Ash Koosha: In Conversation

Iranian-born, London-based musician Ash Koosha explores themes like synesthesia and virtual reality, offering a glimpse of what music could look like using Artificial Intelligence.

Ashkan Kooshanejad, known as Ash Koosha, got into music from an early age. His childhood was filled with a passion for learning about different musical instruments and devotion to the craft of becoming a well-rounded producer. After dropping out of school, he self-taught his way into the Tehran Conservatory of Music.

Being a musician in Iran means having your work heavily monitored by authorities due to the necessary approval of the government for pursuing anything music-related. This forced Koosha into exile in the UK, after his home country viewed his music-making as disruptive.

Ever since, Koosha has been invested in the relationship between technology and electronic music, going on to produce compelling and outstanding experimental music as a result.

Koosha has tried to explore a multidisciplinary approach towards sound. As a younger artist, fascinated by what the future of music could look like, he started a fully AI-generated radio station. “It was supposed to be an autonomous radio that would mix and generate conversations,” he says. “But the science wasn’t there to tackle that at the time.” 

Wanting to pursue the concept of AI interfacing with music, Koosha continued to explore its technology and boundaries. With this in mind, the producer wanted to develop a project that would lead to the automation of musical production “Basically the goal of this would be to build a piece of music with AI. I was doing VR concerts and built myself as an avatar.” Koosha says. “These projects resulted in using AI to make music, and the visualization of it as a result.”

According to Koosha, yhe aim of putting audio into a visual setting is said to help the medium of music reach further than just the auditory senses. This project resulted in him building an AI-generated singer, whose name was also computer generated; YONA

YONA is the first digitally generated singer created by Koosha. He says that these beings still have a certain aspect of human life since their lyrics and performances are generated from available human data and are able to evoke an emotional impact. 

In the last couple of years, we have seen a growing influence of AI in modern culture, from Lil Miquela, who has gained over two million followers, or Sophia The Robot, the world’s first humanoid citizen. YONA now sits alongside other influential CGI characters, Koosha thinks these forms of artist will become the ultimate musical computational intelligence.

“So how have people reacted to a virtual character self-generating their music through AI?” I ask Koosha. “A lot of people liked it in the more underground scene, I don’t think it resonated with the more mainstream because I think we’re still many years away from replacing Taylor Swift with YONA”, Koosha says. “I think that is something that will come in the future but the response, in general, was really really positive.”

This virtual character is the first prototype of Koosha’s company Auxuman (short for auxiliary human) which came together to build the next generation of virtual entertainers. “Auxuman is based on synthetic media and virtual personas to see what they can bring as a tool, software and platform in the future. That’s the principle.”

Koosha feels that this technology will help to create a new model on how we see and value labour in the music industry. “We have to rethink how much labour we spend on instruments, how much labour we spend on recording and what are the new tools that allow everybody to be a part of the conversation.” He says. “We want to build a platform for everyone to have a YONA. That’s where we are headed, towards a world where the meaning of the word musician has to change and we have to accept it and adapt to it”.

In Koosha’s view, the current model of the industry is changing and he hopes that his projects will help to build a fairer system. He talks about providing a solution to an extremely commercialised music industry. Through the virtual characters developed by Auxuman, Koosha aims to alleviate some of the existing socio-economic problems involved with being an artist, such as the creative burnout that constant touring or record contracts can cause. “I’m personally not invested in creating characters. I’m interested in the technology itself and how it can improve and help people,” he says. “These virtual characters can help in many ways such as decreasing the cost and time of touring.”

auxuman · YONA – Lost Dreams

YONA has released one EP and is due to release a second one this upcoming year. This virtual phenomenon has toured the world, leaving thousands astounded with their performances. Koosha explains the three ways in which he is involved in YONA’s sets: “One is where I’m collaborating with YONA live so we take this computer and I’m running the concert in real-time; the second one is where it’s a live broadcast from the virtual session and the last one consists of a pre-recorded session we just send to be screened in the venue,” Koosha says. “This [third] one happens rarely but in the future, I think it will happen more if there are to be any venues left…”

“I think that part of this [change] will be sad and negative in the beginning because the transformation [of how we understand music] is happening but there’s still no solution, that’s when people get scared… It will be similar to the change of ten years ago, I was complaining so much about why we shouldn’t call every DJ a producer.  I spent years and years on learning many instruments; I spent all my life in my room practising and then suddenly anybody who made a mix on NTS was a producer” Koosha says. “I learnt that it wasn’t about me individually, it’s about people, and I just had to deal with it. It’s all just people trying to be a part of the conversation.”

Auxuman longs to be a platform for everybody to give life to their ideas. YONA is just one of the five characters that Auxuman has brought to life, each of them with a different style and personality spanning from contemporary pop to experimental glitch. With a full-length EP coming out soon, YONA offers a snippet of the future of music, a perfect harmony between AI and manual instrumentation.

Alongside creating YONA’s upcoming EP, Koosha is working on Oorbit. Auxuman as a company are trying to specialise in the sensory divisions in our brain to help transform what we perceive as audio into visual experiences. “This project is kind of a development for musicians as a way to be able to put your audio in a virtual environment, letting the audio become your music video,” he says. “The aim of Oorbit is to help the medium of music go beyond audio.” 

Oorbit and Auxuman have started to delve into the future of music, by offering a new and visually appealing format of how technology can change the industry. These might still seem far from the present but in a world with COVID19, technology’s role has proven more important than ever. With some elements seeming absolutely vital for artists’ revenues, the projects of Ash Koosha could soon become the answer to many of the problems faced.


Photography: Auxuman and Isabella Winthrop (YONA’s artwork)/ Ash Koosha’s photograph via Handout

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