This is an interview about the Atom
performance. Questions by Bertram Niessen
for Digimag magazine, October 2007.
For the introduction, please tell me a few words about your individual works as artists/programmers and why you have decided to work together on this project.
I work as a media artist and designer in Berlin. I was always interested in combining interactive installations, interfaces or visuals with musical aspects. I created some earlier projects in this manner like the ToneLadder
, the midiGun
or the 3D VJ software 3DJ
. The Atom
performance is based on the installation piece electric moOns
that was initially created as an interactive sculpture. But right from the beginning I wanted it to be performed as an audiovisual live performance. I saw Robert interacting musically and through light animations with another installation piece some years ago, which was wonderful and impressive. I was always a big fan of his music that hits the whole body and not just the ears with waves of sound. I asked him to collaborate on developing this project further. He agreed on casting his magic spell on the installation and Atom
was born as a joint creation of Robert and me.
I work in the field of computer generated sound and music, both as software developper and as artist. I am mainly known for my more club music oriented works as Monolake but in the past years also focused more on interactive installations works. Christopher saw a performance of mine for a matrix of 64 lightbulbs and found simmilarities to his balloon project.
Then, a question about the concept.
How did you developed it? Did you started from the technical resource, from a draft idea or from something else?
We started in some kind of a laboratory setup at the TESLA Berlin. I was setting up the installation and Robert started preparing bits of sound and music. He was also writing a little software application that would alllow him to send light animation patterns in sync with his music. I created new shapes and transitions for the height control of the balloons in an updated version of our control software. Then we started exchanging ideas about shapes, animations and sounds. We developed abstract ideas for several sets and started to improvise over a time span of three days. Then the final structure for the 40-50min performance was refined and tested in a couple of rehearsals right before the premiere performance on the 15. September at TESLA.
The balloons matrix was allready exisiting when Christopher asked me for collaboration. We decided to split the work into two parts: He is controllling the height of the balloon and therefore the sculptural quality of the work, while I create the music and the LED patterns, which need to be one unitiy to become really impressive. I started with developing the mnoving LED patterns, then translated that into music and Christopher suggested a geometry for the patterns. Once we had enough sketches we came up with an overall structure and defined a more narrative flow.
Which is the kind of synestesia that you have developed for Atom?
There are constant roles and rules in light-music relationships or are they flexible according to your needs?
There are certain rules for music, light and shape relationships. We also have some kind of a storybook for the show. But we both have lots of room for improvisation and modification according to mood and inspiration while playing the live performance.
There are basically three types of relationships: a multiple particle situation where the individual balloon is not important anymore but rather an overall experience of some flickering, living organism is achived. For this scenario the music can be decoupled completely as long as it is either also flickering or providing a counterpoint of long slowly moving drones. The second type of interaction is a strict mapping of discrete musical events to visual gestures and patterns. The typically produces the most breath taking and massive impression. And in a third step there is musical events that are synced to the sequencing of the LED patterns but not directly related to them. This is the most illustrative form, and it turned out that it is in fact the least convincing one. Therefore I focused on the first two types and derived more complex LED patterns by applying additional rules to the music to LED mappings. Those rules made it possible that for example a single note creates a moving pattern in time, which corresponds well with the decay of this note and creates and additional sense of space and time.
Could you describe in a detailed way Atom's technic aspects from the hardware and software point of view?
The installation is controlled by MIDI signals converted into voltages. The height of the helium balloons is adjusted with a computer-controlled cable, whilst the internal illumination is accomplished using dimmable super-bright LEDs, creating a pixel in a warped 8x8 spatial matrix. Lights and positions of the balloons are controlled from two computers and two individual softwares. Robert controls light animations and outputs sound to a 4-channel audio system. I'm in control of the balloons positions and movements.
The LEDs are driven via MIDI. The music is done via synthesis in Ableton Live. Each note played in Live is also sent to a MAX patch, that controls the LEDs, This MAX patch allows to do statistical clouds, movements, and complex mappings between incoming musical events and LED patterns. The MAX patch is controled during the performance from a faderbox. This allows to really play the LED pattern. Due to the usage of Live it is also possible to play the show differently each time, to leave more or less room for specific events depending on how we feel.
Is it an expensive set up? Do you think it will be easy for you to make it tour around? And where are you planinning to tour in the next months?
The costs of the system are quite high since it consists of so many components, this multiplied the costs of initially making the installation. The wole installation fits easily into 5 stage cases and can be shipped to any destination in the world within one week at reasonable costs. Only helium and new balloons are needed for each show. Next confirmed performance will be taking place at the 23rd of November at the STRP festival in Eindhoven, Netherlands.
I believe this performance can become quite successful, since it provides a very unique experience. The performace at TESLA in Berlin was just a first test. The main bottle neck for excessive touring is the need for suited locations and that the balloon side of things is expensive and fragile.
Which is the role of Till Beckmann and Holger Pecht?
Till Beckmann programmed the balloon control software and Holger Pecht developed the cable winch circuit boards.
TESLA Berlin, STRP Festival Eindhoven, Centre Pompidou Paris ...