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Or more accurately 3D animation, real time computer graphics and projection mapping interacting with electronic music to create something that merges theater set design and production, cinema, live music and virtual reality. One could imagine a character out of say, Blade Runner, walking into a concert or nightclub scene resembling what I saw in this performance. Unfortunately it wasn’t live but on YouTube, though it would be quite an experience to see it at the Sydney Opera House in person. As usual, my discovery was out of tune with any sequential time sequence as I’m busy bouncing all over the place.

I first stumbled upon it while looking up Amon Tobin, the Brazilian electronic musician who collaborated on this project with director Vello Virkhaus, media production collective V Squared Labs, Leviathan and set designer Vita Motus. The music was originally from Tobin’s album ISAM (which has been a part of my lounge room ‘ambience’ lately), an Acronym for “Invented Sound Applied to Music”, the record was: ‘an experiment in synthesizing field recordings and transforming them into new physically playable instruments to create unique sound palettes.’

The set itself at various times looks like a dystopian city of the future, a mass of broken T.V. sets, a giant game of Tetris or some kind of self conscious but irrational space ship with Tobin embedded in the structure as the captain. It’s at times a disorienting 21st century version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis assembled from musique and video concrete sources, filtered through Kraftwerk’s industrial elegance and finally interpreted by the mix, match and fusion of DJ culture. This is a one of a kind audio/visual spectacle and definitely worth your time dear reader. Let it paint unique pictures in your own mind.



vsquaredlabs.com

amontobin.com

 

You might not be familiar with the name but Karl is a Canadian experimental filmmaker whose videos, projections and stills have been an integral part of the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Me and a few friends got to witness them perform together last summer, an event I can only describe as a post-apocalyptic yet poetic requiem for the decline of western civilization. A doomed sense of helplessness but with a few hints of sunshine here and there, or as fellow Canadians No Means No put it: ‘In every defeat, there will be a victory’.

What was fascinating was that the projectionist was situated in the middle of the dance floor with actual rolls of film dangling everywhere. Lemieux was as busy as the group onstage and his imagery seamlessly blended with the music and in fact became the visual focus and served to obscure the players themselves. One could draw parallels here with the psychedelic 60’s ‘happenings’ but really the projection of improvised imagery is where it ends. I’m not sure the kids were really ‘grooving’ to this multi media spectacle. But you could connect this to other film and music collaborations such as Jem Cohen/Fugazi and Ge.Sus/Crass, where imagery takes part in the process rather than just documents it.

Karl Lemieux: ‘I’ve never been a musician or seriously learned to play an instrument, but, to some extent, I prefer music to film. It’s something I wish I could share in. Especially the improvisational part, where the musicians get together and communicate by sound. They respond to each other and create this whole thing all together. I think that’s what brought me to performance, because it involves controlling an instrument. But instead of sound rhythms or sound vibrations its light rhythms and the physical experience of light.’

The key figure for the filmmaker seems to be one Pierre Hébert, whose projection work dates back to the 70’s but that’s all I know at this stage. This character warrants further investigation in another post, and it will be interesting to see their similarities and differences in approach. Karl’s loops of 16mm film are bleached, burnt, hand-painted and god knows what else until they resemble a lost home video tainted by some kind of radio activity. A bleak, post-industrial-grey, abstract expressionist, dream-logic travelogue of the damned. Or something like that, you dear reader, may see it from another angle.

