2023 might well go down as the year generative artificial intelligence went mainstream. As a result, the notion of what constitutes creativity has never been more discussed. Is art-making solely the preserve of the human mind? Or can it be outsourced to a software program trawling the oceans of extant literary, visual and musical content?

Melbourne-based composer-singer Lior says he’s yet to engage with AI at the musical level – and doubts he will any time soon.

“I’ve done the dabble with ChatGPT that everyone else seem to have done this year, but that’s about as far as I went,” Lior tells Limelight. “I’m amazed by the power of the technology but at the moment, I don’t see myself gravitating towards it for now. I’m more impressed than attracted.”

Lior. Photo supplied

Lior says he’s accepting of other musicians’ embrace of AI in the creative process but remains wary personally. “I’m not into making absolute statements about what we should or shouldn’t do as artists, but I feel we’re in danger of entering a kind of grey area,” Lior says. “When does AI stop being a tool for creation and start to direct the kind of art we make?”

Lior’s latest work explores that dichotomy. Written with Melbourne-based composer Ade Vincent, To Be Human, has its world premiere in Of People & Song, a series of concerts presented by Melbourne Chamber Orchestra.

To Be Human is a seven-piece song cycle, with each song title inspired by the emotions typically experienced by artists in the creation of a work of art – beginning with the searching out of ideas (The Promise), working through inner conflicts (Cages) and frustrations (Broken Arrows) and emerging with the joy of having something new to share with the world (Carry Us Above).

“Before we started writing, Ade and I went away separately and mulled over our own ideas of what seven stages of creativity might be. When we came back, we were amazed to see that the steps we had written down were almost identical. So off we went.”

Later, as the duo composed, they experienced each step in turn, says Lior. “It was like keeping a diary of the creative process itself, everything we were thinking and feeling, the positive and the negative.”

The project is the duo’s third, a partnership that began when Vincent was a Young Composer-in-Residence with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

“Ade was a fan of Compassion [the song cycle Lior wrote with Nigel Westlake in 2014] and so he approached me to work on a collaborative piece based on some poems including Dylan Thomas’s Do not go gentle into that good night. We enjoyed working together so much that we got together on a second MSO-commissioned piece that became Forever Singing Winter into Spring.”

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra. Photo supplied

The pandemic intervened and silenced the partnership for a while, but post-COVID, Melbourne Chamber Orchestra’s Sophie Rowell reactivated it with a new commission to be played in a program featuring seven songs by 19th century Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, the English composer Rebecca Clarke (her Passacaglia) and Edvard Grieg’s five-part Holberg Suite.

“Apart from being divided into seven, our work isn’t really speaking to the de Falla songs,” says Lior. “But certainly, in terms of my own voice, there’s a bit of an influence there, especially in our opening song, The Promise, something of the mystique of the eastern and Arabic tradition in Spanish culture, which is something I absorbed quite naturally growing up.”

In the new year, Lior will be revisiting Compassion with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra during the Adelaide Festival. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, Lior says.

“When Nigel and I started on it, we had no idea it would go on to have the life it’s had. The new resonances it has acquired over the years has been astounding for us – and particularly now with everything that’s going on in the world. I don’t tend to mix politics with my art – the work comes from my own humanism – but I can see why people are being drawn to it again and again.”

Melbourne Chamber Orchestra presents Of People & Song at Horsham Town Hall (17 November); Cardinia Cultural Centre, Pakenham (18 November); Gippsland Performing Arts Centre (24 November) and Melbourne Recital Centre on 23 and 26 November.

Sign up to the free Limelight newsletter