Last Friday, i spent the evening at the Arts Catalyst for the Kosmica sound night, a social event for artists, scientists and the cosmically curious exploring sound and sonification of space. That means drinks, crisps, pop corn, space music and presentations by curator and artist Honor Harger, sound artist and composer Kaffe Matthews and designer slash sound artist Yuri Suzuki. With Nahum Mantra as master of ceremony.
I frantically took notes during the presentation, thinking i'd blog the talks until i realized that the Arts Catalyst was going to upload the video of the whole evening. So i'm going to merely point you to the videos: This way please!
Now all i'm going to write down is a summary of the presentations, along with a few links to the projects, historical facts and scientific discoveries mentioned during the presentations.
The first presentation was by Honor Harger. She is the director of Lighthouse, an arts agency in Brighton, UK. But she is also part of the artistic duo r a d i o q u a l i a together with collaborator Adam Hyde. One of their main projects is Radio Astronomy, a radio station broadcasting sounds from space. And i don't know how she does it but she also finds time to write a brilliant blog called Particle Decelerator.
Honor's presentation was an investigation into how we have used sound to gather information about space. We all have an idea of what space looks like. We've all seen images of it but what does space sound like?
Karl Jansky reads an instrument that detects radio waves from the Milky Way. © Bettmann/Corbis (via)
The story of the discovery of the sounds of space is intimately linked to the history of the telephone. From 1876 when Thomas Watson, the assistant of Alex Graham Bell, was listening through the wires to some strange sounds which corresponded in fact to activity taking place on the surface of the sun. To 1932 when Bell Telephone Laboratories engineer Karl Jansky was called to identify the cause of a "steady hissing" interfering with transoceanic telephone service. He correctly guessed that the noise wasn't coming from Earth but that they were cosmic radio noise from the Milky Way. The final stop Honor Harger made in the history of Bell Laboratories is 1964 when two researchers detected a source of low, persistent noise in Bell's antenna, the Holmdel Horn. It turns out that the noise was cosmic radiation that had survived since the birth of the universe. That was the first evidence of the Big Bang.
Honor's story was accompanied by a series of references to art and amateur science. I'm going to list them rapidly:
Joyce Hinterding's electromagnetic installation Aeriology (1995) "aeriology", a huge antenna that resonates to the VLF (very low frequency) section of the radio spectrum, and makes audible the crackle of spherics from the solar winds as they interact with the ionosphere and the background noise of the Milky Way, the energy emitted from stars.
Honor also showed one of my favourite videos of 2011: 20 Hz. The work observes a geo-magnetic storm occurring in the Earth's upper atmosphere. Working with data collected by CARISMA (Canadian Array for Realtime Investigations of Magnetic Activity), an array of magnetometers which study the Earth's magnetosphere and interprets the data as audio, allowing us to hear the "tweets" and "rumbles" caused by the interaction of solar wind with the Earth's magnetosphere.
Caroline Devine's 5 Minute Oscillations of the Sun, explores naturally occurring radio signal and solar activity and alternates every five minutes between acoustic and electromagnetic "listening modes" that provide new ways to "listen" to the sun.
Kaffe Matthews presented the work she created with Mandy McIntosh when they worked with NASA scientists and got to meet ex-astronauts to whom they asked "What is the sound like in space?" More about the project over here. The last part of her talk focused on the Star Gazer chairs, music and suits made to watch the star in the Galloway Forest, Scotland. The project was again developed with Mandy McIntosh and is called 'Yird, Muin, Starn,' which means earth, moon, star in old Scott.
Yuri Suzuki brought us firmly back to Earth with The Sound of the Earth, a spherical record with the sound engraved on the surface of the globe. Each country on the disc is engraved with a different sound, collected by Yuri Suzuki during his travels or with national anthems for the countries he had never visited.
During the last edition of Design Week, Yuri Suzuki drove a Sound Taxi around London. The vehicle was equipped with a microphone that recorded the noise of the city: traffic, screeching brakes, sirens, construction work, etc. A specially designed software analysed the frequencies of these noises and used them to generate music in real time.
