In Robert Seidel‘s “motion painting” Meander, digital video is fragmented into atomic textures, as sound and visuals alike crackle through streams and clouds. Don’t mention the word “glitch” or “datamosh”: it’s really more like digital action painting. Working with the visual development environment TouchDesigner, Robert collaborates with sonic artist Heiko Tippelt, as seen here in the excerpts from a recent performance in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Materials are fractured and reconstructed, in granular fashion. I got to talk to Robert a bit about his work.

meander // live performance | Robert Seidel & Heiko Tippelt | ROJO NOVA @ MIS Brazil from Robert Seidel on Vimeo.

CDM: How you conceive this work, artistically speaking?

In short – “meander” is an audio-visual live performance rearranging video fragments into a subconscious flow, freed from spatial and temporal constraints. The performance concept is based abstract live motion paintings, which derive from ideas of my painterly, experimental films. The cinematic soundscape is added by a musician and friend of mine – Heiko Tippelt.

I started working with motion artefacts years ago, long before the fashionable term “data moshing”. When working on “_grau” (see below) in 2004, I experimented with a lot of visual techniques, like motion compression artefacts. I love their textural quality and their beauty of fusing different motion patterns together, creating a hybrid of different visual states. It seemed almost like a “metaphoric tool”, since_grau was all about creating and referring to structures that are close to way our memory and perception works. Since I could not find a solution to control them more precisely, they became very subtle textures, almost unnoticeable.

_grau | 10:01 min | d 2004 from Robert Seidel on Vimeo.

With my work on “Futures” in 2006 (below), I used the technique to create very complex, undefined structures that shape over time, revealing something of unexpected clarity. These seconds of uncertainty are one of my interests in developing abstract and abstracting system and were the next step into developing a realtime motion painting system.

Futures – Zero 7 feat. José González | 3:58 min | d 2006 from Robert Seidel on Vimeo.

In 2007, I developed an audio-visual live performance with Max Hattler for Aurora Festival and I created a software that allowed me to fuse different videos very painterly, for the first
time in realtime. My goal was to create a flow between different movements of animals using found footage material. This was the first iteration of the live software (the internal name is “tierschmier”, which could be translated to “animalsmear”) to create a constantly fusing flow of
images.

While travelling to festivals and exhibitions in the same year I started to replace the animal footage successively with my own recordings. My “memory collection” grew with shots from a myriad of locations in Europe and Asia, adding moments with very specific textures and rituals from architecture or human behaviour as well as impressions of food and nature. And then, when touring Japan in 2008 with Max for 5 weeks I had the feeling of becoming part of a corrupted image flow. We had so many university talks and screenings in so many cities all over Japan that I lost track. When people sometimes revisited us at another location, I got very confused; it seemed like one place was melting into the next.

So. after Japan I was shaping my software in that experience, adding new material with every performance. In the last years I was creating fluctuating, dream-like memory landscapes with
artists like Rechenzentrum 2.0 with Ensemble Contemporánea, Shackleton, Michael Fakesch or No Accident in Paradise. Sometimes the motion paintings were very minimal, other times I added temporal layers until the captured perspectives of the material dissolved. All the sound artists played experimental or cinematic compositions, but the collaboration with musician Heiko Tippelt added a new layer since we know each other for very long.

How you the two of you worked together, across those media of sound and visuals?

This year I got the invitation to ROJO NOVA in São Paulo to do a live performance with a musician of my choice. I went for Heiko Tippelt
since we have worked on several projects together, starting with the score of “_grau” and my coming experimental movie “floating” (below).

floating | trailer | robert seidel from Robert Seidel on Vimeo.

Heiko had developed and captured several songs and sounds over the years, so we sat together and developed a loose choreography for “meander”. We were more talking in abstract terms like density, detail or pacing to create a system that was not too rigid and allowed changes with every new show. I find the spontaneity of performing live very inspiring, so we do not sync anything. Heiko is developing the sound and I develop painterly compositions along their outlines. Sometimes the motion painting and the soundscape flow perfectly together, other times they drift away completely and meander into something unexpected. After working on a film or installation for many months, I really enjoy the contrast of creating new images along a loose score, having the freedom to improvise. Like in my movies, this allows the viewer to search for secondary or even tertiary audio-visual correlations and not just simply follow a repetitive beat or visceral event.

What it’s like working with the software TouchDesigner?

Being familiar with node trees from 3D software, I found it quite easy and inspiring to unleash the power of the graphic card for realtime purposes. But since the software is very complex, it was great to have the support of one developers from Derivative [TouchDesigner's creators]. Markus Heckmann and I have known each other since Bauhaus University and I loved the possibilities of TouchDesigner back in the days, but not the old user interface. So the first version of my software was implemented in Visual Basic instead. But with the preparation of “meander” I migrated all functionality to the “new” Touch and added a couple of possibilities based on shaders or layering.

Overall, it is a very powerful and robust tool with a good node tree implementation. It has some peculiar ways of working and is not always logical or streamlined, but at the moment it is my favourite realtime tool. It is free for non-commercial use since some time now and I hoped it would “explode” like Processing or vvvv with thousands of new users, but the community is still quite small compared to its possibilities.

How are you controlling it live? What are you using for input and to manipulate performance parameters?

Easily controlling the image flow has a very high priority and so after fighting with the mouse and keyboard for some time I finally settled for the KORG nanoKONTROL [MIDI controller], which is cheap and quite flexible. Since it is not very precise and has a life of its own, it sometimes influences the image generation process. So it behaves very much like an analog instrument by adding tiny variations.

The abstract tableaux and their visual flow can be controlled by several parameters like speed, direction, density and transparency. Being able to re-map the controller in Touch easily and adding new functionality with every performance, the control of the “fractured memory perspectives” become more and more fluid.

