Swim 2008, a Residency in collaboration with LABO, Toronto and SAT, Montreal

Visuals: Ryan Stec in collaboration with Véronique Couillard
Audio: Jan Pienkowski.

The Swim installation is an audio visual piece using multi-screen projection and quadraphonic sound.

Swim 2008

Residency in collaboration with LABO, Toronto and SAT, Montreal
Coordination by Julie Tremble of LABO and Joseph Lefèvre from SAT

Visuals: Ryan Stec in collaboration with Véronique Couillard
Audio: Jan Pienkowski

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The Swim installation is an audio visual piece using multi-screen projection and quadraphonic sound. This modular work, presented with a nostalgic aesthetic, focuses on the sounds and images of summer life. Blinding sparkling waters, meandering waves and even pesky flies create an immersive digital landscape to fend off the autumn chill.

The work is composed in Ableton (sound) and Modul8 (video) and linked via MIDI controllers to create a series of audio-visual elements. Each of the elements follow a series of programming rules creating an evolving or fluctuating composition. Essentially, five different chapters combine and recombine, moving out from a watery and wavy center, to create a slightly new piece every 20 minutes.

Swim was created for Meta_labo, a residency and training project initiated by Le LABO and realized in collaboration with the Society for Art and Technology (SAT).

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Ryan Stec is a Winnipeg-born/Ottawa-based media artist and curator working in documentary and experimental forms. Stec has been experimenting with live video for the last 6 years, producing mixes, performances and visual design for a wide range of art events. He has made his visual mark on the now legendary JIZZ! parties at Galerie SAW Gallery, Inside Out Festival in Toronto, New Forms Festival in Vancouver and most recently with Ottawa’s brightest electronic producers and DJs – Jokers of the Scene.

His work has been presented at Struts Gallery, le Festival international de cinéma francophone en Acadie, in an upcoming traveling program from SAW Video and more widely at artist-run centres across Canada. As a curator, Stec has produced 5 editions of the Ottawa-based commissioned program, Remix (2002-2006) presented by SAW Video, the Available Light Screening Collective, Platform Gallery in Vaasa Finland, Art Star, and SAW Gallery’s Video Art Biennial. Stec is currently Artengine’s Artistic Director.

Jan Pienkowski is a composer, musician, sound designer, DJ, physician and founder of Ono Records. Pienkowski writes and performs with sounds reflecting his various experiences. His theatre projects (DIALOG) and dance (A.R.M. with choreographer Nikolas Dixon) heLped him develop savoir-faire for staging and subtle rhythms. Pienkowski collaborates with solists, visual artists and dancers. He helps produce [MixSessions] events and participates in SAT’s Fabrique Numérique.

LE LABO and SAT thanks our generous funders and sponsors for their support: Canada Council for the Arts & Conseil des arts du Québec, Ontario Arts Council, toronto arts council, Le Secrétariat aux affaires intergouvernementales du Canada (Government of Québec), The Ontario Trillium Foundation and Super8 Downtown Toronto.

Concept and goals

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Jan and I had not previously collaborated, or in fact been aware of each others work, so the collaboration began from scratch. With a short time to both work a concept and produce an installation we discussed concepts already at work in each others practice. I had only recently been shooting footage for live explorations I had planned to do later this year. The footage I had gathered was photos, audio and video recordings centered around hot summer afternoon in and around lakes in both eastern and northern Ontario. Jan and I discussed using this as central theme to explore as he also had a series of audio recordings he had made several years earlier. With a collaboration that would span over the quick change in season in Canada we thought the final presentation in the fall weather would make for a rich contrast of the blinding summer light at work in the piece.

Our method of collaboration was determined a great deal by geography and time. Much was done over email and in solitude as we prepared for more intense times of collaboration in the same studio space. Although it was not expressly decided our method of working together felt more like composing than many other projects I have worked on. Each of us has a part of our practice very firmly routed in live performance. This shapes our method of production towards intuitive explorations as much us precise planning. Despite wishing for more time to truly sit and compose together, our personal performance history, coupled with the specific preperation and rehersal we underwent, meant that the short times where none the less productive.

