Beth Porter & Guy Denning interview

interview with: beth porter and guy denning (2005/08/18) journal contents


S: What is your project and your work about?

BP: SOME OF THE PARTS is a cyber-sculpture whose components are words, images, sound. Each element is as important as the others.
The whole piece takes the form of a series of haiku poems, original artwork, and accompanying sound. The 17 poems here are actually part of a series of 56, and we are currently working on the remaining verses. The artwork has been especially designed NOT as illustration, but as an equally personal expression of the theme of each haiku. The sounds, too, are chosen to evoke rather than tell a linear narrative story. The totality is more than the sum of its parts.

There's also an invisible component which is the choice of the viewer. That's the vital element because it produces an ever-changing work which becomes a unique experience for each person. The philosophy behind this has been an aesthetic concern for both Guy and Beth in all their work to date.

S: On a personal level, why do you make this work?

GD:I wanted to do collaborative work that was primarily outside of the visual arts networks I usually move in. it was an opportunity to combine my interest in 'organised noise' which i haven't fully done since live performances over 5 years ago.

BP: Since my work in the early days of experimental theatre I've been interested in the totality of experience which can occur between the artist and the audience. Some of that work involved direct input from the audience to guide the performance in different directions.
Like Guy, I was also interested in collaboration. Both of us usually work alone: Guy as a painter, myself as a writer [both digital and meat-world]. We were working on this project anyway to explore the issues described above. SoundToys has given us a great opportunity to make the work available to a wider audience than we could have found for it ourselves.

S:Would you like to tell us how you made the piece?

BP: I wrote the haiku series over a number of years, pre-dating the web. The intention was always to provide a system of random access so there's no right or wrong order to read them. I started working online very early on in its evolution, and I was immediately convinced that the Net provided a perfect mechanism to present the concept. When I became aware of Guy's other work I knew he was the perfect work-partner for it. Our preparation remains based on exhaustive discussion to choose each element with precision, like poetry itself. I'd say each has to be emotionally appropriate.

GD: I didn't want to deliver the haiku in one format only (eg flash or static images). Reading the work made it clear that because they dealt with a huge range of both subject matter and emotional response - consequently certain net media fitted certain haiku. It was just an extension of my approach to mixed media within painting and drawing. Just because you've got certain tools - you don't HAVE to use them. You use whats appropriate - like haiku. You don't have a huge canvas to write on - so it has to be appropriate and concise.

S: How do you define "soundtoys"?

GD: SoundToys are what all good children should get for Christmas! There's not enough popularly and commonly available recording of 'noise sculpture' if you like. Percussion is the foundation of much 'music' yet there is little recognition that is the most obvious show of 'organised noise' and not 'music' as it would commonly be defined.

BP: It seems to me we're all 4-years-old and we all respond to play. Playing is what lifts life from boring drudgery, mindless repetition of activities we perform largely for the benefit of others. Through different kinds of play [usually called entertainment and leisure] we can become more in touch with our true selves.
SoundToys are an amazing option we can choose from our toy-chest of Play. I think we're in the lobby of a huge mansion in which the rooms are evolving. The future points to hologram versions of what's technologically possible today. And after that?

S: How long have you been working in this area?

GD: When I was a child I can remember lying in bed at night banging the sides and bottom of the bed with stuff, with my ears pressed hard into the mattress. Just to see what sounds I could make!

BP: From the time I started acting when I was twelve it always seemed to me that art was about presenting an amalgamation of experience. However personal it is, creativity must be about the human experience, since we cannot know what it's like to be anything else! And, since our world assaults all our senses, then I reckon art should reflect this.

S: Were you an artist/ musician first who got into using computers/the net, or did you respond to the net as a medium in an artistic way?

GD: To the chagrin of most 'real' musicians I'm one of the many that found computers allowed me to produce what I'd never had the ability to do previously because I never learned to play an instrument. My son can play all manner of instruments and this is his favourite beef!

BP: I'm a creator, a conceiver. I'm a person. I use computers. I use whatever I can get my mitts on!

