Dazed talks to Semiconductor about their Sound Films, installation pieces and live performances.
emiconductor are Ruth Jarman and Joseph Gerhardt; together they make Sound Films - both art installations and live performances. Their work explores how sound becomes synonymous with image.
Brilliant Noise: Using raw black and white pictures from solar astronomy data vaults, these pictures of the sun can be watched with a selection of soundtracks.
Nanowebbers: Nano environments that are created via a special script that adjust the images based upon the audio, creating subsctructures that resemble crystalline substances.
D&C: How does it feel to have your work presented on DVD, when most of your pieces are meant to be experiences large-scale or as installations?
Semiconductor: Just as film directors edit their work to be seen with a certain sense of grandeur in the cinema our work also has its own perfect location whether it is a site specific artwork, working with surround sound or is meant to be viewed large or small scale.
Varied situations can bring exciting new things to the work, relationships we have not considered before, new ways of seeing the work or coincidences that help re-interpret the work for the viewer. We like to encourage these accidents, and within this framework, making our work available on DVD certainly sets the work up to be experienced in wide ranging environments, by varied audiences with widely differing expectations.
You could say that the work is more likely to be misinterpreted, if someone buys the DVD from a high street store and it's sitting in amongst big budget movies or chart music there's clearly more chance of losing or confusing context completely, but were not scared of this, and we like to try and promote accessibility, rather than stick just to the exclusivity of many art world situations.
We're also interested in what the viewer brings to the work; it's as much about the viewer's experience of the world around them, and what they take away with them from the piece. The DVD can help in personalising that experience.
D&C: What is special about the 'live' aspect of your work, creating
something in the moment?
Semiconductor: For as long as we've been making our Sound Films we have strived to create new live forms that challenge the genre of image and sound performance. Our latest creation is our own software tool called Sonic Inc; we have developed it so that we create everything on the fly, starting from nothing. As the co-performer it's a pretty wild experience as we're processing all the inputs that a computer would oversee if you were running off a rendered film - what forms to throw up, where to put them, what colour to make them and how and when we see them. In our current performance we're crazily working away behind the scenes and the actual outcome is a quite relaxed laid back affair. We tend to acknowledge our relationship with the computer in this instance a co-conspirator.
Things are quite unpredictable with Sonic Inc., there's a certain amount of risk taking involved as we make mistakes and things are pretty hectic. These are qualities you don't normally connect with a computer, but we have always liked the bringing together of analogue and digital, the man and the machine again. We are the element that makes it unpredictable. It is totally free-form, something which our pre-rendered works are certainly not – they are tight and time consuming.
Below: How Sonic Inc. Software Works
There is a palette top left which relates to the image the audience sees; when we draw within this it realises forms according to our inputs and also acts as a colour picker depending on which image we have in there.
Various sliders give us X, Y and Z co-ordinates for making shapes using any combination of these planes or when animating, rotating the shapes around any of these axis. It’s like sculpting shapes in the real world except you have to talk maths to the computer.
Other sliders control various aspects, for example, the intensity of the forms scaling to sound or live colour management.
We have two 'scenes' in the software, this one which exists on a 2D plane and is more like drawing and another we switch to which is a 3D world and is sculptural, in this one we can introduce the creation of artificial life forms.
D&C: You talk a lot about the hybrid nature of your work, the importance of sound and how it works with the image. How do you go about initiating a new piece - does the visual inform the sound, or do the two things emerge together?
Semiconductor: Every work has a unique approach regarding the technique or the relationship between the sound and image. Sometimes we start with one or the other, or sometimes they are born from the same thing. One approach is using the audio as a tool to sculpt with, using it's resonance to realise visual motion and form. In our work Brilliant Noise the sound is derived from solar natural radio and controlled via digitally sampling the intensity of the brightness of the image, the sound is intrinsically born from the image, creating a symphony by the Sun. In other works like Inaudible Cities we have taken the sound and written a script so that the sound actually builds the city, or in 200 Nanowebbers where the sound generates the environment as well as animating it.
D&C: Your works are embedded in the physical world, but you describe them both as documentary, and fictional worlds presenting future possibilities. How do you reconcile these contrasting spaces?
Semiconductor: Well, we're working a lot with the physics of nature, it's just that it tends to be the bits we can't see or hear. So that when we reveal these elements within the landscape both visually and aurally it naturally seems quite fantastical. We're essentially exploring the limits of human perception and experience of our built and natural environment. Our films are mostly first person experiences, which take a viewpoint from a human scale. As forces of nature come into play on our surroundings we witness events unfolding over thousands of years well beyond our lifespan, or beyond our physical abilities of seeing and hearing.
On the one hand were presenting these happenings as scientific fact; for example the force of an earthquake can destroy buildings, but we prefer them to be seen as alternate realities, revealing the world that goes unseen due to our limited abilities, and opens up the world to the realm of possibilities. We like to call them fictional documentaries.
All The Time In The World
All The Time In The World
Above: Do You Think Science...
D&C: Do you have any new projects in progress?
Semiconductor: The release of our Worlds in Flux DVD forms part of a national touring project funded by the Arts Council England titled Brilliant Noise. It will feature Brilliant Noise as a three screen surround sound installation and other works made and in production as a result of our space sciences fellowship last year.
One of the new works will be Magnetic Movie which we are working on at the moment, it is an Animate! Commission and more can be seen and read about it here:
We are planning on spending time in the studio later this year to develop new installation works inspired by the science we explored during our fellowship at the space sciences Lab. These works might actually see us moving away from the screen, but still employing animation.
Thursday 15th March
Special versions of Brilliant Noise and Sonic Inc. developed for the BFI IMAX.
Also performing same evening; Fennesz and Charles Atlas.
Saturday 17th March
Semiconductor talk and presentation on their work.
BFI Southbank, NFT3
Also: Installation of new DVD, Worlds In Flux, released by Fat Cat records throughout the festival.