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Interview with Stefana Fratila and Diana Lynn VanderMeulen

The SAT had the pleasure of speaking with its artists-in-residence Stefana Fratila, Romanian composer and sound designer, and Diana Lynn VanderMulen, multidisciplinary artist, both based in Toronto.

Their immersive work I want to leave this earth, part of the Satosphere Series presented during the MUTEK festival, examines what it means for a disabled person like Fratila to lead an imaginary exploration of the cosmos.

Their work will be presented on August 25 in the SAT dome.

The Society for Arts and Technology (SAT) is a research and creation laboratory open to the world, multiplying technological possibilities and the hybridization of realities and artistic disciplines. Its residency program aims to accompany innovative projects to fruition, providing artistic teams with the support they need to progress through one or more phases of creation.

 

 

SAT: The dome performance you are both working on is part of a multi-faceted project taking many forms: an album, an essay, a short story, and three music videos– all of which are contained within the same title. Can you tell us more about the genesis of the project?

SF: For me, the project began when I met with astronomers and scientists at NASA in order to speculate on how sound waves might travel in different interplanetary atmospheres. That culminated in Sononaut, 8 open-source VST plug-ins created in collaboration with artist Jen Kutler (using Pure Data and calculations by NASA astronomer and planetary scientist Dr. Conor Nixon). Then came the album, which used the VSTs. I had read and researched so much over the course of years, and was invited to write an essay for e-flux’s You Can’t Trust Music and I couldn’t help myself– I felt compelled to write a science fiction story, a genre which has so hugely influenced me. I came across a piece of Diana’s art (which later became the album cover) and it felt like an otherworldly experience– like witnessing a counterpart. We immediately connected, it felt very magical.

DLVM: When Stefana approached me about the album cover and music video, I felt a strong sense of kinship to her and her practice as we are both curious about worldbuilding and imagining other realities.  Collaborating felt like a really natural extension of my own practice, and the work further developed into an Expanded Reality project titled A Boundless and Radiant Aura. With sound adapted from “I want to leave this Earth behind”, the project is ever expanding, but can be experienced through hybrid digital-physical installation, a Magic Window app for personal computers, ambient video loops, image-based artworks and a environmental fragrance made in collaboration with perfumer Courtney Rafuse.

 

SAT: You engaged in some extended research (including to NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA Goddard Space Centre), prior to the present project. How did this influence your creative work?

SF: Being at NASA was so special. I was there in 2018 and 2019, before the Perseverance rover was launched and there was such a huge amount of excitement around that. The conversations I had with scientists were so creative and thrilling– I realized scientists are a lot like artists (very curious, and endlessly imaginative). We knew the rover would have microphones on it too, so the idea of actually hearing another planet’s atmosphere was becoming a reality.  It was the first time ever microphones like these were being sent onto another planet. The rover landed successfully and Mars is the one planet that I got to speculate about, and then actually listen to. It was so strange because my speculations were really close. I got to touch the microphones that were sent up. The whole experience was so surreal– it felt like I was in a science fiction story. The music and the project were super wrapped up into the research and the science, and then at the same time, I was bringing my own perspective– what does embodiment even mean in outer space? How do you speculate about experiencing sound in a place when you know you can’t breathe there? These questions were central to the creative work.

 

SAT: Can you talk about the dynamic of your artistic collaboration on this project?

DLVM: This has been a very authentic and enriching collaborative process for us! We both approach our practices with an open and immersive mindset, which leads to an infinite pool of possibilities. Collage and glitch are really exciting tools to confront and renegotiate a sense of digital/cosmic corporeality, as we transform existing information into new worlds and experiences. We have been lucky to show this work in various iterations so far, first supported by Debaser with a showcase at SAW gallery for Pique’s Spring edition, and now adapted for showcase within the Satosphère. The multidimensionality of the work allows us to reach people in many different ways– digitally, physically, publicly, and privately. Access is important to us both as we negotiate the expansion of these ideas. 

 

SAT: Your project offers a unique perspective on the notion of embodiment. How do you wish to translate this using the medium of dome creation?

SF: “I want to leave this Earth behind” centers on the idea that our solar system’s planetary bodies are inherently prohibitive, even in regards to Earth’s most “able-bodied”, or non-disabled subjects. I find the overtly “disabling” element of other worlds compelling and relatable, since my own experience on Earth is fraught with spaces that impair my body, through their very design. The dome feels so expansive, in this regard. To experience the vibrations of my sounds through 100+ speakers is a very freeing sensation. When I first experienced our piece in the Satosphère, it felt like I had left my body, and had been transported into another world.

DLVM: For myself, I have always been drawn to the idea of breaking free from my physical shell to experience the world from perspectives unknown to me– a bug, a comet, a wave. I want to lay my face onto the earth to see the layers beneath the surface. Virtuality is an incredible means to challenge scale and the bounds of the human body within the physical realm, as well as to explore the metaphysical connection between landscape and the human spirit. The dome is the first fully immersive digital surface I have been able to work within, and I am very excited to be able to negotiate new ways of seeing in such an all encompassing scale.

 

SAT: What inspired you when crafting the sonic and visual ecosystem?

SF: I’m obsessed with science fiction so the genre inevitably played a role in the development of the Sononaut VST plug-ins as well as the music itself. As far as musical inspirations, I drew heavily on pioneering electronic artists like Pauline Anna Strom (Trans-Millenia Music) and Laurie Spiegel (The Expanding Universe). I also drew inspiration from watching Star Trek constantly (TNG and DS9) and reading Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics, and Olga Ravn’s The Employees

DLVM: Science fiction novel and film Solaris (Stanislaw Lem, Andrey Tarkovsky) and the development of the soundtrack using the ANS synthesizer by Edward Artemiev is a core inspiration to me– especially as it addresses psychological relationships within the lens of science fiction and worldbuilding with technology that was very new and unusual for the time. I would also mention the album I hear a new world by Joe Meek and the Blue Men, and literary inspirations Cosmicomics by Italio Calvino, & Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson. Visually, I am interested in remixing scale and contrasting the mysterious elements of our natural world alongside the super synthetic. I want to offer a cosmic exploration that is vast yet inviting, in the vein of aquarium screensaver and flowing river ASMR channels.

 

SAT: What are your biggest current influences, visually and musically?

SF: 2023 has been outrageously inspiring for music. Stunning new releases from Noriko Tujiko, Nabihah Iqbal, Laurel Halo, Mary Lattimore, Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Gia Margaret, and Lucy Liyou. And I love, love Toronto’s music– New Chance, Lee Paradise, myst milano, Masahiro Takahashi, to name a few. It feels very special.

DLVM: I am endlessly inspired by my friends! To mention a few with practices that blend digital and physical immersive realms. Jon Carroll & Cat Bluemke (SpekWork) make work about games and labour, in an immersive and collaborative XR practice. I’d recommend checking out their recent techno-feudalism game “PeasantSim”- the making of which is featured in a film titled “Plains” by Romanne Walker. Ginette Lapalme is an artist who has created a universe of her own by means of  sculpture, paintings, comics, zines, and ephemeral collections. Recently, she has been expanding her collections by using digital tools to create fantasy objects – which circle back to inspire those which she creates by hand. You can find her at Toutoune, her curated shop, gallery and studio in Toronto. Transdisciplinary artist (and studio mate!) Ananda Gabo has been redefining ancestral objects, combining traditional techniques such as jade carving with bio-materials processes like textile dyeing using bacteria and bugs. They also create experimental electronic artworks and sound art.

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