CAN was all over the recent International Marketplace for Digital Arts (IMDA) event that took place as part of the first edition of the International Digital Arts Biennial (BIAN) in Montreal. These speed talks allowed a global roster of artists, curators and organizers to discuss their current projects for the assembled audience and—fueled by a lot of coffee—approximately two dozen practices were presented over the course of two days. For the next week and a half, I’ll be pointing out some of the artist and projects that were discussed during these sessions and the first up is Montreal’s Darsha Hewitt.
Hewitt describes her practice as being invested in exploring “the ways in which electricity is experienced and perceived in domestic environment” and she presented three projects during her talk, two of which are showcased in the below video. Electrostatic Bell Choir is a kinetic sound installation consisting of small bells and pith balls that are ‘played’ by static electricity emitted from salvaged CRT monitors that cycle on and off and Feedback Babies deploys an array of low-cost Fisher-Price nursery monitors from the 1980s as a squawky phase piece.
Hewitt’s artist statements for the two pieces:
The Electrostatic Bell Choir is a kinetic sound installation that consists of small bells and pith balls suspended in front of cathode-ray tube televisions. The TVs are muted and tuned to various channels of white noise. A control circuit cycles them on and off in alternating sequences, building up static charges that attract the pith balls and cause them to waver and lightly strike the bells; resulting in quasi-melodic bell compositions. The movement of these apparatuses is subtle and the sound is delicate. To some extent these variables are unpredictable as the nature of the static exchange fluctuates over time.
The Fisher-Price Nursery Monitor (circa 1983) was a low watt household radio set originally intended to “let parents be in two places at once” by broadcasting the cries of a baby in distress to a mobile receiver accompanying a parent outside of earshot. However, when in very close proximity these devices produce audible feedback that sounds uncannily like whimpering electronic babies. Feedback Babies is an electromechanical sound apparatus that makes use of slow moving motors to automate these transmitters in order to create nuanced feedback patterns.
- The Variable City – François Quévillon’s Dérive Installation and media artist François Quévillon was amongst the many practitioners discussing their work at the International Marketplace for Digital Arts presentations during the BIAN two weeks ago in Montreal. Quévillon used his talk to give a brief overview of his experiments with 'urban imaging' over the last several years and he showed a range of interesting slitscan-like processed photographs and some more recent work inspired by LiDAR datasets and augmented mapping. Dérive makes use of photogrammetry, geomatic data and 3D modelling to construct point cloud abstractions of buildings, landmarks and cityscapes within a custom 'browser' interface. Dérive capitalizes on it's underlying coordinate systems by connecting browser and vertex behaviours to environmental data related to the sites of various models. So, a point cloud of a structure in Orléans, France would be inflected by local meteorological and astronomical data and reconfigure itself each time these variables changed. Quévillon's description of how the system works: The display and positions of the points and of the wireframe connecting them are determined by the following environmental information as a mean to evoke or simulate them. Local time: Point size and brightness (relative to sunrise and sunset) Temperature: Point color Cloudiness: Point saturation and brightness Wind: Point displacement reflecting speed and direction Visibility: Intensity of a depth of field effect and transparency Humidity: Depth of field focus distance and point sharpness Precipitation: Random lines drawn from the sky are connected to the ground This data is coupled with information about atmospheric pressure to yield a generative score for the dynamic animations. Quévillon has implemented Dérive in video loop and installation contexts, with the latter using computer vision to allow viewers to interact with the visualization. Dérive | Dérivées locales | Software Development: Édouard […]
- Fragments in Space – Olivier Ratsi’s White Roads in the Red Matrix File this one under better late than never: Olivier Ratsi's White Roads in the Red Matrix (Deconstruction Time, Again project) was one of the cleverest installations CAN encountered at the International Digital Arts Biennial (BIAN) in Montreal several weeks ago. Appearing as part of the Out of the Blue/Into the Black exhibition of French media artists, Ratsi's installation was comprised of a field of plexiglass and aluminium LED frames suspended in space on to which video was projected. This is one of those pieces that video documentation simply does not do justice to as an encounter with this architectonic constellation of surfaces plays out as sculptural choreography – a careful coordination of light and rhythm. The BIAN program described the performative arrangement as "a digital audiovisual object" that restlessly phases in and out of legibility. Project created by Olivier Ratsi (AntiVJ) | flickr photoset Sound design: Thomas Vaquié Realisation: Julien Guinard Development: Anthony […]
