"Sometimes a small event happens and it makes me open my eyes. (...) It's as if a light has been turned on. Suddenly there's something. Something that I know is present, that I must respond to.(…) It's like an adventure, but with no map."
- Pina Bauch (quotation provided by Vitor Joaquim)
Geography is the name of a complex and beautiful new work by the sound and visual artist Vitor Joaquim slated for release this fall on the Kvitnu label. The 8-track CD is in many ways Joaquim's contemplation of author and professor of geography and physiology Jared Diamond's book Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Diamond's chief question is: "Why Did Human History Unfold Differently On Different Continents For The Last 13,000 Years?" Through a layered and unfolding musical score Joaquim reflects upon the environmental factors and unanswered questions that have shaped patterns of human evolution with such variation.
The journey unfolds in 8 tracks with titles like Cantino, Tordesilhas and Cargo that are all founded on the history that connects humankind and geography. But regardless as to the listener being informed or not about Diamond's work, Vitor Joaquim's Geography stands alone, fascinating and haunting.
We were doubly intrigued when we caught wind that Spanish collective Thr3hold were collaborating with Joaquim to produce live visuals for Geography performances. Thr3hold has intrigued us since coming on our radar with TouchDesigner-based work which has from the outset been somewhat unexpected - abstract, graphic, glitchy - even visually shocking at times, but always accomplished flawlessly.
So, when stills for the Geography visuals started popping up on the internet we got in touch to see what was brewing. Vitor and Thr3hold partners Maria Fernandez and Rodolfo Lillo were very gracioius and keen to have a long-distance conversation over the last few weeks about the many aspects of their work and collaboration. This article then serves a two-fold function: a look at Geography and the collaboration between Joaquim and Thr3hold, followed by an inerview with Thr3hold about their TouchDesigner work, past, present, and in development.
Geography: Premise and Introduction
People from New Guinea are probably the oldest human society in the world, however until mid XX century they were living almost like they did 2.000 years ago. How is that possible?
The Geography project, reflects upon our relationship with the environment and between ourselves, we, as unique individuals all across the globe.
Since birth, responding to demands and forces imposed by nature, humankind found a way to to survive and in the process created technology. From that point many difficulties were surpassed and prosperity gained. And here we are, in the XXI century, surrounded by iPads, iPhones and tons of gadgets, all to make our lives moments of pleasure. Nevertheless, what prevails in terms of gain and evolution, prevails because it's geographically possible and it's in accordance with the rules imposed by the local geography. Geography is rain, is wind, is dry weather is all that is around us, is land, fertile or not, populated or not, friendly or not. Geography is with us since always and will be as long as we are here.
Artistic Background: Vitor Joaquim & Thr3hold
Vitor Joaquim, laptop experimentalist, sound and visual artist, graduated in sound and film directing. He started performing improvised music and got involved in experimental art by the mid 80's. Since then, he has created extensively for dance, theater, video, installations and cross media platforms. Until now, he has five solo releases, several collaborations and a long list of participation in compilations and remixes for different labels. His CD Flow was considered by The Wire magazine as one of the best electronic records of the year 2006. In 2011 Filament was listed as one of the best drone/ambient CD’s of the year by the French magazine Indie Rock.
In the last years Vitor has composed extensively for contemporary dance in France, Spain and Germany, and directed a few pieces in contemporary performance, video art and video mapping. In parallel to his own artistic work, he has been invited to advise programmers and curators in several festivals and events in Europe. In 2000 Vitor started producing his own festival EME, an event dedicated to experimental arts and non-standard music.
Vitor has been teaching and coordinating sound and audiovisuals in art schools since the 90’s. At the moment, he is a researcher in computer music at CITAR, the Research Center for Science and Technology in Art at UCP, Porto, where he is also teacher.
Thr3hold is a collective for “experimental visual creation” founded in 2008 in Gijón – Spain. Thr3hold partners Maria Fernandez and Rodolfo Lillo share a solid base in graphic and industrial design as well as an extensive knowledge of new technologies. With the objective to explore new techniques in visual expression Thr3hold focuses on the development of real time audiovisual sets with experimental electronic musicians and sound artists.
“The results”, Thr3hold explains “are based on exploration and experimentation with new visual aesthetics while maximizing simplicity and conceptual abstraction to create visual textures that evolve metaphors at different levels. We work with musicians who add value to their work from the same perspective that we approach ours.”
Thr3hold’s current collaboration with Vitor Joaquim on the Geography project makes clear this philosophy. Here is what Vitor, Maria and Rodolfo had to say on the subject.
