For the second Mixmag cover of 2022, starring HAAi, we created a digital cover using AI technology for the first time. The digital artist who brought the creative vision to life is Tom Furse, a multi-skilled artist who's a resident DJ on NTS Radio and the synth player in The Horrors on top of spending his time creating psychedelic pixel worlds.
On the cover, which arrived alongside the announcement of HAAi’s debut LP ‘Baby, We’re Ascending’, Teneil Throssell aka HAAi, is pictured in front of a kaleidoscopic flurry of AI animated art. Tom, who's been a friend of Teneil for many years, also transformed images featured within the interview and HAAi’s Cover Mix.
In the imagery, HAAi is framed with a never-ending flow of colourful AI animation that's reminiscent of blossoming flowers and shimmering gems. By combining photography with digital art and AI animation, Tom has elevated the cover into a powerful visual experience that echoes HAAi’s ability to keep the crowd moving.
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We spoke to Tom Furse to about his process, AI art, working with HAAi, and more. Read the Q&A below.
How did you get into exploring AI?
When I was a kid doing my Art A Levels, my thing was making trippy computer art, and I liked psychedelics at that age so that was really the foundation. I heard about AI through the Interdependence podcast which is Holly Herndon and Mat Dryhurst’s podcast. It is such a great pool of reference for technology and music. That kind of podcast is really where I find new ideas. AI always seemed like science fiction, then I listened to this podcast and there was this guy talking about turning text into images. I woke up one morning and thought, ‘what do I want to do today’ and I thought ‘well that sounded interesting.’ That was six months ago and now I’ve been doing it constantly ever since.
How did you manage to transform your vision into the Mixmag cover with AI?
You’re sitting in front of this sort of box that you write in code, and you just have to think of what you want to ask it to do. It’s a strange thing as one of the first things I asked it was ‘photo realistic snakes that are eating each other’ and nothing interesting came forward. So you just have to sit there and keep trying. Plants, flowers, jewels and gemstones I really like because you can use them in interesting contexts, like using them as building materials. You can ask ‘castle made of glass’ and it will do its best to make you that. I just started playing around as I liked how it was making these precious gems but injected them into flowers, as it doesn’t really know where to draw the line where the jewels should belong, so it combines these things in different ways.
I’m dancing around this a bit as the thing is with this stuff is that the prompt is like the secret sauce. My secret recipe, which is unique to me, and that's kind of the interesting thing about it. In terms of the actual prompts there is no secret guide but they're precious.
It’s also quite easy to generate written words — from essays and articles to contracts — with very minimal text input. It’s going to come for music soon enough, it’s just a little bit harder to communicate the subtleties of music to AI. Using AI and your imagination and your ability to describe is going to be one of those things that shapes what art in general is going to look like in the decades to come.
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Where did you find inspiration for the pieces made for Mixmag?
It’s really an exploration of beauty more than anything. In this particular context there is a combination of objects, textures and shapes that I see in the world that I like. I’ll notice how the light falls on a particular texture or material and I will essentially command, talk, or even ask the AI nicely to collate all this stuff together. Sometimes you get interesting results, but a lot of the skill in the process is learning how to talk to this oblique code and getting the results that you want out of it. In terms of the actual images having meanings, I think that the images are more like aesthetic figuration. But the process itself is quite interesting as it’s another conversational collaboration, not only with the coders who are building the code, but also the model, which is all the images of how they are training the code on a machine learning process. There’s quite a lot of nice meaning behind it, as it’s me making these things sitting down at the computer, but in essence collaborating with potentially 1000s of people as part of the process, which I love.
There are ways to make it do quite specific things by giving it an existing image, and you can do all kinds of sculpting to guide it, but I like the process where I use a specific combination of words which throw a tonne of imagery. You’ll come up with prompts and see if the AI can do much with them, and if it can’t do much with those words you think of others which seem to open up whole worlds. And that’s my thing. I somehow found a way to talk to it which seems to be a little different to how other people are talking to it. It’s just conjuring up all this really beautiful imagery. It’s amazing to start putting it out there and get in touch with old friends like Teneil and make new friends with this aesthetic world gaining a sense of community and collaboration.
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How do you know HAAi and how did you work with her to execute the vision?
We’ve been friends for a long time. I probably met her before her sort of ascendancy. But everyone I know, knows HAAi. And everyone’s just super stoked for everything that’s been happening with her and to see her career take off. I was very honoured and happy to get asked to get on board and work with her, and the process was super easy which is exactly what you want. She had no complaints and she just loved everything that came forward.
I’ve done a lot of freelance music work over the year and often its quite an arduous process, but with Mixmag it was a very smooth. I was just able to do my thing which is very nice and very satisfying.
How can one get into AI?
Look on Twitter, Reddit and Discord and start delving. The tech and code people are very generous. It’s a really nice thing as people are very charitable with their work and it’s super easy to get into. Even if you just have a phone, you can start playing around with this stuff as its all-cloud processes. All the heavy lifting is in a server farm somewhere.
How do you incorporate the animation?
Part of the process is that it makes an image and the next frame. When you zoom or twist the image it takes about 1200 visual images that you stitch together to make an animation. Every time you zoom in it attempts to make the image look more like the words you described which is why it’s constantly shifting and changing, and things are evolving out of nothing.
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What else are you up to?
With The Horrors we’re among a sixth album which will come out when it comes out. The pandemic was a weird time for the music industry, and we have got older now so it will happen when it happens. I’m still in the group I’ve just decided not to play live as it’s a huge time sink amongst other things. Since making that decision I’ve been creatively enriched. I’ve been working with NTS Radio for six or seven years and that a nice outlet if you want to hear what I’ve been listening to that month.
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Becky Buckle is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter