Music and laser have been mixed for a long time, however no one has mastered the craft of music, art and laser like Robin Fox. Performing in over 50 countries, Robin’s laser shows work with synchronising sound and visual electricity in ahyper-amplified 3D space, the new manifestation of his work; RGB, premiering at Mona Foma, Tramway, Vivid Festival and the Barbican this year. Bringing back his original show Monochroma to Melbourne as part of The Corner’s Everybody Talks about the Weather showcase on December 3, Robin Fox spoke to us about the makings of his shows, the weird and whacky ways he creates the set up and his inspirations for Monochroma and RGB.
What got you into creating laser shows?
My background is in music composition. Toward the end of my degree I became less interested in notated music and more interested in graphic representations of sound, so basically drawings that would be realized as improvisations or interpreted by performers. That was the beginning. Once I started working with computers to make music (mid to late 1990’s) I became obsessed with noise and the creation of systems for electro-acoustic performance and sound diffusion. For one project I was using an oscilloscope as a prop. I’d heard that you could plug sounds into these machines and see the sound. I did that with some of the noise I’d been working on. Most of it looked pretty bland except for one fragment where the sound and light merged beautifully. I felt like I was watching something alchemical, like I was looking directly at the geometric properties of sound. I spent the next few years building libraries of sound and image associations using the oscilloscope as a tool. I would build simple synthesizers in Max/MSP and use them to produce images. This work resulted in the DVD Backscatter and to many performances worldwide – I’d drage the oscilloscope and a camera around doing live AV noise performances. There were frustrations, particularly with the resolution of the final image. I was looking to push the work further. I saw, quite by accident (I’ve never been to a rave), a green laser drawing smiley faces in a small club in Carlton. It occurred to me that I could take what I was doing with oscilloscopes and turn it around to project the light onto the audience. The idea was that you would hear and see the same electricity at the same time, that the audience would be essentially inside a TV tube. I toured that work to over 50 cities worldwide for years. Again, the limitations of the system started to frustrate me a little. I wanted to branch out even further and hence the new RGB show was born.
What exactly goes into the set up for your shows?
The shows are as much about the space they are in as the materials themselves. Essentially, for the RGB show, I set up three lasers one red, one green and one blue. These are separated across the front of the space facing the audience. I then need to fill the venue with smoke and haze in order to articulate that light and make it visible. I perform from the audience perspective looking back into the light with the crowd.
How do you create a show?
That’s a secret…..
How do you combine the laser show to music? Do you pick your laser sequences first or is it created after the music is chosen?
Ok, this is important. In all of my audio-visual work the electrical signal that you hear is also the electrical signal that you see. There is no temporality in the sense of before and after, the two signals occur simultaneously. For me this is what makes the work live and breathe. So it is never a matter of choosing laser patterns and synching to sound, the laser pattern IS the sound.
How do you try to interrelate the two? (Being laser and music)
As I said above the two signals are the same, so they are related at the level of electrical signal. What is interesting is that the shape of the image is much more relevant than the colour in these works. I think of the relationship as a manufactured synaesthesia, but it is not the most common sound –colour type of cross-modal association it si more about sound and geometry and sound and movement.
You are presenting your original show Monochroma at everybody talks about the weather. How do your shows differ and how significant is it for you to play this show again?
Yes! MONOCHROMA is the name I’ve given my original green laser show. The original system worked from sound to image. Even though the signals are contemporaneous in performance I would work at making sounds in order to look at them. With the new RGB system I work, for various reasons, from image to sound, like I’m drawing electrical signal directly. It is important to keep this show alive for me. I still feel like there is more I could do with that old system and I’ve become quite attached to it over the years. I love performing MONOCHROMA at the Corner as the sound system is just amazing. Possibly best venue system in Melbourne. That’s why Marco Fusinato, Oren Ambarchi and I put a show on there once a year at around this time.
You’re performing RGB at the Melbourne music week starting on the 14th, is this a new show?
RGB premiered at Mona Foma in Jan this year. Since then it has been to Vivid in Sydney, Tramway Glasgow, Barbican London and was premiered in Melbourne by Liquid Architecture Festival and Arts House Earlier in the year. So yes, this will only be it’s second outing in Melbourne. It’s growing all the time, so there wil be new sections on the 21st for MMW
What are your inspirations for RGB?
The inspiration behind RGB is the same as MONOCHROMA, to explore the neurological phenomena of synaesthesia and to create performance works where sound and light become a single system of vibration in the mind of the audience. The artists that have inspired this work include Iannis Xenakis, Ryoji Ikeda, Edwin Van Der Heide, Karlheinz Stockhausen amongst many others.
The name RGB implies that you are only using red, green and blue for your colours – is this a deliberate restriction? ( or just a name?)
I made a conscious decision when designing this show that I wanted to use three separate beams each representing the purity of it’s particular wavelength. The system of RGB mixing to create colour is ubiquitous in the screen technologies that hypnotise us everyday. I wanted to explode that idea out into into its individual parts. It is a restriction, but I like to think that any system is a limitation and that creation within limits is good for invention.
What can audiences expect from a Robin Fox laser show?
I don’t like to assume what an audience will experience at one of my shows. I’ve had reactions as varied as a Vietnam vet telling me it was the closest feeling he had had to live combat since active duty, to others saying that time and space collapsed around them for 30 minutes. Some even say it’s like taking psychedelics without taking psychedelics. I can live with all of those things. Others have probably experienced boredom, annoyance, anger etc etc ha, there’s no accounting for taste. In my ideal world, people will leave a show feeling expanded somehow, feeling like more is possible now than before the experience. A grand dream for sure but that’s how I feel after a rehearsal, so hopefully it translates.
Check out Robin Fox, Marco Fusinato and Oren Ambarchi @ Everybody talks about the Weather on December 3 at The Corner Hotel.
Robin Fox will also appear at Sugar Mountain – Victorian College of the Arts – Saturday 24 January 2015