From the 13th to the 17th of June, Enghien-les-Bains was home to a celebration of art and technology, as the UNESCO Creative Cities Network helped organize the 10th edition of the Bains numériques, a biennale which is fast becoming one of the most important global forums for sharing and learning more about creative digital innovation. This year’s edition, Human Future, placed specific emphasis on the complex but exciting impact that humans will have in shaping the cities of the future and how the cities will, in turn, shape humanity.
Human Future was notable for a wide array of installations, digital presentations, concerts and talks by artists from around the world, all expanding on the main theme. The standout performance was, however, one that captured it perfectly. A singer powered by artificial intelligence, named IA (and present as a hologram), performed with live, human musicians and singers in real time. In a standout moment, she danced to instrumental music composed by Federico Ferrandina and Sadaharu Yagi, a Grammy winner known for his work with some of the world’s biggest artists (who also served as producer). The tracks perfectly balanced the artificial nature of IA by being unmistakably human. The result was not distancing. It was profoundly moving.
There is a long history of contemporary musicians who have experimented with technology — David Byrne, Bjork and Radiohead spring to mind — and the results are always most satisfying when one is reminded that behind the music, there is a human being with a message. Yagi and Ferrandina worked hard to shape compositions which perfectly capture what Yagi defines as “a very modern struggle between man and machine.” In my post-show interview with Yagi he made the point that while struggle is often seen as negative, this is not so — “struggle or conflict is the essence of art. Technology can be challenging for an artist but the challenge can be a very fertile source of inspiration.” Ferrandina, whose new record, Porn0rigami : object one, combines orchestral and digital to create a cinematic listening experience, was an ideal candidate to undertake such a journey with.
The tracks were recorded in Los Angeles, Rome and Matera (Italy) by highly skilled musicians whose human accompaniment lent gravitas to IA’s performance. They provided the softer, more reactive element that is sometimes missing in a wash of electronic music.
It was a stunning illustration of how technology, sometimes maligned by artists, can be masterfully employed to communicate something true about the human condition. As Yagi notes, “to view technology as something alien and inhuman is fundamentally wrong. We are, after all, the ones who created it. All art is born out of a desire to communicate and that instinct is an unmistakably human trait.”