Metamorphic dancers take flight in HAAi’s music video

Electronic music producer and DJ HAAi has released a new music video for Baby, We’re Ascending, a euphoric track created with Jon Hopkins taken from her introspective debut album of the same name.

The dancing figures at the centre of the music video have a mythological feel to them, owing to their part-bird, part-human appearance, as well as the way in which they ascend to some divine plane at the track’s climax. The video was a coming together of analogue and digital techniques, with artist and fellow musician Tom Furse and choreographer Akira Uchida each evoking the track’s emotions through their respective art forms.

“My initial touchstone was just the idea of ascension, of flight and getting beyond ourselves,” says Furse, who was responsible for crafting the visuals that underpin the video. “But as I started to work on the footage it was almost as if these characters became god-like beings full of pure creation.”

The filmed portion of the process was handled in New York, where Uchida choreographed and recorded the dancers. The footage was shot against a green screen, allowing Furse to isolate their figures and evolve them into textured silhouettes. Furse made use of machine learning to “essentially break down and rebuild each frame using both the original image and additional text descriptions”, known as ‘prompts’ in machine learning, he explains.

The images and textures translated onto the dancers’ bodies, as well as the surreal environments within the video, were created using open source tools and models. As well as being a practical necessity, he finds there’s something pleasurable about doing it this way, in that “you’re essentially collaborating with enormous amounts of artists, developers, researchers and image-makers in quite an unpredictable way by experimenting with combinations of text prompts and models. Surprises are frequent, and I welcome surprises from machines in my art.”

While Furse has encountered some experiments by other artists in this vein, as far as he’s aware there hasn’t been a video-based project to this extent using these techniques. Yet if the past few months are anything to go by, AI is being seized upon in music videos in a huge way – see work for music artists including Max Cooper, The Editors and Daphni – and Furse says we can expect to see more of it. “I think even in the year or so that I’ve been using machine learning to make and process images I’ve seen the quality of the images produced improve dramatically, and seeing what OpenAI are up to with Dalle 2 is incredibly impressive,” he says.

“The effects of all this will be proven in time, and of course there will be negatives as well as positives,” he notes. “I didn’t need a team of animators to realise this video, which is great if you have a small budget, but I do worry a bit about how little we may need teams of people to work on productions in the future if high quality media can be conjured up from words alone.”

Over the next five to ten years, he sees machine learning transforming creative output across all kinds of fields. “Any situation that would benefit from having a talented assistant by your side, ML will likely find a home there, and ultimately I don’t think it’s outlandish for people to be able to dream up TV, film or music completely to their own design at a quality [that is] indistinguishable from media made in a more traditional way,” he says.

“The way I see it for artists, we now have a new tool, a new paintbrush with which to realise our ideas, on par with the invention of something as consequential as the camera. Some people will hate it, others will embrace it, and whole new genres and styles will emerge as the result. For me this is extremely exciting, I feel as if I’ve been waiting for new territory to explore for years and all of a sudden a cave of wonders has opened up beneath me.”

Baby, We’re Ascending by HAAi is out now via Mute; @tom_furse