His White Noise Machine calculates the quantity of street noise and then generates the same amount of white noise. The boxy design of the White Noise Machine was inspired that by the noise-generating devices that Italian Futurist Liugi Russolo built at the beginning of the 20th century. The videos showing children shouting at Suzuki's White Noise Machine is hilarious.
And with this i close my notes about Kosmica sound night.
One of the best surprises of this year's edition of the GAMERZ festival in Aix en Provence was a work that mixed clips from cult movies with video game dynamics. Using 2 buttons and a joystick, visitors could navigate inside movie sequences from The Shining, Jurassic Park, The Blair Witch Project, Old Boy and many more. The main actor becomes an avatar and you can delay the inescapable moment when the little boy in The Shining bumps into the evil-looking twins or you can give a couple of extra kicks and lengthen the fight that opposed Bruce Lee to Chuck Norris in Way of the Dragon.
Hold On, by Maxime Marion & Emilie Brout is pretty irresistible. You want to try all the movie sequences and then you want to try them once again to see how much more you can do inside the same movie clip.
There's no video to demonstrate how the installation work. Not yet. In the meantime, i've asked the artists Maxime Marion & Emilie Brout to take us behind the scenes of their project:
Bonjour Emilie and Maxime! How did you chose the film sequences? Does any action movie work for example? What were you looking for exactly when selecting the extracts?
The idea behind Hold On is very simple, but its efficiency depends heavily on the choice of sequences, which proved to be more complicated than we initially thought! Many constraints have to be respected. For example, you need a main character at the center of the action so that he or she can immediately be identified as avatar. You also need homogeneous settings, lest you get shocking discrepancies as you move around. We are also looking for autonomous extracts, with an introduction, a conclusion and an issue to solve. There are many extracts we would have liked to use but we had to leave them aside because they wouldn't work.
More generally, we've been looking for film sequences that have their own originality, often referring to famous video game genres, like in The Shining where the little Danny irresistibly evoques Mario Kart, or the puzzles that the dung beetle needs to solve in Microcosmos which evokes games such as Worms or Lemmings. We've made some 15 sequences so far, but for Gamerz we left aside the ones that didn't fit this year's theme. We will show Travolta's incredible danse in Saturday Night Fever another time.
It was amusing to watch people play with Hold On at GAMERZ. Some had reactions of surprise and tension because instead of diluting the suspense, the installation often increased it. Is this something you were expecting?
Indeed, the visitors' reactions far exceeded our expectations. It was great for us to witness it. When people are allowed to navigate inside a movie, they have a feeling of freedom, of broader space and abolished temporality. Paradoxically, by losing these limitations of the views, you find yourself in a kind of maze, in a scary labyrinth.
The sensation is enhanced by the fact that it is far more engaging to embody an avatar than to just watch an actor on the screen, and we often know what to expect at the end. That's another reason why we chose very famous movies. When you stop playing, the film simply proceeds till its -not alway happy- ending. Some people were thus playing as long as possible in order to delay the unescapable death in the final scene of The Blair Witch Project, or to avoid meeting the little girls of The Shining, which might occur after each turn in the corridors.
We are also happy to have been able to reproduce faithfully classic game controls, such as in the fight between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris in The Way of the Dragon, its game play is identical to the Street Fighter 1: we've seen some pretty enthusiastic otakus. And seeing how much fun people were having, sharing with them this fantasy of 'getting inside' a movie was probably what mattered the most.
You developed the work Hold On during a residency with M2F Creations in Aix-en-Provence. Can you tell us something about the residency? What you found there, how it went on?
We first had the idea of the project in 2006 and its form has evolved ever since, but we needed an impuse to make it come into existence. That's exactly what M2F Créations gave us. We also needed some technical support, especially regarding the responsiveness of the HD video that had to react under 40 ms, plus some electronics for the interface.