- A Colour Field Point of No Return – Matthew Biederman’s Event Horizon Several prominent currents run through the oeuvre of Montreal's Matthew Biederman – data systems, politics, broadcast media, performance and the promotion of awareness of northern landscapes and cultures. Another interest that is evident across Biederman's body of work is colour, a fascination that he demonstrates an almost painterly preoccupation with within several of the installations that he's executed over the last decade. The latest such work is the ominously titled Event Horizon, an immersive, generative AV installation commissioned for the International Digital Arts Biennial (BIAN) in Montreal. Alluding to the unforgiving gravitational pull of a black hole, Event Horizon is an environment for contemplating perception, threshold and inevitability. Viewers entering Salle Norman McLaren within La Cinémathèque Québéquoise encounter an arrangement of fine mesh scrims that divide the space in two and serve as filters that the projection emanating from the back of the room pass through. These generative visuals (created with Quartz Composer) present an ever-evolving, dynamic array of banded colour fields that scroll horizontally at varying speeds. The 'canvas' is divided into upper and lower sections with a narrow wildcard zone in the middle that contains more diverse oscillating patterns. The modulating tempo of the colour bands is perfectly accompanied by foreboding Ligeti-like sound design that dissonantly drones along with the polychromatic flicker. An excerpt from Biederman's artist statement contextualizes some of the technical implications of encountering the work: ...I also see it as a hint towards the meeting point of the collapse of the technology supporting the work – namely display technology (in this case the data projector) and human perception. What occurs as we reach the technological horizon, and attempt to display more resolution than is available, is a breakdown of the technology itself, which produces moiré patterns. By forcing the projectors into states that they cannot reproduce – it does the only thing it can do – interpolate, creating an unpredictable pattern that we perceive perceives as a ‘third’ image, one that is seen, but is not seen for what it actually is it is ... The same can be said for the audio track – using a multichannel environment (quad speaker arrangement + multiple subwoofers), and synthesizing particular tones – the physical sound waves in space create additional sounds that are only made through their interaction with each other and the physical space of the installation. Biederman's description of the 'total synthesis' of sound, image and the perception of the viewer is not hyperbole as the installation really is tightly executed. Event Horizon is a meditation on the digital sublime that can be neatly filed alongside projects like Ryoji Ikeda's The Transfinite (2011) and Carsten Nicolai's Projections (2012). It should also be noted that the visual language of the piece is kind of a generative retrofit of the work of colour field painter Gene Davis, who spent decades working with vertical stripes. Davis once defended his longstanding obsession claiming "for fifteen years they [stripes] have held my attention and, believe me, when the day arrives that they do not hold my attention, I will do something else, but, I've only begun to tap the surface." Event Horizon demonstrates a similar reverence for pure visual language and excises that logic from the canvas and uses it to craft a dynamic, synaesthetic environment. Project Page | Event Horizon is installed at Cinémathèque Québéquoise (Montreal) through June 10th Audio synthesis: 4X See also: Biederman's Iterating Color Field, Sorted and Measured Three Times (2008) & Pulse (2006) Photos: Conception […]
- Just another day at the lab: MUTEK A/Visions 2012 photo: unknown8bit For the last 13 years the end of May has signalled a global convergence of electronic music enthusiasts in Montreal for a week of performance, networking and revelry. It is no small feat that the MUTEK festival has grown far beyond its humble roots as an 'inside baseball' showcase of the rosters of boutique experimental labels into a robust platform for the promotion of techno, house and more experimental fair with widespread popular appeal. While MUTEK may flog the fact that it has become a bonafide tourist attraction (it has drawn crowds of more than 10,0000 in recent years), don't let the rhetoric fool you – the festival still has very sharp teeth when it comes to adventurous programming. Nowhere is this fact more clear than within the A/Visions stream, an event-series dedicated to imaginative, integrated audiovisual performances that was launched in 2006 and has consistently served as the locus of innovation within the festival. So, how did the 2012 edition of A/Visions measure up? Quite excellently, and in looking beyond some minor programming hiccups, this was clearly the strongest showing of AV material ever featured at MUTEK. Even more encouragingly, this year marked a welcome expansion of the AV programming into other event streams yielding an almost overwhelming amount of shows and screenings to choose from. The following review is an attempt to identify some of the prominent themes in the A/Visions program and point CAN readers at some of the more noteworthy projects/performances featured this year. Andrew Pekler & Jan Jelinek play Ursula Bogner, photo: unknown8bit Some of the most compelling work at