Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Visionaries, Translators, Interpreters.

Top. Image by Julian Hand. Below. Tomaga in concert. Image by Ross Adams.


On a recent visit to the Tate Modern in London I came across a small painting by Wassily Kadinsky, an artist from the early 1900s, I was interested to read that there had been a period when he had wanted his art to be a visual representation of the non-material, his paintings to be of the spiritual (1)-and also of music. Further on there was a room of paintings produced by artist Gerhard Richter while he listened to the music of John Cage, whose ideas on creating music had appealed to Richter (2). In Richter's case there was an interaction between music(ian) and visual art(ist) while Kadinsky went one step further wanting, at times, his art to be the transposing of music into another medium. Visual artists Julian Hand and Ross Adams' work sits between Richter and Kadinsky, albeit in a very different context. Julian's work includes running workshops, live visuals and videos for amongst others The Oscillation, Desert Ships and the recent School of Hypnosis performance at The Barbican as part of 'Station to Station'. Ross is a visual artist who has worked closely with Tomaga, producing their album artwork, live projections and a video for 'Futura Grotesk'. He has also provided live visuals for Orlando. Mesmerised by their work at gigs and intrigued by the creative process I asked Julian and Ross if they would answer a few questions on their amazing work of mediation.

 Q: How did you get involved in the visuals of music? Was it something you were 'always' interested in?

Julian: During my years as an art student I started to take an interest in Super 8mm film. I started to develop an intense passion for the medium whilst at Camberwell Collage of Arts studying Graphic Design. I loved the idea of being able to project the moving image I'd filmed and in turn this opened my eyes to the concept of light projection in its broadest sense. In those days I would try to bend each brief to incorporate using film or slide projections in some form one way or another. I ended the course specialising in moving image and focused my passion for experimental film in my final year. Around the same time I began experimenting with 35mm slide projectors, paints, glues and all sorts of house hold chemicals in an attempt to recreate light show techniques I'd read about and seen created by a friend. I was totally obsessed with these tools and methods of exhibiting or displaying imagery.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ggx_ZdCcq2A – Love Is…

Super 8 film is silent a Super 8 film camera only records the visual. As my projects and ideas developed I found it necessary to start to incorporate sound ideas alongside my moving images. I began to befriend and collaborate with friends at art school who also played instruments or experimented with sound, some even opted for the label of band. During those years I spent a great deal of time experimenting with sound and image with those friends, sometimes for collage projects but mostly for fun.

One project I remember was titled V.L.E.S (Visual Light Experimental Sound). The make up consisted of a friend with a shed load of synthesisers and effect machines spilling out white noise and drones and myself with as many film and slide projectors as I could operate, covering every available wall space with liquid light, melting slides and burning film loops of 1960's Go Go glam girls and pin up stars in a tiny room at the back of the collage to an audience of nobody. We put up posters round the collage advertising the 'event'. Still, no one showed up and we came out of that room feeling pretty psychotic after an hour or so of mind shredding noise and whirling light and the whiff of Amyl Nitrate faintly trailing behind us. It was definitely a one off experience.

Whilst at collage I also worked providing visuals for local bars and pubs in and around Camberwell and Brixton in South London. I'd turn up to a bar with a suitcase full of projectors and set them up on a balcony or high space and sit up there in the rafters projecting films and painting on glass slides all evening. Usually I'd get a little money and some free drinks. It was a great way to hone my skills and figure out what worked in a live environment. After sometime this became a little boring though. There's only so much bar funk you can listen to before going crazy and after a while the projections started to feel more like a kind of moving wall paper with no personality so I decided to stop for a while and figure out the next move. I like mood lighting in venues and in a sense this is what I was doing in the bars. I was providing a pleasant back drop for night club goers to occasionally look up at over the course of the evening, a momentary distraction from the disco floor. I got very bored of this after a while and realised there was no life in this form of light experience for me. I interact with the projectors and create new slide paintings constantly refreshing the liquid light experience. This important aspect of the process was being missed in this setting. I felt I need to take these techniques to a different audience and put them back in to a performance context and leave the decorative or mood lighting to the Optikinetics projectors rigged in up in the ceiling. I wanted to create something the audience would feel they've experienced rather than just walking into a room with pretty lights. I wanted them to wonder what the hell was happening. After all, this was where the origins of the light show began right? It was a kind of alchemy or magic happening? Or so I thought. I started to think about getting in contact with bands and tailor a light show that complimented the sound and brought/elevated the experience of listening to the music to another level, essentially take the audience on both a sonic and sight journey. I wanted that symbiosis of sound and image to be seamless, I want the audience to walk away and feel the whole performance both audio and visual as one entity.

