Benjamin Damage & Panther Panther!
Cinezeisure at Encounters Film Festival
In 2014 I was commissioned by Encounters Film & Animation Festival Seeing Sound to develop visual counterparts for the live performance of techno artist Benjamin Damage at Cine-Seizure, an audio-visual event, taking place at Arnolfini. I’ve known Ben for a long time, since we both used to live in Swansea during the 1990s. However, since he now lives in Berlin, it would be difficult for us to meet and discuss how the visuals would shape up. Most of our conversations took place on Facebook Messenger but overall I was given free reign to do the visuals as I saw fit.
The programme at Arnolfini as part of Encounters centred on the life and work of McLaren to celebrate his contribution to visual music, but also to coincide with the publication of new digital versions of his animations. I love McLaren’s work: it’s aesthetic simplicity, process and playful use of movement and colour. I particularly enjoy the way his drawings on the audio channel of film, create music that sounds as if it had been made by an Atari console, even though it was created decades before. Synchromy is my favourite work by this artist. I like how blocks of colour correspond to blocks of sound, how jagged, triangular shapes coincide with similar synthesis, how colour is introduced and combined in great balance.
Benjamin’s work is atmospheric and contemporary, but overall it is hard-driving electronic techno played and composed with great sensibility. The music is very different to McLaren’s but there are elements that are similar, for example, the building blocks of the music and how these are layered to create complex rhythms. Whilst repetitive, it is not monotonous and uses beautiful washes of sound to create textures above the thumping four/four beat and acid bass.
At first I sat down with Benjamin’s album and sketched ideas for the shapes that came to my mind whilst listening to the music. Whilst these sketches helped me generate a feel for the visual atmosphere of the music, they didn’t translate to the end product. It is actually quite a difficult and complex to attempt recreating these mental images through digital means. The process of sketching as the images in my mind appear as a response to the music is very ephemeral and the moment passes very quickly. Images are rapidly replaced by new images within seconds whilst everything is happening within the three-dimensional space of my imagination. I think the sketches, at best, capture the mood within these imaginary spaces but they fail to represent the movement and use of space. This was one of my first attempts to digitise my mind’s images but the results were not to my liking. The process was very slow and by the time I had created some animations that I could export to Resolume, much of the energy in the sketches had disappeared.
Instead I used a much simpler approach and looked at McLaren’s animations as a way to get me going. Many of the visual motifs I created for Ben’s performance start with very simple shapes and movement: a square or rectangle moving across the screen, a triangle flashing and increasing in size, lines or bars moving horizontally. I then added more layers to fill up the screen as well as colour, effects and strobes to accentuate certain moments in the music. Some of the more atmospheric textures were created using the Red Giant plugin Mir, allowing me to animate washes of rapidly moving lines and these were further manipulated in real time through Resolume effects and a MIDI controller.
For this event I used a Novation MKII Keyboard. For the first time, I mapped all of the video clips to a keyboard, so I could “play” the visuals in real time. I also assigned effects parameters to the knobs of my controller so I could have control over all visual elements. In rehearsals this worked very well and I was able to be very responsive to the music, using the clips as starting points that I would then manipulate as I responded to the music as it played. However, during the performance itself the keyboard gave me problems and I had to improvise a lot.
The main issue was that after doing the sound-check with Ben, both my laptop and keyboard were left on standby for over six hours. By the time I got to perform, my keyboard wasn’t communicating properly with Resolume and I had to quickly map certain parameters on the go. The most frustrating thing was that I had to trigger the clips with the track pad on my laptop, which took away from the immediacy of triggering with a keyboard. Nevertheless, the performance went well and, as the projection screen was enormous, the visuals matched the intensity and feel of the music.