Ash Koosha has been known for his mind-bending electronic music for a few years now, releasing on labels like Ninja Tune, Olde English Spelling Bee, and his own imprint, Realms. Born Ashkan Kooshanejad in Tehran, Iran, the London-based artist makes music that is futuristic, inventive, and very strange. However, it’s Koosha’s latest project, Auxuman, that proves how truly dedicated he is to pushing electronic music – hell, music in general – somewhere new. Below, Koosha gives us the direct scoop on YONA, A.I. artistry, virtual music venues, and more.
SBC: For those that don’t know, could you briefly explain Auxuman, YONA, and AI-based music?
Ash Koosha: Auxuman (short for Auxiliary Human) is a project that is looking into the future of performance in music and media in general.
YONA is the first creation, a virtual entertainer who is benefiting from a variety of engines which create her overall digital life. YONA writes, sings and performs for audiences both online and at live venues. YONA’s lyrics and music are generated by multiple systems used by the human curator/producer, but stems from the internet. From poetry to articles about human life, our language drives the poetry behind YONA’s music.
Where does your role begin and end? If you’re removed from the music making process, is this music still by Ash Koosha in any way? Could YONA be considered a self-playing instrument of sorts, or do you insist on her, and the other Auxuman members, being true artists?
My role is more of a curator who puts pieces together. The generating process will always remain the same (or might alter based on variation of data sets in the future). We are hoping that YONA and other Auxumans will run on their personal server clusters in real-time, further diminishing the role of curation.
The reason we present them as artists is strictly because of the emotional and expressive outcome they bring to the audiences and those expressions stem from human data available online, so there is a certain level of human “life.” The level of complexity behind a simple phrase is mildly comparable to a human’s brain writing a melody, so it is in a way correct to say YONA and other Auxumans are not instruments but a new breed of performers/entertainers that are synthetic, yet alive.
A recent Dazed Digital article described you as alongside YONA during her multimedia performance. How do you interact with YONA during a live show?
The live performance is mainly capturing the matching process between YONA’s voice performed using live software and myself mixing and re-producing soundscapes and melodies along with her.
Your followers are divided between technology buffs and futurists and more casual electronic music fans. How is performing for something like the recent Barbican AI exhibition different than, say, Boiler Room? What musicians or futurists do you consider to be your closest peers?
A lot of people think this might be an early stage of a future medium that we fully accept and enjoy. Like photography was to painting, I believe non-human/virtual beings who express and perform will become a more active part of our lives. Think of a Pokemon who actually lives on a server somewhere and multiplies its story narrative to the audience’s personal needs.
I think our closest peers are mainly people who are interested in such thesis and believe the current models of performance and image driven media will become obsolete. We need to talk more about how the performance labour imposed on a human artist is an old model, damaging the best years of an artist’s life, spent on Instagram trying to be likeable.
I think Boiler Room could also become a Fortnite-style virtual venue. Then everyone can jump in and be a part of the artist’s performance instead of only a few who knew someone who invited them to the party!
Not only do these Auxuman tracks really bump, they have very convincing emotions, and varying personalities. There’s an especially dramatic shift when HEXE’s first track arrives. Can you say a little about the creation of each individual member, including their visual appearance?
Each artist (YONA, MONY, ZOYA, GEMINI, and HEXE) has a personality case file, holding psychological information about their habits, preferences and attitude. We focus on emotion because we believe it is the only core element that has existed within music, storytelling, film, and other artistic work throughout history.
These personality case files inform the visualisation, their faces and appearances. Their performance is driven by the same datasets/rules used for lyrics/musical styles.
What do you envision, or hope for, with the future of Auxuman?
I want to see technologies and mediums merge to create a new kind of experience, between gaming, music, film/storytelling, that is charged with emotions, humanity and life, performed by non-human entities.
I hope we can see the day when these five Auxumans and others all over our society are inspiring and creating stories that people will remember and pass on to the next generations.
Also would love to see the first Auxuman TV series come to life!
Favorite track: YONA – “Reflecting”