Portrait XO (she/they) is an independent researcher and artist who creates musical and visual works with traditional and non-traditional methods. She researches computational creativity, human-machine collaboration, and explores new formats & applications for forward-thinking art and sound. In collaboration with Dadabots, they won ‘Best Experiment’ award at the VUT Indie Awards 2021, and the Eurovision AI Song Contest Jury Vote for ‘most creative use of AI’ in 2020. Her development into AI audiovisual art evolved through several artist residencies from NEW NOW FESTIVAL and BBA Gallery in 2021, and Factory Berlin x Sonar+D in 2020.

She recently launched SOUND OBSESSED – a sonic innovation archive celebrating the journey and milestones of new innovation in sound with an incredible group of artist and researchers. Her debut research-based AI audiovisual album ‘WIRE’ was released on December 9th 2022 as a first of its kind NFT-to-Vinyl release.

Your work as an artist involves creating musical and visual works using both traditional and non-traditional methods. How would you describe the intersection between these different mediums in your artistic practice?

I’ve never felt satisfied just sticking to one medium to feel like I’m expressing myself fully. Music is the most intense medium because it’s the one I turn to express feelings I can’t translate through words or imagery. It’s also the space of creating that consumes me completely that’s different to other mediums. It’s like a void that sucks me in when I get the call and I lose concept of space, time, and myself in sound. Visuals have always been as important to me as making music because storytelling is a big part of the way I like to make art and music. Since I’ve been obsessed with the intersection of art, science, and strange new tech, my curiosities keep me inspired as I keep learning fascinating new fabrics of invisible things which is how I’d describe what happens when I connect and mix fields of interests in ways I haven’t explored yet.

Becoming more scientific as an artist has been the most inspiring way for me to continuously fall in love with uncertainty in a way I didn’t expect: the uncertain unlimited possibilities I have yet to discover, and the unexpected surprising things that happen from constant experimentation. I’m obsessed about scientific research because it helps me continue expanding my perspectives that always push me into new exciting directions. It always leads to some kind of creative growth and that’s the only way I truly feel alive.

Your AI audiovisual album ‘WIRE’ was released as an NFT and in traditional formats like vinyl. How do you view the role of NFTs in the art world, and what do you think it means for the future of copyright and ownership in the digital age?

It’s been fun to learn about web 3.0 and feel everything out by trying new ways fo sharing my art and music with supporters. Every aspect of making and releasing ‘WIRE’ has been an ongoing evolving research project. It’s been interesting to witness how the paradigm shifted of how we value digital art and music. Like being able to send directly into people’s wallets new work is an interesting way of building a more intimate connection to my supporters. Because this album has so many layers of different types of work, I wanted to take everyone on a journey that allowed me to share everything I made in a way that feels special and intimate, and take them through different experiences and content. It’s been a dream to release on vinyl so I’m grateful twelve x twelve offered to partner with me and support the distribution of the vinyls. I see NFT’s as additional things we can offer and give to people who are interested in going into a new space that incentivizes them differently for their support. I like the idea of surprising supporters randomly with new art and music, and offering alternative versions of works as NFT’s. Maybe mass culture won’t completely shift over to NFT’s, but so far it’s been nice to experience a different type of support and I hope people who have been supporting me appreciate the intricate work I put into everything I make as digital collectibles. Copyright is interesting to talk about within the context of putting things on chain because everything we put in web 3.0 in nature is fully transparent. So it’s even more accurate and we can trust what we see there because everything is traceable. We’re currently witnessing countries starting to put rules and regulations around copyrighting AI generated works.

While we’re still in the grey zone, I encourage all creatives to play with these technologies enough to gain better understanding of the current and potential future impact AI has on our roles and data. I think every artist should have agency over their data and have the ability to decide what to do with their data for creative use such as creating an AI model of their work to licensing their own AI models.

You have participated in artist residencies and collaborated with various organizations. How have these experiences contributed to the development of your AI audiovisual art, and what insights have you gained from collaborating with other artists and researchers?

All the artist residencies I’ve had the privilege of doing have been so expansive because each residency allowed me try new AI models and workflows. This has been really new to me, to be part of residencies that allowed me to have complete freedom to experiment and create without a defined outcome. Every residency I did had a general goal of what I wanted to create and the final output shaped itself through my experiments. I’m grateful for the organizations and residencies that have trusted me to contribute and create without knowing what the end result was going to be. It’s been the most fulfilling and creatively inspiring way to work because new ideas keep popping up and I love being challenged with a defined space and time to deliver something in a way I haven’t created before. It’s a thrill and has become my favourite way to work.

Collaborating with data scientists such as CJ Carr and Zack Zukowski from Dadabots and Thomas Haferlach who started Pollinations.AI has been so amazing. They helped me understand the importance of an artist’s role within the context of using AI in creative ways. Just witnessing how open source culture works has been so inspiring. 

