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TOUCHDESIGNER IN THE ROOM, MUTEK 10, Montreal, May 2009

 

photos & text by Isabelle Rousset, June 18 09

MUTEK 10 in Montreal last month provided a forum for Derivative to showcase the performative capabilities of its software tool TouchDesigner alongside some of (and in the case of Alva Noto aka Carsten Nicolai - by) the international music scene's most exacting and saluted artists and labels.

In an environment where it is often and perplexingly difficult "to figure out exactly who is pushing the pixels" as Greg J. Smith of Serial Consign aptly put it, TouchDesigner featured in audio-visual performances with Alva Noto, SND, Burnt Friedman and Jaki Liebezeit and a 2-hour workshop on the collaboration with Raster-Noton.

To wit, the following MUTEK diary is as experienced from the trenches... from the perspective of a kind of "embedded TouchDesigner reporter".

 

THURSDAY, MAY 28, 4pm | MUTEK | Monument-National
PRESENTATION | DERIVATIVE VISUALS present RASTER-NOTON FRAME.SYNC

Derivative's Greg Hermanovic and Markus Heckmann put TouchDesigner through its infinite loops for a capacity audience of media enthusiasts and professionals at the Monument-National, MUTEK home-base. Christopher Bauder of Whitevoid who collaborated with Monolake aka Robert Henke in the phenomenal "Atom" performances occupies a front row seat along with David Warne from Crevice, Tom Kuo of the Rich Media Institute Toronto, Martin Allard from Montreal-based Float4 Interactive, Chilean MUTEK organizer Roberto Meyer and so on who are situated throughout the room.

(Regarding Atom: not sure how many times that week I overheard 'have you seen the Atom "thing'"?... it was gratifyingly hard to describe that kind of analogue/digital audio visual singularity but it was really_underscore_really big. Christopher Bauder spent 2 days getting into future possibilities at the Derivative headquarters in Toronto post_MUTEK. And to be noted Greg's 88-year old mother attended an Atom performance - her only MUTEK experience - they gave her a chair and she said it was quote "awesome" and when asked, that it wasn't too loud and to congratulate them when we saw them...) Point is to say that there was concerted and dedicated attendance.

Greg opens with the abbreviated history of how and why TouchDesigner came to be which is simultaneously his own biography and personal vision fittingly unrealed here for an international audience in his home-town. From early days as an interaction and simulation engineer on the Canada Arm project to SideFX and the creation of the two-time Academy Award winning animation software Houdini, to relinquishing the reigns of that company for an idea and the generation of that idea - TouchDesigner - with a handful of dedicated and gifted collaborators.  A role-model account by all standards.

The predominating concept here is that TouchDesigner democratically enables and enhances the capabilities of not only artists and designers but scientists, children, teachers and well.. anyone with the desire and need to express and share something visually and in real-time.

Greg and Markus tag-team for 2 hours demonstrating the design and creation of visuals for frame.sync, their collaboration with Raster-Noton at Transmediale, OFFF, MUTEK (and at Sonar soon on June 20th) as well as work produced with Richie Hawtin for Plastikman, MUTEK 2004, Herzog and DeMeuron at the PRADA Epicenter in Tokyo and Rush.

Diligent note-taking turns to lavish consumption as we are zoomed through galaxies of nested screens diving through layers of impossibly stunning visuals that give way to the equally mesmerizing interfaces behind them and in turn or all at once to the organization of networked components behind those which are prone to becoming visual elements themselves - elegantly, seemlessly and in real-time. "It's easy" Greg and Markus say. Dizziness prevails but not to be outdone attention keeps up diligently.  TouchDesigner's capabilities as a 'visual thinking' software tool that can be used by anyone to make just about anything - from interactive live visuals to building user-interfaces to 3D graphics to visualizing complex data becomes very clear in this crowded space. Discussion post is diverse as the curious come forward to make contact and ask questions.

