Agoria’s quest to show the hidden beauty around us

Nina Knaack
December 30, 2022
“I have missed that feeling ever since, until I stumbled upon web3” — Agoria

A‍n electronic music producer who has released five albums with Universal Music and Virgin, Agoria followed the freedom he felt in techno and ended up in web3. His pursuit of new tech in AI and a niche in biological generative art makes him a unique lesson on how to succeed as an artist. He speaks with Nina Knaack about his fascination for the unknown and his advice for aspiring creators.

With an opera singer and an architect for parents, Sébastien Devaud has always been surrounded by artistic practices. “My whole life I have been prepared to take a path of creativity and diversity,” explains the musician better known as Agoria. Recalling a time when his father once built a small “circle house”, where nothing inside was a straight line, he explains how his parents taught him to cross defined borders. “They showed me that the biggest limitation is often your imagination.”

That pursuit of creativity has seen Agoria through a stellar musical career, releasing five albums, some with Universal Music and Virgin Records. It all started when he discovered electronic music aged 17 — and participating in the rave parties that often come with it. “I was addicted to buying and playing records,” he laughs.

Together with his friends he organised gatherings and named them ‘agora’, meaning ‘meeting place’ in ancient Greek. The name Agoria was born. “Those were very exciting times. The parties entailed nothing more than a bunch of people wanting to have a good time, together,” he reminisces. “Sometimes you did not know anybody, but that did not matter. You all felt you belonged.”

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Agoria began his career as a techno DJ and music producer. Following the sense of freedom and belonging that he felt in the electronic music scene, he found himself in web3.

Agoria recalls a quote from Hakim Bey's anarchist prose Temporary Autonomous Zone. “That was the last space of freedom,” it reads. This is how Agoria looks back at the rave parties of the nineties. “In those moments, there was no talk of politics, there were no phones, and there was not this idea of 'just one rockstar',” he explains. “You were not dancing in front of the DJ and praising him specifically: everybody was equal. You were all just hanging out together and this ambience was incredible. I have missed that feeling ever since, until I stumbled upon web3.”

He argues that web3 is the new arena of cultural individuality and belonging, following on from the techno rave parties that closed out the last millenia. “I think web3 is now the last space of freedom,” he emphasises. “The possibilities are endless and the sense of community is exactly what I think is so important. It is also a challenging territory, but that is what you get if there is total freedom.”

And having cut his teeth in techno, Agoria has been through the full lifecycle of niche community to mainstream phenomena. “Back then techno was new, upcoming, and the majority of people categorised it as a phase that would not last. You see the same happening with web3 now.”

“I have missed that feeling ever since, until I stumbled upon web3.”

— Agoria

HempFM marked Sébastien’s first project on the blockchain and an early output of Agoria's interest in biological generative art. Created in collaboration with scientist Nicolas Desprat, it broadcasts the real time growth of hemp cells in a hemp field that can be seen as a living creature. Generated by data extracted at Chateau du Marais, an 18th century castle south west of Paris, HempFM examines the plant ecosystem at a microscopic level.

“We found things nobody had ever seen before and made a visual language plus soundscape of the hemp.” It was a “magical” experience, he recalls; too magical to be forgotten. “This felt too special to just show in a temporary exhibition and that is why we chose to save the living material on the blockchain forever.”

HempFM broadcast hemp plants at a microscopic level. “We found things nobody had ever seen before.”

That special something can be even more interesting when multiple disciplines are combined, Agoria suggests. He explains that one of the beautiful things of web3 artistry is that the divides between different mediums fall away. “Everybody is an artist, instead of only a musician or photographer, for example.” Actors like Laurence Fuller, who made his name in Hollywood, have succeeded in web3 as poets; musicians like Inna Modja, who recorded top 10 hits with Warner Music, are known in web3 more for their photography.

Agoria's works explore sounds and visuals at the same time, using nature and science to seek and show hidden beauty. “For me an artist is creating something for others to see and experience. An artist shares the riveting beauty of the world around us and that can be done in any medium.” He adds, “The most important thing for me is that you need to know what you want to say and hence what you want to share. If it is not saying anything, then I am not interested in it.”

How to raise your voice in an age full of endless content though? “In our current society it is definitely easy to be disenchanted by the digital world,” Agoria ponders, continuing, “most of what we see around us is human ego screaming for attention, trying to show how cool, rich, or successful one is. Web3 is changing that perspective. It is enabling us to come together and create, to share and to support. This is how the digital age should be, instead of creating big gaps between people.”

Agoria took more than a year to craft his next series, {Compend-AI}. A collection of just eight pieces, he spent the time capturing as much of his own artistic styles, outputs, and human gestures to create a database that he could feed to an AI programme in order to create new art fully in his own style.

“We revealed an invisible culture. We tricked the algorithm to reveal new data materials: in the intricacies between each remnant, an augmented intelligence cruised among the pigments and exposed what the human eye could not see before. {Compend-AI} presents those unseen dimensions that are so enchanting.”

AI art is not without controversy, though Agoria's perspective is a positive one. “AI enables us so much. I understand the controversy but I believe the results are still very much dependent on the input. The same with music, with art you can easily see if it is made with the AI tool only,” he explains. “Creativity of the arts will always have the upper hand, to show new, exciting, and specific works. If you bring your own database to an AI tool, you are the only one who can make something special from it.”

“The most important thing for me is that you need to know what you want to say and hence what you want to share.”

— Agoria

{Compend-AI} became the bedrock of Agoria's collaboration with Ledger, after cold wallet company launched its NFT marketplace in autumn 2022 with his piece {Compend-AI-SX} 2022 #1. Divided in 10,082 pieces, the result is a combination of primordial patterns that, explains Agoria, “is reminiscent of the origin of life.” The idea is that in fractionalising the artwork, Agoria wants to encourage people to find each other, connect, and grow, without complex barriers to entry. This way of collaboration is what Agoria misses in web2. “There is no algorithmic filtering and therefore only the artistic value comes to the surface. Any young artist should embrace this.”

“By exploring the inside, one can better appreciate the outside.”

— Agoria

The contrast between code and the life is imperative for Agoria. Forced to categorise his art, he uses the phrase ‘Biological Generative Art’. “I am interested in the hybrid system between the organic and AI,” he says, explaining how he goes deep within to see what is inside. “All my works are investigating what is hidden to our eyes, because the invisible is what is ultimately needed to give the full perspective on the subject. By exploring the inside, one can better appreciate the outside.”

What Agoria ultimately wants to bring to light is the beauty that has never been seen before but which is fundamentally part of our environment. “I’m constantly looking for the presence of life. How do we find what was previously hidden? And how do you subsequently know if you have seen everything that is inside something? This makes my quest even more interesting. I cannot wait to see what else will come to the surface.”

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Nina Knaack
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Nina is passionate about telling the stories of artists and documenting their artistic processes, so that they can focus on creating. She’s written for a range of cultural magazines in the Netherlands, her homeland, including 3voor12 and the Groninger Museum. Her work as a contemporary art historian has seen her work at Museum Voorlinden, the Van Gogh Museum, and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Today, her main and ever-increasing focus is on the digital art world, and she is fascinated by the endless possibilities of web3 and how crypto artists are pushing the boundaries of creating without gatekeepers.