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ROTOЯ | Sonic Body

ROTOЯ | Sonic Body is a multimedia work by artist collective NO1 made up of Peter Kutin, Patrik Lechner, Mathias Lenz. 
At the core of the work is the rotor, a loudspeaker sculpture that spins at varying speeds, modulating a minimalist composition.
Real-time digital textures are projected onto the rotor using 3D mapping, creating a hologram-like effect. As the object accelerates, it becomes a blur of lines, colors, surfaces, and sounds.
Throughout the performance, the interplay of object, audio, and projection creates a dynamic multimedia experience, blending reality with virtuality and producing a mesmerizing three-dimensional effect.
It's an amazing work in all of its parts that comes together to deliver an exhilarating, all-senses-on-full-alert experience that we urge you to see live if the opportunity presents itself and until then, read on. 

Derivative: Tell us a bit about yourselves, your artist practice, background and the things that interests you.

Patrik Lechner: I come from experimental/electronic music, broadly speaking. I started to delve into visualization soon after becoming interested in electronic music and started to use TouchDesigner around 2010. I am currently doing an artistic doctorate at the music university of Vienna, and therefore my focus shifts towards its topic: simulation in composition and performance. Visualization-wise, I have broad interests. I once made a raymarching toolkit for TouchDesigner that is brought to completely new levels by tekt these days, checkout RayTK; I am working with A.I. quite a bit, as I also have done some academic research in the field;   I once wrote a book about TouchDesigner and Max/MSP and am very interested in the procedural aspects of generative design in general. I try to regularly publish educational content in the field of DSP on my website and am active as an educator at multiple universities in Austria.

Peter Kutin: My background is also found within the fields of experimental music, encompassing various facets of so called electronic music (including noise, electroacoustics, psychoacoustics) as well as purely acoustic elements like extended instrumental music or ‘sounding-objects’. Over the past decade, my focus has progressively shifted towards exploring the intricate relationship and interplay between sound and visual stimuli as well as the psychological effects these could implement. This incorporates elements such as light, image, film, video, and sculptures, including kinetics/movement. So I found myself working with and  creating kinetic-sonic sculptures, wherein the central aspect is the physical movement of sound and light-sources. These sculptures, at times, attain high velocities that distort or challenge our perception. As an observer, you will witness the dynamic movement of speakers, visually and aurally, but at some stage this might transcend….    

Derivative: How was ROTOЯ conceived and can you describe for us what we are experiencing?

Peter Kutin: ROTOЯ - SONIC BODY was created for the SAT Dome, evolving from my previous work, TORSO. Given that TORSO necessitates a central and frontal perspective, placing it within the dome seemed a bit stupid, considering the dome's essence revolves around a non-central perspective. Collaborating with Patrik and our engineer/mechatronic Mathias Lenz, we deliberated on a transformative idea. I proposed a shift in the axis from a horizontal to a vertical orientation to align it with the dome's centre. Following an amalgamation of our collective ideas ROTOЯ finally emerged. Funnily enough, we used it mainly as a sound-source in the beginning  - akin to a colossal Leslie speaker  (at least it was described by a spectator as  - ‘a huge Leslie speaker on steroids, going wild’) ."ROTOЯ’s movements and varying velocities directly influenced and controlled the behavior of sound within the dome’s ambisonic system, as well as reactions within the video engine. So, from the beginning, we established a bidirectional concept - which gives the whole work a very intuitive and instrumental characteristic.

Anyhow, the premiere at SAT worked out very well, but we realized that it will be hard to find such spaces (domes) for future performances. On our way back, in the aircraft, having some wine and tranquilizers to fall asleep easier, I suggested that we should try to project something onto the object itself when back in Vienna. Patrik, in response, started to figure out how to map the 3D model onto the spinning object. Additional mechanisms were implemented to deliver essential data (position, full circle, reset, etc.), allowing Patrik to get the TouchDesigner and Max software working accurately and ‘in-sync’ with the object.

It was truly quite a key moment once we looked at this system for the first time. ROTOЯ’s corporeal essence seemed to dissipate, transcending into a holograph-like, pulsating light structure, the object totally transformed… and we know we are onto something here.

