See Me, Hear Me: A/V Circa 2008
A conversation with Randy Nordschow
April 13, 2008 — 1:00 p.m.
Transcribed by Julia Lu
Randy Nordschow: You guys call yourself LoVid which makes me instantly think of the whole high brow-low brow divide. Is that something that you intentionally went for?
Kyle Lapidus: Yeah, when we first started we were, definitely, which is when we first chose the name. We really were just trying to produce video without a lot of the constraints of video. We were basically running a signal through both audio and video equipment at the time, mostly archaic tools that we could get on eBay or in second-hand stores. Vintage and obsolete technology was how we started. [It was] somewhat involved, but using very basic connections between these different devices to generate a patch. And then that would produce our video and then our sound as one entity. That’s what we were going for at the time. So that’s how we got to our name; it’s very related to the tools. In fact, we had this device that we used a lot when we first started which actually came from a friend of ours, John Vance, in the Midwest which we started calling the LoVid mixer. It was basically just a little box, a small little patch bay with knobs on it that was used in schools, I think. We don’t know exactly where it came from because it’s unlabeled. We actually had two of them. They’re just very basic mixers that didn’t have a lot of the filtering and other things that would be built into an audio mixer, and definitely didn’t have any of the things that would be built into a video mixer. We used that to mix these different signals together from different media. This basically led into our work with synch.
Tali Hinkis: The whole idea of LoVid, the low-tech, low-fi, was also to contextualize where we were coming from. We were really thinking of the noise music scene, the DIY scene. LoVid really referenced that. There’s obviously also the “loved”, you know, we are thinking of us working as a couple. ‘Not only us working as a couple, two people together, but also in a lot of our work there are complementary elements that might seem very different, but that we bring together. So that ties into it as well. In the beginning, we were thinking a lot more about what LoVid is because we started off as a band. We expanded into all these other things and were questioning, “Does this fit into this what LoVid is?” But at this point, everything that we do goes under that identity.
RN: So was music the first thing that you did together?
TH: It was always music and video together.
KL: One of the things that really led us to do this was that I was already doing a lot of music stuff, and Tali was really interested in doing video. She was doing single channel, narrative video work and wanted to do video the way that people play music live. And so our goal was to make both music and video together live and to fuse them together in this way.
[And then] five years ago, we went up to the Experimental Television Center. They’d been really wonderfully supportive and a really huge influence on our work throughout, but that was the first time that we ever went up there, and was our first chance to use any of this kind of equipment that had been developed specifically for making video. It was very important for us because it was sort of a moment of change for us. We’d been doing work with just this vintage equipment, which was generally very commercial equipment. Even if it was archaic, it’d be things that were made commercially and that people could buy at the time, sort of a little before the time we were using them.
RN: When did you start doing things with wearable instruments?
TH: The whole tactile thing is a step after that. Basically once we were at the ETC and made these recordings, we really got inspired by the idea of making our own instruments and working with archaic technologies, you know, analog systems. One of things that we were really interested in is the objects themselves, something that we can take with us to performances. We can use them in installations, and we really wanted them to become objects, and to be sculptural and sort of multi-functional as well. Actually, the videoware was slightly before that, but it developed later.
KL: We had already made videoware before we’d gone up to the ETC, actually. When we went to Philadelphia for the Fringe Festival, we had done a performance with the videoware for that. So I guess we had done some.
TH: We’re always working against this idea of synch, which is basically just a way that video is experienced, right. You usually take signal and there are certain regulations of how you can receive it as moving image. In what we do, we’re dealing with that all the time. And we also started thinking about this idea of preserving information.
KL: So the ETC was really important for us in terms of that as well, because we’d been doing a lot with these old devices and breaking the synch signal, basically. Breaking the encoding and the things that technically make something recognizable as video on a projector, on a screen, or whatever you might use. When we were there, we started to think about wanting to also build up the synch from nothing. That was how we got into making our own equipment, because we got to see all these incredible devices that people had built that are for use there. We really wanted something that we could bring around touring that would be able to do some of the things that we could do there in the studio. So we made the recording, as we normally do for our recordings where we try and keep as much of the live element, but at the same time, we couldn’t bring that, that part of the live experience of making these videos with us.
TH: I think videoware and all the tactile work and fabric really starts with the experience of performing live audiovisuals. It is this very tactile experience. We always talk about how it’s an extension of the body and how physical it is to perform it. We really wanted to reach into the flow of media and grab something and preserve a bit of it and pull it out and show this world.
