Adelaide Festival 2015 – Unsound: Robin Fox Interview talks to Australian visual artist & composer, Robin Fox, about his collaboration with ATOM ™ on the Unsound commissioned work: Double Vision – being performed on Friday 13th March 2015 as part of the Unsound Adelaide line up, part of the 2015 Adelaide Festival.


This commissioned collaboration with Uwe Schmidt (ATOM TM) for Unsound – how did it come to fruition? I understand your 2012 Unsound performance was a major catalyst?


That’s right, I met Uwe for the first time at the Adelaide Festival in 2012 – I actually missed his performance, but I arrived the day after and everyone was raving about it, and saying how brilliant it was. And of course I had followed Uwe’s work for quite a while as Señor Coconut, but also his later electronic work. He saw my green laser show that I now call the Monochromatic laser show – which is a show where you see and hear the same electrical signal at the same time. It is quite an immersive show and quite hard-core really. What Uwe saw in that was this scientific explanation, if you like, of sound and image and was quite captivated by it.


And so he started to develop this idea that we could somehow be able to find a meeting point between his deconstructed pop music and my more scientific approach to sound and image, and merge those things together. So he was the catalyst. He spoke to Mat Schulz of Unsound, and the rest was about trying to navigate the distance with Uwe living in Santiago in Chile and me living in Melbourne. Obviously one of the biggest problems is how you make that work.


So we had to work remotely, which is kind of difficult and not my favourite form of collaboration, via the internet. We talked through the formal ideas of the work and exchanged sound and image files. I would send Uwe short sketches of what I was working on with the lasers, and he would send me rendered video sections that he was interested in doing, and we started to get a picture of what it would be like.


We really only had a week in Krakow before the Premiere to be in a room together and work out the tricky bits of how video is going to sit with laser projection and different forms of light. You don’t want one to overwhelm the other, and we had to work with those technical things, as well as aesthetically, putting together a show that we were happy with.





Having seen the Monochromatic laser show in the 2012 Unsound Festival in Adelaide, what extra dimensions & challenges open up by using the RGB (Red Green Blue) arrangement in the current production – is it technically very much more difficult to compose & coordinate?


It’s not so much difficult but rather very different. With the Monochromatic laser show I basically compose sound and then send that directly to the laser projector, and that sound would be visualised. With the RGB system, because they are more high powered lasers I need to think much more about the audience scanning and health & safety implications. And I had to get some software to manage the power of the beam, but that software didn’t allow me to send sound directly to the laser anymore. So I had to work out a different way of working, basically. So I decided that I would draw images, and the electrical signal that I use to draw those images would then be sent straight to a mixing desk and you would hear those images directly. So I’m almost working in a reverse way to the Monochromatic show. But I’m still trying to maintain a direct correspondence between the electrical signal that you see and the electrical signal that you hear. So basically I built a very crude analogue synthesiser, which is basically playing you the sound of the image that you are seeing. What the three colour show allows me to do, because it has three separate laser projectors, it does allow for more polyphony. The Monochromatic show is almost a monophonic show in a sense in that it just has one sound – one image, and now I can have three layers of material running independently of one another. For me it’s a huge expansion, but it’s also a very big departure from the way I was working before.

Your creative works do span a number of mediums from working within architectural space to compositional soundtrack with dance groups – is diversity and collaboration an important thing in the broader scope of what you do? Do you want to avoid just being known as “The Laser Guy”

Absolutely. Diversification, it’s really necessary in a professional sense as an artist – it’s very difficult if you only do one thing, particularly in Australia. Diversification is a necessity, it is something I have to do. Also, I have a terribly short attention span, and every year I make a point of doing something I am completely unqualified for and that throws me into new territory. I think that is part of the way you stay alive creatively.


Recently in a video interview that Uwe and I did in Krakow, Uwe had a beautiful turn of phrase. He said “What collaboration does is that it allows you to live a creative moment that you couldn’t have lived in any other way.” When you collaborate with someone you come together in a state and time, and you make something together, and that creative moment is impossible in any other way. Collaborating with Uwe, he comes from a completely different world to where I have been performing – I have been performing in experimental music and in noise, in a media arts festival context. Uwe has been performing in clubs and making electronic music and touring with Señor Coconut. It almost like these worlds are coming together, and I think that the result has been incredibly popular, and we have a lot of performances booked for this year. I think part of the appeal is that people are seeing things from two divergent parts of the art world.



Do think with events like Unsound, and MONA events, and even ABC Radio frequently having dedicated shows to experimental electronica – that it is crashing through into a subsection of the “mainstream” ?