Collaborating on GEOGRAPHY
Derivative: How did this collaboration come about and did working together influence the outcome?
Vitor Joaquim: Well, for me it all starts with 3 simple words: sensibility, empathy and competence. That’s something that I need to feel from my collaborators, and it’s also something that I try to deliver in a very intensive way in any work.
I felt at the outset that these qualities could be achieved working with Maria and Rodo (M&R). I knew that Rodo was great admirer of Derivative’s TouchDesigner, and that they were working with it for some time, so it was pretty clear that it was time for adventures with Thr3hold.
During all the process, I made a few changes in my sound project to increase the effectiveness of some moments and passages, specially transitions from segment to segment (track to track), the hardest part in a live context. If a transition fails, it can ruin the whole atmosphere. And "ruin" is a luxury we can’t afford in a live performance! : )
Thr3hold: It is a great pleasure to work with Vitor Joaquim, a musician we admire both as a person and as an artist. Vitor has a tremendous capacity for work that is very clear in its purpose. We are proud that he chose to visually express his new Geography disc with our work.
The collaboration with Vitor came very naturally. Just as in our personal artistic work, we liked and were very comfortable with the proposed criteria from the outset. We had the chance to work together for fifteen days which allowed us to technically improve the link between Ableton and TouchDesigner, modifying the MAX 4 LIVE module to suit our needs. Thus we achieved a perfect synchronization with music and images.
D: How did you work together to design the visual score to the musical score?
Vitor: When M&R started, Geography’s music was more or less finished in a Live (Ableton) project. Not 100% closed but virtually finished. Since improvisation is fundamental in my live acts, I never use the timeline to play live, so I needed to explain to M&R the way I usually make my options in a live performance with Live, and I then passed them the project.
First, I sent them 8 stereo files of one hypothetical performance, recorded in my studio, and from there they started their investigation. A few weeks later, we had one week of residency working hard on options (the artist dilemma of all times!). M&R had maybe 20 options for my 8 tracks, so we needed to explore those environments and end with the best possible options for the trio. Finally, before our show, we had another week of residency at my studio to work on details like colour palette, transitions, speed of the events, etc.
Thr3hold: The point of departure for this work is based on the visual abstraction of people's relations with their immediate neighborhood, which is taken as the micro and macro environment.
Produced in TouchDesigner the work is based on a particle system that mutates, offering different perspectives of a recognizable physical reality that drives the evocative nature of the project with reference to the reality around us. It is composed of multiple elements that independently have meaning but that also acquire a different meaning as a whole.
There are two chromatic environments in effect, a cold and distant one in the first part of the show that enhances the contrast of objects formed from sprites and suggests the relationship between the individual and their neighbours. The second part is warm and organic with shades of oranges which brings us closer to the concept of individuality.
D: How close to your ‘vision’ was the outcome?
Vitor: At the beginning, I'd talked with Rodo and Maria about the concept and the main frame of the CD. Visually I'd asked for detail, lines, and in general I wanted a sense of progression and gradual construction on the atmospheres, no need for big luminous events or big breaks all the time. I'm not a big fan of show off!... It should be discreet, calm, evolving with the music and reacting to as much musical detail as possible. And in the end, I guess, the outcome surpassed my vision. Rodo and Maria were great, they really fulfilled completely all my expectations.
D: Were there any surprises in the process and with the outcome?
Vitor: Yes, we've come across a few surprises. But I must confess that surprises for me are part of the process. I strongly believe that in any work of healthy collaboration, the surprise is always around the corner. In fact, for me, it's fundamental to create spaces for novelty and surprise to happen. It's a parallel path, part of the human relation: progression and space in between (for surprise). Like dynamic or silence in music.
And on that note, we'd like to sincerely thank Vitor Joaquim for sharing this experience with us and strongly urge readers to learn more about the artist and coming very soon, Geography! Thank-you Vitor!
Thr3hold on working with TouchDesigner
D: You've had prolific artistic careers and produced sublime and also technologically-oriented work. Can you tell us how and why you came to adopt TouchDesigner?
Thr3hold: Our work requires versatile software that enables us to work with external data while providing the ability to make real time graphics. We tried other applications with those capabilities (processing, MAX, vvvv, or Pure Data) but found the learning curve to be very slow. These tools were also not conducive to rapid and visual development of projects at an appropriate level to support what we were conceiving.