So last May we were invited to the Maison Numérique, which Quentin Destieu & Sylvain Huguet are developing more and more. While we benefited from the invaluable technical skills of artists such as Stéphane Kyles and Grégoire Lauvin, we also found that the residency provided us with a fantastic space for exchange and sharing where we've built long lasting relationships. We particularly enjoyed M2F's innovative approach which enables experimental practice while fostering research. In a nutshell, this is a residency we highly recommend!
Most of your other works show how fascinated you are by cinema. I particularly like Google Earth Movies. What did you learn from this transposition of cult movie sequences into the Google Earth software?
Cinema plays indeed an important part in our works. The concept of GEM is to transform a mapping tool into a filmic object, to use Google Earth as if it were VLC. The software allows you to manage many factors when you enter the code, such as tilting, or the focus that enabled us to recreate the famous Jaws Shot.
As we were trying to reproduce as faithfully as possible inside Google Earth the movements of the cameras on the real shooting locations, we realized how complex and subtle these movements can be. It was a real lesson of cinema. For example, we recreated the scene of the death of Dominic in Once Upon a Time in America. As the child falls after the shot, the camera follows him, gently going down. Then, as he dies, the camera goes up, a metaphor for "ascending to heaven." So although there is no visible character in GEM, you understand the whole action. In Apocalypse Now, you almost see the helicopters performing their massacre.
While adjusting the light, determining the year, the month and the time with an accuracy of 5 minutes in some cases, we also realized that some scenes that seemed to follow each other perfectly had been shot at different moments (because of the quality of the light.) But this only serves to reproduce a cinematographic feeling for viewers who can discover by themselves the off-screen landscape by turning the camera around.
Hold On, as you wrote in the presentation text, does the opposite of a machinima, it uses cinema for gaming purposes. But would you use games to make a film? I'm not talking about machinimas but about a film, experimental or not, that would use the dynamics of a game or its interactivity? Is this something that already exists or that you are planning to do at some point?
This is an angle that interests us but it is also different from what we do because it entails some real directing work. Our approach involves the use of found footage, and remaining in reality which triggers so much fascination, rather than in purely synthetic images. At the beginning of Hold On, we had worked on Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa, which tells the same story under four different perspectives. We wanted to make a kind of total movie/game that would allow you to create your own story. But the result was too complex to use. The current version is far more efficient because the simplicity of the controls does not disturb the immersion of the player (a big problem with interactive films) and that is what matters.
But it is true that we are very interested in the dynamic aspect. The work Dérives, for example, uses more than 1500 film clips that represent water and, by constantly renewing the editing, it generates a kind of infinite meta-film. Dérives is not interactive but it is dynamic and generative so it's not cinema anymore. It is almost impossible to cover it all. There's still a lot to do with captured images and generative effects.
Merci Emilie et Maxime!
The GAMERZ festival closed a few days ago in Aix en Provence. The first time i visited it was in 2010 and i decided then that it would be my favourite festival of the year. A few editions later, it still is the most exciting event in my calendar. I'll explain the enthusiasm with more details in the upcoming blog reports. In the meantime, i'm going to highlight Eye for Ears , a work i discovered during one of the performance nights.
Jérôme Fino defines these videos as Macro-videos for Musicians in Action.
The short films show what i'm supposed to be fairly familiar with: a documentation of experimental musicians improvising sound works. However, the gestures of the performers, the devices they use are shot from up-close. Fragments, tips of the fingers, knobs about to be turned, strings vibrating, etc.
The idea is ridiculous simple but perfectly executed. Eye for Ears (that's the name of this video series) made me discover new sound artists but also allowed me to see the physicality of their sound performance.
The focus is locked, the environment disappears, the camera is used like a machine to dissect the sound. Eye for Ears propose a music notice, an instinctive music played like a game. Diversion and research take part of this game, which rules are redefined each time.It's almost a physical experience, the sources of sounds and the relation between movement, materials and oscillation become evident. Documentation about improvised music, the project «Eye For Ears» is also an essay on the film and its soundtrack.
