Behind the Art

Decentralife feat. Reeps100, Artist and Founder of Voice Gems


Carolyn Yi

Publishing date


Here, we’re all about discovering how blockchain can help solve real-world problems.

But the most important voices are the ones behind the solutions, the people building toward change. Blockchain has a knack for drawing big thinkers and dreamers looking to solve real-world problems into the ecosystem, and each one of them has their story.

For this installment of Decentralife – a series unveiling the authentic lives of people realizing their potential, building and problem-solving using blockchain technology – we spoke with an individual who is pushing the boundaries of art and technology as we speak. An internationally acclaimed media artist and creative technologist, Harry Yeff (also known as Reeps100) uses an almost inhuman vocal range to drive his performative and large-scale artworks and installations.

His Voice Gem NFTs have been exhibited around the world including at the World Economic Forum, and he premiered the world’s first AI ballet as Creative Director with the Leipzig Ballet in 2023.

Where does your story start?

I actually grew up in a very rough part of London. I grew up in a neurodivergent home, and it was actually my relationship with tournament chess that introduced me to AI when I was 14. Because many of my opponents were middle class, my father actually bought me a very early chess engine.

It was those early narratives of a system that is unrelenting. It never gets tired of play, helping you self-develop an expertise or a skill. It was those narratives, despite my surroundings being tough and quite difficult, that made me realize technology is a facilitator I was really excited by.

As my career developed as an artist, I primarily worked in music and voice. And when I started to have my first research partnerships getting access to tech, I think it was those earlier days in game theory and in chess that's led me to embrace everything that I'm doing now. But I represent the working class in tech, I represent neurodiversity, and I just really care about more accessibility when it comes to these very, very powerful tools.

I think the world deserves to know that there are new things, there are new experiences out there for them. Technology just really offers that chance. I think of the kids that are on my council estate that I grew up on, which is the equivalent of the projects in the States, being empowered by technology and being offered things that maybe I couldn't have done. That's what really pushes me forward.


Was there ever a point in which you feared technology?

Yeah, it's interesting. When I started to generate a lot more synthetic voices in our work. So we've done a lot of generative voice creation and working with bespoke models, listening models, thinking about, what is a new voice? I have a huge data set of me speaking, performing, singing, which I use to generate these outcomes.

Where the fear started to kick in was as these phraseologies that were being developed with my voice from me started to become more and more complex. And I have a world-class control of my voice, but then to hear me do things that I can't do, that was very uncomfortable. But over the last two years of actually training with those new developments, much like a chess player playing an engine, my ability has evolved and I've leaned into that discomfort. That's the narrative that I'm very fascinated by.

How would you define creativity?

Creativity is a form of intelligence, and intelligence is a system that exists in the universe. It's not human made, much like physics that can be revealed. And I love the idea that if you are creative, it doesn't have to be about art, it's about solving a problem in a new way, seeing things that can manifest an outcome without following a set path.

That's a very nice, short answer. I feel like you could probably go on forever about it.

It's one of the hardest philosophical questions. Something that's going to be very difficult moving forward, specifically with AI, is we're moving into the age of beholding. We're going to be observing outcomes, creative outcomes so complex and refined that we start to take a step back. Generating Oscar-level films from totally unique prompts and subjects on the spot will yield a whole other dynamic.

We have to be very conscious and careful of how we tap into intelligence because there's such a big difference between regurgitative generative human-level creativity, which many of the systems are, to what's called interventional AI creativity, where every single output is stunning.

That's the real question: what is the limit of human creativity? What is the limit of human potential? Are these systems feeding into that in very healthy ways? Is it universally accessible? These are very difficult questions, but one thing I know for sure is there's going to be some remarkable art coming out of this movement.


I see that, not just with AI, but also other emerging tech that can frighten people away. What would you say to encourage someone to approach it with a little more understanding?

Where I see most of the discomfort and the fear comes from a lack of understanding, but also a sense of loss of ownership. Because when you're using something like GPT-4, these sprawling large language models that have been generated on huge non-consensual sort of data sets feels very different to creating your own data set from your own discipline, collecting with love and passion, the things that you are really excited by about your own work, and then seeing something generated. The latter is a very separate genre from using general holistic models and data sets.

So I think what we'll see more and more is a sense of ownership and more and more accessibility, for someone to understand that they can use their own data and own the entire chain of outcome. And I think that will have a very different feeling.

Plus, we're very, very binary with our approach to these technologies. And the narratives have been quite fixed and unmoving for a very, very long time. Obviously there's nuance and innovation, so I think it's about writing new stories, really listening to the use cases that are helping with individual development as opposed to large scale tech or giants or institutions.

Do you remember the first time that you created art?

The very first time I created art was when I drew all over my walls as a baby. My father was a signwriter, so I watched him drawing on walls professionally.

There's always been something in me that's been fascinated by emergence. And there's therapy to releasing, right? There's a catharsis. Mostly because of my father, that feeling is innate within me when I express myself or when I find something new.