A/Visions 2012 welded engaging musical performances to the presentation of historical and aesthetic mythologies. Berlin's Andrew Pekler and Jan Jelinek crafted droning, transcendent soundscapes out of the compositions of the late Ursula Bogner, an obscure German electronic musician active in the 70s and 80s who was headlong into fringe science. Drawing on the idiosyncratic legacy of their might-be-fake-but-completely-plausible muse, the duo positioned themselves perpendicular to the crowd with a camera clamped to a mic stand filming their clinical interactions with their analogue kits. This live feed sat alongside a deadpan slideshow that cycled through various biographical photographs of Bogner, her family and celestial diagrams. The sight of Pekler and Jelinek cooly constructing space jazz against a backdrop of musty photographs proved beyond a doubt that the world is ready for a hybrid Wes Anderson/Sun Ra multimedia aesthetic. The key takeaway from this performance: the mytho-biography of Ursula Bogner is the most compelling cosmology in electronic music since Drexciya. Not every performance at MUTEK trafficked in long-forgotten fringe musicians, we also saw some artful homages to 70s and 80s video and atomic warfare. Video artist Sabrina Ratté teamed up with Le Révélateur (aka Roger Tellier-Craig, formerly of Godspeed You! Black Emperor) to present a lo-fi, dreamy AV performance that wed the "chromatic aberrations" of abstract colour fields and landscapes with idyllic ambient. Ratté displayed mastery of a number of classic video transitions and effects to provide a retro, thoroughly authored series of vignettes that perfectly mirrored Tellier-Craig's compositions. Veteran producers Biosphere and Lustmord teamed up to present Trinity, a cinematic exploration of the landscape and technology surrounding the first detonation of a nuclear device in 1945. Like Jelinek and Pekler, the duo deployed a range of archival photography to stitch together a narrative of inference. Comprised of vignettes focusing on the texture of affected terrain, portraiture of the scientists and military personal involved in the detonation and some classic nerdcore fetishization of (military) gadgetry and infrastructure. The ominous set waxed and waned between the blistering intensity of a death march and more restrained atmospherics, and while it felt unfocused at times, so be it, as it was undeniably live. The introduction to Biosphere and Lustmord's collaboration featured long meandering pans across photographs of the American Southwest as a lead-in to a creative interpretation of one of the darker chapters of 20th century physics. This was not exactly a surprise as landscape is one of the enduring tropes at A/Visions as there is a longstanding tradition of exploring place through film and experimental music. Two performances in particular, were delivered as extended meditations on the narrative potential of landscape, Roly Porter and MFO's Akheron Fall and Nelly-Eve Rajotte's cinematic scan of the American (and Canadian) West. The former fixated on the notion of 'the dark forest' as a setting for the majesty of Porter's industrial-strength compositions and the latter mixed field recordings with Spaghetti Western samples to score a rolling, split screen landscape montage accented with a dash of cowboy datamoshing. Jan Jelink and Andrew Pekler's slide deck space jazz notwithstanding, I'd say the most successful A/Visions acts this year interrogated the space of performance. Robin Fox's transformed the Ludger-Duvernay Theatre at Monument-National into a geometric playground where, in the purest sense possible, sound was used an as instrument to modulate the sweeps, scans and scribbles of a centrally located laser. Fox obviously tuned his performance to the dimensions of the venue and his array of beams carved up the thick clouds of smoke that wafted over the audience. The resulting experience was visceral and volumetric and the audience—blasted with light—was fully immersed in Fox's arena. The Australian artist received a rabid ovation for both the overall tightness of his performance and for zapping the audience out of passive spectatorship. Another noteworthy performance was Kode9, MFO and Ms. Haptic's Her Ghost, a thoroughly moiré-d rethinking of Chris Marker's seminal 1962 experimental film La jetée. Using stills from the original, this reconstruction took liberties with the fabled narrative of 'temporally challenged' ill-fated lovers and dove headlong into tweaking the look, feel and sequence of the underlying time travel, determinism and dystopian squalor. Better yet, the cinematic redux was 'performed' with Kode9 and company playing from the audience which was a very convincing reminder that, more often than not, the artists really aren't needed on stage in these contexts. The gritty processed photography and illustration, Kode9's rumbling sound design and the straight up gravitas of Ms. Haptic's live narration made for a super-engaging performance that actually spoke to film as a medium rather than simply appropriating stylistic conventions from it. There were several other acts on the A/Visions program, notably the final show in the series which featured Les Momies de Palerme and a collaborative jam by Tim Hecker and Stephen O'Malley – occurring within the cavernous interior of St. James United Church. Earlier in the week, Pierre Bastien and Espen Sommers showcased their eclectic Electric Folkways project, which leverages a