Selected Artists

1962: Clipper Cowbridge

1963: The Swiss Invasion

1965: Marilyn Kaye

1969: The Fold

1970: Yorgi

1971: Devon Shire

1972: Sandee Saunders

1976: Rockfinger

1978: The Spooky Bunch

1979: Decoupage

1981: Bleep

1984: Tiger Love

1985: Laryssa Foxxx

1986: Smasher of Things

1987: Suthrn Cuzn

1989: ~pianogirl~

1990: Razorflesh

1995: Breaker Bear

1996: Action Plus

1998: J Lounge

2001: Eesk

2004: Lazarus Project

Lazarus Project: Their Music Will Never Die (2004)

Clubbo recording artist the Lazarus Project

COMPUTER WHIZ MARK LISSITSKY doesn’t mourn the loss of such musical icons as Hendrix, Joplin, or Tiny Tim. His favorite artists may be long gone, but he doesn’t spend much time replaying their old hits.

Instead, he listens to their new material.

Lissitsky has created the unthinkable: a computer program that resurrects the creative minds of the past with eerily convincing results. We don’t fully understand how his program works, but according to Lissitsky, it involves analyzing sufficient amounts of past data in order to predict the next logical step in an artist’s creative output.

The first Lazarus Project release, “Cyber Magnolia,” is instantly recognizable as the work of a certain chubby, bearded guitarist from a psychedelic San Francisco band known for its protracted jams and devoted, itinerant fans.

And in the haunting “We’ve Only Just Resumed,” Lissitsky captures what seems to be a description of the afterlife by one of the thinnest singers of the ’70s.

 

“Cyber Magnolia”

“We’ve Only Just Resumed”

 

What is the sampling rate of human consciousness?

For programmer Mark Lissitsky, the question is not merely academic. In fact, academia and Lissitsky haven’t had much use for each other since the iconoclastic technologist lost his Stanford University teaching gig in 1997.

Mark Lissitsky of the Lazarus Project (Clubbo Records)“Oh, I bet they’d like to have me back now,” says Lissitsky, speaking via phone from Salem, Oregon. “But I’m like, no way. Now that I’m creating all this amazing stuff with Lazarus, I’m better off not being tied down by some institution that’s going to steal all the credit and pocket the royalties. Are you guys taping this?”

We’re embarrassed to admit that we can’t quite grasp the theoretical underpinnings of Mark’s work, though the knowledge that some of the world’s leading computer scientists are equally slow on the uptake goes some way toward easing our shame. But the gist is this: With enough data, properly analyzed, it’s possible to duplicate the creative processes of a specific human brain.

In other words, Lissitsky has succeeded in resurrecting great creative minds of the past via software.

“That’s why I call it the Lazarus Project,” explains Mark. “I mean, here in my room, I’m surrounded by the best pictures that Van Gogh and Escher never got around to drawing. When I cook, I cook recipes the great chefs of Europe would have invented if they’d lived long enough to have access to modern groceries. And don’t get me started on the music I’m listening to, okay? We’re talking Handel’s Messiah II. Thelonius Monk’s ‘Round About Six A.M.’ Stranger Days by the Doors. And that’s just before lunch!”

When we heard some of the musical results of Lissitsky’s labors, we knew the Lazarus Project belonged in the Clubbo fold. Happily, Mark agreed. And to the best of our knowledge, this marks the first time a record deal has been given to a computer program.

So is the Lazarus Project a form of artificial intelligence?

“No!” yowls Lissitsky, his passion for the subject scarcely containable. “I’m not about AI, okay? If anything, my thing is IA: Intelligent Artificiality. There’s a difference, you know.” He explained it to us, but insisted that we keep the specifics off the record.

The implications of Lissistky’s work are dizzying. The intellectual property issues alone aren’t so much a can of worms as a can filled with cans of worms. For example, what if The Lazarus Project created a hit record using compositional algorithms derived from the Beatles? Could the Beatles or their estates claim a share of the royalties, even if the new composition neither referenced Beatles melodies nor sampled Beatles recordings? Could Clubbo advertise the music as “inspired by the Beatles,” or “from the same minds that brought you ‘Octopus’s Garden?’”

Frankly, we don’t know. So until the legal system catches up with Mark’s innovations, we’ve been advised to play it safe by not citing the specific musical personae that the Lazarus Project has resurrected. Take, for example, Mark’s first Clubbo release, which he calls “Cyber Magnolia.” Lissistky’s results are so true-to-life that you probably don’t even need the following hint about the music’s conceptual provenance: Rotund, bearded guitarist for legendary San Francisco hippie-rock band famed for long stoner jams and nomadic fans.

Mark Lissitsky of the Lazarus Project (Clubbo Records)“He was like the perfect choice for a Lazarus algorithm,” says Lissitsky. “First off, there was just so much raw data to upload into the program — all those thousands of bootlegged concert tapes, many of which come from my very own personal collection. Plus, as a musical mind, he’s right up there with Bach and Pachelbel.”

Judge for yourself: Do these astounding sounds simply reflect the intersection of two advanced minds, one residing in blessed memory, the other at his parents’ house in Oregon? Or is the Lazarus Project — dare we say it — a miracle?