Name: Agoria aka Sébastien Devaud
Current release: Agoria's latest single "What if the dead dream", a collaboration with microbiologist Nicolas Desprat and Columbian artist Ela Minus [Read our Ela Minus interview] adds a fascinating twist to the concept of artistic creation. Instead of offering one finished version, the piece offers listeners the possibility of creating an infinite amount of remixes at the push of a button. These remixes are not subtly different, either. In fact, as Agoria emphasises, "each layer, each second, each instrument, each arrangement will be played differently each time." "What if the dead dream" is the result of a collaboration with the developers of Bronze, a software coded specifically with the intention of creating these endless variations. The results are feel entirely organic and natural, but the infinite remix has revolutionary potential: What happens to our shared perception of music if none of us is hearing the same thing?
If you enjoyed this interview with Agoria, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, twitter and Soundcloud. For the HempFM radio station that Sébastien talks about in this conversation, go here.
Before talking about the AI aspect of "What if the dead dream", let's deal with the title for a moment. The piece is said to question the living, the unknown, the unfathomable. I am very curious about your thoughts on that. We recently interviewed sound artist Manja Ristic [Read our Manja Ristic interview] who said: "I am pretty certain that sound exists in death, since we do know that we are deeply connected to the environment through sympathetic resonance." Are your thoughts similar to this?
My view is that there is a life after death. The very last second of your life is eternal. It's endless.
It's not that there is another life, but in a way you never die. I can't imagine how many dreams you have. So I sent the track to this fabulous singer Ela Minus from Columbia. When she discovered the name of the track, she was instantly very attracted to it, because she had a related experience once. She told me that she went to a party and passed out. She was in a coma for a few days and woke up at the hospital. I spoke to her in a podcast and of course my first question was: Did you dream? Or did you have any memory of what happened during this coma period? And she said she didn't. But because of this experience we felt deeply connected from the first minute we talked.
When it comes to the question of sounds in death, think of it this way: Imagine you have a sound going out into the cosmos and it's spreading in the universe, then that sound is going to repeat infinitely. So there is a kind of an infinite echo of the sound as it goes through the universe. So I think you're right, sounds might exist in this state, the feeling of a sound or the impression of being touched by sound.
Some of your work with hemp plants, but also the infinite remix, deal with evolutionary processes. Can we see evolution as a form of creativity at work?
I was very shocked when I read a quote by Elon Musk. He was saying that an [advanced] AI in 10 years speaking to a human would be like an adult speaking to a three year old. To me, this showed such a lack of respect and knowledge about what the natural is. It's actually the opposite. Nature encompasses so much more than just humans. Living systems are so much more powerful than any artificial intelligence. I think it's a shame to try and portray them as enemies. They are deeply connected.
Your new single is a collaboration with Bronze and creates an infinite number of unique versions of the song. What is the pleasure of hearing the same piece differently each time?
It's very addictive, if I'm honest. When I started this project with Bronze, it was very important for me to get as much chaos in a way. Because with machine learning and deep learning, you have a lot of iterations to define the boundaries for the AI or the machine learning process. So for me, it was very important that the AI would not try to imitate what I could do, but would try to be herself. This way, you rediscover the song and you discover new arrangements, you rediscover the voice, you rediscover the way you could have done it and ideas you didn't have when I was going through the process myself.
Don't you, as the creator, long for that sensation of "finishing" something? Isn't there a satisfaction in the process ending at some point?
I don't think your track is ever finished. I think as creators, we get the energy of a song that we love, and we feel it's good. And it's fine to say that's a particular version is the one I want to present as an artist. But I don't think there is any finished or best version. What we are actually doing is trying to pretend that we know more than others, and that we get the answer. Of course there are bad and good answers. But the lines between the finished version or the improved version are very wide. Every time I press the play button on the infinite remix, I'm very excited to see what's going to happen and what the player is going to suggest to me. And I love to question my own satisfaction and my own artistic process.
It's a new way of listening, it's also a new way of approaching what you want to present as an artist. And I don't see this generative process as a lack of work or as a lack of intuition or inspiration. I feel it's the opposite. Of course, I worked a lot on my own, original version. And I want to defend this version. But it's good to get a different perspective, too. It goes deeper than a remix in a way, because a remix is something finished again. Whereas this is never finished. Ultimately, what I would like is I want this process to include all or most of the tracks on an album. Are we going to get an infinite album in a way?
I totally understand if people prefer to listen to the same version over and over again, because they have become attached to it. But consider this: It's very difficult to speak about a track with friends about a version they've never heard. This makes such a remix very intimate and that's something I love about it.
