Intelligent Instruments in Citizen Science: Understanding Contemporary AI through Creative Practice

Thor Magnusson (IS), Jack Armitage (GB), Halla Steinunn Stefansdottir (IS), Victor Shepardson (US), Nicola Privato (IT), Miguel Angel Rozzoli (AR), Halldor Ulfarsson (IS), Sean O’Brien (US), Marco Donnarumma (IT), Sophie Skach (AT), Giacomo Lepri (IT), Intelligent Instruments Lab (IS)

Artificial Intelligence is becoming increasingly human-like and it is now proficient in a key human activity: musical creativity. But what does this mean? How does creative AI change our notions of art, culture and society? As new machine learning technologies begin to mirror ourselves, we need to look into that mirror and ask how this is changing us. The Intelligent Instruments project takes a pioneering step in AI research by answering how new creative AI transforms our relationships with technology and other people.

This ambitious vision is achieved by using music as a platform to establish public understanding of AI. Through three respective work packages, we are developing instruments with creative AI, we explore human-AI collaboration in music and we frame sonic instruments as scientific instruments. Grounded equally in technology development and the humanities, we engage with diverse disciplines by developing a theoretical framework of creative AI, initiating a discourse around human-centred creative AI, and defining principles of human-AI relations in services and products.

Our aim is therefore to work in the public eye, to keep our lab open, and to disseminate our work as it happens. We seek public engagement and investment in the research programme, as our research is relevant to the questions people are asking already, and to place the lab as a social hub where these questions could be explored in a safe, welcoming and open intellectual environment. Through the broad reach of music in society, we reach the general public and conduct citizen science with people in a field that people understand and engage with from a personal, emotional and intellectual manner. This is how we can ask our questions, explore the new ideas that are emerging, analyse the language and discourse, and be part of shaping how we understand creative AI in this unique historical moment.

The Intelligent Instruments project is supported by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Grant agreement No. 101001848). The project is hosted at the University of Iceland. Some workshops and public engagements have been funded by the Icelandic Music Fund.

Thor Magnusson (IS) is a Professor in Future Music at the University of Sussex and a research professor at the University of Iceland. His work focusses on the impact of digital technologies on musical creativity, explored equally through practice, theory and education. Magnusson’s research is underpinned by the philosophy of technology and cognitive science, exploring issues of embodiment, artificial intelligence, and compositional constraints in digital musical systems as practiced by musicians in concrete situations.

Jack Armitage (UK) is a musician, designer and technologist based in Reykjavík, and the founder of Afverhju Ekki - The Absolutely Everything Studio. Jack is a postdoc researcher at the Intelligent Instruments Lab, University of Iceland, and has a PhD in Media & Arts Technologies from Queen Mary University of London. Jack's work spans experimental concerts, electronic club performances and DJ sets, multimedia installations, interface design, sound design, music production and composition. Jack's project Lil Data is released on the PC Music label.

Halla Steinunn Stefansdottir (IS) is a postdoctoral fellow at the Intelligent Instruments Lab and active as a performer, composer and curator within contemporary music and ecological sound art. She recently obtained a PhD in artistic research in music from Lund University. Her research looked at agencies at play in artistic processes, explored through micro-labs set within and outside of institutional environments. She continues along such a context-sensitive trajectory at the lab, focusing on the mediation that occurs in the performance of an AI-augmented violin. 

Victor Shepardson (US) is a doctoral researcher in the Intelligent Instruments Lab at LHI. Previously he worked as a machine learning engineer on neural models of speech, and before that studied Digital Musics at Dartmouth College and Computer Science at the University of Virginia. His interests include machine learning, artificial intelligence, electronic and audiovisual music, and improvisation. In his current research, he approaches the lived experience of people with AI via design and performance of new musical instruments.

Nicola Privato (IT) is a PhD candidate in Cultural Studies, conducting research at the Intelligent Instruments Lab. Previously, he studied Electronic Music at the Conservatory of Padua (MA), Jazz Improvisation and Composition at the Conservatory of Trieste (BA) and Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Padua (BA). In the past decade he has been curating musical events and festivals, composing, performing and teaching music. His current interests include alternative forms of notation, improvisation, composition, and Human-Computer Interaction in performative contexts.

Miguel Angel Crozzoli (AR) is a composer, saxophonist, and Ph.D. candidate in Cultural Studies, currently conducting research project at the Intelligent Instruments Lab in Reykjavik. He has studied European composition, jazz studies, and cultural management in Argentina, and holds an Advanced Postgraduate Diploma and a master's degree from the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen, where he conducted practice-based research on sonification. His research in music, new technologies, data, and AI, explores the questions about the role of the arts in critical thinking and perception.

Halldor Ulfarsson (IS) is the luthier and technician of the Intelligent Instruments Lab. He is the inventor of the halldorophone, an electro acoustic string instrument intended for working with string based feedback. For the past decade he has been seeking out and working with musicians to make music with halldorophones and noting their thoughts and feelings on the process to inform further development. He is currently funded by an innovation grant from the Icelandic Technology Development Fund on further development of halldorophones.

Sophie Skach (AT) is a postdoctoral researcher Intelligent Instruments Lab and the Queen Mary University of London, where she also obtained her PhD as part of the Media & Arts Technology programme. Trained as a fashion designer (BA, MA), she has worked in industry for larger companies as well as on her own projects. With this background in fashion and textile design, her research explores 'smart' clothing as a ubiquitous, wearable sensing system for applications in social interaction, soft robotics, and intelligent instruments.

Sean Patrick O´Brien (US) has a BFA from the Studio of Interrelated Media from MassArt in Boston and recently received a Master's in Performing Arts from Listaháskóli Íslands where he worked on interactive and kinetic sculpture in a performative and socially engaged practice. Inspired by the local Icelandic arts and music scene he has worked with the Reykavík Dance Festival, Sequences Art Festival, Nylistasafnið, Kling og Bang, Listahátið, Raflost, Rask, Mengi, Spectral Assault Records, and grassroots organizations Post-Dreifing, RUSL Fest, Fúsk, and King og Bong.

Giacomo Lepri (IT) builds digital instruments, plays with them and tries to critically think through them. His research crosses the domains of electroacoustic improvisation / composition, human-computer interaction and cultural studies. He holds  a PhD in Media and Art Technology from Queen Mary University of London. At the Intelligent Instruments Lab he explores compositional strategies for the mediation of sociocultural values and technological agencies, considering the practice of sonic interaction design as an opportunity to play with illusions and magic.

Adam Pultz Melbye (DK) is a performer, composer, and sonic researcher. He creates solo double bass music, often with the FAAB (feedback-actuated augmented bass)—a feedback double bass with embedded signal processing. He investigates how terms such as musical mastery, virtuosity, resistance, and failure may become reframed (or rendered obsolete) through the decentrering of human agency. His work has been performed in the US, Japan, Australia and Europe and he appears on around 50 releases, three of these solo albums.

The Intelligent Instruments project in Iceland (2021-2026) uses music to explore the impact of AI on creativity and society. The project addresses important questions about the implications of AI in relation to ethics, technology development and access to technology. It involves interdisciplinary collaboration, integrating insights from technology development and humanities.  It engages citizens via open lab sessions, workshops, and performances, excelling in all aspects. Embracing interdisciplinary collaboration and open science practices, it fosters dialogue and shapes policy discussions. Feedback mechanisms ensure community input, while innovative approaches enrich the European research landscape.