Thanks to Robert for starting the conversation. Readers, feel free to add your own thoughts or questions in comments. More images below of Robert’s work…

  • http://pixlpa.com Andrew Benson

    First, let me say that I'm a big fan of Mr. Siedel's work, and have been for years. I wonder at what point the whole conversation about 'who did motion artifacts first' will become unnecessary, and we can just focus on the way that artists combine techniques and ideas to make something that is both aesthetically appealing and meaningful. I realize that since this blog is here to highlight trends and advances in visual technology, it is necessary to position things in a context of broader technological trends without getting mired in critical concepts. I guess I'm hoping for, at some point, an intelligent and practical conversation about what tools are available to an artist, what it might infer to make use of particular ones, and how you create an cohesive aesthetic with the toolbox available. I'm not sure where that conversation should take place, maybe here, maybe elsewhere, but it's important for us as artists to consider our tools and processes in other contexts than technical territorialism.

  • http://bitsynthesis.com Bit_Synthesis

    @AndrewBenson Would it be accurate to say you have been a big fan since long before the fashionable term “data moshing”?

    If no, your opinion may not be worth considering..

  • Tom

    @ Bit_Synthesis Nice troll there buddy, you sure made the world a better place.

    I have never heard of Mr. Seidel but I think he's got some good ideas going here. Anything which can bring more subtle and organic results in live visuals is a Good Thing – and I particularly like the way his colours are moving on from the 'Christmas lights' of old 20th century VJ culture (compare Grau to Meander) to colours that have a lifelike humane quality.

    The combination of sound and music is still a little granular for my tastes – in that it is only one way to quickly make a complex texture, we have quite a few people using it and I think we have other ways that could be just as worth exploring (actually the animal motions sounded really interesting).

    But this does look like we are beginning to see work that could be appreciated outside our own little academy, by people who really don't care about the technology. Looking forward to that.

  • http://bitsynthesis.com Bit_Synthesis

    @Tom Sorry you took it that way. I wasn't trolling (nor was I trying to make the world a better place), I was simply cracking a joke in response to Andrew's observation that "I was there before the rest of you" is a very common thread in interviews with artists using compression artifacts. I think he's right, it is noted too often when really what interests us is the content and substance of the work, not the date it was made nor the name used to describe the process.

  • Tom

    Well OK. I thought you giving poor Andrew B a serve. We should probably let people who claim to be ahead of everyone look foolish on their own. But you know what Andrew B is saying is true, although it's not just in motion graphics, it's across the whole of media arts (or what was once 'new media'). Too much 'new and innovative', not enough quality built over time. I guess we're addicted to the learning curve and the potential of the thing just released. The manufacturers need us to buy the new things, the blogs need to announce new toys, the funding bodies need to 'show support for innovation' and we keep on being addicted to the next fix.

    I think of that story about Brian Eno (true or not) who worked out the intricacies of the DX7 so deeply that he found bugs in the 8th operator he could exploit. Maybe that's a personal commitment. For all Seidel's prating (we all have to say nice things about ourselves sometimes) he's spent a long time refining a technique, that seems to be paying off.

  • http://www.robertseidel.com Robert Seidel

    Dear Andrew,

    I know the introduction is quite long but I added it for a specific reason. When I’m doing talks or screenings the first question people ask is: “What software do you use?”. Always. Anywhere. And always I’m a bit disappointed not to get asked more deeply about the layers above the technology.

    By talking about my personal development of dealing with motion and compression artefacts I wanted to show that it is not specific about the software, but your own artistic vision which develops over the years and not by clicking a button in a specific software in a second. I know it has been done by you and others, in other ways, in other software, with other intensions, but it is always the concept and ideas behind that shape it to something specific.

    I never intended it to become a live tool, since I’m more interested in a sculptural approach coming from a 3D background, so please read it as a personal story about a search for a painterly, textural quality in images and its sideways. And please keep in mind that I’m not a native speaker, so I’m even more inexact than trying to bridge the gap between my brain and mother tongue…

    Best, Robert

  • http://how.pt Rui Gato

    amazing work Robert, very inspiring.

    thank you

  • Peter Kirn

    I brought up the datamosh and glitch terms because, to me, those terms don't really adequately describe what artists like Robert are doing. I thought his action painting metaphor was more apt, and – since it is in motion, which action paintings, once completed, were not – I also got the sense of recreating a cloud of textural particles from these materials.

    I don't hear a whole lot of genuine disagreement with what's being said here.

  • http://www.blairneal.com Blair neal

    Wow…I don't know how I haven't come across his work before, really gorgeous stuff. Would've been useful to know about when I was writing my thesis…

  • http://pixlpa.com Andrew Benson

    Hi Robert,

    As Peter says, not much disagreement. I sympathize with where you are at, and have found myself in very similar situations. Please don't take my comment as singling you out, or criticizing your behavior here. I'm reacting to a larger situation I see in conversations about experimental video where someone doing complex and interesting work such as yours has to defend the use of some software process or another, because it has become trendy, or passé, or whatever. Motion artifacts are part of the digital material, the texture of digital video experiences. I think there is so much more to explore in terms of the possible aesthetic uses of these processes that I fear simply won't happen because a trend dies, and the concept gets associated too strongly with "datamoshing" effects. In closing, I enjoyed reading the article and enjoy engaging in these discussions. Thanks for obliging and I hope I am not too much of a pest.

    Andrew

  • http://www.skyron.org skyron™

    Gorgeousness and gorgeocity, as Mr. Burgess would say—really beautiful visuals! I love how 'digital' and 'biological' are blended here!

  • http://bitsynthesis.com Bit_Synthesis

    Missing from my previous posts: The work is truly stunning. Beautiful and organic.