This is why I'm so interested in technology – because you can really do new things. There's this horrible narrative that everything in art has been done, but with computation it's just like, it's not a question. So from very, very early on, voice music, exploring visual art language, and I approach art in a kind of explosive cross mode way, and that keeps me happy.

Are there any new artistic mediums that you're looking to explore?

On blockchain, we started a project called Voice Gems. I've been visualizing the human voice for about 15 years, creating a series of generative systems and physical sculptures that respond to features in voice. Voice Gems is about celebrating that every voice on Earth is precious. We started to collect voices from all over the world and archive them on-chain. Not to sell, but to explore new methods of preservation.

I really care about that theme of conservation and preservation, and it's those new narratives I find exciting since it provides constant new opportunities. That's what drives my studio – that you combine something very old and profound and established with something emergent. Magic happens when you combine those two elements.

The idea that you can store and preserve an artwork on-chain represents another way of highlighting form, especially the human voice, which is normally like smoke. And I think blockchain will be very responsible for all kinds of new ceremonies and preservation across the board.


How does blockchain make Voice Gems possible?

One example is when we were approached by an individual who had a recording of him laughing with his lover. He asked, "Can we produce a piece? I'm going to use this to propose." And they ended up minting it. After the proposal, we produced a physical silver 3D printed counterpoint, which was like a physical entity. So what you had was an Ethereum on-chain asset, which was then matched by a physical asset, and a laughter-generated work which was showcased at their wedding.

This idea of blockchain being part of a traditional ceremony is fascinating. Once we started to get global press, we started to receive hundreds of emails from people that actually lost loved ones, people that have recordings of their grandmother or their brother on their phone as voice notes. They wanted it to live somewhere and be reassured that this could be kept. So we explore preservation across many different chains, in addition to physical preservation. What are really interesting ways of storing objects?

Reeps100 (Harry Yeff) x Trung Bao

Voice Gems

Reeps100 (Harry Yeff) and Trung Bao are two of the world's leading vocal experimentalists living today, both utilizing an almost inhuman vocal range. As artists, they have collected hundreds of vocal techniques from around the world, with the aim of pushing the human voice to its unknown limits. Learn more about the project here.

You look towards the future, but then use terms like “preserving” and “archiving these memories” which are rooted in the past. What’s your relationship with the future?

I don't always believe in a future. I'm very interested in presentism in the sense of how these technologies are helping today. You can innovate in the present, which then creates the future. I believe that’s a healthier way of approaching it.

I think you can't have a healthy presentism without deeply understanding the past. And one of the real dangers of innovation is that we think new is better. But there is validated knowledge that has lasted thousands of years. There's reasons for that. It’s when those kinds of ideas underpin the use of something that is future-facing where you’ll see the most exciting biting point.

You say that you use your voice to sculpt. When I think of sculpting, tangibility comes to mind. How do you sculpt with your voice?

The most recent voice sculpture project is the Voice Gem system. It's a 200,000 particle system that responds to specific features found in an individual's voice, which ranges from harmonics to transience to the rate of speaking.

As someone speaks, the form is generated and based on these features, and color is distributed across the 200,000 particles. So you end up with a sculpture, but the rules were locked into years ago. It's been fascinating to see how people's voices produce different works. When people talk with a calm voice, low resonance, you get these very nucleated voice gems with deepish bluish and blackish hues. But if they have a high resonance, it’ll be light blue.

Now the gem part makes sense.

We have 150 pieces now, and you're starting to see correlations between voices and groupings of gems that look the same because they share similar voices.

Where does inspiration strike for you?

"Everywhere. Constantly."

The thing that does drive me though, in terms of my values is, “Who doesn't have access to these technologies? What are new experiences that people can have that help them enjoy being a human being?”

And I mentioned I'm also neurodivergent, and I think there's a kinship with thinking differently and seeing intelligence systems come in. So yeah, I'm fascinated by new ideas and hoping that it can bring new power to new people. And art and creativity doesn't have to be about art culture. There are new things like how you give a presentation, how you communicate to your colleagues, how you love or respect people.

What you said there about, "how to enjoy being a human being" – what do you imagine that first step is?

The thing that I see people really struggle with is at some point, they lose their authentic voice. And I think authenticity is a really important part of being a happy human being. And it doesn't mean that you have to flip your desk and walk out of your job. But within the work that you do, are you making the space and time to know what your authentic voice is? We talk about values in companies and that can create a great work culture, but values are really a gateway to an authentic pursuit.

What is your relationship with authenticity? Are you able to have difficult conversations with yourself, with other people? What is a desire that you have, which could be to be creative? What is that block or trauma or conversation or that parent that made you believe that you have to lose something like creativity.

So without waffling on for a thousand years, asking yourself – "Hey, what I did today, I'm really aligned with," or, "What I did with the weekend, I'm really aligned with in mind and body," or, "Oh, I'm really excited by this medium, I'm excited by this person, I'm excited by this technology and I've made some time to look into that"– I think that's a great first step to happiness.

Behind the Art

Looking for more?

Hear more directly from Reeps100 at Meridian here. For the latest video content, check out the Stellar YouTube channel.

Stay tuned for more installments of #decentralife this summer.