Strange things have been happening to Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland (surprise), even since before their typically weirdly-worded ‘split’ via their soundcloud a couple of weeks ago. That profile is credited to “cplnd” and had been hiterto used by both the Hype Williams off-shoots of the original London-sprung duo.
But now, following a surprise drop from a Russian hotel room by Blunt, we have a YouTube for Copeland, reduced to a mononym and muffling her idiosyncratic vocals under a mire of woozy synth lines and clacking beats. Hopefully there’s more to come but we won’t know until it happens.
Based between London and Berlin, Cécile B. Evans produced a video work in the surrounds of Palazzo Peckham during this year’s Venice Biennale. The buzz of the major art exhibition, the collective launched American Medium Network, illustrating the growing engagement with popular culture and mass media by emerging artists and Evans’ video piece is no different.
Here she intersperses footage of the art space with obscured female head features and gaudy graphics with a pitched-down narrative of modern malaise before pulling out a quote from Ciara’s ‘Like a Boy‘: “we’d be out. Four in the morning, on the corner rolling, doing our own thing”. Theuneasycollusion of art and popular culture just got a whole lot more unsettling. **
After years of floating in a coma of ecstatic trance and washed-out effervescence, a bizarre utopian simulation obscuring its Ballardian undertones, Christelle Gualdi’s (aka Stellar OM Source) sound gives way to debauched rhythm, grounded in physical limitation.
As the first track on the album, Joy One Mile, released on RVNG Intl, June 10, it’s only fitting that ‘Polarity’ should get the first video treatment, directed by the artist herself. This one features bathers, lots of makeup and a swimming pool, which is a fairly apt reimagining of the submarine sonic elements of the track. Gualdi follows up the release with a European tour dates announcement, including MoMA PS1’s Warm Up and Unsound in October. See below for details. **
07/05/13 – Mediamatic Fabriek – Amsterdam, NL w/ Maxmillion Dunbar
07/06/13 – BAR – Rotterdam, NL
07/26/13 – Norberg Festival – Sweden
08/24/13 – MoMA PS1 Warm Up – New York, NY
08/31/13 – Flussi Festival – Italy
09/27/13 – Halles-St-Géry – Brussels, BE – w/ Kassem Mosse, Kelpe
10/04/13 – Berghain – Berlin, DE – w/ Oneohtrix Point Never
10/19/13 – Unsound – Krakow, PL
“I’m already like, ‘shit, I should just stick with PhotoShop and ordering things from companies, instead of doing it myself.” Katja Novitskova doesn’t know what day it is. She’s been working with “some form of rubber, resin, something” for the upcoming group show ‘Unstable Media’ at Martin van Zomeren gallery in Amsterdam, and it turns out it’s a substance that’s fine for most people but toxic to her. In addition to the blisters she shows me through Skype across her arms, Novitskova is on medication that makes her feel weird and disoriented. She’s a visual artist, working at the centre of the hazy post-internet realm, who is literally allergic to IRL but only some of it. “For the show in Paris [Art of Living at Galerie Valentin], I did a bunch of little knives, they look like a mix of a shank and prehistoric axe, from a different material and that was fine.”
Novitskova also happens to use the word “allergy” to describe her reaction to the use of terms like “neo-liberalism” and “late-capitalism” because as a Bachelor in Semiotics and Culture Studies she’s come to realise there’s a world outside language, while that particular lexicon comes loaded with a critical ideology. But there’s even her own existing ideology, of an integration of online and offline media, that manages to filter through to her own vocabulary. Novitskova refers to her interrogative position on criticality as being a “search mode” and the contemporary visual fashion for Gulf Futurism, as a certain “meme”, started by tumblr and proliferated by the likes of Kari Altmann, Fatima Al-Qadiri, Iain Ball and Emily Jones, among others. Even her own interest in the 2010 trend mutates and manifests itself through her twitter tagline, “everything pseudo-saudi”, referring to her current computer font of choice, while her thumbnailfeatures an Arabic text translation of “I Google Myself”, a piece produced for PWR Paper before the Arab Spring, gaining greater significance thereafter. So, in the context of an artist who’s forgotten that her webcam’s on while itching her arms and blankly staring at her twitter account, it’s these complex interactions between message and mediation, forms and formats, that makes her body of work a most relevant piece of cultural examination, inside and out.