A portrait of the machines, manipulated by their invisible creators.
More videos? This way, please!
While i was at the LABoral in Gijón for the opening of the exhibition Active Presence (review coming soon on this very screen), i got a chance to check out the art center's other show: eCLIPSe: [retro]perspective of the music video in 50 steps.
The title says it all. 50 milestones in the history of music videos. From Bohemian Rhapsody to Alva Noto's Uni Acronym. Sitting in an art center to watch video clips that anyone else can open on youtube is exciting and seditious. Seditious because video clips -unlike much of what you can see in museums nowadays- are not only part of mainstream culture, they also wouldn't think of hiding their mercantile purpose. Exciting because although we might have seen all these videos before, watching them on a big screen forces us to realize that they probably are the most democratic point of entry to video art and more generally to audiovisual culture.
Carlos Navarro (curator of the exhibition in collaboration with Rubin Stein) writes: In our view, it should be included within the visual arts as a separate discipline. In some cases it should even be viewed as avant-garde, though at times it admittedly makes compromises with the commercialism and function a music video must inevitably serve, which is to sell a song, a band or a singer. Surprisingly enough, many of the advances made in the visual mise en scène of art forms enjoying such unquestionable respect as film were originally conceived and rehearsed in music videos. And even the narrative rhythm of the video has set standards for spectators. Likewise, we ought to underscore its inextricable bond with the language of advertising.
The exhibition was a crash course in music video for me. I grew up glued to MTV, got tired of it in the early 1990s and completely lost touch with the discipline in the process. I will therefore be forever grateful to the curators of the show for making me discover this brilliant video:
eCLIPSe charts the evolution of the music video genre. From the early days when musicians themselves were involved in the creation of their own videos (e.g. David Bowie for Ashes to Ashes), to the role that MTV played since its creation in 1981 in making the video the compulsory counterpart of a song, to the ascent of special effects, infographics and digital technologies, to the counter tendency towards amateurism (see Fatboy Slim's Praise You), to the entrance of online platform for file exchange that opened up windows for exhibiting and viewing videos worldwide, etc.
Because the exhibition was so unexpected, i wanted to talk to the main curator of the exhibition: audiovisual producer, scriptwriter and director Carlos Navarro.
Hola Carlos! My first curiosity is about Bohemian Rhapsody. You wrote that this is the first video clip ever made. What makes it so special? What did the video of Queen have that other musical videos didn't? What is so revolutionizing about it?
Although many experts regard Queen's video as the first self-conscious video made with the purpose of 'selling' a song, it is certain that the relationship between music and images comes from afar. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the artistic avant-garde was already playing with these two disciplines. Picabia or Schöenberg, for example, were using that language. Movies by Walt Disney, especially "Fantasia", were already exploring this relationship. And later, the musical movies of The Beatles can be regarded as authentic music clips. However, the importance of Bohemian Rhapsody lays in the intention expressed by Bruce Gowers and Queen to use images to sell the song, the disk and the band and ultimately in its objective to create a new promotional support.
I have to be honest and admit that both I and Rubin Stein, who worked with me on the selection of the works, were often influenced by our personal tastes, not so much in terms of music but for more strictly 'cinematographic' reasons.
This doesn't mean that we haven't devoted much time to the 'theoretical' study of the historical importance of the exhibited works. Nevertheless, what was non-negotiable during the curating process was that our selection had to be unique, different from the ones made in similar exhibitions. Hence, the choice of dedicating two monographs to Michel Gondry and Chris Cunningham. While the historical part arises from the study of the literature on the subject, the decision to add monographs is entirely personal and is founded on concerns that interest me as a narrator and professional of the audiovisual. In a nutshell, in the first phase we behaved like 'bookworms' and in the second one as film directors.
