A recent collaboration between two Planet Mu labelmates has resulted in a vision embedded with the human awe and anxiety of living in an increasingly technological world. Konx-om-Pax, alongside Sabrina Ratté, has directed a music video for Kuedo's 'Ascension Phase', and the result is stunning and poignant. Taken from the Severant LP - the aesthetic minimalism of Kuedo's production seamlessly merges with Konx-om-Pax's multi-faceted animation sequence to present a world in which the machine is glorified, yet always with an ominous sense of power that unsettles our apparent superiority over technology.
I'm interested in the android symbol - are people really being themselves, are we genuinely being our 'true selves', and how would we react if we really knew what lies beneath
To coincide with the video release, as well as Kuedo's forthcoming 'Work Live And Sleep In Collapsed Space' EP and Konx-om-Pax's debut album Regional Surrealism, we spoke to both of them about their work and mutual love for science fiction.
Dazed Digital: It feels as if the video envisions a time where machines function independent of the human in a new, cyberspatial environment. But there's a tangible human element to your production that seems to guide Severant.
Kuedo: Yeah, I took the moving sphere to be a kind of post-human thing, but perhaps more in a transhuman way; like a digitized human entity, or soul symbol. The whole transhuman thing is a kind of weird 'neo-spirituality' in itself. It's still ultimately based around hope for the human condition. I should say, I'm not one of those who are eagerly awaiting the transhuman digital dawn or something. The point I'm making is that vector imagery - cyberspatial imagery as you describe it - is often strangely imbued with a kind of human spirituality in spite of its appearance.
I think there's a connection between those, and an understandable reason for why they can affect us that way, but I'm not sure what that would be or how to articulate it. Nevertheless, there's a deliberate audible human element in Severant - a lot of non-programmed synth lines and real time, non-scripted recordings of me pushing various buttons and moving faders up and down. The point was to interject a roughshod humanity through all the digitalism, to intertwine the two.
DD: The video and track seems to suggest that the sense of wonder characteristic of humanist visions of sci-fi has been overtaken by an awareness of the pervasiveness of technology in the present. Is this something you are keen to put across; a vision of the future without such generic trappings, a response to the 'here and now' of technological modernity?
Kuedo: I wasn't being nostalgic for any early period of sci-fi from before my living memory, but I was wanting to get across a kind of romantic futurism, and I did play with some of the recognisable tropes that characterize that. The debate falls around whether sci-fi signifiers like synth arpeggios in music, or raw geometric CGI in video, are just hand-me-down tropes from yesteryear; that their significance only comes from historical pop culture association, or if they carry an innate aesthetic sense by their own visual or audio properties and therefore outlive any given time period. We just get sick of things for a while then rediscover them later down the line.
Ultimately the sense of 'wow' at the now and the future is forever real and forever accessible, and that is what I'm particularly interested in. But the history of expressing that in art is also super interesting. The essential ways of describing it are becoming totally weighed down with their own cultural baggage, but this is something we just have to accept. Rather than wholly ignore the historical trappings though, I think they're fun to play with; describing real life situations and dressing it up in futurist trappings. There's a funny pathos to me in it dressing it up on the surface as epic space opera, and in it being received super literally as just and only that.
DD: Your work is often discussed in terms of sci-fi cinema, which centres around the technological impact on the notion of authenticity and the binary of artificial/organic. Does that have an impact on your approach to production?
Kuedo: Yeah, I think one of the things that keeps me snagged to Blade Runner is the notion of human authenticity. I'm interested in the android symbol - are people really being themselves, are we genuinely being our 'true selves', and how would we react if we really knew what lies beneath. Now it's quite a real concern, but it's taking place via the internet. We project separate online selves, which becomes like interacting with data holograms. The great thing about science fiction is how it helps us think about these essential human themes. It's nice breathing human life and sentiment into the machines and computers around me in the studio. The weird blur between synthetic and human is one of the loveliest things about electronic music itself.
Dazed Digital: What were you immediate thoughts on hearing Severant, and how did you begin to translate them into the visuals?
Konx-om-Pax: Well, it instantly made me think of 'Blade Runner' and 'Vangelis', which to any sci-fi fan is a really obvious response. It was mainly because of the lush synth pads and arpeggios in most of the album tracks. For the video, I wanted to broaden my immediate thoughts and have it as a sequence of homages to certain scenes from some of my own favourite films, such as '2001: A Space Odyssey' and 'Aliens'. I got this idea after learning that lots of the visual aspects of Star Wars were loosely based on Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress. Also, after discovering the work of Sabrina, I thought it would be cool to try and mix her analogue work against my more digital stuff. The softness of her visuals goes really well with the feel of the album I think.
DD: Your body of work can hardly be accused of being minimalist, but there is a really strong dynamism to the movements and dimensions of this particular animation sequence that seems to be a step up from previous work.
Konx-om-Pax: I really wanted to create something with the simplest form of visual narrative possible. It's basically a sphere going on a walk down a linear path, if you break it down that much. It's a slight nod to El Lissitzkys' 'Story of Two Squares'. Jamie's ideas about the album came from emotions about personal relationships, and our discussion about ways to present a vision of a self-reflective journey was a big part of it building the narrative.
DD: What were your intentions with the transition from visual to musical production, and how do you feel your work as an animator & video director has translated into music production on Regional Surrealism?
Konx-Om-Pax: It's not so much about a conscious transition, I just feel like I've finally got round to focusing on music for a long enough period of time rather than just my visual work. I see the album almost like a soundtrack to a film I've not made yet. I'm actually in the process of creating a short trailer for the album, which will feature a few tracks on it. I'm almost sick of making music videos now. Only doing one video wouldn't do the whole album justice though, as it's quite a varied piece as a whole. It's a bit scary being charge of everything. It's taking a lot of thought, and in my mind the artwork and visuals need to be some of my best work. So yeah, no pressure!
Kuedo - Work Live And Sleep In Collapsed Space EP is out on 18th June 2012; Konx-om-Pax – Regional Surrealism is out in July 2012, both on Planet Mu