RN: A lot of the stuff looks like patchwork, like old quilting. There are super vibrant colors and it’s crazy looking, but there is something, like, “grandma” about how things are put together.
KL: We’re really interested in the object as is, as almost relic. That’s pretty right on there with the grandma thing.
TH: The grandma.
KL: It’s this thing that has some kind of a history to it. Definitely presenting it as this kind of almost memento, this very transient phenomenon, happens with the video. And then the idea of collaging it back together was to bring some intensity. When you see the video, it’s 30, maybe 60, depending how you count, frames of this video, and it can change very quickly and be very intense. It kind of is just one image after another hitting your retina. But when you look at a still, you see one thing. You see it and it just kind of sits there. By recollaging it, we wanted to recapture some of that energy of all the different frames. So we collaged different frames together and in that case, actually frames from different videos together.
RN: How does the sound correlate with the image? Is it generated from the same signal somehow?
KL: When we started, running one signal back and forth was mostly how we were doing it. We use analog synthesis pretty much exclusively now and we generate signals, and then we generate a continuous number of signals that get combined together in different ways. To make the video, we just basically impose video encoding onto it.
There are two ways that information gets lost, or that we see as getting lost in this system. One is that when you see the video, it’s very rapid, as I was talking about. Your brain may just not process things at that rate. A sixtieth of a second is sort of near the limit of what your brain can do anything with, let alone absorb all the details of. And that’s part of why we wanted to print them out—to kind of rescue those kind of moments. But also the other way is that the synch signal is actually cutting out a little bit of your information. So you actually never get that as video. With sound, you do get that because you can just run any kind of a signal into a speaker and maybe you’re not going to perceive it as sound, but it’s going to basically do something to the speaker that is making sound.
Capturing these moments was really important for us, these moments that are lost, and the way that we were doing it originally when we were breaking the synch, we could cut it into different slices and grab little bits of that otherwise disappearing information. And that’s what we did a lot of at ETC.
TH: The whole idea with the sound in a lot of the work is that we recycle from one media to another. We take the video and we have a work that you might think of as sound then becoming video, then the video turn into a print and then there’s a series of collaging and recollaging to generate several different object pieces that really capture a little tiny bit of information. And a little tiny circle of color will then generate another piece. We really are trying to do that. Some of them end up being web projects and some of them are very tactile collages.
RN: That’s funny because a lot of the finished objects look very fragile, like they could break easily.
KL: Yeah, that’s huge for us, too.
TH: Fragility is a big deal. The instruments themselves have built-in fragility and vulnerability. They’re analog systems. One of the things we talk about is this choice of using analog versus digital to stay in that place of fragility where things can fall apart every minute.
KL: When we started, we were really dealing with the fragile nature of the video signal, breaking that apart or finding the moment where it was just held together enough that we could show it or record it, but just barely. And those were really our favorite parts. And that’s why we got into wanting to build up the video synch–what Tali was talking about, where it has some kind of emotional part built into it. So we’re really interested in making work that’s composed so that we can have a plan, an idea of what we’re gonna do, not just something totally open. But at the same time, we don’t want something to be too strictly composed, and we don’t want our work to be the same every time. By choosing analog, we’re really in a place where it really responds. Part of the way in which we build our instruments offers more of that, too. For instance, we don’t have our dials numbered. It doesn’t say, like, one to ten. They’re more abstractly represented. We have an idea of where we want to be, but it’s not a very strict numerical thing. Even if it were, because we’re using analog, it still wouldn’t be the same every time. It responds to the temperature in the room and the people in the room. We’ve done pieces that explicitly are designed to just run based on whoever might be in the room and maybe what kind of devices they have on them, what cell phones they have or whatever else. We have a bunch of new work that we’re doing this summer that’s going to deal with that as well.
TH: There’s another thing that really fits in with how we see life right now, specifically in relation to people and technology. There used to be a belief that technology was going to create this perfect world, that this human-machine-computer interaction was going to create this idyllic space. There are still people who are going in that direction. But there’s also a whole trend of people thinking the opposite. Because the reality is that machines crash all the time. It’s more of a gritty, dirty reality, maybe, than what we started off thinking, and, for us, it’s much more interesting. We’re always thinking of how things work on the inside, and what [will happen] if humanity doesn’t develop, or technology and humanity together develop but not in the same way.