I think that is inevitable really. That’s what happens when genres come along that are in, almost an argument, with the culture. Usually the experimental arts sit at the periphery of a culture having an argument with the mainstream. Eventually, through familiarity and through exposure to these new ideas, mainstream media seems to come around to the fact that people are interested in expanding their aesthetic horizons. What I find frustrating about mainstream media, and even mainstream festivals and curation, is that there is an assumption that you have to curate what people want, and I think that is a closed loop that is not that interesting. If you are always making assumptions about what people want, and then delivering on those assumptions, sure – people will keep turning up and consuming this stuff, but aesthetically and developmentally it is a closed circuit.

So what is interesting, and what I am hope is happening, is that there is a broadening of that horizon. And that is what experimental arts is all about. It is about presenting ideas that prove to people that things are possible outside what they previously believed to be possible. Or to be enjoyable. It’s like anything in life, you never know whether you enjoy something until you have tried it. If you are not out there sampling ways of perceiving things, you are going to be stuck in a very repetitive situation. And I think that is what happens with popular culture, it is the repetition that gets me down a bit, and anything I can do to break that repetition, makes me feel I’m doing something useful.



I have seen the interviews you have given with regard to your interest in synaesthesia, and I was also interested to read about the compositional works you have done for Cochlear Implant Users. It would seem you are as much as interested in the individual biological based perceptions by your audience as you are in the compositional structures of your work? Does that act as an artistic feedback loop for you?


Absolutely, producing anything, whether it be sound or a piece of visual work, interactive sculpture or working with the Bionic Ear Institute – I’m always conscious of the fact that I am preparing material that exists in the air as vibration as a combination of wave forms or electromagnetic material, and those materials are going to be received by an organism. A human being, with sense perception and sense organs designed to receive this information in various ways. I’m fascinated by the way the ear works, and I’m fascinated by the way the eye works, but more importantly I am fascinated with the way these sense perception organs interface with the brain. Really, when you try to transmit an idea from one person to another, you are trying to poke your brain state, your particular electromagnetic makeup at that time, and try and make it happen in someone else’s brain. The art of communication is just that, and it’s incredibly complicated – whether it is language or any communication in the arts, trying to manufacture or manifest a feeling, a sensation in another person, is much more complicated than you would think. And it is all incredibly subjective. I’m fascinated by the fact that when I put anything out into the world, the reaction to it is so broad – some people are going to hate it, some people are going to love it, some people are going to be completely indifferent to it. And that is the richness of what makes producing art so fascinating.


The only other conceptual similarity I could immediately think of was Robert Rich’s “Sleep Concerts” – which Steven Stapleton from Nurse With Wound indicated last year he was also doing – the stark difference being giving yourself 8 or more hours to influence the neurological patterns of an audience as opposed to an condensed hour of sound. Is neurology & art a frontier still to reach its potential?


I think has a lot of potential, the frontier of neurobiology and art is really where I think things are going. I guess you could call my short and sharp, hyper explosive performances more of a “Wake Concert” than a “Sleep Concert”. If anyone can sleep through one my concert then that is a neurobiological condition I would like to hear about! I do think there are movements in the arts that are really going down this path of working with, not so much idiomatical linguistic forms – working with music as a linguistic paradigm or as a language, but more as a neurobiological effect. I think that the more we understand the way that our sense organs interface with the brain, the more we will be making work that addresses those discoveries. And also prompts those discoveries. Pushing us towards working out why we feel the way we do about certain things, and why we react the way we do to certain things. And working with the Bionic Ear Institute, that was a fascinating project because what we decided to do was try to compose music for the Cochlear Implant, rather than try to improve the Cochlear Implant from an engineering point of view to improve its resolution, let’s make music that directly addresses that hardware. And what that hardware essentially does is short electrical impulses directly to the auditory nerve. The idea that I could one day be composing music, that maybe even bypasses the ear – it’s not even about sound anymore. That it’s just about addressing the neurology and the auditory nerve. I’ve often wondered what would happen if you injected Botox into your basaline membrane and you relaxed your ear muscle so that you hear frequencies below 20 Hz? What would your brain do with that information? Would it understand that as sound? If you excited the ear to the point that you could hear the frequencies the internet is transmitting at, what would the internet sound like and could your brain actually understand it was sound?


And because I work with sound and light, I work across the electro-magnetic spectrum from the audible to the visible. And when you start to think about that as a whole range of things, there is a lot going on in that spectrum that we cannot even see or hear, but it is effecting us in some way. So I think the more that we understand about the way the brain is dealing with that, the more interesting the artwork is going to get.


Jonathan Feb 15th 2015 11:21 pm Art,Culture,Interviews,Music,People No Comments yet Trackback URI

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