And so off I went looking for the right sound to connect the lights with. It was hit and miss with the bands I started collaborating with in the beginning. I never seemed to gel completely with the sound or the artists. Again it was good practise but hard going in the beginning because around that time I'd also realised that I didn't want to get bracketed in the 1960's psych or punk garage revival scene. As cool as I thought it was I still figured it was all just treading the same old groovy ground. I felt I was doing something more with the visual techniques by incorporating my own personal film works into the light display and this stuff just didn't fit with the bands I'd been listening to. Around that time I did have the honour of performing with Sky Saxon of the Seeds and his new band Lighter for two North London shows back in 2004. He introduced me to the audience as the forth member of Soft Machine which I was pretty made up with at the time.

After a bought of meaningless or uninspired gigs I decided to give the light shows a break for a while and concentrate my creative energies on my experimental film ideas concerning celluloid film and neon sign video poetry.
Then in late 2005 I had the fortune of meeting and befriending Demian Castellanos. We both connected with our similar taste in music and it sounded like he was working on some pretty interesting ideas for his new music project going under the working title of The Orichalc Phase. One night after a gig we were talking and I explained that I was looking for some strange soundscapes to accompany my film poetry project. Dem showed interest and invited me around to his studio to check out some sonic ideas and his new music project.
https://vimeo.com/16852703 - Neon Rendezvous London

We finally arranged an evening to hook up. After a few beers and a few hours of listening intently to a plethora of material ranging from complete works, works in progress and sonic sketches I went home that night with a selection of tracks and sound ideas to work on. One of the tracks was titled 'Respond in Silence' it was an early mix but Dem was sure it was a strong candidate for his first Orichalc Phase EP release on DC Recordings. A few weeks later he gave me a call and told me to put my best efforts into the visuals for the video as it was definitely going to be the first EP release in the campaign to promote his first album 'Out of Phase'.
https://vimeo.com/83716683 - Respond In Silence
https://vimeo.com/83721116 - Violations

Ross: As an 8 year old in 1986 I got stuck in the cassette inlay of Iron Maiden's 'Somewhere In Time' album that a mate lent me. I was fixated by all of the tiny details in the artwork - like references to the lyrics, their gigs and their other albums. It was so different to the other music I had, and it made me realise there was another depth beyond just hearing an album, however basic. It drew me in with rich otherworldly imagery as start points, and encouraged the internal visual experience I have when listening to music. I loved it and started drawing my own tape covers the next day.

I got involved in music visuals in the early 2000’s by putting up live triggered 35mm slideshows for mate’s club nights in east London - a lot of sweaty breaks and drum n bass, but they branched out and started doing some much more left field nights that felt more visually interesting, so my projections got more varied and more prominent. Most of it was based on abstract or surreal analogue photography I had been making quietly by myself for years, but I also handmade slides. Stuff that seemed to fit the attitude of the music got the best response: surreal, colourful, sinister…. in a dark noisy room a bright light is a powerful thing - so don’t shine it in people's eyes, it’s just annoying. 

Q: How much collaboration is there between the musicians and yourself over style and content?

Julian: We started to think about what kind of imagery we'd use and types of special effects to employ for the video. I'd previously performed a light show where I'd asked audience members to supply a passport photo of themselves of which I'd paint on and then melt in the projector live. It was an evening of face annihilation set to experimental electronic music. I was keen to take this live idea and transfer it to video. Demian was reading a book on sacred geometry and wanted to incorporate some of these designs in to the video. So I made up a set of slides with these ancient designs on and some with Dem's face. I then spent an evening projecting and disintegrating these images and recording the results. The recorded material was then spliced together with a mixture of my archive Super 8 film experiments and raw footage. After a few weeks of editing 'Respond in Silence' we finally had our first music video collaboration complete. It was a real mish mash of ideas but in the end it kind of came together. This was our first collaboration, the first of many to come.

