The only thing worse than bad art made by human beings is bad art made by robots because the terrible quality cannot be attributed to lived experience. These robots are terrible artists because of an algorithm, not because no one in their life ever told them they were bad at something.
If you’ve ever created a collaborative playlist on Spotify, you might have come across the bot named Ashley. Bot Ashley pretended to be human users and took over collaborative playlists by adding an unmanageable number of songs from terrible electronic artists.
Spotify has since restricted its Collaborative Playlist feature with an “invite-only” setting, effectively killing Bot Ashley’s primary form of existence. But Bot Ashley’s legacy lives on in the many playlists titled “Ashley, stop adding songs to my playlist” and her iconic self-aware album titled “stop adding”, with tracks such as “Songs to my playlist”. That’s right, this bot makes its own music, which makes it sound like the stale air of a dentist’s office was getting self-aware.
I know, theoretically, that the Internet has solved the problem of space. There is now unlimited room for any amount of music to exist, even the banal musings of sensible advertising. But I can’t help but be continually frustrated that Bot Ashley exists.
To the most cynical, I think life is a crowded room of people and things screaming at you to pay attention to them. Why flood the room more with music that means nothing? This music is not meant to reflect any particular human experience or feeling, but rather to simply affirm Bot Ashley’s existence as useless virtual clutter.
Perhaps the most important question to ask is: why write about a long-dead Spotify bot? Why add to this clutter?
The reason Bot Ashley still bothers me — even though Spotify has effectively murdered her before — is because she reminds me of myself. Who’s to say that none of the writing I produce doesn’t take up space in the same invasive way it does? How can we really know if the work we do is worth the time of others? What are we all but fleshed-out approximations of stale air in a dentist’s office?
In the end, I solved this anxiety in me in this way:
One of the playlists that Bot Ashley ruined was a collection of all the releases I could find of “Aguas de Marcoor “The Waters of March”. It’s a Brazilian song from the 70s, and it’s about life. On a bossa nova rhythm, Antônio Carlos Jobim and Elis Regina list a series of seemingly unrelated ordinary things.
It’s the whole song: “one stick, one stone, the end of the road” — that sort of thing. But in the end, I feel teeming with life. There is a joy contained in the voices of Jobim and Regina, a joy that threatens to burst through the ordinariness of the song, but never quite succeeds. In the end, all that mundaneness merges together, and it leaves me with a pretty complete feeling.
At the time, I painstakingly removed Bot Ashley’s many Finnish EDM additions. But thinking back to the lyrics of “Águas de Março”, I now realize that I may have been wrong. An unquoted anecdote on Wikipedia claims that Jobim wrote the song as a form of therapy, an unconstrained stream of consciousness.
It makes sense with the rhythm of the song, because Jobim included a lot of boring things in its regular rhythm – “a piece”, “the ground”, “a truck of bricks”. All of these things occupy the same place in the song as more dignified things. Even though they are seemingly empty, they still contribute.
So indeed, Bot Ashley didn’t ruin the vibes of my playlist by drowning it in terrible Finnish EDM. In fact, his additions reflected the core philosophy of “Águas de Março” – that everything, no matter how boring, matters. And that I and Finnish EDM artists should continue to make our art, because our contributions – terrible as they are – are part of what makes life whole.