It’s interesting that you’re making such tangible, physical work because the aesthetic that you work with seems so virtual.
Katja Novitskova: Yeah but it needs to be materialised. I’m doing this residency in Amsterdam where I have access to these material experiments. One of the premises of me getting this residency was to work with more unexpected materials that I would not be able to access easily, ordering things on line. So the first physical experiment went bad because it made me sick [laughs].
It’s funny you’re having an allergic reaction to the physical product.
KN: I think, intuitively, I know I’m not the person to be this craftsman. I’ve always known that, in a way, but then I’m still eager to explore it a bit more.
I guess your whole practice is based on that integration of physical and virtual modes.
KN: One of the things that I realised I’m trying to communicate is that it’s more a gradient, or spectrum, rather than an opposition between the virtual and physical because it kind of melts into each other. There’s no clear distinction between one and another, in a way. I use the word ‘digital’ rather than ‘virtual’ because it’s a bit more clear, a bit more precise. But now I’m trying to make works that are aware of these gradual translations between the two.
Usually, the point is to outsource this production and to act like this small business entity that makes a file and sends it to another small company that produces it and you get an object. So even the production of the object was a bit outsourced. Now, since I’m in this art context, I decided to play an artist role, to do some craft and do some things, but I already failed at it and something went wrong. Now I’m also exaggerating this artist position a bit and trying to combine the previous method with a bit of a renewal method. For instance, I’m painting things with nail polish and things like that, which I haven’t done before.
It’s interesting that you say ‘digital’ is a more precise term to use because virtual makes it sound like it’s almost imaginary. We’ve always interacted with some kind of interface, pixelated or not. Reading a book offers an experience beyond the physical.
KN: You can even say the alphabet is a form of code. There’s this spectrum of analogue codes becoming digital. It’s not that clear and that’s the interesting part.
You’ve got the same problem with defining what ‘digital culture’ actually is, in distinguishing it from, ‘print’ or even ‘oral’ culture. It all still has something to do with language.
KN: There’s also no real subject. I’m not interested in these distinctions between media. I’m interested in how this new media actively redefines the world and culture, and everything. It’s like the digital medium is just a means to a certain subject, or a certain exploration. Of course, by doing that, you look at the medium itself but it’s not the subject.
Do you think about your aesthetic being formalised in some away?
KN: Like a sort of schematic? The main aesthetical principle that I have is it has to trigger something in my brain and I think that every artist has their own thing that makes them make certain aesthetic choices over others. I’m very aware that I have this because when I make work, apart from the conceptual, it’s a very visual process. And at a certain point I just make these choices that feel right. That can end up indeed being some kind of formula that I have and it’s just a way of making, on one hand.
On the other, my work is about this playing with formats; existing formats like file formats all the way to the object format. Then it’s species, ideologies, even certain things that come into existence and then expire. I like this word ‘format’. I’m consciously playing with these formats, of course, and even with formats that are present in contemporary art. For instance, there’s this format of print on the wall, or of painting, or sculpture. I’m half consciously playing with all these formats. It’s like the smartphone as a format. This is more the material form of it but the detail and aesthetic choices are not a formula that I have, they’re very… I really have to like it myself before I make use of it [laughs].
Obviously, they bare close resemblance to corporate aesthetics.
KN: Well, the corporate aesthetic is a format and I’m making a use of it. Stock animal documentary is a format, stock photography is a format, stock photography that deals with economics is a format. It’s a little pool of imagery that a lot of people make use of and that’s really popular… certain animals symbolising wild nature or something. I make use of this quite consciously and because I’m trying to mix the corporate aesthetic with the natural aesthetic, I’m trying to expose both of them as formats. I’m also interested in the nature of economics so it works on several layers, it works in this very visual layer but it also works on a conceptual layer, for me.