Other AI artists, creative technologists, musicians, visual artists, and a fashion designer I’ve collaborated with so far have each been so incredible. We’ve inspired each other to create and think in new ways that’s pushed all of our creative boundaries. This shared growth has been everything to me.

Could you tell us more about the vision and purpose behind the creation of SOUND OBSESSED? What inspired you to establish this platform and community of hybrid artists?

It grew organically from going to music tech festivals with music hackathons where I got to meet really interesting artists and scientists like CJ Carr and Harry Yeff (Reeps100). CJ has been instrumental in bridging the gap between artists and scientists through music. He helped validate the importance of the feedback loop that is required for creative growth – between artists, scientists, researchers, and creative technologists. We need to constantly play, experiment, and explore to stay curious and creative. There’s this unique thing that happens when musicians create with new technologies that ends up giving us emotional experiences that are vital for us to truly understand how we feel about new innovations as they happen. The experiences that are created in whatever form prove to be way more emotive, moving, immersive, and meaningful when sound is carefully integrated whether they are performances, installations, apps, etc. The way people think and approach technology through this sonic lens I feel is the emotional glue between art and technology. It’s also the unique combinations of people from different backgrounds coming together to invent new ways of creating that has and continues to keep me inspired.

There were also shared challenges I started seeing as patterns from everyone who work in sonic innovation: to be seen, heard, and validated for the milestones and hurdles that were overcome to break new boundaries through innovative art and music. It took awhile to figure out what to make of this community of such interesting people and the intricate ways they all work (including myself). The other thing I was inspired by that I noticed as common shared interests is that everyone was looking to evolve in ways that considered the impact of these new ways of working on individuals, collectives, society, environment, and economy. The conversations are always so rich with diverse perspectives that help us move forward in meaningful ways. It made sense for it to become what it is now: SOUND OBSESSED: sonic innovation archive, on chain. On the topic of copyright, data authorship, agency, and ownership, I wish for the transparent nature of web 3.0 to serve to this community of innovators as a place where new inventions can have a home to be validated and archived.

Putting this on chain like this also offers the community to consider how they’d like to share the details of their work and journey, and maybe even get early adopters to fund early research to support expanding their projects. I’d love to continue developing ways for innovators and validators to both be seen as equally important and valuable. We need innovators who are at the forefront of emerging technologies to give us first impressions of what’s possible. Then we need validators to carry on from first impressions that are inspired to create in new ways. By making this visible, innovators and validators can equally support each other’s growth and credibility.

What are the qualities or characteristics that you look for in artists who join the community?

Anyone who’s as sound obsessed as everyone who’s currently part of the community. It all started with my own obsession with how far can I go with sound because it’s my emotional language and how I can express myself fully. This community is for people who wish to learn about new formats and ways of working, come for new inspiration, and participate in meaningful conversations. Whether you’re a student, independent researcher/artist with innovative new works you want to share, everyone is welcome. I ask for everyone who join the community to be respectful of each other and encourage constructive feedback and conversations.

What are the main goals and objectives of SOUND OBSESSED?

Continue to evolve, archive, and mark historical inventions as they happen. Curate group exhibitions, talks, workshops, and festival/events for performance lineups. Serve as a place where hybrid arts can thrive and people can meet other likeminded people to collaborate with. It would be amazing for it to be a fully sustainable DAO with a treasury that supports new projects but I don’t have bandwidth myself to make that happen on my own.

Can you share any success stories or notable collaborations that have emerged from the SOUND OBSESSED community? 

Dadabots has been pioneering the realm of AI audio for years. They’ve collaborated not only with me, but with Harry Yeff (Reeps100), Silverstein, Adam Neely, Keyon Christ, with a handful of other artists from all different genres. CJ Carr opened me to open source culture which I learned through him. This was the most inspiring happening for me to witness the way this global community of creative coders worked in such a collaborative and supportive way. I constantly question why are we not working like this in all fields? Dadabots are continuously sharing new research and have written and published papers of their innovation. Because they are musicians and data scientists, this unique combination is what makes everything they do with AI so inspiring and fascinating for musicians. They think like a musician and create AI models and workflows they know will be interesting for us.

As the founder of SOUND OBSESSED, is there a specific impact or change that you hope to make through the platform?

Help prove the importance and value of supporting early innovation. We’re in an interesting time as governments are figuring out rules and regulations of how AI is used. It’s important that the decision makers of policy and change have broad and diverse experiences as much as they do of the information they read about what’s happening. My hope is that within the current context of creative AI, SOUND OBSESSED works can give people diverse experiences to understand that we’ve moved far past the old fear-based narratives arond AI. It’s important to have critical conversations about the things that scare us, and even more important to have conversations through experience. Experiences always transcend whatever we hold in our heads as thoughts about anything that’s abstract until we experience them.