Feb.06.19 Prolific Artist Duo 404.zero Release Zerror a Control UI for TouchDesigner
Alexander Letcius and Kristina Karpysheva
We caught up with artist and tool-makers Kristina Karpysheva and Alexander Letcius of 404.zero who are also consummate voyagers and appreciably prefer to be absorbed doing these things rather than discussing them.
Despite a healthy reticence to the media spotlight, the duo within just a few years of joining forces, achieved bona fide "art-star status" for their ideas and signature painterly style of moody and opulent TouchDesigner generated visuals and modular audio.
The only thing impeding their creativity was a deep-seated frustration with the amount of time wasted on the boring task of optimizing patches and then "optimizing optimization" for every single project.
And so doing what they do admirably, 404.zero took matters into their own hands and created ZERROR a customizable controller UI component for TouchDesigner with multi-touch/midi/osc support. Hosting a comprehensive feature-set including drag and drop rigging, preset management and recall system, a timeline editor, multi-touch interface and the freedom to control, arrange and customize parameters Zerror is according to it's discerning makers "crazy comfortable, believe us. Make art now it's easy." With the release of Zerror v1.6 this week bringing even more features and refinements to the mix with the Pro version selling for the very affordable price of $50 it's a win/win scenario.
Here's what they had to say…
404.zero AV live at Gamma festival, Saint-Petersburg, Russia, 2017
404.zero AV live at Mediaspunk festival, Saint-Petersburg, Russia, 2018
"We are Kristina Karpysheva and Alex Letcius and we met each other a couple years ago at Center Mars (Moscow) during one of the exhibitions. That time Alex was invited by 'SoundUp' to create real-time visuals for Greg Haines' live show at Moscow Planetarium and he asked for Kristina's help. We've all had different experiences and a different understanding of beauty. So, in fact, we absolutely don't have any understanding of beauty. ))) But were are both in love with smartness and simplicity."
Derivative: What is 404.zero?
404.zero: 404 zero is renouncement. It is "nothingness". It is abandonment from society and withdrawing from nonstop consumption - from everything that is breaking this world.
Derivative: What do you like to do instead?
404.zero: We are always interested in creating and hand-making something new that we haven't done before. We make modular music, installations, concepts, generative visuals, lights, TouchDesigner tools etc. Everything that we want to do at the present time.
Derivative: Why do you use TouchDesigner?
404.zero: We like the perfect balance in TouchDesigner. You can do everything that you want - patching, programming, connecting any devices - and everything is at your fingertips at all times. Need a new tool - please pack up! The timeline from the birth of any idea to a successful prototype is minimal. Another approach is that you can randomly connect anything and be surprised by finding something unexpected and new.
Occasionally we have tried other real-time software. Some of them were tiring with the austerity of the interface and congestion of the coding. Another had a high-level and thoroughly developed set of tools but with limited opportunities for coding. We aren't talking about children's toys like popular VJing software at all - it's like comparing a DJ mixer with a modular synthesizer - it is impossible. Different tasks)
So far, we have not seen anything more suitable for our ideology. We hope that in the near future we will be able to forget about DAW and fully work with sound also directly in TouchDesigner — this is our ideal world.
Derivative: Please tell us a bit about some of your favorite projects.
Silencio | First 404.zero AV performance with self-made synthesizers and generative graphics in TouchDesigner
404.zero: We often recall how we were preparing our first live AV. We understood a little bit about modulars but we were fully dreaming about our self-built AV synthesizer. It meant putting something strange into your hands, switching off monitors, tweaking knobs, pressing buttons and doing sound and visuals with the one device and everything at the same time.
We were full of enthusiasm - soldering, drilling, driving across Moscow in search of high-quality parts for our custom toys.
Eventually, we assembled sound synthesizers based on the Axoloti board which was connected by MIDI to TouchDesigner. Everything was generated in realtime by our new synth - sound and visuals. No samples - all fair and square and even two years later we are still satisfied with the results.
404.zero's original sound synthesizers based on Axoloti boards
No Time. No Future. The first idea came when we were living in the recently founded Quartariata Residence. We had on hand 350 lasers and one month free exhibition space. It was about the idea of people "on strings' like marionettes and executed with a Kinect, lasers and in three weeks.
No Time. No Future. V.3 The next versions were smarter and easier. We came up with new engineering decisions and decided to build laser boxes with Sila Sveta that were easily producible, manageable and accurate. Now it's possible to assemble and precisely adjust 500 lasers in about one day.
In Search of the Right Place This is our ideal world where we have no limits about everything around us.
Mars Miners We were impressed by the story of SpaceX and pictures from Mars. Everything about the cosmos totally impresses a lot of people and we are no exception. Maybe someday we will be going to Mars and we will have a small audio-visual gig for Martians. Just as a welcome!
We have two strange works in our portfolio - Phosphenes and Mars Miners. We are really confused because these works are based on strange and random algorithms and of course we created them but we still don't understand how exactly :) They seem alive without our control.
Derivative: Tell us about your new tool Zerror.
404.zero: We could say that we have always been on our way towards zerror. Generally, all the fun was over at the moment when you needed to assemble all assets together, distribute them on the limit timeline to make the correct fades between them, and then roll out the show or render the video.
