Neuronal Synchrony: Jono Brandel
A few weekends ago, we hosted an audiovisual showcase with New York techno mainstay, the Bunker. We created the San Francisco edition of the Bunker as a platform for some of our favorite local visual artists (Jono Brandel, Reza Ali, and Stephanie Sherriff) to develop new content to accompany some of the Bunker’s musical selections.
All three of the artists took extremely disparate approaches to their performances. The interviews conducted in this three part Toolmaking for a Performance Context series are intended to give our readers an impression of how each of these artists tailored their performance tools for their sui generis approach. This interview is Part I of the Toolmaking for a Performance Context series. Check out Part II where Stephanie Sherriff tells us about her transition into OpenGL and some of her lo-fi approaches and Part III where I discuss interface design and transitioning from openFrameworks to Cinder with Reza Ali.
Cullen Miller: You just recently landed from London after completing This Exquisite Forest, your most recent project with the Google Data Arts team at the Tate Modern. Can you tell us a bit about that project?
Jono Brandel: This Exquisite Forest is a collaborative animation platform loosely based on the Surrealist game, Exquisite Corpse. It allows anyone on the web to start a story or continue someone else’s story. These stories are then visualized as trees and as they grow the narrative branches and multiply. To kick off this project the Tate Modern organized seven artists that had exhibited at the Tate Modern before to start different stories. These trees can be found on the 3rd floor of the Tate Modern in the form of wall projections. Check out what I’ve made and what I’ve favorited here.
CM: Right after landing at the airport you came directly over to our A/V Showcase to throw down an amazing VJ set. Can you tell us a little bit about what went into making your set?
JB: Haha, thanks. Like many VJ sets I was interested in evoking that sensation of synesthesia. I had done a number of visuals in the past and the driving force was usually audio input, so I wanted to try something different. During this time I was reading a book on Buddhism and Science, The Joy of Living. The author, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, describes a physical phenomenon, Neuronal Synchrony as, “a process in which neurons across widely separated areas of the brain spontaneously and instantaneously communicate with one another.” Some theorists believe this phenomenon to be the basis of consciousness. I think it’s a great metaphor for imagery as an extension of audio. From there I drew a lot of visual inspiration from my gimmebar and started making Processing sketches.
CM: Many visual performers tend to take the Wizard of Oz (pay no attention to the man behind the curtain) approach when performing material. However, when performing live your approach was quite the contrary. You were really engaging as a performer and were interacting in a very tactile manner with your computer. Can you elaborate on the differences involved in sculpting the interaction for your live performance tools versus designing interaction for a museum or web-based experience?
JB: This question could easily span a whole book and probably does! For these two instances, This Exquisite Forest and Neuronal Synchrony, the main difference is the audience. Most of our team’s discussion during development of This Exquisite Forest revolved around the prospective user. As a result there are a lot of refinements involved, extra UI, and general hand-holding to get the point across in a variety of situations to a variety of different people. Certainly a large challenge was figuring out who the audience is for this project. The audience for Neuronal Synchrony is much easier, because it’s me. I’m writing the software where I was the only user. So, I can afford to make the interface arcane. In fact it adds to the mystique of the performance.
CM: I’ve found that a lot of code-based artists tend towards complexity, but I’ve noticed that you’ve adopted a more restrained approach that harkens to fundamental forms and restrictive color schemes. Can you comment on your perspective of the current state of computer graphics and where you see your work in relation to it?
JB: This is a tough question and complexity is a tricky concept. It’s multi-layered and can only exist in a relative space. However, generally speaking this is an exciting time to be making computer graphics. There are an unprecedented amount of consumer devices and tools to make, present, and consume graphics. The downside to any multiplicity is that it can be increasingly intimidating to stick with one and equally enticing to jump around and try them all. While the technology emerges quickly, learning these tools or languages doesn’t necessarily. For some perspective, this video:
was my first attempt VJing. It’s taken me six years to understand how to make and manage After Effects-like animations in Processing. I believe that creativity within technology, even older technologies, is largely untapped and it’s the onus of today’s artist to express and release that. I hope my work reflects that.
Jono is a graphic designer born and raised in Berkeley, California. He received his B.A. in Design | Media Arts with a minor in Latin in June of 2008. He focuses on revealing and expounding dialogue through a multiplicity of media between the people around him. As a result he is very involved on both an organizational, theoretical level, and a production, execution level. This focus allows his interest in material to flourish. Whether through vector graphics or gritty moss he enjoys sifting through and exploring the semiotics of these materials.