table full of custom contraptions as the basis of an improvisational arsenal and Ben Shemie presented a live mix of Transmission 1, a work simultaneously broadcast across two FM radio stations. At the beginning of this review I mentioned that the AV programming at MUTEK seems to really be influencing other streams, making this year particularly delightful for attendees 'turned on' to art and design. Outside of the material reviewed in this post, this year saw a projection-bolstered Jeff Mills mix that convincingly mapped out the relationship between techno and speculative fiction, an incredible 3D projections meets modular-synths showcase at the Satosphere (a dome perched atop the Société des arts technologiques) and a robust experimental media program at Recombinant Media Labs' CineChamber 'mobile immersive arts facility' (which will be featured on CAN soon). Given that MUTEK is now firmly within its second decade, there is definitely a desire to see the experimentation and cross-contamination across programs that has defined recent editions of the festival continue and amplify. Here's hoping that A/Visions 2013 yields more media archeology, more provocations and more spaces for exploration and delight. MUTEK Sabrina Ratté, Blue Nuit Perre Bastien & Espen Sommer Eide's Electric Folkways, photo: unknown8bit A/Visions 4, St. James United Church photo: unknown8bit Robin Fox's Laser Show, photo: unknown8bit Biosphere & Lustmord present Trinity, photo: […]
- Avouching A/Visions at MUTEK 2011 [Events, Sound] [AntiVJ's Simon Geilfus and Murcof at A/Visions 2 / photo: basic_sounds] Having just completed its twelfth run, Montreal's MUTEK festival continues to cultivate the the substantial niche it has carved out for itself on the global media arts circuit. In addition to a storied history of showcasing emerging and established electronic musicians of all stripes, MUTEK has also acted as an r&d lab for exploring the possibilities of integrated audiovisual performance. In 2005, a programming stream dedicated to presenting bleeding edge collaborations between musicians and visual designers entitled A/Visions was brought into the fold to showcase innovative projects like artificiel's cubing and Marc Leclair & Gabriel Coutu-Dumont's 5mm. A/Visions has matured so rapidly that by 2008 this supplementary programming was consistently eclipsing 'big room' headliners and—at least as many MUTEK regulars were concerned—functioning as the locus of innovation within the yearly gathering. The 2009 and 2010 AV performance programming upped the ante even more and the expectations for both experimentation and production design were very high going into the this year's edition of the proceedings. This post presents an overview of and reflection on material featured at A/Visions two weeks ago in Montreal. Electroacoustic composer Alain Thibault and visual designer Yan Breuleux have been working together as Purform for almost 15 years. For MUTEK the duo presented White Box, a project dedicated to exploring "new forms of generating A/V compositions in real time." As evidenced by the teaser video above, the performance leveraged a massive three screen projection surface as a canvas for exploring dense monochromatic meshes and emergent moiré patterns. Characterized by coarse granular synthesis and dynamic, clinical pattern studies, the set was undeniably polished – perhaps pristine to a fault. Compared to the subsequent rumbling bass-scapes of Emptyset and the cataclysmic improvised mayhem that Mika Vainio cooked up in the darkness, White Box offered a glimpse into a stark formalist universe that could only emerge from such a longstanding collaboration. Within about 45 seconds of beginning their performance at the SAT the British duo Sculpture had already confirmed their status as the wildcard artists at MUTEK 2011. Sound artist Dan Hayhurst and animator Reuben Sutherland specialize in crafting dense, plunderphonic soundscapes complimented by live video of custom-made zoetropic picture discs. Their performance married reel-to-reel tomfoolery with turntable centric digital video that was projected onto a horseshoe-shaped configuration of screens lining the perimeter of the space. This arrangement was intentionally overwhelming and many audience members were visibly dazed by the combination of Hayhurst scrubbing through his tape loop inventory and Sutherland's reconfiguration of the wheels of steel as a psychedelic movie machine. The set was a gloriously orchestrated cacophony – media archeology for the MIDI controller set and a refreshing reminder that a virtuosic back-to-basics approach to animation is capable of trumping any graphics library. Fernando Corona (aka Murcof) and Simon Geilfus of AntiVJ have been collaborating for approximately two years and the duo presented the fruits of their (iterative) labour at the second A/Visions event. The embed above really does not do this work justice and the creative partnership essentially 'builds a universe' around Murcof's brooding, orchestral LP Cosmos and some more recent material. AntiVJ's Joanie Lemercier and Nicolas Boritch describe the work as "being rooted in a 2009 residency in Bristol" where the artists had the time to build an "emergent" performance workflow "from the ground up". Riffing on the geometries and organizational logic of cosmology, biological systems and the scattershot luminosity of a dense weave of light rays, the set was captivating and deservedly received a thunderous