Company Post

Direct From Dublin: Lakker's Live AV for 'Containing a Thousand'

Ian McDonnell and Dara Smith make up Dublin-based Lakker who since the early 2000s have been dishing out deep, dark, bass-loaded electronic music, tracks that have graced the decks of those with a tendency to tip the scales on the spectrum of "dark" and "heavy" - Aphex Twin and Surgeon for instance. The music has a graceful eloquence that is richly dense, informed and shaped from years of immersion and exploration, running the full gamut of genres - electronica, punk, metal, noise, breakcore, techno and jungle. 

LAKKER:AV - MIDI reactive visual set (samples). Created with TouchDesigner and Ableton Live 9

The visual design accompanying Lakker's sound work is compelling too (very), and particularly interesting in its minimal and disciplined use and reuse of a single motif with extraordinarily diverse results. As far back as we can see on Lakker's Vimeo, the Lakker visuals have revolved around an iconic shape (that we are calling the Lakker icon) which is treated with different textures, colour and animations in each rendition.

We spoke with Dara Smith about the new TouchDesigner-based visual set he was in the final stretches of preparing for the launch of Lakker's latest EP Containing a Thousand at Oslo Hackney, London March 22.

Dara who works in motion graphics and is familiar with node-based tools like Nuke and Max MSP discovered TouchDesigner via the work of Alva Noto (carsten nicolai of raster noton). "I saw his gig and said 'I want to know what did that!' I did some research and found you guys -it was a life changer for me." he says.

We liked very much what we saw and heard coming from the Dublin duo, asked some questions, got excellent answers. Enjoy!

Video above: Containing a Thousand [RS1401] made with Softimage XSI

Derivative: The motif that persists manifesting in various ways in all of your visuals - that beautiful shape - how did it evolve and what does it symbolize?

Dara Smith: This is our graphic symbol/tag/logo. I'd noticed that lots of bands and acts I've always liked had them so it was just a matter of designing one that we felt suited us.

The 3 circles are actually the letters L K and R abstracted. Now I tend to use this symbol on as much of our visual material as possible. I enjoy the challenge of using it in different ways for different releases and projects, and hopefully this is demonstrated in everything from our AV to release artwork, Vimeo, Tumblr and general social media sites.

Above: Containing a Thousand EP Launch @ Oslo Hackney, London

Derivative: Can you tell us a bit about the origin of creating visuals alongside your music. How it came about and developed.

Dara Smith: I don't really see any difference between the two practices of image and sound-making and always in my mind when I'm imagining one the other is just there as a matter of course. I've trained and worked with both from the beginning. However now I feel that it's a great time for the merging of the two and also that the technology is starting to become more accessible and also intuitive enough to give people the ability to a create really high-end results with some basic technical knowledge and good ideas.

Derivative: Earlier you touched on being familiar and comfortable with node-based tools like Nuke, Max MSP etc. and mentioned that TouchDesigner was a "life changer" for you. How so?

Dara Smith: Coming from a Design/Post/VFX background professionally means that the technical knowledge was already there for me I just needed to have a clear idea of what I wanted and then go about implementing it.

Having used node-based audio and visual software before with programs such as Max, Reaktor and Pure Data on the audio side and Softimage's XSI, Nuke and Houdini on the image side the node-based issue for me wasn't an issue. However the optimization for real-time was something that presented a challenge but that has also helped shape the work in a positive way.

I always remember being amazed when one of my sound engineering lecturers told me about the oldskool demo-tracker scene (was it in Belgium?) where good programmers could fit a whole set of visuals and audio on a floppy disk. With my previous shitty laptop and its amazing propensity for overheating, it really forced me to try and come up with the most efficient solution I could.

Our new AV show requires only four still images and a short moving texture for the visuals, and everything else is driven by the MIDI from the music. I've kept it small enough so that I can email it to myself if anything goes wrong. So when I found out about TouchDesigner it was an ideal solution to my particular needs, and I feel like I'm only scratching the surface.

How the LAKKER:AV Show is set up

Dara Smith: To break it down basically MIDI notes are changing the visual scene that goes with each track and then MIDI CC (control change) numbers coming from looping live clips drive the animations and other parameters. Each scene has 4 visual inputs of the 3 Lakker logo shapes and then a channel of particles. I also input the animation control data and then combine them in different ways to create a unique visual scene to suit each track. The output of these scenes then goes through a compositing stage where it is combined with some textures and has some post effects applied to it.

Our laptops are synced together via MIDI and Ian is doing the main parts of the tracks, combining live mix downs, and stems with loops and other bits and bobs. On my machine I have a a backup of the audio mix downs and then some more loops and lots of found sounds, textures, vocals etc. which I improvise with on the fly.

In Ableton I've got three tracks for the visuals: one for the animation of rhythmic elements, another for setting stuff like colour and tiling etc. and the third for changing the scene itself. This also means that I can drive the animation of one scene with the animation from another. At the moment I have about 16 scenes which does for about an hour and a half of a live set, and so now as we introduce new tracks into the set I can just make a new scene for it and add it in.

Above: R&S Records Presents: Lakker EP Launch

When I started out thinking about an AV set I wanted to to fulfill a number of criteria:

  • To have all original material based on the look we have already established though previous videos and visuals experiments.
  • For there to be a direct connection between the music and visuals, and for them to both be guided by the same influences such as weather systems, macro and micro patterns and colour and texture. I've always been fascinated by the sound of the wind and weather, and the quality of light/atmosphere in Ireland is pretty unique. I think sub-consciously this has always been an influence for both sound and visual work.
  • To not use any pre-rendered videos, film or stock footage. There is one for the texture but it's only a 6 second loop which is a shot of the sea I recorded on the way to play at a festival on Rathlin Island.
  • I wanted the visual movement to be a clean, smooth animation driven by MIDI and not a jittery audio-driven movement.
  • Everything had to be real-time and to work with a relatively low load system so as to allow the visuals and audio to run on the same computer.
  • The visuals had to require very little guidance from me if needs be, except for changing track/scene and making some changes for big moments in tracks.

Above: Containing a Thousand EP Launch @ Oslo Hackney, London

After experimenting with other solutions, and reading about Plastikman and Alva Noto using TouchDesigner I decided to give that a try and have been building up my knowledge of it over the last two years.

The LAKKER:AV show is at a stage where we're very happy with it but at the same time also excited about where its going in terms of future possibilities. We're taking the show on the road soon and are looking forward to seeing it organically develop.

As do we!

A big thank-you to Dara Smith, and to our readers, definitely check out Lakker's discography at Boomkat. 

Follow Lakker on Soundcloud | Bandcamp | Vimeo | Facebook | Twitter | website.