Rick Mullarky

Rick Mullarky

How do you define "soundtoys" ?

For the me the term soundtoys alludes to the dimensions of sound, time, and interactivity unique to visual works on computer-based media. We call it a toy because there is an element of play involved, but really it's deeper than that. In essence it's a rule-based based art. The artist defines the aesthetic and the boundaries, and within these boundaries the user is free to explore or create as they see fit.

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

I've been a graphic designer for a long time, and while the goals of a graphic designer are comfortably concrete get across the client?s message in the most direct and stylish fashion they dont allow much scope for expression or ambiguity, both of which are essential to a really interesting visual work. I've always been fascinated by the possibilities of interactivity and animation. Every time I make an experiment, ten other avenues open up, and I realize that I've only scratched at the tiniest surface of what is possible with these tools. Eidetic Memory is my first foray into the world of storytelling with these experiments, and it seems an area rich with possibility.

What is you project and your work about?

Eidetic Memory is about perception on a variety of levels. Our memories are full of true representations about everything we see. For the purposes of this piece, Ive put them into three categories: The first (photographic) is the visual record, the cold truth of what was seen. The second (diagrammatic) is the interpretive layer, how our minds cast about for associations and comparisons. The third (aural) is a strictly emotional space a physical reaction to stimulus. EM tries to show these layers connected in the (abstract) arena of perfect recall.

How long have you been working in this area?

Ive been working with computer and animation tools for ten years, but have only begun to make self-directed works in the last six months.

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?

I was a computer-literate graphic designer, struggling with the issue of where advertising/design ends and where art begins. I loved the things I could do with interactive design works and wanted to take it to the next level. It took a committed foray into the world of advertising to convince me that most client-motivated artworks are fundamentally bankrupt. After trying with my entire heart and ingenuity to sell worthless things to unsuspecting people by preying upon their hopes, fears and ignorance, and feeling what that did to my perspective, I found it really hard to go back to making another slick logo. In the end, art is the only thing that made sense.

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

I was trained in graphic design. first in the US and then in Switzerland, so my major influences are mostly of the design sort: Constructivist Russian art, Paul Rand, Armin Hoffmann, Adrian Frutiger, Wolfgang Weingart. These people were (and are) trying to raise design to the level of art form, and in many ways they succeeded brilliantly itb?s unfortunate to see what uses these techniques are being put to. But maybe interactive art, which requires some cohesion to be fully effective, will see these ideas lifted and extended.

On the art side I've always been into Jasper Johns, Mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenburg ? some great stuff done around the time I was born.

Finally, John Maeda at the MIT Media Lab was the first person I saw use programmatic techniques in a highly sophisticated visual way. Regardless of where he ends up taking it, his work has had a huge impact on me.

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

Unfortunately, I don't really know, I haven't seen any. Given the infinite nature of the internet, (and how little time I seem to have for surfing) I would be surprised if there were not ? memory and the body are clearly themes that are central to our times. Yes, I?m sure other people are working here, and I?d love to see what they?re doing!

Do you see this work as art?


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

Sound is uniquely emotional and can reach a lot deeper than the visual? Interactivity allows us to participate in the creation of these emotional experiences; before now, this level of creativity was available only to musicians.

What defines the aesthetics of new interactive art.?

The author and the user together! In a rule-based system any element can be held, given to the user, or left to chance by the author. What you get is artworks that run the gamut from the artists pure vision to the near-complete creation of the user. There really is not (nor should there be) a consistent visual aesthetic it turns out that projected light can be just as flexible as reflected.

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

Crucial. As is sound, as is motion. We?ve been perfecting music and visual art separately for hundreds of years, and each is a highly developed art. The art of combination has only been around since movies had soundtracks, and then only in the hands of Hollywood and a very few artists (who didn't have a good way to show their work to a lot of people). And now that almost anyone has access to the means to make combination works, with the world as an audience, weve added participation to the scheme. Theres tremendous scope for discovery and I'm sure it ll take years and years to work itself out.

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

No unique awareness that I know of, although the net does force a strange kind of level playing field in terms visual impact. In fact, I would argue that on some level that the web trains people to distrust a beautiful presentation ? Joe?s Pawnshop and Nieman Marcus have only 2D graphics to separate them on the web in the physical world there are many other cues.

How novel do you feel generative music and interactivity is?

Very. I haven?t done much with generative music, but I see this as a form of interactivity. When you see a beautiful work of art or hear music that moves you, sometimes it's not enough to simply experience it; you want to have a deeper relationship with the material, to be a part of it. In the past you could buy a brush or a guitar or memorize lyrics and try to have your relationship through duplication with interactivity you participate in a much more meaningful way.

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

Totally Media Art has been around for 35 years or so? There is a ton of work done in video full of some very interesting ideas. But the tools and techniques they had were pretty crude compared to what we have today. As a result, it doesn't seem to live up to it's potential, and doesn't seem to justify a place for itself outside of conceptual/installation work. The convergence and control that digital expression brings to us may finally make good Nam June Paik's claim that "As collage technique replaced oil paint so the cathode-ray tube will replace the canvas"

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

Yes, a funny question! Although I do write some code, I certainly would not call myself a programmer. And the term ?multimedia artist? seems so very connected to video work, which I use occasionally, but not extensively. So, until recently I would have called myself a net artist. Then I came across some very interesting readings in net.art and realized that this is not the mode or aim of my work at all. I really have little interest at this point in undermining accepted web experiences or exposing the changes that technologies are making in current society. My approach is much more from a gut level ? I want to use time, motion, and sound to create linear and non-linear (true) stories in a beautiful way. I'm staying with Digital Artist for the moment?

What software do you use most and why?

Flash, Photoshop, Xara, Soundforum Synth, and Cool Edit, with the occasional foray into Illustrator or Dimensions.

Flash: as close to programming as I can get at the moment I?ve yet to make the leap further up the food chain. I get the feeling that if I were working in C++ I?d be duplicating a lot of the work being done for me here? guess I?ll find out at some point.

Photoshop: really can?t live without it the OS of artists?

Xara: British made software bought by Corel ? really fast vectors that are anti-aliased in real time. Great for storyboarding and creating artwork outside of Flash?s (horrible) vector tools.

Soundforum Synth: to a non-musician synth newbie like myself this is the ultimate toy?twiddle the knobs and craft your sound? awesome!

Cool Edit: necessary for pasting together bits of sound and turning them into reasonable effects.

Illustrator: necessary as a can opener, or if you actually want to print something.

Dimensions: great little vector to 3-d program doesn't do much, but it ?s all I need.

Can you recommend three urls to soundtoys?

That you haven't heard of Not likely

3 of my favorites are:


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