This is how the process of collaboration began between Demian and myself. I would come up with some new or revived projection techniques we could use for SFX sequences or suggest different cameras or weird types of film stock we could experiment on. Then we'd sit down and together and discuss the image content or if applicable a narrative sequence. Our ideas would usually entail a journey to a forgotten or lesser explored area of the city, places of abandon and desolation.
And so this is how we progressed as collaborators. Dem writes a track and sends it over. Usually in rough form. I listen and advise sometimes. Then over time one track might stick out and I will start to develop images or film ideas. We will discuss these early thoughts and generally digest them for some time. If the idea sticks and begins to grow then that's usually the cue to put the idea into production. Each video has demanded some form of experimental projection technique. So once a video is finished we are always left with some new SFX material we can work into the live show with The Oscillation. And whilst constructing the video from concept through to realisation we bounce ideas and early edits back and forth. Or in the final stages of post production Dem will come over to my studio and we would go over the near final edit. This is always a good move because I tend to get carried away with things sometimes. For instance during the edit stage of the 'From Tomorrow' video I ended putting our green holographic character in many more of the scenes than was necessary. I did this simply because I liked the process of dropping the green screened character into the lush Super 8mm background footage. Demian came over to check out the edit and was amazed just how carried away I'd got. He suggested we drop some of the scenes in order to let the narrative breath. I was initially against the suggestion. Purely because I was counting up the editing time I had put in over the weeks. After making the adjustments I could see he was totally right. I can go blind in the editing vortex from time to time. It's always good to have that second eye scrutinising the work as it progresses. In the end it betters the final outcome.  https://vimeo.com/83525286 - From Tomorrow
I believe it is highly important to get to know the musician/artist you find yourself collaborating with. I'm always interested in their background their influences and where they want to go with their projects. I think you really need to get to know these aspects in order to generate the right ideas for the project. The better I know someone then the better and more honest the ideas can be. Break down the barriers and the visions become deeper.
I feel I have my own defined style, visual tastes and aesthetic and a lot of ideas but, it is so important to get to know where the musician is coming from regarding the songs content direction and energies. The musician or band may also have reference material be it literature, photography or art or other video/film influences they'd like to draw inspiration from. All of this is so important in the mix of ideas when collaborating on a project and I am always open to these influences because ultimately I feel they enhance or enrich the project.

Ross: When TOMAGA originally approached me to work with them on the artwork for their first releases, we talked about what we thought fitted their work best and then threw pictures and references at each other until we felt a few elements click. I made something based on those, and we threw it backwards and forwards until we were all happy. 
There's always a deeper interaction around the releases and the printed work, cos it's much more of a concrete statement, as opposed to the live show which is a loose ritual that evolves each time you do it. The live visual content stemmed mostly from the ideas in the original conversations we had, as well as Tom (Relleen) using the phrase "psychic conveyor belt" which really stuck in my head. 
In a live setting I'm there to add another dimension to TOMAGA's work - they're a great live act by themselves and without my visuals, and when we play together I follow their lead as they aren't there to soundtrack my visuals. It would be good to swap roles at some point and for me to make a short film for TOMAGA to soundtrack. Maybe next year! 

Q: In a live setting how much of what you do is an improvised response to the music and how much is pre determined? Or does that balance shift and change according to the gig?

Julian: During a live show the balance between the pre determined and the improvised with regard to the imagery and visual response varies with accordance to who (which band) I'm working with at the time.

For instance my shows with The Oscillation in a sense are a lot more pre determined than one might think. I have worked with the band live now for many years and know the songs and set by heart. I know the pace and structure of each track and am therefore prepared for what's coming up in the set. I have certain techniques with the slide painting prepared for either an aggressive fast moment or a slow spaced out sequence and as I know what to expect from the band I can have these elements ready for the changes before the changes are made by the band. So this gives the live show a tighter feeling overall. Someone once described what I do as a kind of dance behind the projectors because I am constantly moving around either preparing a selection of slides or leaping about the projectors changing images, pulling focus or strobing the light mixing the various projections in time (or seemingly in time) to the band on stage. This level of togetherness I have with The Oscillation's live set has grown tighter over the years.

In turn, if I'm working with a band I've had less experience with live then my work with them is usually a lot more improvised. I have certain techniques that I know work and look good. These will usually emulate the classic light show. If a band hasn't requested any specific imagery then I will usually perform a standard liquid light show. These can be open and a lot more experimental. I feel there's a bit more freedom in the improvised approach and it makes for a good change from time to time. If something works well that I haven't tried before then it will usually end up being incorporated into an Oscillation show.

Sometimes bands will ask for certain imagery to appear within the light shows. For instance I have currently started collaborating with Jim Jones and his new band The Righteous Mind. Jim asked me if I could incorporate imagery referencing Occult, Masonic and Illuminati symbols and other weird magic iconography. I put some short animations of eyes and strange magic signs together and edited them into the pre recorded video aspect of my show. I also made up a load of slides using magic symbols of which to paint on and burn in the projector during the show. So in a sense a show can also be tailored to the band in a bespoke fashion.