That idea of the economy in your work is reflective of the use of these formats that market an experience or “authenticity” through this construct of nature through imagery.
KN: I think Timur Si-Qin and Agatha Wara, who I worked with before, write about this. They explain things better than I would, but I agree with them that it’s basically objects and imagery and the whole ecological layer on the societies, which is there to grab our attention and to sell us something. In order for this to happen, the image itself, or the stories that they’re showing have to grab our attention. So there’s a certain visual narrative element that they use and they think work.
I’m more interested in it in terms of material. There’s so much more art in advertisement, this mass of things, the banners, the cut-outs, the displays, the flags, the pens; all this marketing stuff that is being produced massively every year, or images just to be this interface between certain products and people. In a way, I think it makes sense to think of art in relation to this attention-grabbing advertisement, especially how it exists online. Where it can be as public as an artwork, where everything is democratic. That’s at least a few years ago, where there was no differentiation if you were looking at advertisement images or art online; it’s just a jpeg.
It’s all connected. Obviously as an artist, or a person, you respond to your context and your context is a world of advertising.
KN: Yeah it’s environment and it’s an environment, which is trying to grab our attention. Of course, we’re so aware of it by now that, I think, a lot of us choose which advertisement to be affected by and which not. It’s a bit like that with art, except art is just like an advertisement of itself already [laughs].**
As Stellar OM Source plays live she wishes the audience would close their eyes and feel sounds with the same physicality she feels. Averse to samples, the Dutch-based musician, otherwise known as Christelle Gualdi, masters destructive patterns over intense, cosmic bass lines shaped on legendary equipment such as the Juno 6, Alesis drum machine and the now infamous Roland TB-303. Each track is produced in the moment, improvised to the sound of the crowd, only to be selected into a final cut, such as new album Joy One Mile out on RVNG Intl, June 10, after its creator is sure of its timelessness and beauty.
Trained as an architect and a musician, schooled in electro-acoustic composition and visual arts, the narrative of each track takes on a fiction close to that of a scene in a movie, and in some cases, such as ‘The Range’, delicious doldrums close to the dystopia of JG Ballard plays out. Yet, to craft metaphors for listeners to decipher is never Gualdi’s prime goal, to overload their cognition with complex harmonies is.
Envelopes flip between attack and delay, low frequency oscillations’s pan out in real time and a clinical 4×4 beat is nowhere to be found. How we relate to the body is tested. Gualdi wants surrender, our cognition to give up and our inner dancer to take us higher without a care. She seeks a certain ecstasy, only known to ravers, in her own spiritual approach to performance and production; a channelling of the mystical OM syllable, together with an early-70s optimism in technology’s potential to expand our consciousness. It’s a belief, which dictates a deliberate use of instrumentation, that Gualdi feels meet a direct extension of her thoughts, with the potential to connect with an audience live.
Emotional, at times even Balearic, the pleasure is to join Gualdi in the groove, laying down her soul as she twists out effects, decays arpeggios and pushes her own control of equipment to the limit. Sun Ra, Yellow Magic Orchestra and Jazz fusion musicians of the 60s and 70s and their complex arrangements echo early techno, its innocence never lost.
aqnb: Did you always make music on drum machines and analogue instruments or were you ever using digital sequencers?
Christelle Gualdi: I did, I stopped and then I did it again. It was kind of hard to find freedom within that because you can get so directed by the instruments that you use that it actually takes time to reverse this process. You have to feel confident enough with the machines that you are using to make them your own and fight for your freedom within that. That’s why I didn’t want to use computers in this process because there is apparent freedom but there are so many things that people use that are the same, like the same plugins and the same effects and all that.
aqnb: With sequencers you also obsess over the visual a lot, which you don’t do when you play it out live…
CG: Yeah, we’re so much in a visual culture, when there are so many things happening with our ears, so I wish that music would stay within that aural culture. Music production has become so visual now… It’s something I’m aware of and I try not to work like this. There is a huge freedom to get from being away from the screen and working with the ears.
aqnb: Did you just get the TB-303 for this album or have you had it for a few years?
