Alex Braga straddles many worlds; he is a musician, a conceptual artist and an inventor. But regardless of the hat, he is wearing on any given day, his goal remains the same; “to find the infinite inside the finite boundaries of our world,” he says. As a conceptual artist, this involves thinking of ways in which he can throw himself into the unknown, creating pieces that evolve from pure simplicity to infinite complexity. Practically speaking, Braga created an artificial intelligence-based instrument called A-Mint.
Three years in the making, A-Mint is a monumental achievement in the field of AI music-making. Braga’s efforts have been well noted worldwide, and in recent years he has showcased his invention in renowned music and tech events around the world, including Ars Electronica where he was nominated for the prestigious STARTS prize, Mutek Festival, ADE, Google Arts & Culture Center and the Centre Pompidou amongst others. Far from the world of technology, A-Mint has also surprisingly managed to make its way into classical conservatories, otherwise known for their conservatism and traditionalism. A-Mint creates what is called ‘augmented music’, a new and bold territory in digital arts. The instrument is able to crack a musician’s style and offer a whole array of music-making possibilities within that style and in real-time as the artist plays. “When A-Mint gets your style, it becomes your augmented self and gives you superpowers,” explains Braga. In other words, as Braga plays a simple motif on the piano, the AI reacts by producing an endless amount of notes that fit into his theme, which he then wires back into the composition, and back again into the AI in a process he calls a “hyperloop of creation”. The result of his experiments into technology and sonic explorations culminated in his first record, Spleen Machine.
Created by Braga with the help of sound engineer Francesco Donadello & producer Robert Lippok (Tarwater, To Rococo Rot, Ludovico Einaudi), Spleen Machine is an EP consisting of four tracks, but for Alex, it’s almost as if the music were not the main element of his creation…
“Technology always saved my life by giving me the opportunity to concentrate on pure ideas,” he says. As a kid, Braga dropped out of guitar classes to research the endless possibilities that lay, yet uncovered, between electronic music and technology. When the idea of artificial intelligence started to leave the domain of sci-fi and begin to take form as a very real possibility, Braga was enthused, “I never agreed with the idea of humanity being enslaved by a machine… My idea was rather to build a machine to take me where I could never arrive without,” he says.
The video clip for the track Spleen Machine, as well as the EP cover, features the humanoid robot COMAN+. The 1.7 metre and 70 kilos robot was designed and built by IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, an international research centre based in Genova as part of the EU funded project CogIMon. COMAN+ is able to execute both agile and gentle actions as well as interacting and collaborating with humans. Spleen Machine’s video is about possibilities of human and machine interaction, pointing to an optimistic view of the future as “digital humanism”, where mankind and AI share feelings and spirituality.