At the Well blog


Co-creativity with artists and AI in an out-of-ordinary place

Photo: Tikli Loivaranta

I went to explore co-creativity with artists and with AI in Villa Karo, a residency in Benin. My journey led me to questions of the foundations of Art in the era of AI.

LuotAi project explores creativity in the era of AI. As Kone Foundation supports both scientific and artistic work, we took the opportunity to explore our theory of creative agencies also in artistic practice. Being a project researcher and a rap-artist, I explored the process of creating lyrics through different creative agencies that we had found along a spectrum between humans, AIs, and beyond. I did this project in an arts and research residency at Villa Karo, Grand-Popo, Benin.

My plan was to study the spectrum of creative agencies by creating different rap songs involving an increasing element of AI. In this process, I collaborated with a Finnish AI-enthusiast, teacher and a music producer, Jesse Juup.

What started as a plan to study the creative agencies as a solo lyricist and vocalist collaborating with a music producer quickly evolved into an exploration of much richer co-creativity also in terms of vocals. This switched my perspective of looking at human and AI creative agencies as relational but bounded objects of inquiry into one looking more precisely at the process and relations of co-creativity with other artists, and with AI. This, of course, was thanks to the special creative spatiality provided by an artistic residency and everything that happens around it.

Co-creating with artists in and around Villa Karo

It was the third day of the six-week residency that I encountered a local rap artist, Tino Boy. We did not have a common language, but we were able to speak with a voice translator app. Or through rhythms and rhymes on the beat, of course! Tino Boy was freestyling, so new material just emerged out of thin air and his experience. One day another Villa Karo resident, Iida V., listened to one of the demos that we had recorded, and started singing – freestyle as well.

I was astonished by the skills of these two, as my lyrics come through writing (with pen and paper). For me, writing can take a long time. But sometimes it just happens when there is a creative impulse: a topic that urges itself to be voiced through rhymes. The joy of suddenly creating music together, and the pure appreciation for other artists’ talent, served as such a creative impulse, allowing me to write the verse quickly in a surge of creativity. I asked Tino and Iida also to create their lyrics about the same topic: creating music together in Grand-Popo.

At the end of the third week of my residency we traveled to a recording studio, Legend Beatz in Cotonou, and recorded two songs. First, here is the song written by the three of us, mixed and mastered in Finland by Jesse Juup, who has also produced the instrumental.

Here is the song by me and Tino Boy, on the beat produced by Dan Santamäki. This song is mixed by Dan and Jesse, and mastered by Jesse. My lyrics for this one had been already written in Finland as there was another plan for this song, but thanks to Dan’s understanding attitude, it got included in the current project (yes, with humans creative projects are unpredictable and sometimes a bit messy).

For comparison, here is the same song where the mastering phase is done with AI (LANDR). Can you spot the difference?

Co-creating with artificial intelligence

After co-creation with Tino Boy and Iida V., I started exploring the creative process of writing lyrics with AI. Although I’m enthusiastic about the possibilities AI can provide especially in the phase of exploring new ideas, I felt reluctant. Usually I don’t even use rhyme dictionaries when I write, because it feels less genuine for me. Rap is a lot about authenticity and creative ingenuity. If you don’t have it, don’t bother to try… In all honesty, I was scared that AI would come up with something great and steal one of my ideas before I myself could think it into existence!

What broke my writing block was, once again, collaboration with other human artists. Jesse suggested that I could use the AI-created lyrics as a prompt to another AI that creates the whole song, including the instrumentals and vocals. Here, English language works better. This was liberating: as English is not my rap language, it could not invent “my rhymes” in Finnish. I sat down with Chat GPT-4 and prompted it to make a song about my feelings and experiences about co-creativity with other people, and co-creativity with AI.

What I felt at this moment was that with humans, creative moments are incredibly thick with affects, and different, often contradicting emotions from pure joy and “totally getting it” to uncertainty and misunderstandings. This makes the creative process so rich and alive. On the contrary, AI can provide delightful surprises (for instance, “partner in rhyme” was a clever invention of ChatGPT), but somehow the joy dries up soon when it’s not shared with anybody. Moreover, AI feels too confident and under control. It provides no real excitement.

This is the song that was created with SUNO AI. No other prompts were used than the lyrics and the genre:

I recognize that by tweaking the prompts more – i.e., by adding more human agency into the process – the outcome would be better. The one I quickly requested from AI sounds like a robot. As a comparison, here is a song Jesse created using for the AI generated music and voice, and GPT-4 for the lyrics. This one is actually soulful!

How is creativity conveyed in co-created artworks?

During the LuotAi project, we have noticed that in many current evaluations of AI-based art, artworks with AI as the central creative actor are often seen as lacking meaning. Looking at my own (co-)creative process, I tend to wonder: how does all the meaning, the life – the fluctuation of joy, uncertainty, stumbling, astonishment and harmony – get channelled into the artistic outcome? Perhaps co-creativity with other people always includes countless virtual possibilities in the uncertainty of the present moment: something that is potentially coming into existence, but no one knows how this potential is actualized, and what kinds of potential trajectories remain forever undiscovered. In current AI, the possibilities of combination are astonishing, but no matter what, they are still limited to using something that has somehow been realized before as raw material. There is no indeterminate space between 1 and 0.

Moreover, human artists have a desire to be seen and a fear of failure that AI cannot have (quite the opposite – at least Chat GPT presents itself as tirelessly confident. Certainly!). AI cannot experience the desires and dreads of being a human artist, and consequently, other co-creators or the audience cannot respond to an idea of such desire. I tend to think, that in these in-between-spaces – the desires, dreads and uncertainty of  what comes next – lies the excitement of the creative process that is also perceived in the outcome.

However, when I listen to a cutting-edge human-AI collaboration that sounds soulful, such as the one created by Jesse, I get more confused. The human artist has skilfully prompted the elements, yet it is still quite largely an AI-creation, and a lot of the artwork’s soul seems to originate from AI tools. This is a prime example of human-AI co-creativity, but what exactly is conveyed, and how? When AI gets ever better in mimicking something that we interpret as a trace of human artist’s intention, desires, the in-betweens, with less and less human contribution, does it stop being art at some point?

While we continuously increase our understanding about the relations between creative actors, processes and outcomes, many core questions remain. Moreover, once again, the different collaborations and constellations that mount to something that is Art end up questioning the foundations of art itself, which in fact reconfigures what art also is: a forever open question.


I wish to extend my thanks to Kone Foundation and Villa Karo; the leader of the LuotAi project Johanna Hautala, who encouraged me on this creative journey; and all the collaborating artists: Jesse Juup, Dan Santamäki, Tino Boy, and Iida V., as well as Ella Karttunen who took our photos; and all the other fellow residents and staff of Villa Karo for the fruitful discussions in the co-creative space.