Creative Conversations: Gabriel Shalom + Golan Levin
You can find this interview in the cement-bound YGX Annual, available for purchase here.
Golan Levin: Congratulations on being selected as a Young Gun. That’s sooner than I thought. That’s awesome.
Gabriel Shalom: Well, I just turned 30 this year so it’s right under the deadline.
Golan: Very good, congrats. I didn’t think you were American. I wasn’t sure if they had Young Guns that were outside of the States.
Gabriel: Right, well I am American but I’ve been an ex-pat in Germany for seven years now. It’s really nice to speak with you, I feel like we’ve circled each other for several years. We have a whole bunch of mutual acquaintances I think between us. In any case, the research and the reflection of my own work was grounded in a practical desire to escape the limitations of a flat moving imaging for various reasons. Then over time, I’ve followed works that have been pointing in the direction of a more volumetric moving image medium or a more real time rendered moving image medium, but still from my own personal aesthetic tastes of hopefully a photorealistic one, I have the curse of having a film school background so I’m always looking for the cinematic in my imagery.
Then I was lucky enough, while I was in college, to stumble across a tape of a lecture that Peter Greenaway had years ago. Greenaway gave, in true form, his critique of the death of cinema. He has this four-point critique he calls the tyranny of the moving image. It’s the frame, the camera, the actors and the script and he identifies these things as the tyranny of cinema.
Then I saw this video that Aaron Koblin worked on with Radiohead, and that really blew me away. I thought, “Wow, I thought this would take a lot longer to hit the mainstream,” and then sure enough one of the biggest rock bands in the world together with one of the biggest technology companies in the world goes ahead and does something.
My big dream is to finally actually work with this technology at some point with technicians that know what they’re doing and then I can be free to do my musical part. I’m not really a coder. I don’t have that kind of mind. Yeah, that would be a fascinating experience.
Golan: I’ve seen now a few different music videos done with the four-dimensional approach or three-dimensional approach. There was a band recently that had a WebGL Player…
Gabriel: Oh, yeah. I think I saw that.
Golan: The music and the band didn’t stand out but the sort of memorably well-crafted WebGL playback with the point cloud. That with the Radiohead stuff that Aaron had done…
Gabriel: Because, as a medium, music is a phenomenon that is arguably a very object-oriented thing and a volumetric thing. Video artists have been trying to capture some kind of connection between sound and image since the inception of video.
We have these tools, like the Connect, which allow us to capture basically four-dimensional point cloud information in real time but we’re forced to render them out in not-real time and render them flat because we have this celluloid-based paradigm for moving images.
The results are hypercubist aesthetics; they’re cubist in one way but they’re hyper-cubist because I guess the implication being that there is the potentiality of multiple times, not only multiple spaces but multiple times, so the fourth dimension is the thing that’s being collapsed.
Golan: Looking at your video presentation about hyper-cubism, I see you’ve got some slit scan stuff thrown in there at the end as well, which has been a long interest of mine. I don’t know if you’ve seen the slit scan archive I’ve made, a catalogue I’ve made of other people’s work entirely. This slit scan technique for understanding video was a three-dimensional object.
“The new aesthetic lately is that we’re becoming nostalgic for micro eras of time that we wish weren’t happening so fast.”
Gabriel: That’s fascinating. The thing is that all these developments have happened in a relatively compressed time scale. We’re going through waves of technological change every six months basically. My take on the aesthetics that people are talking about is the new aesthetic lately is that we’re becoming nostalgic for micro eras of time that we wish weren’t happening so fast.
Golan: You know, that’s actually one of the better explanations that I’ve heard. It’s almost like a request to slow down, like, “Hey, let’s savor the moment.” It’s almost changing too fast like, “I kind of like this, I kind of want to enjoy it. Really slow down, I kind of want to appreciate this idea for a minute. Can’t we have an ism that lasts maybe a year or two.
Gabriel: Right. Right, I think we agree on that. For me the thing that is new about the moving image that could be new is this idea that eventually all these collapsed hyper-cubist images could give us the imagination and the desire and the creative will to manifest four-dimensional moving images. To actually have technology at some point in the near or distant future that actually can amplify or project point clouds into space and into a volumetric display.
Golan: I’m looking at your work and, like my work and where I was when I was a Young Gun a number of years ago…
In 2000 or so I’d done some performances with these things, live performances, sound and image simultaneously from one sort of gesturally-driven kind of stuff. I think it was on the basis of that, that I’d become a Young Gun in probably 2000 or so. It seemed to me like the main impetus of the Young Guns program was graphic design. I felt pleasantly out of place, sort of like, “Ah, I’m in a strange cohort of people,” when my own work was, for me, right out of the dialogue of the media arts and computational design. I didn’t really feel much like a graphic designer and I don’t think that interaction design was even part of my vocabulary. Tell me, what do you think out of your work captured the attention of the Young Guns people and brought you into that fold?
Gabriel: I guess I made sure to emphasize, when I applied, the consistency of the body of work I’d been developing since 2004, that I called video music. I’ve been an audio-visualist now for many years and it’s something that allows me to express my musical side as a composer and also my narrative side as a director and an editor. I think that might be part of it. I think I’ve also managed to do a strange thing, which has crossed the line of art and commerce quite well; I’ve been commissioned several times by big brands or TV channels, but always staying very close to my own vision. I avoid interactions with very picky art directors or creative directors that want to mess with my work.
Golan: Yeah, I’ve been there too. Nowadays I’m in academia and it’s how I’ve swapped out one for the other but certainly before I found a more secure situation in academia. Let me ask you a question; do you perform live? Do you do live audio-visual performances?
Gabriel: I don’t have a way of doing what I do live yet, and I think that would also be one of the things I would love to develop with software engineers, an interface or a tool that would allow me to do what I do in a live context. But I’ve often felt like it’ll be a compromise because I really do a very frame by frame editing and composing of my work.
Golan: For me, not the critique but the problem of so much live audio-visual is that it’s very difficult for one person to do everything. Even when I’ve chosen to do everything, meaning live sound and image simultaneously, it’s kind of flabby because some things are going to get sacrificed somewhere. Either you’re paying attention to one or the other; it’s quite hard to do both. It’s natural for people to split the roles and say, “Okay, I’ll do the graphics. I’ll do the visuals. Fine.”
Gabriel: Do you know the Michel Gondry movie, “The Science of Sleep?”
Gabriel: There’s this little digression where his character has a one-second time machine.
Golan: Oh, yeah, I love that.
Gabriel: I’m just reminded of this when we talk about the exigencies of doing real-time audio-visuals and how life would be so much easier if you could even know what was going to happen one second in the future. If you could simply know what was happening one second in the future you could have all sorts of amazing audio-visual confluences and almost impossible synchronizations.