CG: I’ve had it for the past three years but I was not even going to buy it. The crazy story is I was buying another Roland called an NC-202, which is kind of a small version of an SH-101. In the email exchange with the guy selling it he mentioned he also had a broken TB-303 that I could buy for another 25 euros and obviously I said yes, even for spare parts. When I received the package, the original machine I bought never worked but the 303 was mint. I never wanted to buy one because the second hand price of it is insane and this one just fell from the sky. Before I was using software and I wished, of course, that I had one. I would borrow my friend’s sometimes but software was also good enough but then I had this 303. The way it all happened, I felt like I had to use it. It was so crazy for so many kids to have it and at that price, especially when you don’t look for it. It’s just a synchronicity in life, where you feel you’d be stupid not to follow the door open to you.
aqnb: It’s been mentioned that you were trained as a classical bassist. Did it have any relevance to you that the TB-303 was designed to emulate a bass guitar?
CG: I used to also play electric bass. I loved very long bass lines and that’s something I try and do on the 303 by combining patterns, so I definitely approach it in the same way I would approach playing bass guitar. I could definitely start something with a bass line and then build around it but also the way I bring the 303 lines in what I do is closer to a Jazz way. It’s not prominent and I like that, it’s rounded. It comes and goes in the same way that it would in a Jazz quartet. A bass line comes and goes and sometimes it’s just buried in the mix amongst instruments.
aqnb: Have you left music theory behind or does it still influence how you create patterns and composition?
CG: Jazz is kind of the only music that I listen to. I don’t really listen to anything after 1995, so Jazz and Jazz Fusion tracks have a structure that has a really strong influence on me, as well as any Japanese keyboard players like Yellow Magic Orchestra, they have a big influence on me.
aqnb: It’s interesting you say the tracks you selected from the album came from playing them live in a club and yet they’re not really club tracks. What did you find people responded to best?
CG: The thing is that of course there is another version of those tracks that I play live because I like to play with the machines and create these voids. The live versions have way more transitions and I do a lot more things on the drum patterns. I cut down; I change the signature and a lot of things that are hard to deliver on a record.
People really react to the live action in the same way as if you listen to live recordings. In really important live recordings, and again I go back to Jazz, you obviously hear the solo that someone is playing. You know that it’s going to be very big and the audience is going to react to that. When I play live, people also react to those moments. People always really move on the live action.
To bring it back to the album, on the first track. ‘Polarity’. there is a really long build up. There’s really long repetition and the bass is really slow. It’s only really halfway that something is going to change and happen. In the club, people would react better to this typical tension building but I still find the distance quite hard between how I perform them live and how they appear in the album. The album is great for listening to but the tracks are more difficult in a club situation. Some of them are quite old, so right now I am adapting them to the structure I gave them on the album.
aqnb: You’ve said before that you are influenced by cybernetics. Is that still present on this album?
CG: Well, you know, my influence from cybernetics and computers is a bit dated. I would say it has something more from the 1970s or the 1980s than from now. I do have a feeling, as I said, about the control that machines can have and that people can find their own freedom in not being actually controlled by the machine. A machine can be a direct extension of your ideas and that’s how I approach things. I’m actually scared of how people use computers today, generally, or with any new devices. For me it was important, when I could use a machine, that I could, perhaps not totally build it myself, but I tend to use things that I can understand and not the other way round.
I have been using computers since I was 11 years old, so I feel pretty confident about using computers but I also find them dangerous for creativity. So far, we don’t have chips implanted in our brains and we’re still like human. There are still things that resonate to us in terms of art and how beauty can be expressed. However, there are a lot of things computers are disconnected from, so I am just really careful with using computers. I like to use them when it’s really an extension of your fingers, so that’s why I also don’t use computers in the music production process.
aqnb: Why do you thing that 1980s technology or 1970s technology is still kind of pure, in a way?
