IN CONVERSATION WITH NSDOS
Where the human body & technology meet sound
NSDOS, aka Koo Des, pluridisciplinaire music producer, coder, and dancer, is the embodiment of unconventional approaches to creating sound. Through his unique modus operandi gathered over the years, he tears down every expectation, embracing the unknown and inviting the audience to observe the various possibilities of objects, sounds, and anatomical movements.
NSDOS has been described as the “hacker of techno” for a reason: his advance in music creation is deep, well-calculated, and progressive. He studied dance at the International Dance Academy in Paris and was part of a hip-hop group during his early stages. After that, he delved into forming sounds through his moves, making abstraction and codification the base elements of his craft. By distorting technology’s potentiality to link machines and matter, he collects living data using his motion capture sensors on his moving body interactive devices or creative coding software, creating a whole techno reality. NSDOS has also been involved in fashion, collaborating with brands like Versace, Nike, Ecco Leather, and more. He conducts workshops and masterclasses around the globe and has performed in renowned contemporary museums and digital art events such as Mutek Mexico and Tokyo, BIAN of Montreal, Gwangju Biennale in South Korea, Triennale of Milano, and many more. His craft has landed in Villa Medicis in Rome, the iconic Palais de Tokyo, and at MAM in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, to name a few. On a warm summer day, his calm and poised nature was effortlessly posed in front of Jonathan Rodrigo’s camera. The Spanish-Nigerian photographer captured the artist in his element, where you can see part of his music station in his flat in Paris. Willow Diallo, Paris-based stylist, carefully-curated clothing. We are hopeful to see and hear him perform live in the Netherlands soon.
Back in Paris, on a warm summer day in June, Joiah, our music director/editor, had the pleasure of sitting down with Koodes and getting into an in-depth conversation about his background and approach to creativity.
Can you tell us a bit about your background, how did you get into music and coding?
I’m from the suburbs, Champigny, and my mother and father were really into traveling. My first trip was to Peru when I was young. They both gave me the love of traveling. My father was into technology, computers, and similar stuff, and I remember he bought my first synthesizer when I was five years old, so I could start playing around with music. I remember this kind of software advertising where you buy a magazine, and then they give you a little CD-ROM with a demo of it. Kind of like the prequel of Ableton, my first touch with music software. I remember the beginning of Adobe Photoshop too. I didn’t know the massive impact it would have on me.
My first love, though, was sports. I have done fencing since I was six years old. I was more into sports in general. So yes, some people had an eye on me. If you want to be a good fencer, you must do ten years, and then you can be great at fencing. So my teacher used to say all the time, “you cannot be distracted by too many things”. My father pushed me to focus on fencing since I was not so good at school. By the age of 13, I wanted to become a hacker because it meant I didn’t have to go through academic books, a sort of shortcut. By the time I was 18 years old, I was really a sports guy and was around athletic and army people. It’s funny because I fantasized about enrolling in the special forces at a certain moment, but my father prohibited me. He knew I wanted to learn more things because I was good at dancing, music, and other creative things, so he encouraged me to continue that. So for him, it was more powerful than just being in this hazardous life or the verge on going to leave or not. Eventually, he agreed to support my studies in art school only on the condition that I was going to be entirely focused on that. And so it happened.
I went to two schools, one for dancing, more focused on hip hop, and the other school was contemporary modern jazz theater music. After school, I found a job because the school alternated one week of studying and one week at the company. During this period, I and some other artists formed a collective named Pain O Chokolat: creative, enthusiastic, federating energies around art, music, nightlife, fashion. I was like the dancer of the crew, you know, I was always on stage when they were performing with the music. I grew up with this culture and was dancing on the streets with my first school of dance. I met so many people, so in the end, I was engaged in battles and stuff. The energy of the battles was different from the energy on stage.