RN: It sounds to me like you’re building dysfunctional personalities into the machines that you’re making. You mentioned web-based projects; how do you deal with a media that’s so binary and put your spin on it?
KL: That’s been a really big challenge for us. I guess we’ve done two bare web projects in the last year, both with Turbulence.org. One of those is a relatively high-tech bit. But it’s really working with very personal interactions with the technology, which is important for us regardless of the methodology of how something may be produced or the process going into it that can be very involved. We still want to have this personal interaction with it. That one was a collaboration with Douglas Repetto; it’s called Bonding Energy. For that, we have seven devices that measure solar energy. They communicate over the Internet to produce this animation.
TH: They’re called Sunsmiles.
KL: We distributed them in seven different places around New York State, and all year they’re transmitting information about the sun every ten minutes. And it makes this animation. But when we were getting towards the point where we had all of that part working, we were thinking, “Well, OK, now we have this aesthetic problem of what we’re going to do with this information.” We knew some general features we wanted it to have, but we realized that because it was this digital thing, we could make that into whatever we wanted it to look like. That was a hard point for us. It can be anything we want, so what does it mean. That was really challenging for us. It was kind of fun, but at the same time, it still does have this other part of it that’s very tangible and very personal.
The other one that we did is called More of the Same, and that is pretty much exactly dealing with the question of what we do. Whoever loads the page can load multiple copies of a sound sample that’s basically us talking about technology and computers.
TH: Very, very, very, very simply talking.
KL: And we used the most minimal web programming that we could, basic HTML and very, very little of it. By loading the same thing, one time, or two times or more times than that, it exploits a glitch in how your computer gets information from the Internet and then plays that back. It produces a lot of different sounds from really just this one very simple sound sample.
RN: You have so many different directions and avenues for finished products. So when you’re at a cocktail party, do you say I’m an artist and try to leave it at that. Or do you describe your work?
TH: Depends what cocktail party. There are so many cocktail parties. There are so many avenues. There’s not one kind of cocktail party. It’s like anything, you know. There’s family, there’s music, what do we say? I feel like we used to say media, new media. That was a term, like, a year ago.
KL: I think mainly we talk about just the signal.
TH: Mixed media. Well, that depends on what cocktail party it is.
KL: Yeah, yeah, I guess so.
TH: Uh, I think we would just say artist. I like to say mixed media because it really is mixed. Confused media. I don’t know. We recently did a project at a Jewish museum. Even though there was not an official cocktail party.
KL: There were pink drinks there!
TH: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. We had an exhibition there for a week, and they also gave us a place to work. So we got to talk to visitors all day long. That was really interesting, because it was an audience that we’re not necessarily very used to talking with. And I found that the term “mixed media” made sense to them the most. Because they saw there were all different kinds of things, and it was tactile; so that was a term that I felt comfortable with. Or interdisciplinary.
KL: That’s a good way to get people to talk to someone else at the cocktail party.
RN: A lot of your installations are performative installations, too. I find when I go to see them it feels like they are just remnants of a performance, like I got there too late or something.
TH: I think it can go both ways.
KL: I think it’s kind of a mini-sample.
TH: If there’s enough information that’s left behind, for me it can actually be a very powerful experience—to walk into somewhere where you know there was a sort of ritual that took place, something with a purpose, with a focus, and that the objects that remain, or the sound or whatever it is, have a little bit of that energy left.
We talked about how we started off as this band. Kyle was already involved in music, but I was never involved in performing and it’s incredible. It’s very hard to replicate the energy that you have performing with the audience. It really is this participation. The same piece with different audiences or in different venues would be completely different. That intensity is something that we really want to hold onto throughout everything that we do. We want to preserve that as much as possible. And we’re always thinking about how can we do it. We’re trying to make a little port to experiencing that. Kyle was mentioning doing recordings of live sessions, and in our installations the video is pretty much always live video. So there’s a synthesizer and it might have a predetermined composition it would create, but it’s always creating this live signal. As much as possible, we really want to invite people and make them feel welcome to come closer and maybe go inside something, and become almost performers—to tap into that flow of electricity.