CG: I think because it was just when affordable technology was made available to the people, the moment when people could get the first home computers and home studios. Industrial technology made it affordable for ordinary people and, in that sense, it was this utopian and hippy approach: that we would use those tools to do beautiful things and everybody could produce their own music. At that time, the tools were manageable; it would take you a few years to master one synthesizer or one Atari. I guess, in some kind of race to make things cheaper, competition between brands meant this nice and idealistic path of bringing technology to people actually went too far.
I mean, today technology is going out of date faster then you can learn it. That’s actually why, to me, the 1980s were these good times, when there was still hippy goodness about it and some kind of idealism about using these tools. After that, it got crazy and now you begin to hear about people being stressed about having the latest iPad app.
How much time do you have to learn the full potential of a music production app anyway? I refer to the 1980s for that, as the moment when it was possible to get closer and have this proximity with machines and tools where it would be an exact extension of your brain. Now this is gone. I know only a few people who feel adequate to limit themselves to one thing and I admire people mastering one tool. It’s still being very creative.
Stellar Om Source’s Joy One Mile is out on RVNG Intl on Monday, June 10, 2013.
If you agree with Foucault’s notion that history is circular rather than linear, then the second-last installment of the Moving_Image cycle’s Contemporary ABC at Gaîté Lyrique, H comme Histoire (‘H as in History) should appeal. The films presented link historical events in a postmodern mash-up of content, as well as form, beginning with the master himself, Jean LucGodard, and his video art documentary collage. A futile attempt to describe his work and make it match its content De l’origine du XXIe siècle (Origins of the XXI Century) is an edited collection of real footage as film excerpts of a 20th century narrative in reverse order gives you an insight into our recent history, as told by the ‘losers’ and not the customary winners. The horrors brought on the world by endless war and conflict are shown through the faces of children and not the heroic returns of soldiers; seen through the tears and laughter of women and not the declarations of politicians. The people and the images that we sometimes try to hide are brought to the foreground and in the hands of a most experienced storyteller, such as Godard, becomes a masterpiece that captures our tortured past, while providing a cautionary tale for an unsettling future.
Continuing with the documentary format, Croation experimental film maker Ivan Faktor manages to pay homage to his favorite director Fritz Lang and while simultaneously conveying the absurdity and the chaos of a city devastated by war in Das Lied ist Aus (Don’t Ask Me Why). Using the dialogue and the music of Lang’s M for his own soundtrack, Faktor constructs a portrait of the city of Osijek, practically destroyed by the War of Independence in 1992. The scenes transport the audience into the chaos, as sentimental close ups and lingering shots of destruction are as jarring as they are representative of the realities of war.
From the conflict in the Balkan Peninsula to the unrealized, however real, war between two super powers, Anna Adahl’s To New Horizons sees the US and former Soviet Union battle it out with film images of the 30s; propaganda used on both sides of the Atlantic. Here it becomes clear that everything, including politics, is two-sided as superbly filmed images appear on screen side-by-side, leaving its audience wondering who is really behind this master class in communication. **
Is gender the new frontier? Continuing with their contemporary ABC the Moving_Image cycle at the Gaîté Lyrique this time presented ‘G comme Gender’(G for Gender). The films screened questioned dichotomous views of gender, showing just how easily that line can be blurred.
Contemporary illustration has long been regarded as the poor cousin of art. Traditionally associated with an intimate moment in the act of creating, or an intermediate step toward visual expression, it is now coming out of portfolios, leaping at our walls and becoming a genre in its own right. Smaller formats have been driven out by monumental drawings, as if some artists wanted to challenge painters and prove their point: that you can achieve maximum effect with minimal tools. This recognition was made possible by the determined efforts of Drawing Now Paris, which has joined the age of reason and settled in Carrousel du Louvre for the past three years.