I soon realized I had become a multi-disciplinarian. At some point, I was like, yes, you can also make music. Music for my dance is close to what I feel with my body. I wanted to do this with the music, so it took time before I assumed I was into music. Back then, I was doing hip-hop battles as a judge, and then I asked my friend to make the song for my judge demo reel of stuff they didn’t. Everybody was claiming to be just a demo, so everybody was involved with every moment when I met Oko and the other guys from my crew Pain O Chokolat, that’s when I started to Dj at this time and played records. So there was like a, you know, we want to do like a collective of young kids, you know, I danced you do music with another DJ, so why not make a crew we do pretty much every single like yeah, let’s do this. So with this crew, we were the cool kids of Paris playing in clubs, doing block parties at La Fête de la Musique, you know, like ever, and we started to become known at this point; so we ended up at a club organizing our events. Yeah. We represented diversity in Paris.
So I started taking some live coding classes in a big hackerspace in Paris, and then I began to meet the people, my communities, because, in the end, you do the stuff you don’t know; we’re doing the same stuff. It’s a bit naive. I started to make my own sensors and more.
What is your approach to music? What are the means that you used to make?
For me, the movements are the base of what I do with music. So you have to start with movements. At some point, I didn’t want to be the guy sitting at the desk, just like the program. You have to be a movement conscience.
But now, my concept is different. I want to connect these three OTT about nature, movement, and tools. For me, it’s like the Trinity.
Moreover, I want people who listen or experience what I do and also go for it. So I think it can be a bit of a challenge, but we are in this era where it’s easy to access things. And I believe that in the beginning, it was interesting for the people to say we have to live like free access contained people. Still, now it’s too much, and it has become challenging to appreciate the work of somebody who appreciates the information and digest the knowledge that there is still a bit. It’s like if you have the food, you eat, you eat, you eat, and then you forget the details of tastes. Yeah. I think it’s also nice to give the user a bit of a challenge. So now my vision of how I will deliver my work is you have to be with movement. First, you come to space, then you move.
Yeah, because what you do is you say you put sensors, and they run through the software and generate sound. How does it work? What’s the science behind it?
They’re in the philosophy of augmented dance. A lot of it is in connection to the idea of the theremin. It’s just like a short pass of what it means to be a dancer; you must be dynamic. And with the people I work with, we have this kind of philosophy: movement is something, but dynamics is more meaningful than what it means to move your body already inside. In all, these micro-movements can be tricky. And this is more interesting, but was this your state of movement? Are you just stuck somewhere? Or are you oscillating? What makes you check? What if then we can record this? And see the pattern of your movements.
I know the people that built the software I use. I also have a small team of programmer tech people I work with, and we exchange advice. I advise about what can be the sensor, and we reprogram this, so I’m going to build my stuff because, at some point, it’s about making music, but I think it’s also about telling stories.
I used to do live coding work with Orca. The programmer, its ideology, and philosophy just gave me a lot. I’m not against all kinds of software, but at the moment we have to buy it, it is a bit of a problem for me. What is interesting to me is that you also combine somebody’s aligned vision with their own because then it only makes sense to collaborate more than break even using what people do these days.
So we can say that your approach delves into a more profound and articulated way of receiving data from this software company and eventually making music with them. Because initially, when you have a first impact on the software, you don’t know what’s going on. Right? What does it mean when people like you pave the way to understanding new possibilities, etc.?
Yes indeed. In the beginning, I was beta testing a few software, and I sometimes felt there was mutual support thanks to the collaboration with these companies. I was learning, and they were teaching me along the way. I view it like a pilot of Formula One. You get a special car, and you go far because they let you go farther.
Research makes you go into ideas; therefore, it’s neither industrial nor for the masses. It means you take your time to do stuff, so you put more engagement and less rush.
I have never seen anyone that does what you do. It seems you have your absolute unicity as an artist. I was blown away by seeing some of your videos jamming with the sensors! It stands out, and it is very unconventional.
What I do is not commercial. But I think I can be the access point for those who do the same thing as me. There are constellations of things that have more powers to show stuff. This reality I’m in is quieter than mainstream because we don’t have the same force to show the world. And also, what I find super interesting is the relationship between being successful and deep research. Research makes you go into ideas; therefore, it’s neither industrial nor for the masses. It means you take your time to do stuff, so you put more engagement and less rush. You work with your own time in and out of music. This is nice because you see the world differently instead of needing to be fast and powerful. Fast and explosive.
This is so impressive. Because I could buy software to make music and start tweaking it but what you describe goes beyond that. You prioritize the satisfaction of learning which is so rare nowadays.