We found in TouchDesigner a great solution. In our point of view TouchDesigner is more than an application, it is a new paradigm of language programming. TouchDesigner facilitates the development of creative projects, with an impeccable technical base and development environment, particularly its interface which significantly reduces development time and the learning curve. The opportunity to work at a very low level, even at the level of the GPU, and its total link with all kinds of external data is wonderful. It is really a great software!
D: That's very exciting to hear! How then do you use TouchDesigner and does it influence or facilitate the diverse work you are making?
T: We use TouchDesigner for many things but mostly we like to work with the huge possibilities of generating images in real time, an advantage that provides great value and quality directly, even 3D anaglyph visual sets.
Another advantage is the ability to communicate with all types of external data, either sensors or actuators, which makes it a very powerful process tool.
We are definitely influenced by TouchDesigner from a technical development point of view and with each project, we learn new techniques allowing us to express new ideas. The projects an artist has in mind are usually difficult to translate to reality but that does not happen with TouchDesigner which is so versatile that we are still learning and exploring new possibilities. One example is the Scanning project that uses an office scanner to take images from an LCD screen playing video, and send to TouchDesigner.
The main idea of the project is trying to create a sort of new visual aesthetics playing between analogic/digital tools. The scheme is very simple: a hacked scanner (with a simple software), a LCD screen and a computer running TouchDesigner. The scanner is working all the time (loop) and scanning the screen (playing video). Then the scanner sends the information to the computer, TouchDesigner processes it and then sends to the projector.
Screen > Scanner > TouchDesigner > Projector
Constancy is a collaborative performance between Non Ergo (a musician from Asturias), Iván Torres (a spanish filmmaker living in Helsinki) and Thr3hold. We use Constancy, Ivan's documentary as source material, then Non Ergo created the music and we modified the images in real time with the scanners.
In addition we have had from the outset the support of Derivative's Markus Heckmann, whose work we find fascinating, and great community support which we have found easy access to its full possibilities. Another advantage in our opinion is you can use TouchDesigner FTE freely (with slightly limitations) to test its potential before purchasing :)
We are working on new projects, specifically related to the exploration of scenic aspects such as the work presented on July 13th at the Laboral Art Center in collaboration with famed Spanish chef Pedro Martino. It’s a project about culinary sense where we invite people to feel sensations from the images formalized as a mapping in 15 white boxes.
Another project we will be introducing this week that would be difficult to achieve without the characteristics of TouchDesigner to link with external data is 87% (no electricity for electronics).
87% is a new paradigm in live visual representation using the latest technologies available on mobile devices. We seek to create a technology platform that allows immersion in environments where it would be impossible for any other type of production deployment for technical, legal, or simply out of respect for the environment.
87% charge in the battery of a laptop is the spark of an idea that arises from the approach to audiovisual event staging (musician & visual artists) outside of the typically necessary infrastructure to carry it out i.e. sound team, video equipment: projector, screens, etc. Artists send the music and video from their laptops to an another computer for processing the data to make it compatible for mobile devices, which are connected through a private WIFI.
From smartphones or tablets users have access to the WIFI and can immediately hear and see synchronized visuals in real time on these devices .The quality is very good thanks to the use of improved standards of streaming video and audio without perceptible delay. But the concept goes even further, since it does not need any power source (battery-only UPS for WIFIaccess points).
So, anyone with a with WIFI-enabled mobile device (phone, iPad etc.) and a headset can enjoy a visual experience never presented to date in environments that could not normally be used for this. An unplugged electronic rig, in short, with minimal deployment and seamless production, previous testing, logistics, or noise.
To capture the TouchDesigner images and send them via streaming, we have developed a DirectDraw driver that Windows sees like a virtual camera linked to TouchDesigner as a memory share component. This enables us to work directly with TouchDesigner like all our other work. The visual is based in 3D anaglyph too, because the visual nature of 3D on a mobile device provides a new value to the project, and the display of geometric objects with sound rhythms synchronized literally out of the small screen you have in your hands. It’s a very unique experience!
Thr3hold’s many collaborations include: Logical Disorder (Barcelona), the phonographist Juanjo Palacios, the artist.TAPE. working primarily in Japan, Non Ergo, currently based in Berlin, Javier Bejarano with his project Galgo, we participated at the LEV festival with musician ITALTEK performing a visual work in 3D anaglyph generated in real time, and currently with the Portuguese musician Vitor Joaquim.
They are also the creators of Trendelenburg an international encounter for visual art and new media that is in its 4th year.