Incite Interview

Karl Lemieux on Vimeo

23 envelope

Well here’s a quick one, a documentary on graphic design team 23 Envelope, responsible for some of those wonderful 4AD Records covers. It’s a time capsule of one of the 80’s ‘indie’ underground’s shining lights, and I’m talking about the process not the sound. It’s a world where art rules over commerce and encompasses production, graphic design, packaging, photography, video, literature and the music of groups such as the Pixies, Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins. I’ve always loved a unique or interesting doco and this one is no different. It’s amazing to see the massive amount of video material people keep rescuing from old VHS tapes because not everything makes it onto DVD for various reasons. I’ve already posted about this subject matter so I’ll keep it brief:

4AD Record Cover Design: Vaughan Oliver

Here’s a link to the feature length youtube video:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=chmn0hjXSzw

Best known for his ‘Road to the Stars’ (1958) and ‘Planet of Storms’ (1962) films, the work of this Russian film director, producer, screenwriter, author and special effects artist has been hugely influential in the sci-fi film world even though most people won’t be familiar with his won work. I wasn’t until I saw the ‘The Star Dreamer’ (2002) documentary. This is compulsory viewing for anyone interested in film, special effects or set design.

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Rivalling the set design and attention to detail of Stanley Kubrick, Pavel’s work is the true predecessor to ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’ (1968). Going as far as questioning scientists in the Russian space program and avoiding often used (and now dated) special effects; the films still stand up all these years later. For example, using a camera crane instead of invisible strings for a hover craft or a mechanical revolving set to simulate zero gravity make it all the more believable.

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I’ve included some snapshots for those who might be interested.

Well here is another book I’ve been after: “Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design”, hopefuly I can grab it in the next few months. It seems to have inspired a few people out there, as evidenced in this video tribute by Ian Albinson. It compiles some of Saul’s best known work. He is also founder and editor-in-chief of artofthetitle.com.

‘Every object tells a story if you know how to read it.’

A companion piece to ‘The Genius of Design’ series, Objectified focuses on design practices today and asks some very important questions. This film focuses on how objects are conceived, developed, manufactured and ultimately how they speak to us. It’s about an industry which makes standardised objects for millions of people, be it peelers, post it notes, chairs, etc. Everything in our world has been designed in one way or another, but most of us don’t notice it.

Designers obviously see this process differently: ‘ When you see an object, you make so many assumptions about an object – what it does, how well its gonna do it, how heavy it is, how much you think it should cost.’

We can see how products are developed (using bicycle grips for peelers) and the move from ‘form follows function’ to removing or hiding functions and symbols entirely. In computers and phones everything defers to the screen, the focus is on function, not the design. From the analog to the digital world, familiarity versus innovation.

Designer Dieter Rams rates Apple as one of the few companies who take design seriously by getting the notion of design out of the way: ‘Good design should be innovative, good design is unobtrusive, good design is consistent in every detail, last but not least: good design is as little design as possible.’ So here you have a kind of Good Design Mantra.

Of course the major challenges have been to ‘give individual character to something that is produced industrially’ and how to still make them affordable to the general public. Marc Newson: ‘Of course, I fundamentally believe that something thats well designed should not necessarily cost more. Arguably it should cost less. But the problem is, design has become a word for a lot of companies to sort of add value. Because something is designed, and therefore charge them more money for it. Things will be marketed in terms of design in the future.’ The iphone is a good case in point, well designed, multi-functional and very powerful but it comes at a high cost. So far, his predictions seem to be true although companies like IKEA have tried a ‘good design at low cost’ strategy. I think that in the light of the current financial roller coaster ride, we will have both options.

An most importantly, the film focuses on questions of culture, innovation and aesthetics versus shelf-life, disposability and recycling. Design that avoids becoming landfill and instead teaches buyers to understand the consequences of their purchases. How do designers become culture generators instead of generators of the environment? Mass communication instead of mass production. But how do you make money without a series of disposable products? I think this will be one of the major questions of this century.

Well this was a discovery made through a music video of all things. Every now and then (and this is true of tv ads as well), you see something that sticks with you and you want to investigate further. The video is ‘Tonto’ made for the largely instrumental group Battles by a British based collective United Visual Artists.. They seem to be concerned with modifying space and light through installations and live performance. This includes many different disciplines such as architecture, fine art, engineering, graphic and communication design. I’m guessing that many European music and art festivals feature their work.