Although the selection of works for an exhibition is always debatable, i'd like to claim that "SON TODAS LAS QUE ESTÁN, AUNQUE NO ESTÉN TODAS LAS QUE SON". I don't know if you have a similar expression in english, sorry.
That's a tricky one to translate, but i guess the idea is that 'All the videos selected belong to the show, but not all the video clips that belong to the show are in the selection.'
Isn't there something a bit subversive in bringing popular video clips inside a museum/art space? Why do you think they have their place in a space dedicated to contemporary art?
Introducing an art traditionally considered 'minor' in the sacrosanct space of an art gallery was precisely the main reason behind this show - at least for me! The problem of video clips is that we are now used to watching them on a tv or computer screen where they are always subjected to multiple factors that prevent us from giving them our full attention. During their TV broadcasts we could watch them just before an advert for a washing powder, or right after an ad for a bier, or else as part of music program that wouldn't necessarily differentiate a mainstream clip from an authentic music video artwork. In the end, there's always been a lot of "noise" around the video clip. Exhibiting video clips in a museum space grants them a formality that forces us to pay further attention, and thus discover all its content. In the case of the monographs, it makes us realize the obsessions and recurrent themes of a creator which, in my view, places the director of music video in the category of visual artist.
Finally, have you discovered any new video clip since the show opened that makes you think "damn! this video clip is so fantastic i wish i could add it to the show now!"?
Yes, this is always the case. Even the day after we had closed the selection, new works emerged that i wish i could have added. But an exhibition like this one comes with "auto frustration" otherwise it would have been impossible to close it or put a limit to it: why 50 clips rather than 60? Or even 100?
We would have liked to include a clip of the new trend called "interactive", such as I´ve seen Footage by Death Grips or some of The Valtari Mystery Film Experiment videos that Sigur Rós have proposed to illustrate their last album. However, the logistical difficulties of doing so were important.
In any case we are very proud of this selection although, of course, we know that it remains open for debate.
The exhibition closed a few days ago but it will travel with Fundación Telefónica to venues in Latin America, i'll keep you posted about the dates and locations via twitter and the blog's facebook page. In the meantime, you can find more information in the press kit.
First turn off the lights and watch this film full screen if you haven't seen it already. We can talk later...
David O'Reilly is a film director, an artist and i'm not going to add that he's a genius because everybody's done that already, including me after i first saw his work at Pictoplasma Berlin back in 2007. The External World had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 2010 and was shown a few months later at Sundance. It has since won numerous awards. Another of his most admired short films, Please Say Something, received the Golden Bear at the 2009 Berlin International Film Festival. The film was the only animated film to win the title since Pixar's first short film.
But before i go any further, let me point you to Octocat. It's my favourite and I've watched it 4 times today. I can't get enough of the stupid voice ("Mmmh That looks like some chicken. Mmmh I'm just gonna eat. Mmmh, that's delicious!")
O'Reilly's stripped down 3D animation films treat cute and/or bonker characters in a rather brutal way. He doesn't do adorable. he can at best stretch to bitter-sweet (see the video for U2's song I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight.)
David O'Reilly is going to give a talk in New York in early November as part of the Pictoplasma conference. And because I've never been shy about professing my love for Pictoplasma, i'm going to do exactly what i did last year: run a series of interviews with some of the speakers in the run-up to the event.
O'Reilly's interview is the first one to go online but don't hold your breath! He's not one to reveal much!
I almost fell from my chair when i saw the list of awards your animations have received over only a few years. All of them are deserved of course but since you've shown your work at major movie festivals such as Sundance, Berlinale or the Venice festival, i've been wondering why you have never been tempted to adopt the super protective behavior of many film makers. Instead, you let anyone watch your films for free on the internet. Why not just put a trailer, an extract and ask people to pay if they want to see the whole film? What do you gain from putting your film online?
The idea with releasing things online is you hopefully gain an audience. You might make a little bit of money if you charge for your short film, but at the expense of potentially millions of eyeballs.
