In Ex Machina
Jérôme Nika has been working with jazzman Steve Lehman for a number of years. Nika is in charge of the creation of the generative electronics and is an artistic collaborator in the Ex Machina project, created with the Orchestre National de Jazz and its conductor Frédéric Maurin. This project makes great use of the different declinations of DYCI2, a "software instrument" resulting from the research Jérôme Nika has been working on for nearly a decade as a researcher in the Musical Representations team. While no two projects resemble the next, he observes with fascination that his work is taking on the dimension to which he has aspired since the beginning.
Jérôme Nika, in the studio at IRCAM, screen capture of the film Images of Works #29 © IRCAM - Centre Pompidou
You have been collaborating with Steve Lehman for several years now: what have you been working on so far?
Steve has indeed come to IRCAM on many occasions, I have also been to work at his studio at CalArts in Los Angeles, and we continue our exchanges even outside of these residency periods. This ongoing collaboration connects two areas of musical research. On the one hand, the exploration of the possibilities offered by the machine to create precise rhythmic articulations between heterogeneous sources - for example, to create drum tracks with a chiseled rhythm that accurately follow the temporality and prosodic contour of rappers' voices. On the other hand, the spectral enrichment of musical lines considered as "structures", from "memories" of complex textures - for example from orchestral pieces of the contemporary repertoire.
I would like to point out that my work with Steve over the past several years has been focused on the generative possibilities of the machine, both in an "offline" context¬—for composition prior to performance—and in a "real-time" context of improvised interaction.
Our collaboration has resulted in a duet "Silverlake Studies" presented for the first time at the Onassis Cultural Center in Athens, and which we plan to present again, as well as a sound installation that I produced at Le Fresnoy in 2019-2020 (and which will be presented in a reduced version for the IRCAM Forum Workshops in March).
We also have a common passion for rap music, and we are planning a collaboration with his group Sélébéyone, which includes two rappers.
What do you think differentiates the approach adopted here by Steve Lehman and Frédéric Maurin with respect to DYCI2?
The distinguishing feature of this project is that it is a wonderful playground for combining the "offline" and interactive versions of DYCI2. In this respect, their approach to the tool is a prolongation of the previous projects I have worked on but it is the first one that combines the "composition-oriented" generative tool I first developed in the context of Lullaby Experience with Pascal Dusapin and the "interaction-oriented" generative tool developed through my long-term collaborations with Steve Lehman and the saxophonist Rémi Fox.
By integrating devices created from the DYCI2 environment into the compositional process and into the soloists' improvisations in real-time, the computer becomes a generator of electronic orchestrations for the composers and an improvisational partner for the musicians.
This allows me to apply the philosophy of my research project, which aims at considering these two aspects as different "time settings" of the same generative processes, based on the same mechanisms—trying to go beyond the traditional offline /real-time distinction (which may have become obsolete now).
It is also the first time that the "improvisation instrument" will interact successively with a small number of soloists (usually it is a duo). In this respect, Steve Lehman and Frédéric Maurin have decided to create paintings rather than itineraries during the soloist-machine interactions: the idea is not (as is the case with the duet improvisations that I perform with Steve, for example) to make the machine's behavior evolve from point A to point B, but to give it a single "fixed" behavior for each duet with a soloist, and thus to create a painting of which the musician will be the only painter.
This project is also distinguished by another difference in the use of the "composition-oriented" generative tool, which is more of an orchestration.
Photo 1: Jérôme Nika & Steve Lehman, screen capture of the film Images of Works #29 © IRCAM - Centre Pompidou
Photo 2: Repetitions of Ex Machina in the studio at Ircam, screen capture of the film Images of Works #29 © IRCAM - Centre Pompidou
What is your role in this production?
The electronic instruments and software that we use are those that I have been developing as a researcher in the Musical Representations team at IRCAM and are the result of research that I have been involved in for nearly ten years.
Beyond this scientific and technological contribution, my artistic contribution consists—along with the two composers and with the help of Dionysios Papanicolaou, computer music designer on this project—of the implementation of these instruments for the creation of generative electronics; in other words, the generation of materials for the orchestration of the electronics in the writing process and the composition of the interactive agents' behaviour activated during the improvisations.
Interview by Jérémie Szpirglas
This initiative uses the research and software from the REACH project by IRCAM's Musical Representations team directed by Gérard Assayag.