Missoula songwriter’s experiment in AI lyrics

Cory Walsh

In late 2019, the songwriter John Brownell was working on a project in which he wrote and posted a song once a week for a year. As his deadline approached, he was finishing a track called “Hidden Hand,” about a protagonist who realizes they could be living in a simulation.

To get through the 12-month project, he’d begun relying on “prompt” techniques when he needed one. Say, opening a random book on the shelf of his home studio, leafing to a page without looking and choosing the first phrase that caught his eye. Eventually, he started using Google Books, and on this night, found a book about “automata,” machine-like inventions such as a clockwork monk. It included a reference to a “life-sized map,” one so accurate in its details that it would be so large that it could be laid on top of the world. It was a fitting image for the song and its themes of simulation theory.


“I’m a clever boy with a clever boy’s toy

Building something that can never be destroyed

But the more I build the less I feel

That I am even real”

— A lyric from “Clever Boy,” by John

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