S: What/ who has influenced you in your work? (themes, other artists etc)

GD: Emit, Radiohead(later soundscape stuff), Coil, Swans, Brian Eno, Einsturzende neubauten, Si begg, Pansonic, Language

BP: Leonardo da Vinci; Brian Eno; Tennyson; Evelyn Glennie; Hieronymus Bosch; Miles Davis; Akira Kurosawa; Lenny Bruce; talk radio; fun fairs; you+me=we

S: Are there any other artists covering the same field as you?

BP: Many fields, many meadows, yet no blade of grass is the same.

S: Do you see this work as art?


S: With regard to 'soundtoys' especially, why do you think the audio visual form is so key to the net?

GD: We're so used to televisual media that this seems a way to subvert the mundanity of much tv output. The cost of producing for the net is so much more supportive of a democracy of artistic output. When everybody has broadband then we can really start playing! This project has been pulled back a little from its initial plan, to accomodate people viewing via 56k modems.

BP: The monitor is not the best reading medium. The technology allows for wonderful synthesis to please our eyes and ears. There's even work going on now to deliver electronic smells and tastes. We're only scratching the surface of what the net can provide in terms of Soundtoys. But the greatest joy is interactivity. As Guy said, ubiquitous Broadband will allow us all to play. I'd add that a speech-based net will widen the scope even more. SoundToys is helping us all with a wonderful starting line.

S:What defines the aesthetics of new interactive art?

GD: The creative people responsible for any given project hopefully. The formal 'fine art world' tend to define through criticism and curating - this is the wrong approach. Leave the creatives the job of creating.

BP: If it's about anything Art is about choices. Making the best ones allows the artform a rating on scales of good and bad. Interactive Art challenges notion of who is an artist and what is art. It brings the viewers into the process of creation, whether they're aware of it or not. It shakes them from the passivity of receivers of experience into a much more satisfying process. And that somehow redefines the aesthetic.

S: How important is the visual aspect in the 'new' relationship of the audio visual?

It's fundamental - the audience accesses the work through a monitor - like I said earlier - it's almost a subverted tv.

BP: You can't have audio/visual without the visual :0) Technology hasn't changed that; but it's extended the process.

S: Does the net promote visual awareness that is unique to it?

BP: Well, the net has the potential, in that the visual aspects still have the power to astound. But the key word here is 'promote.' Sadly most commercial or information-based sites fail to take advantage of the visual component.
Those of us who use the Net everyday tend to forget how unaware most people are of the ever-extending bounds of the technology. Software and enhanced means of delivery combine to bring the visual into unexpected arenas. Even audiences who take for granted the visual amazements of cinema, television, live art -- when it comes to the Net most people still are presented with a text-based medium.
SoundToys is one of the most creative ways to redress the balance.

S: How novel do you feel generative music and interactivity is?

BP: As with all human endeavor we can trace back the roots to earlier eras. However, the algorithmic drivers of the Net allow for something approaching the New. It encompasses the element of simultaneous real-time and far-away. Now and There. And we'll continue to use it because we can. And if we can, it will encourage excellence.

S: Do you think there is a history to audio visual work?

GD: There's not much of one outside of avant garde and arthouse cinema. I think this is something the net could make its own - particularly in a fine art sense.

S: Would you describe yourself as a multimedia artist, a net.artist, programmer, or none of the above?

GD: Just artist - I would say painter because it sounds more workmanlike - but it cuts down your avenues of variety in production and some people when they find out you're a painter, they ask you to give them a quote for doing the kitchen and bathroom.

BP: I'm a person. I believe every person free from oppressions of tyrants, war, and poverty can be whatever they want to be. We don't always have to make choices defined by others.

S: What software do you use most and why?

BP: My brain. Because it's the best tool I've got.

S:Can you recommend three urls to soundtoys?

GD: Neubauten: This is enough for anybody!

BP: Poetry Generator: Flawed, but aren't we all :0)

The Singing Tree: Terrible academic-speak but a truly fascinating concept which all web-artists should be aware of:

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