KL: And definitely hoping that people do not feel that they’ve missed anything, especially because we’re really going for this live thing where often they’ll be producing the installation by just making this video. And it really is in that moment. There’s no other time for it. Obviously the physical parts may have been constructed or assembled, but in terms of the video and sound that people are experiencing there, that is all exactly then. And it’s not that anything has really transpired before. By building electronics in, we’re able to do that, like with Help Carry a Tune or Lighter Than Air and Easier to Carry, which is the installation version; that one we actually did first as a performance. We transformed it into an installation later. We had it where it was producing the video and sound live and people could interact with it in a very prescribed way throughout the installation. But then there was a night where we did a performance in that room, and that was a really great experience, actually, to have everyone in there, holding the wires and doing this kind of group interaction with media. After that, we definitely did leave the wires scattered around the room, and you could come and see that something had happened. There was a very specific event that did happen in that installation, and then you were either there when that did happen or not. And if you weren’t, there’s still something happening live.
TH: It’s a really complicated, interesting question that we’re developing more and more. One example of something we had to really think about is the videoware. Those were initially made to wear at performances. Then we quickly realized that they really work for installations as well, probably even more. But then we figured out that when you see it in a performance, you get the experience of people wearing these weird things and the video and the screen and sort of the idea of the body wearing those conjugal objects, but people couldn’t get close to really see the details of the objects, the fabric, the sewing, the textile, and the details of the hardware. But then they would see it in an installation and would get only the details—even though we hang it to suggest a body, the real physicality of the skin is missing.
KL: In fact, for that we try to represent that the body has kind of dematerialized into this puddle of video signal that’s left on the floor.
RN: You guys definitely use the most wires you possible can.
KL: Yeah, wire-full is something that we’re into. We’re actually doing a series of performative installations this summer. There’ll be documentation of them, but they’re not going to exist in that sense beyond the moment when the actual performance will be happening.
RN: So what do you want people to take from your work? What ideas do you want to open them up to?
KL: We definitely want people to have a visceral experience. And whatever way it ends up getting presented, we want to keep some of that and hope that people will come away with that. Also, a lot of what we’re going for, especially in these new kind of wire-full things, is this kind of tangible relationship with technology and this physical or emotional relationship with a technological object. So that’s part of the whole wire-full thing, of really having people touch the wires, and experience the wires and see the insides and all the electronics; not to cover anything up, but to really get people inside the machine.
TH: People are sort of amazed that you can do this. It’s almost like a magical thing for people who don’t program, who don’t really interact with tools the way most media artists that we know do. So that’s really exciting, when people are sort of thinking, “Wow, you can make video with this?”
KL: We do a number of workshops, as well. We’ve done some where people kind of come together and work with us to build a big installation, but we recently did a series where we were basically teaching people basic skills to make electronics. We made this kind of hand-cranked luminescent jewelry. You would turn a crank, so you’d be physically making the energy, and you would make something that lights up. And you’d build the electronics to make the thing that lights up your little piece of jewelry. And it was just really great to get just a bunch of people who don’t normally work with this and from a huge range of ages.
TH: There were grandmas, five-year-old kids.
KL: Yeah, and everything in between. And within an hour or so, they could basically solder together a little device that would light up and do something.
RN: There has been a scene emerging since the ’90s and maybe even earlier that is loosely defined as the A/V scene. Do you see yourselves fitting in here?
TH: We’re a little bit nomadic when it comes to scene. I mean, we really enjoy fitting in in different ways and in different contexts. It’s both interesting for us and it’s actually served us really well. We’ve worked hard to not get cornered into one thing. For a while, we were really the live-A/V performance people, and we really wanted to expand the work from just being that to all the other things that we talked about. So I guess we are somehow A/V, obviously.
KL: We definitely love that experience of really being with the audience in that moment. That definitely, I think, ties into that sort of live A/V scene. But on the other hand, we also really enjoy showing our work in an installation setting or just as objects.
TH: In the art world, the way it is now, in New York even, there’s still these separate groups. In many cases, people might be doing very similar things, but they’re in different scenes and they don’t know about each other. That’s just always surprising, but it’s true. And we really enjoy making those connections and seeing where things are. A lot of the time, it might be just people using different words to discuss their work, you know. They might be doing very similar things, but their ideas are different and the way they talk about their work is different. So it goes into one particular place rather than the other. I also think there are a few places in New York now, non-profit organizations and new art venues that are coming up, that are really trying to bridge the world of A/V, film and video, experimental music, and maybe also visual arts. So we’ll have to see how that goes. It seems to be something that’s may be exciting to see how it develops.
RN: Or may be inevitable, you know.
TH: Right. It would make sense that that would happen.