response. It should also be noted that AntiVJ developed a thoughtful solution to the perennial "where do we put the performers?" problem by projecting the video on a semi-transparent mesh scrim that hung in front of Corona and Geilfus, downplaying their visual presence and also creating the illusion that the animation is floating in space rather than dancing across a "standard white screen". One particularly riveting sequence played out as if the audience were drifting through a 3D field of detritus that pulsated in sync with Corona's drones, the shading of this 'space junk' was incredible and justifies comparisons to some of Lebbeus Woods' wilder moments. A veteran of the inaugural MUTEK lineup, Seth Horvitz is amongst a handful of artists including Atom Heart and Carsten Nicolai whose experimental practices have remained important references to the evolution of the festival over the last decade. Horvitz recently completed his MFA at Mills College and essentially presented his thesis research Eight Studies for Automatic Piano on intensely programmed scores for the Yamaha DC7 Mark III Disklavier. In perhaps the best moment of theatre of the entire festival, a besuited Horvitz began his performance by strolling across stage to turn on his piano and then disappeared into the shadows, not to be seen again. The work presents kind of a piano endgame that tested the perception of the audience while—given the scope of MUTEK—offering a timely examination of precision and 'programming'. An excerpt from the 'listener's guide' (PDF) for the LP release of the project on LINE where Horvitz discusses the notion of hand-made algorithms: "I have been told that my music is algorithmic, although I don’t really think of it that way. I don’t use any math other than simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I copy something (often a repeating figure), paste it next to itself, and then change it a little. Then I do it again and again, changing it by the same amount each time, and listening all the while. If it doesn’t sound good, I might start over. Or I might copy half of all the copies and put them somewhere else, change that a little, then repeat the process again and again… I avoid using equations, because I never want the music to get too far away from my ear." The above video demonstrates how the dense melodies literally wash over the keyboard while the projections offer a rudimentary visualization of the complexity of these pattern studies. Eight Studies for Automatic Piano was a treat to experience live, and there was something quite amazing about watching a precisely calibrated automaton work its magic in a concert hall setting. The above smattering of teaser videos clearly doesn't do A/Visions 2011 justice but these taste tests certainly verify the innovation and diversity of the work programmed this year. For the sake of brevity this review did not touch on Tristan Perich's surprisingly moving rendition of 1-Bit Symphony, a severe prop-driven performance piece by Women With Kitchen Appliances and an atmospheric meditation on macro photography by Comaduster – these projects are all worth looking into. Stepping back from A/Visions and considering the larger events at MUTEK, it is clear that the interplay of sound and image is becoming increasingly important to the direction of the festival; this year the spotlight shone on Richie Hawtin's LED cage (produced by Ali Demirel and the wizards at Derivative) and Amon Tobin showed up for his gig at Metropolis at the helm of a cubist megalith (it was hardly the Mothership, but I suppose it would do in a pinch). I greatly prefer the focus and discipline of the work I've described above, but one can't help but note that audience expectations and visual literacy are evolving rapidly. While my mind is still buzzing from this abundance of stimuli, I'm already starting to catch myself wondering what next year will yield. -- About the Author: Greg J. Smith a Toronto-based designer and researcher with interests in media theory and digital culture. Extending from a background in architecture, his research considers how contemporary information paradigms affect representational and spatial systems. Greg is a designer at Mission Specialist, blogs at Serial Consign and is a managing editor of the digital arts publication Vague Terrain. He currently teaches courses on information visualization, technology and urbanism in the CCIT program (University of Toronto – Mississauga/Sheridan […]
- EM15, May 27 – June 1, 2014 As part of EM15 in Montreal, CAN will be organising live Q&A sessions with audiovisual performers Matthew Biederman and Alan Thibault, and Paul […]
- flight404 at Decode / V&A [Events, News] Robert Hodgin aka flight404 has just posted this video of an application he is working for the Decode event at London's V&A to open next month. Robert was asked to rework his older Solar piece so that it could be audio responsive in real-time. Whilst the details of the actual exibit are yet unknown, it is nevertheless exciting to see Robert's work at the V&A. Video at the bottom is the older piece but do make sure you watch at HD / full screen. He will be joined by the names such as Golan Levin, Daniel Brown, Daniel Rozin, Troika and Simon Heijdens. More about the event here. 8 December 2009 - 11 April 2010 // Curated in collaboration with onedotzero (via Homage to Radiolab « all manner of […]
Posted on: 15/05/2012
Posted in: Sound
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