Ross: I usually make themed groups of still images or short videos with the music in mind, and use these to make batches of video loops that relate to parts of their set. I play and mess with these to fit what they play, so really I'm VJing using all my own footage. Random stuff and accidents happen in a live setting and that is fun too. 

Q: Ego Sensation of White Hills commented that 'There’s also something powerful about the artist actually showing the audience the music' (3). She was talking about the musician playing live but is that what you doing, 'showing the audience the music'. 

Julian: I'm not sure that I would say that I'm 'showing the audience the music' via my visual work on stage. I think everyone, if they were to 'show the music' would show something completely different and entirely unique.

Certainly the visuals I conjure are styled to the band and for the band or style of music. In the case of The Oscillation there has been a strong collaborative venture in the production of the music videos and art work styled around the band. Therefore the imagery we use in the live shows directly stem from these visual ideas generated by Demain and myself. We've always tried to keep the light show as abstract as we can in order to enable the audience to make their own connection with what's going on visually in relation to the sound.

The nature of my projection work is fluidity (liquid). Therefore there is a sense that that the projections move or flow with the sound, especially when it's all going to plan. I try to project many levels or layers of movement to reflect a songs structure. I use various household chemicals and products to achieve different speeds or pace. Each has is own character of effect or movement. A certain type of glue when mixed with watercolour ink and boiled moves in a particularly fast and vicious way. I will employ this concoction during an energetic moment in the set. A fast track and a retina ripping slide to suit. The audience will observe and experience an intense moment both sonically and visually. They will see the two elements moving in unison as one. This is the intension and when I achieve this I feel the show has been a success. People will ask me if I have the projectors rigged up to the speakers in someway as they feel the two elements are completely interconnected and moving in time as one. I always enjoy telling them 'no' and informing them that it's their brain marrying the two together. There are so many levels of movement in both the sound and what you are seeing moving around in the light show. Your brain pairs it all up and renders it a whole. The experience is in your head!

Ross: I hope so. It's projecting my version, an interpretation, or hopefully an enhancement to what TOMAGA are playing. I hope it feels interesting, draws people in, and that they connect with another angle in the music. Ideally it would go beyond the performance, get a bit subconscious and they’d have some heavy dreams that night too. ha ha.

Q: Would you see your visuals as interpretation/representation or the transposing of music into another medium?

Julian: The visual techniques I use have a long history with the world of music and have always been seen to be part of the music or its interpretation. The liquid light experiments date back as far as the Jazz scene in the 50's and were seen even then as representing the sound via a projected visual style. I consider my efforts to master these techniques and bring something of my own imagination in style to the history of the light show a continuation of this art form and its will to co exist with music/sound. It's symbiosis with sound expounded the art form to a much wider audience. The two are now intrinsically connected.

Ross: I think my visuals will always be my interpretation, but if people experienced it as a transposition of TOMAGA's music then I would be very happy. Ultimately that's what I'm aiming for - for people to experience the band and the visuals as a synergy, which in turn is greater than the sum of its parts. 

Q: When making a music video how do you decide what style of art and what structure is appropriate to a particular piece of music?

Julian: The style of art or design for each video I embark on is usually always discussed in the early stages of the videos concept either with the artist, band or record label.
Each video project will be different in approach, no video is the same and I try to experiment with different ideas or combinations of ideas for each piece.
Sometimes I'm given a list of references to check out and am asked to, in some way, emulate in my own way the special effect or film trick. I will discuss the track with the musicians and get them to describe its essence in greater detail. Usually I have some visual trick I'd like to explore and try to weave it into the structure of the video somehow.
In a perfect world each project will involve Super 8mm or celluloid in some way or form as this is my preferred medium. I get the most kicks out of using film. There's a greater sense of reward when an idea works out well. I love the aesthetic and always will. So when I'm asked to make a video then this (film aesthetic) is usually kept in mind. I have a reputation for this kind of aesthetic or style and am usually asked to produce something using these methods. So in a sense the style/look is already decided.
When making 'From Tomorrow' both Demian and myself where reading a lot of J G Ballard and we wanted to bring in aspects of his writing from a visually descriptive point of view. We wanted to build visually upon his dystopian vistas, our journeying with the camera took us to derelict factory districts and brutalist inner city caves which seemed to reflect the imagery he’d installed in our mindscape. The idea was to set a strange backdrop in which we let loose our holographic future female transmission. I read a lot and this informs or influences my work in a big way. I’ve just read ‘The Rings of Saturn’ by W.G. Sebald and am deeply inspire by his writing. One landscape in particular is now on my list for exploration through the S8mm lens. I now plan to visit Orford Ness and the abandoned weapons testing facility area which is now part of a nature reserve.