In fact while preparing for each serious project we would always change something in the general pipeline and try new approaches. We were both annoyed to have to continually perform the same set of actions not at all related to creative tasks.
A Performing Tool for AV performances was needed - on the one hand, to have enough freedom in control, and on the other hand, to be able to quickly and beautifully return to the prepared points.
We do not just switch samples and effects. On average we have up to 200 parameters in the show, where each affects the video in one way or another, and sometimes the sound as well. So to control this 'Spacecraft' you need something serious! Plus, we create both the visuals and the sound. These are two major topics.
Some may say that this is like trying to sit on two chairs, but for us this is a special state of immersion into what we are doing without distracting to something else. It's something like a gravitational singularity in complete isolation from existence.
The first stable control UI with sliders, preset buttons, MIDI mapper and networking to run UI in separate patch
Here is one of our first UI solutions. The sliders are divided into groups and each group contains presets for slider values. We used a simple midi mapper for the slider. There is no timeline at all, everything is run with controllers and mouse-clicked on presets. It was total hell -- and the UI had to be run in a separate thread to save FPS.
Using Ableton with custom MAXmsp device as timeline editor
Ableton + TD bundle looked promising. Especially for creating visuals for a prepared soundtrack. Back in the days of Tundra, Sasha wrote a small patch on Max MSP to easily link parameters directly from Ableton. On this system, we made Phosphenes and Gig For Sleepers. And that was hell too!
In the end, the lack of suitable tools for presets in Ableton, the linking parameters routine and the specific inconvenience of the timeline made us start to make our custom timeline.
One of the first timeline editors and old control UI
We created our first timeline during the content creation for the Circle Of Light festival. We even used it to make the final edits of the video because Adobe's Premiere Pro was not able to comfortably handle such high resolution.
The first timeline editor able to arrange presets
The first timeline editor able to arrange video, sound, custom presets and separate parameter values
There have been attempts to improve it all.
But anyway, each more-or-less loaded project very quickly began to ruffle in the eyes of the abundance of monotonous buttons, sliders and so on. The routine actions that had to be performed to make slightly more significant changes to the already created assets were destroying our creative mood.
The idea to make Zerror (in its current manifestation) was born during the upgrade of our hardware. We built a computer with top hardware and the size of a box for an external video card and looked for a portable monitor. Accidentally we found the Wimaxit 13" with a touchscreen on Amazon. Playing around with the touchscreen we realized what we needed from the UI in terms of design.
While working on the first prototype, we immediately decided to eliminate all the shortcomings of the previous systems:
We deeply revised the concept 'Presets'. We came up with the idea to replace presets buttons with knobs. That's why recalling presets now is a kind of powerful tool to create new states by mixing existent ones as well as comfortable controlling UI for performance.
Across the board we made all the presets knobs and nobody was confused by it. We find that this is a normal, comfortable way of controlling presets (vs. pushing buttons where there is much less control).
We decided that we wanted to have control at any point in the timeline of every type of transition so that a fade for example could be hard or soft or some average between.
The result is that now we just drop everything that is needed for the control to Zerror's panel and quickly lay it out so that it is all logical and does not glare the vision. We save the presets.
Immediately we try different combinations, different transitions, add more parameters if needed. All items can be properly grouped according to similar features or interesting transitions.
And yes, you now no longer have to worry if you need to add or remove something because nothing will be lost, everything adapts itself logically. For the title "Zerror" we give a special thank you to Viktor Kudryashov.
Derivative: What do you see in Zerror's future?
404.zero: We already have stated our vision on our web site 404zerror.com but along the way we are planning to make two timeline versions. The "light version" will be for all users who had a Zerror key and the "smart version" will be reserved for special guests)). Also, we want to release custom filters based on theZerror UI. And of course we want to make containers with visual stuff. Everything will be completely ready to use. I mean it will be clear and smart for consumption, and it will be not matter if you are for-profit or not.
And the other thing we want to make is a neuro-generator of contents without uploading libraries. It will be a kind of neuronet but faster and based on 404 zero style content.
We want to make it for our AV live. It has been a long time coming and we have some testing version but we need a lot of time and a deeply-immersed working process. It will be helpful for modular musicians, dancers, orchestras etc...
So far we have been trying to improve this new idea of controlling. Typically musicians and VJs make visuals reactive to the sound - like BPM sound-reactive visuals. We think that this is not the organic way to go about it because in the "real world" it is objects that create sound. In our last Live AVs we were controlling the sound with our visuals. We want to keep developing in this way.
In Search Of The Right since 2017. Scalable structure with spinning lasers and static LED lights.
In Search of the Right Place. Square modules equipped with LED screens, strobes and beamlights. (Light installation concepts.)
Derivative: Where are you right now?
We are traveling a lot and this is amazing. We have no plans. No property no mortgage no permanent jobs etc. We have just two small cases, a modular and a small fast computer - it is enough. Now we are in Bali. Here there is the ocean and good avocado. Derivative: If you were not artists what would you be doing?
404.zero: We'd be cosmonauts or scavengers.
Derivative: Any secret future plans?
404.zero: We are dreaming of a portal gun (same as Rick's portal gun)!