Exactly. It’s an organic approach. I mean, it’s cool to have many types of perspectives about music. But this may enrich the niche. So for me, everything is all good in the end, but for how I want to experience my life, I want to die with lots of information and a lot of long experiences. I want to touch different types of material every year.
And it brings me to this question, what is your perspective on the relationship between humans and technology?
Similar to what I’ve answered in the previous questions, if you want to know how a computer works, it takes time, but this is super interesting because, in general, it can be part of what can be the direction of the world with this issue. We want to take these as tools to make your life easier. People try to decide for you, you know, what’s the best and what’s not. We have all this data tracking service because you don’t want to ask questions. You want to explore what you do and then decide for yourself. So I think my relationship with these is that I can create my stuff if I’m engaged. I don’t want to buy something from somebody who doesn’t know exactly what I want, so I need to partake in the learning process of understanding that.
What is your usual approach when you’re in the studio?
I first use my coding software and start playing with it. Hence, I work with texture with my modular. Still, I don’t play my modular to create some sound. I’d connect my sensors to my software, and they will feel how my movement influences it. Then it is going to give me an idea. At that moment, I’m going to put some beats on it. Still, this process can be alternated. It all depends on the project. For example, in a project I did in Alaska, I used a video tracker to generate sound instead of movement.
How was your experience in Alaska? Tell us more about what you were doing there.
This happened almost five years ago. I was living there at the time and I made two albums there. So the idea was really to see how nature can be connected with musical instruments and technology. So most of the time, I’ll have this kind of concept when I start something new.
Wicked. Are the visuals synchronized with the movements as well?
Yes. Sometimes I can be a freak about it, and what I do doesn’t have to be efficient, but about my history. I want to build, and I’m not trying to take any credit. I do what feels artisanal and organic. When I make music, for instance, I use visuals not because I want to make people amazed but because visuals inspire me to create something. I use them more as tools to be free to make my music because I improvise all the time. So I don’t have fixed stuff.
So it’s not that you have presets or start with those.
Not at all. I always start from scratch. It’s just the power of the moment you’re going to make something. I strongly believe in this, you know. If I eat something before or talk with friends, all these can affect the live set, and I accept this. I get the failure and take the chaos; sometimes, what I make turns out terrible. It’s part of what I do and why I’m on stage. I’m on stage not to be perfect but to be alive. So for me, all these visual steps are here to stimulate me. And then when I’m stimulated, I transmit it to the audience.
How has your style changed since you started? How has it progressed over time?
What became interesting now is that I started working with scientific people a lot. Ultimately, my goal is to impact how we can change people’s perceptions and create tools to broaden possibilities. From my point of view, everything is changing. Hence, my work is not about making music. I think what people understand from me are the ideas on how I received input from nature, the cosmos, and methods that are not entirely mathematical. More about songs with mobile visual sensations, feeling movements and embracing the fictional. My approach was more concrete in the past, but now it’s real. In the beginning, I tried to hack using a joystick, but I didn’t know how to program or fix it. That’s when I started to attend workshops, so in my mind, you understand precisely why what’s going on in your home practice of software. I became more specialist, which doesn’t mean I became more with a squared mentality, but more with a vision that maintains hope and dreams. I’m confident in what I do. Success or not, in the end, I do my thing. And I know I can change and improve my surroundings.
There are possibilities that people don’t even know exist, and you’re trying to tackle those unknown possibilities and deliver them to the audience who are also into programming computers and sound.
My main interest is to challenge the audience in how they listen to music and see performances with my tools.
Growing up, who were your prominent figures you looked up to in music?
I would say two guys: Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. Both played with instruments. Those guys are excellent researchers because if you see what they did, there was no input blocked off. They represent curiosity, in my opinion. Then I would say Jean-Michel Jarre, the french pioneer of electronic music, but more on how to make a show with essential music. He was doing stuff with lasers in front of pyramids. He also came from an interesting era of electronic music research.
Music director/editor & production: Joiah Luminosa
Photographer: Jonathan Rodrigo
Fashion Editor: Gabriella Norberg
BTS: Gabin Ducourant
Special thanks to 7/11rent Paris