 

The video is an LED installation synchronized with the audio to create a multimedia experience which wouldn’t look out of place on the set of ‘2001, A Space Odyssey’.  The installation functions as a light symphony and I think it complements the music so perfectly, one hopes it gets used on tour. The alien/ lunar landscape is actually an old Welsh slate mine.

 

Obviously, I could have included other examples of UVA’s work, but this is a good place to start discovering the rest of the portfolio for those who are interested.

 

The website is here: http://www.uva.co.uk/

 

The making of the ‘Tonto’ video can be viewed here and is highly recomended if you want to see the creative process of the collective: http://www.vimeo.com/15299797

Or How I Learnt to Fear the Future

  

Well its been a while since I’ve posted anything here, so here’s something a little different. Its another interesting documentary I’ve come across that I thought I could share with you. Its what I’ve come to term ‘TV exotica’, because television has (and still does from time to time) beamed some really bizarre programs at us over the years. And I really like seeing what slips through the cracks of ‘entertainment’.

 

This little gem is hosted and narrated by none other than Orson Welles (!?), which is what got me hooked in the first place. How do you get someone like that to host what looks like a cross beetwen a 70’s b-movie, Discovery Channel and Dr. Who? ‘Dr. Who?’, you ask? Just watch the opening sequence and it will all make sense. Based on a book of the same name by Alvin Toffler, this is one of the weirder and more paranoid documentaries I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. The b-movie feel is further enhanced by a soundtrack which switches between big band exploitation funk and bleeping futuristic synths.

  

The sight of Mr. Welles puffing on a cigar in an airport is probably more shocking today than anything discussed in the film. Maybe except the idea that someday people will choose to change their skin colour to blue. While being paranoid about everything from computers, cloning and artificial intelligence, the film does get one thing right: impermanence and an ever increasing rate of change and consequently the speed of life. Interchangeable body parts, friends, housing, jobs and even skin colour. Of course very technological or social change shown here is now outdated, but it is interesting to compare with the world of today.

  

But unlike Marshall McLuhan for example, who called for an understanding or at least a deconstruction of the modern world, Future Shock seems more concerned with causing a sense of moral panic than anything else. I haven’t read the book so my opinions might be incorrect, but you should try to find this slice of paraoid-techno-exotica!

I thought I could include a ‘science fiction’ writer in conjuction with my last post (Marshall McLuhan), seeing how these writers were instrumental in depicting events and worlds we now take as reality. This is a partial transcript of an interview published in Search & Destroy magazine (No. 10, 1978), in which Ballard muses on, amongst other things, culture, media, the age of information and the impact of technological evolution (and in turn the dismantling of old technologies such as TV, Radio, Records, etc) on society. This is very relevant in the age of the Internet (particularly social networking sites such as Facebook as well as Youtube, blogs, etc), Reality T.V., Surveillance, Mobile Phones and the Sampling/ Remix culture. Interview by Jon Savage…

JGB: ‘I think the biggest development over the next 20, 30 years are going to be through the introduction of VHS systems…and I don’t just mean the cassette thing – playback gadgets – that in itself would be quite revolutionary – but when, say, every room in everybody’s house or flat’s got a camera recording what’s going on – the transformation of the Home into the TV Studio is the creation of a new kind of reality.’

S&D: But what’s it going to do – it’s going to make people so introverted, self-conscious, is it not?

JGB: ‘I think only in the short term – in exactly the same way as, when you first get a camera, you spend your time photographing children playing in a padding pool. But after awhile, you get more ambitious, and you start taking an interest in the world at large. I think the same thing will happen – beginning with endlessly photographing themselves, shaving, having dinner together, having domestic rows – of course the bedroom applications are obvious. But I think they’ll go beyond that, to the point where each of us will be at the centre of a sort of non-stop serial. You may be able to splice in bits of films into the daily record of your life, to the point where you literally DO become a character in a movie, or what have you.’