The current press release stresses the importance of the connection between music and science for you. Can you elaborate on that a bit?
I have always loved to experiment. I try to never repeat myself much and to find new boundaries and new ideas. And I think this will to experiment is connected to my desire for knowledge, to my questions and I think science is the is the first door to answering a few of them. I think it was natural that I tried to cross disciplines.
Even in literature there are a lot of poems and writers that have been heavily influenced by science. A poem that has for me been a big source of inspiration is by Stéphane Mallarmé. It's a poem from the end of 19th century. And the name is" Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard". It's a poem that has only just been decrypted in the last years by French philosophers. Mallarmé is very interesting, because he was in a big fight with the composers of that period. At that time the poets were like gods in a way. They were thinking that everything was going through them and music and composition was only an artform of little value.
Art and science have always been connected. I think science helps me materialize my intuition. And I think is best for an artist to collaborate with scientists because it helps you to go deeper.
The work of Nicolas Desprat appears to have influenced your current compositions. What did Nicolas concretely contribute? What does his idea of "art interacting with living matter" mean in practise?
Nicolas contributed a lot to the project. I had this request of making a show in the hemp fields, but I didn't want to just do a simple show because the project by itself was quite amazing. And I thought it would be interesting to visualize it and to get an idea of what the language of this hemp in this hemp field could be. So we started to elaborate on it with a friend of mine: Nicolas Becker, who's a fabulous sound designer and just received an Oscar for his contribution to the movie "Sound of Metal". Together, we started to build a team.
Meeting Nicolas Desprat was fantastic. He is a very open man, open to all my suggestions open to all my desires and my sometime crazy ideas. And he has been amazing in finding solutions to make them come to life.
I felt as though here we have an energy crossing. It was almost cosmic. Because on the one side, he was coming with a lot of protocols. And on the other side, I was there with my intuition and my inspirations. So we had to deal with the differences between the two. Many times, we would start with the protocols and finish with the flow.
I love this because as a searcher, you need to prove everything. What we did, I wouldn't say is a scientific publication. But we are very close to that, because we discovered so many micro organisms, we discovered so many families. All of Nicholas's colleagues were very impressed by what we discovered, and they wanted to be in touch and to know more about the project.
What did the collaboration between you and Bronze look like? How involved were you with the work of the coders behind the project? How do you deliver the files to Bronze?
I'm not coding. My process was really to fine-tune the results as much as possible. And fine tuning means trying to include as much of my vision as I can, to go as deep as we can go with this, and make it as relevant as possible.
Of course, we have infinite possibilities. I tried many things, for example, with the voice of Ella. And in the end, it was very important to keep the voice as it was, and not to pitch it or not to treat it. Right now, I'm actually trying to do something different. There are just two computers in the world that are able to calculate this. And we are trying to recreate Ella's voice through a computer. I actually don't think she knows this, I actually forgot to tell her that. And the first example I heard was just mind blowing. I said before that we shouldn't ask an AI to imitate the human voice but instead to recreate the voice to make something totally AI. This new treatment for the voice afforded to us do just that in the best possible way. Hopefully we can we can share it in the near future.
Was there a feedback loop in terms of the AI generating music which inspired you to create something new?
I think the magic of music lies in whether you've been touched by it or not. And I think we should keep this magical also for the player. When you listen to it, I want you to have naïve eyes and naïve ears. So I'm sorry, but I will pass on this question. I think it's good to keep it mysterious.
For the future, what are your ideas and plans for using AI for your work from generic advice until the final set of the process?
So we just actually, this week, shared another project that I think is very interesting. We created this field that is showing the birth and the growth of microorganisms of hemp. We put probes 10 and 20 cent centimeter under the ground to collect all the data about the seeding. And we also coupled it to a meteo station, where we can get measurements of the wind, the direction of the wind, the rain, the humidity, many, many different parameters. And I was very impressed by the organic results we had. It was very musical. So we decided to create a radio based around the sound of this of this field. It is called Hemp FM and you can listen to it 24/7, every week, nonstop, anytime.
Of course, we added some sounds ourselves, because few sounds are coming directly from the field. And together with Nicolas Becker we also added some media, to make it as musical as possible. But it's all generated by the vibrations of the ground, the ecosystem, the living ecosystem, and the meteo of this location. Intriguingly, there is something about this which is really good for meditation and relaxation, and to find your focus. You can hear there is something organic in this, but it's not under human control. It is not an abyss, it's more like a deep, generative algorithm where the three enemies are working together: Nature, humanity and technology. I think it's very interesting.