates new tracks of melodies, ambient sounds, and beats based on what it learned from the original sample – whether the user wrote it, or is using other samples and songs.”

Jeff King, SOCAN

Jeff King, COO of SOCAN

SOCAN is working with IBM Watson and Canada’s leading AI labs to utilize the technology on behalf of songwriters and music publishers. “SOCAN is very committed to artificial intelligence,” says SOCAN Chief Operating Officer Jeff King. “We want to be a global leader in this area.”

King says AI is particularly useful in music identification. “Watson can look at 700,000 web pages per second,” he explains. “We’ve applied the power of Watson to YouTube and user-generated content. Initially we focused on lyrics: Watson would learn a song then go looking for matches. We had good success. Then we went looking at the music, melodic patterns and so forth, and Watson did reasonably well. But when you combine the two functions, examining [both] lyrics and melody, then the probabilities were much higher. So we’re seeing AI as a really interesting opportunity to license and monetize cover versions in a smart, non-manual way. Using AI like this could really transform the industry.”

King adds that AI has other positive applications for SOCAN. “We can use the processing power and learned logic to identify when someone is starting to break out,” explains King. “For instance, in our Watson experiment, we discovered that when an artist is mentioned on social media outside their postal code, they’re likely on the verge of doing something. We’re using things like that to help our recruitment activities, to identify people who should be part of the SOCAN universe.”

Vancouver-based composer and Simon Fraser University professor Arne Eigenfeldt, is dedicated to exploring metacreation (imbuing computers with creative behavior); Eigenfeldt is an expert on the subject of musebots, which are virtual musical agents that make music together.

Says Eigenfeldt, “Most of my music in the last 10 years has used AI in some capacity, and I’m definitely part of the worldwide computational creativity, as well as the musical metacreation, community. Both are concerned with automating the creative process through computation, i.e., ‘using AI to make art.’ Or ‘artificial creativity.’ Or ‘machine creativity.’”

Arne Eigenfeldt, Simon Fraser University

Simon Fraser University professor Arne Eigenfeldt

Eigenfeldt sees AI as a creativity booster, rather than a replacement for human creation.

“Computers are tools for artists, and allow us to do things much more easily than before,” he said in an e-mail. “More powerful software on these computers will allow us to accomplish things in much shorter time, but also in new ways. Prior to my exploration of AI in music-making, I felt I was in a creative rut, relying upon the same ways of working that I had for years. Now, my software is a creative partner that allows me to think about musical creation in ways I never would have imagined.”

There’s no question that AI will have a profound impact on the landscape of music creation. But AI is also being used to discover and recommend new music, an important influence in a streaming world with millions of songs to choose from.

Earlier this year, Spotify acquired AI music startup Niland in a bid to improve music discovery and its music recommendation back-end. Leading music data identification company Gracenote has also invested in AI in an effort to better classify mood and emotion in songs.

And AI’s application may help to usher in a new era of data analysis resulting in improved royalty tracking and payment for all music rights owners. It could revolutionize the way we monitor billions of small transactions and data exchanges in the digital world.

As promising as these developments are, AI is merely the tip of the technological iceberg portending further upheaval and creative gains in the years ahead. Says Eigenfeldt, “Our notions of creativity may evolve because of these new tools, but if we evolve as well, so will our art.”