S&D: But they always say that people fantasize..making love with somebody else – this is just a logical extension of that.

JGB: ‘I can see that coming. But I can see a sort of huge extension of video Live material which will be accessible at the press of a button, so that just as now you can dial a poem or a record of the weather, you’ll be able to dial a visual input of say, all the newsreel material filmed yesterday in Los Angeles – I’m talking about somebody living in a London suburb.’

S&D: There was that story in Low-Flying Aircraft (a Ballard novel) about Re-creating History on TV…

JGB: ‘Oh yes – “The Greatest TV Show On Earth”. But I can see that happening – that one will have access to vast amounts of filmed information of every conceivable kind. One will be able to sort of Merge one’s own identity with a huge flux of images of various kinds being generated everywhere else.’

S&D: But how will that fit in socially – will that mean people will spend less time working?…I think the 4-Day Work Week is already around the corner.

JGB: ‘Well, most people are already working a 3-Day Week without realizing it. They’re Going to work on a 5-Day-a week basis, but they’re probably Working a 3-Day Week. It’s just a social convention to work Monday through Friday.’

S&D: I’m very pessimistic about the likelihood of natural man-made catastrophies over the next 20 years –

JGB: ‘I don’t see Western Europe or the United States, societies there, Derailing themselves – quite practically, I don’t think that’s likely to happen. I think the reason why it won’t happen is that the rate of Change itself is going to be so great, positively exponential, particularly when there’s a whole development at present of what I call an Invisible Technology – mostly computers, processing devices, etc., which is going on around us – which we don’t know about. I mean the rate of change is a sort of Pause Supressant – 20 years from now, one will begin to realize the extent to which the applications of the computer in a thousand and one ways, will really create a state of Perpetual Change which will be a tide that will just sweep everybody along without -‘

S&D: being able to do anything about it.

JGB: ‘Right! they’ll be happy to go along with the tide. I think you’ll get an inflammation, a rate of information flow, and a sort of rate of change, in the last two decades of this century and the first two of the next, equal to the enormous rate of visible change that took place in the first 30 years of this Century…let’s say from 1880 to 1920. In Everything! Auto’s are obvious things, I mean things you ccan see, like houses, electric lights, cars, radios, telephones, bridges, ships – everything! The Creation Of The 20th Century took place. What we may see, I think, in the years 1980 to 2020, will be the Creation Of The 21st Century. It could be done in terms of Information Systems, TV, the whole Video World.’

S&D: The whole thing now is Access to Information.

JGB: ‘Yeah, but it’ll end. Once everybody’s got a computer terminal in their home, to satisfy all the needs, all the domestic needs, there’ll be a dismantling of the present broadcasting structure which is far too limited – limiting.’

Books by J. G. Ballard:

Low-Flying Aircraft

High-Rise

The Four-Dimensional Nightmare

Crash

This Canadian educator, scholar and a communication theorists (among other things) developed the motion that ‘the medium is the message’ in the 1960’s. The idea is that societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which they communicate than by the content of the information. So in today’s terms society is shaped by social networking (Faceboo, Myspace, ect), trade (Etsy, Ebay, ect) sites and mobile phone technology rather than by the communication they carry. On his terms, these developments change how we buy and communicate, not what we buy or talk about.  I only agree with this up to a point, since society today is far less passive due in large part to these new technologies.

He also thought that the new electronic technology (in the late 50’s/ 60’s) would make us all members of a ‘global village’, and he was spot on in this regard. The computer is the new medium for rapid organisation, information storage and generating, designing and editing content. All existing innovations have moved onto the digital platform, increasing productivity, reproduction as well as control. In the ‘global village’, everyone learns, communicates, creates, edits and in effect has become the everyday designer of identity and media. The individual can now originate the message and control its means of production in a way that only science fiction writers of the last century could predict.

Marshall McLuhan interview 1965

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