I've never been really protective about my short films, it always seemed normal to put them online and then move on to the next one. I had actually been making animations for years before ever entering a festival, I never saw the point of going to all the trouble of sending out DVDs and filling out forms. I also (correctly) thought most of them were really bad.
You work on both the story and the animation of your short films. Have you ever dreamt of collaborating with someone for the scenario part of a film? He or she would would come up with the story and you'd just illustrate it? And if you had your pick, who would that scenarist be?
I have been writing almost everything I do with Vernon Chatman for the last 2.5 years. He's a much more experienced writer than me and has taught me a lot but we're a good team. I'm not sure about illustrating someone else's script but I'd love to adapt Chris Ware's work, I think he is amazing.
Do you get to look at the work of artists working in other fields (painting, music, video, etc.) a lot and do you draw inspiration from them? Whose work do you admire?
I know a lot of geniuses whose work I really admire - Vernon, Jason Woliner, Steve Ellison, Willie Bensussen, Eric Wareheim, Tim Biskup, Adam Buxton, Garth Jennings, Jon Klassen, Gregg Turkington, Mr.Doob, Aaron Koblin and others.
Any advice you could give to young illustrators / students who would like to be as successful as you are?
I would not give any advice yet as there is usually a strong possibility I will be homeless every 6 months.
What are you going to present at Pictoplasma?
I will hopefully talk about the small projects that I do in-between the big ones. Ways to stay occupied when you are tired and feel useless, that kind of thing. Also secrets... many secrets.
Catch up with David at Pictoplasma NYC conference on November 2 and 3 at Parsons the new school for design.
I entered the cinema wondering how much i'd enjoy a computer animated homage to a genius born exactly 100 years ago and i got out of the screening obsessed with everything Turing. I spent the weeks that followed reading everything i could about the 'father of the computer'.
The short(-ish) film narrates and speculates on the last days of Alan Turing. I knew Turing as the genius who had successfully worked on cracking German ciphers at Bletchley Park during the WWII, as a man who has defined the basics of computer science, and developed the eponymous Turing test, which sets a standard for a machine to be called "intelligent".
Turing's name was therefore little more than synonymous with a landmark in the history of computer. I wasn't aware of his personal life so i was shocked to see him portrayed as a broken man about to (maybe?) commit suicide. 2 years before his death, Turing was indeed found guilty of "gross indecency", because of his sexual relationship with another man. Homosexual acts being illegal in the UK at that time, Turing was given a choice between imprisonment and chemical castration. He opted for hormonal treatment. The conviction also led to the removal of his security clearance, and barred him from continuing with his cryptographic consultancy for the British signals intelligence agency.
As the directors write: Our film tells the legendary myth that thinking machines in the future will make about their creator's life; an emotional story about how one of Britain's greatest scientists ended up in a very dark place, because the country which he helped save from fascism, chemically castrated him because he was gay.
This is the background for a film that intertwines Turing's dreams, a therapy session with his psychologist and a couple of intelligent machines looking for their father.
The focus on the session with the German therapist is particularly fascinating. As the film directors explained in the Q&A that followed the screening, Turing arrived in Manchester as an entirely rational and logical man and because his therapist, Dr Franz Greenbaum, was using Jungian psychology and encouraged Turing to write a dream diary, the mathematician was suddenly confronted with the irrational and the unconscious.
The film certainly explores this irrationality, suggesting that after all, being irrational is part of human intelligence.
The Creator is a clever and moving film that not only celebrates the tragic life of a man we owe so much to but also reminds us that Turing is still waiting for an official and posthumous pardon.
Cornerhouse uploaded the video of the Q&A with the film makers. Don't miss it, their passion for Turing is contagious. Bonus! The irresistible accent of one of the artists.
The Creator will be screened again at the Cornerhouse, on Thu 30 Aug, at 15:50 as part of the AND festival.
Abandon Normal Devices (AND), the Festival of New Cinema, Digital Culture and Art will run from August 29 until September 2.