From Tehran’s repressively underground punk-rock scene to the AI-penned lyrics and the computer-generated rhythms of auxuman (auxiliary human) singer-songwriter YONA, this polymath Iranian performer and software humanist has spent his entire career on the frontlines of musical revolutions, both physical and virtual.
The tumultuous road that brought Ash Koosha to be exiled in England from his native Iran has been paved with music and art. As a teenager, obsessions with MTV bootlegs, an early Commodore 64 console and learning about granular synthesis from the Internet took him to the Tehran Conservatory of Music where he studied composition, the physics of sound and also started jamming in heavy rock bands. In 2007, he was jailed for participating in an illegal performance with his band Font. But it was his inclusion in a semi-documentary about Iranian underground music, the Cannes-winning No One Knows About Persian Cats, that precipitated the final rupture with his home country. Koosha, already on the authorities’ radar, decided to decamp to London, where he has been living since 2010. Safely installed in the British capital, he has dedicated himself to exploring his own electronic, fractal, and complex “nano-compositions”, with Guud (2013) catching the attention of NY label Old English Spelling Bee. Also signed to art-dance imprint Ninja Tune, he concocted a virtual reality album for Oculus Rift entitled I AKA I (2016). Of late, he has launched the label Realms and co-founded the start-up Auxuman, which brings together creative technologists and designers to conjure up virtual people using cutting-edge technology. Yona, his first auxiliary human made in collaboration with digital creator Isabella Winthrop, was unveiled in 2018, as the latest chapter in his humanized-machine manifesto—an ambitious, CGI-enhanced AI pop idol whose lyrics, expressive voice and chords are churned out via generative software.
YONA delivers an immersive, 3D holographic show of haunting love songs. When she belts out a chorus about “feeling warm, feeling again,” is she falling for her maker? Or is she merely an extension of Koosha’s own cognition? MUTEK futurists both human and AI are invited to weigh in.