Further enhancements included the integration of light sources and opening up additional dimensions to shape the overall composition. At the current stage, various ROTOЯ implements different media branches that are all influenced by the object's velocity — when different speeds and rhythms are applied, things get very interesting for the perception. Thus, we coined the term "multimedia polyrhythm."

Patrik Lechner: As Peter mentioned, the project has evolved through multiple stages and is still evolving. For me, the visualization side of the project mainly has two interesting aspects: working with speed and working with projection mapping on a moving object. The speed aspect of the project is really interesting, as the use of stroboscopic imagery can lead to all kinds of perceived speeds (through aliasing essentially). I still find it somehow fascinating to see an object that is rotating so dangerously fast, but it appears to slowly move backward or stand still due to these effects. The speed is still perceivable in the sound and the wind if you are close enough, causing some sort of discrepancy in perception.

In addition to stroboscopic effects, I can decouple the rotation of the projected model from the rotation of the actual physical object. For example, we can project a slowly rotating model on it while it stands still or project a slowly moving one while the object spins at maximum speed. This is essentially an additional orthogonal dimension of speed to play with.

The aspect of projection mapping onto a fast-moving object also sometimes makes it hard to predict what the outcome will look like and pushes towards a certain simplicity.

Projecting a simple line gives you some sort of ‘holographic’ disk at high speeds. At low speeds, going for a more traditional projection mapping repertoire, such as a wireframe shaded version of the object itself, can also seem somehow magical since the object is still moving.

Derivative: Can you explain how TouchDesigner  is used here? 

Patrik Lechner: Don’t expect some clean wonderful TouchDesigner networks here. This project is constantly evolving, but mainly evolving in performance and pre-performance situations. At the beginning, there was order and precision to the software side of things, but over time, everything grew into a big mess. 

We are always estimating (and kind of predicting) the current position of the rotor. This is done in Max/MSP (gen~) since what comes into the machine that is responsible for visualization are about 100 analog impulses per revolution (just via a jack cable into a standard audio interface) and on another line 1 impulse per revolution to get the absolute position. These impulses are cleaned up etc. and a small predictive algorithm is used to estimate the current position, which is then sent to TouchDesigner via UDP/OSC.

In TouchDesigner camSchnappr is used for calibrating the projector and for the whole projection-mapping business. In TD, we have used SOPs to rebuild the ROTOЯ and we rotate the virtual model according to the actual rotor.

Also a small, slightly messy GUI is made in TouchDesigner to ease improvisation in the piece.

Derivative: What are the performative variations?

Peter Kutin: We treat and consider ROTOЯ as an instrument, and we also perform with it as such. To us, it is not an installation, as we have to make most of the decisions live on site. For example, which sounds at which timbre, which speed, which light, strobes, images, colors, shapes, etc., are all decided within a live performance that essentially thrives on us reacting to the given situation. I consider myself very much as a musician, so I want to react to the given circumstances.

Given that ROTOЯ consistently transmits data to our sound and image-generating software, we needed to learn how to aesthetically handle this bidirectional relationship, which distinguishes ROTOЯ from a mere speaker system engaged solely in playback functions. Instead, it metamorphoses into a performative entity.

I find it particularly intriguing that an audience can be captivated by the rotations of a single object for a duration spanning 35 to 40 minutes. Despite its seemingly simplistic circular motion, it sustains an inherent tension. In this scenario, it is not the audience that desires, but rather, it is the object that seduces. To our surprise, we have even received invitations to perform at dance festivals — venues traditionally dominated by human bodies as the focal point of every presentation. I guess this is because you feel that ROTOЯ is happening live, and therefore feels more alive because it’s a performance.

Derivative: What’s next on your horizons in terms of upcoming exhibitions, performances and anything else you would like to mention?

Patrik Lechner: With ROTOЯ we just performed at GNRATION in Braga (Portugal) and at Elevate Festival in Graz in February. Upcoming locations are Poland (Audio Art Festival Kraków, Novemver), France (meylan / hexagon) and Switzerland (geneva / cave12). Also, since a while, Peter is deeply entrenched in working on a feature length Movie where ROTOЯ might have an appearance. Other upcoming projects for me are a Projection on a stone wall in the European capital of culture 2024 and more or less coincidentally, both Peter and I will present an Audio/Visual piece for ensemble (NAMES Ensemble) in Innsbruck, Austria.    


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