 

THURSDAY, MAY 28, 8pm | Monument-National Theatre
A/VISIONS 2 – SPLIT PERSONALITIES | Jaki Liebezeit & Burnt Friedman

Artist and Touch-User Jeffers Egan provided an evocative visual set for this rare North American performance pairing veterans of electronic music CAN drummer Jaki Liebezeit and musical Proteus Burnt Friedman who's extensive discography falls under any number of names and projects including Gummibox, Drome, Nonplace Urban Field, Flanger, Some More Crime, The Nu-Dub Players, Bernd Friedmann and - well, Burnt Friedman.  Situated on the stage with the musicians Jeffers rendered a series of live paintings using a TouchDesigner painter tool (still in development) with a Wacom tablet for the opening movement of the performance. The effect was beautiful conjuring chimerical sequences of undulating shapes and colours that moved in and out of and seemingly through each other in 3D space, appearing and receding in live accompaniment to the music on the enormous screen behind them. Jeffers met Bernd at the Mediaterrae Festival in 2007, www.mediaterrae.com where they were both artist-in-residents and Jeffers was playing a live show with Deadbeat.

Jeffers has this to say about their collaboration: "Burnt and Jaki were looking for an improvisational relationship between audio and video, to match how they approach performance from a musical standpoint. We discussed sharing data and syncing bpm and decided instead to leave it more open ended and rely on our reactions and interactions during the performance. The painting system allowed a gestural approach to developing the visual scene, creating a painting in time that could be both rhythmic, to relate to Jaki's drumming, as well as evocotive, to connect to Burnt's lush tones and melodies. Technically the painting system has four seperate banks, that can vary by timing (rhythm), texuture, brush size and color, allowing adjustments as tempo and tonal changes occur."

 

FRIDAY, May 29, 8pm | MUTEK | Monument-National Theatre
A/VISIONS 3 – HIGH VOLTAGE | SND

We've already written quite a bit about the SND performance and documented the making of the visuals so here are mostly photos: the first part documents Markus and Greg working out the visual setup at the Monument National during SND's soundcheck.  Having the opportunity at MUTEK for the third time this year (after collaborations with Derivative in Berlin at CTM09 and OFFF in Lisbon) to see SND perform just keeps getting better and was, for me, perhaps the highlight of the festival which is saying A LOT considering the enormous talent on the roster. It has somewhat the impact of a potent chroma-sonic-tonic for the 45 minute or so duration of their funky/housey/glitchy evolving permutations accompanied by Markus' TouchDesigner-produced highly saturated incrementally accumulating stripe-fest. It is stimulating and restorative with an overdose of in this case pink...!

 

SATURDAY MAY 30, 8PM | MUTEK | SAT
A/V+ – BINARY BY DESIGN | ALVA NOTO, RASTER NOTON

Working with Raster Noton raises the bar and thus the challenge and opportunity to be found in creating and performing the graphically perceptible element of an audio-visual experience as these artists - Nicolai, Bender, Bretschneider - typically blur the boundaries if not altogether dismantle the intention and chronology as to what came first, or what is driving what - light or sound. The distinction or lack thereof is remarkable. With Raster this is the design and the resultant experience is symbiotic or, "living together" where all the elements of a constructed event are devised to work together and one part does not supersede the other - something that in-itself appears to be hard to achieve.

MUTEK marked the third instance of Raster/Derivative collaborations following Transmediale's CTM09 in Berlin and OFFF in Lisbon to be followed by Sonar next week in Barcelona. This alliance emerged almost a year ago when Raster visited Derivative offices following a performance at the Drake. Prior to, Raster artists had produced their own visuals but were interested in the extending possibilities they realised in TouchDesigner. CTM09 marked the beginning of a collaborative effort where Derivative's Markus Heckmann deployed TouchDesigner to design visuals for Raster shows as evidenced in a performative user interface fashioned for Carsten Nicolai - Alva Noto which is in fact the TouchDesigner UI.

Focusing on the visualization of data represented through audio waveforms, the visuals developed under Alva Noto's guidance expand the spectrum of audio-reactive visuals by explaining their creation utilizing TouchDesigner's uniquely designed user interface. Again the interface design at this level emphasizes the symbiotic content and output of the work where audio becomes visual and where organization and infrastructure (instrument and medium) becomes image and media and vice versa. The loops are deep, intricate and maleable where the full impact of boldly designed representations of audio data with a strong visual impact on the viewer can be relieved by delicate electronic circuit-like representations and overviews of the computing process.

The product of this collaboration has been instrumental. Alva Noto's performances are nothing short of devastating as the TD interface pulses 30 frames per second on the screen behind him punctuating the avantgarde artist/stylist/scientist/alchemist's every conjured move and expression in really real time. Audience response to the spectacle makes clear that this event is precedent-setting if not altogether mystifying.

Next: Markus Heckmann at Sonar in Barcelona bringing TouchDesigner to the stage alongside Alva Noto and SND.





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