Ross: To be honest I really just try to visualise what I am hearing. I go into lots of detail and listen to it repeatedly to really know it, but also to hear it when I'm in lots of different places and moods. That's a good way of checking the inner vision you are growing will stick and is worth pursuing in the physical world. The hardest bit is making it real. https://vimeo.com/108414897 TOMAGA Futura Grotesk.

 Q: Do you have a 'weapon of choice'?! A style or technique of art that you really enjoy employing?

Julian: As I mentioned above, I am deeply into celluloid (S8MM) as a medium for generating moving or still images. I love the medium for many reasons. The varying grades, colours and grains of film, the amazing array of different cameras and strange lenses that you can explore, it's home made D.I.Y aesthetic, the use of light to create and view an image, it's ability to paint like the memories eye, it's versatility and tangible aspects, film painting and out of camera effects. My list goes on and on! And that's why film is my 'weapon of choice'.

Ross: Dark. A blank screen. It's like knowing when to shut up. Sight is our dominant perception so it's important to know how to be quiet with it - especially in a dark room. 

Q: What artists involved in music visuals have you been inspired by?

Julian: My early influences I guess would go back to my MTV2 days and watching all kinds of weird videos in the dead of night. For instance the video 'Fish Heads' by Barnes and Barnes springs to mind. All that odd low-fi, low budget stuff made by independent bands and labels was always really encouraging. It gave you the feeling that you could go out there and do something yourself. Then I guess at art collage and there after I've been heavily into underground film or experimental cinema, and also instillation art and light show environments have been a big influence.

Ross: I saw Sculpture a few months ago in a studio space and it was the most exciting thing I'd seen for ages - wobbly, swirling madness. I've seen a lot of music visuals that just look like screen savers and that doesn't interest me much, same goes for sampling from 'Holy Mountain' and other films - I mean, why not make something of your own to show? 

(1) http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/kandinsky-swinging-t02344
(2)  http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/display/gerhard-richter
(3) http://freedomnews.org.uk/walk-for-motorists-an-interview-with-white-hills/

Julian's List of influential videos.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTpUVAcvWfU - 'Fish Heads' by Barnes and Barnes - Can you believe that that was directed by Bill Paxton? 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fyr0zbaFyE - The Cramps - Bikini Girls With Machine Guns 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFxpL5TpZH0&index=1&list=PLMf-9Y0QKhmnnkfgdUuziL-ZcJuov7kV4 - Public Image Limited - Death Disco
Don Letts - Punk Rock Movie - For his hand held on the ground in the trenches attitude to film making

Then I guess at art collage and there after I've been heavily into underground film or experimental cinema. Here are some of my favourites from that ever expansive universe.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Stmu01fIkII Kennith Anger - Puce Moment - One of my all time favourite films!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbudgzMaQvI&index=16&list=PLMf-9Y0QKhmkGIWCRNM1HQmtpCH4FSmGr - Derek Jarman -  TG Psychic Rally in Heaven 81  
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0AB1qfx5c8Y&index=11&list=PLMf-9Y0QKhmkGIWCRNM1HQmtpCH4FSmGr - Derek Jarman - Art of Mirrors
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaKKcyoEmr8&index=24&list=PLMf-9Y0QKhmkGIWCRNM1HQmtpCH4FSmGr - Stan Brakhage - Dog Star Man: Part III [1964]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeyrKu34vIQ&index=38&list=PLMf-9Y0QKhmkGIWCRNM1HQmtpCH4FSmGr - Aldo Tambellini's BLACKOUT (1965)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rH-JxCXM-Ls&index=12&list=PLMf-9Y0QKhmnnkfgdUuziL-ZcJuov7kV4 - Roger Beebe's - Strip Mall Trilogy
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXINTf8kXCc&index=5&list=PLMf-9Y0QKhmnnkfgdUuziL-ZcJuov7kV4 - Marcel Duchamp - Anemic Cinema
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSY0TA-ttMA - Maya Deren - Meshes of the Afternoon

Also instillation art and light show environments have been a big influence
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/metzger-liquid-crystal-environment-t12160 - Gustav Metzger - liquid crystal environment
http://www.boylefamily.co.uk/boyle/texts/journey2.html - Mark Boyle - Son et Lumiere for Earth, Air, Fire, and Water ​
https://vimeo.com/29428835 - Anthony McCall - Line Describing a Cone

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