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Our specific artistic goals in relation to the installation centered on using our specific performance tools to drive an installation, and to connect those tools to create a rich interaction between the audio and video as well as generative AV elements. Certain parts of this where successful such as concrete connection between the two softwares; while others where only partially successful such as the generative qualities.

With the limitations of the space we quickly determined that a flat multiple projection would be the most aesthetically pleasing and feasible. The goals was to create a work that was both cinematic but generative and atmospheric enough to create an immersive feel. Despite our efforts to program several chapters which would play interchangeability creating a kind of languid looping narrative that would reflect the looping nature of perfect summer days. Certain programming glitches prevented us from creating a smooth and seemless programming element that would could be managed while we where not their during the following weeks, so we opted to create a mapped repeating narrative of the four distinct chapters.

Much of the composition came together in the final two days once the system was installed and the final technical elements where dealt with. The two major composition elements reflected the different approaches to the process. The first was a planned series of MIDI controlled event driven by Ableton. Almost every audio element was linked with various parameters in Modul8 to create a work which was none the less never the same twice. The non-repetitive elements where produced because of the looping nature of the clips and certain loose parameters in Modu8.

The second major work was composed more in a live style. Parts of the audio track where played back and Modul8 recorded live hand gestures and movements to record a visual track to the audio. The final Modul8 recording of the MIDI movements was triggered, and then stopped, by Ableton at the appropriate time in the loop.

Audio & Video tools

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Ryan used Modul8 while Jan used Abelton. He also used a MIDI controller from Codanova VMX VJ and an HV 20 for capturing footage and a M-Audio Microtrack Digital Recorded with several Behringer microphones. He also used a Sony PC101 which went with a specific underwater housing. All of the production equipment was rented from either Artengine or SAW Video in Ottawa. For post-production Ryan used Photoshop CS3 and Final Cut Pro HD for the production of samples for Modul8. Also the Matrox Triplehead2go was necessary for the multi-projection. This belonged to Le Labo while the three projectors needed to use came from either Artengine or SAT.

The meeting between the 2 artists

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In terms of collaboration there is really nothing that can replace working together in the same physical space. We exchanged video and audio using Vimeo and sending rough files back and forth. Much time is always spent dealing with technical installation issues, so more concentrated stretchs of time are more efficient than spurts. However, reflection and distance is an important part of every process so if we had concentrated all the time we had available into one stretch I am not sure the work would have been that much better.

Public presentation & conclusion

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In terms of the public element I am not sure that a workshop is the best approach to mix with such a tight project. A workshop is one project and art project is another. This requires two different kinds of presentation and different amounts of time. I think it was sucessfull in giving some of the members more intimate time with the work we where creating, but it would have perhaps been more effective to have the show up or a two weeks and bring us down after it has been up for a while to do a workshop with a completed work. That being said I fully understand the reasons for the planning of this project and I found it successful nonetheless.

A live performance happened at Nuit Blanche and it was well received by as many could fit into the small space of the Labo. The opportunity for me to perform on a system which was so carefully installed was very enjoyable, and a challenge to mix much of the SD footage I would usually use for VJing into at the 2400×600 pixels resolution projection.

In general the pubic reaction was very positive. Both Jan and I demonstrated the softwares driving the installation and showed the un-recorded aspects of the installation demonstrating how colors or sounds could be changed in realtime and even letting people change some of these parameters themselves. This level of public interaction brought the project to the next level to many audience members as they began to see the work as more alive and distinct from what they typically see on a projection.

There are always things you would change in every project, but on the whole I think it was a success for the circumstances.

I hope to make the project into a HD Video version which could be burnt on Blue Ray disc as well as in QT format. I think it would be an interesting documentation of the piece, and as I joked with Jan it would be funny to be the first artist to have a Blue Ray disc distributed through my distributor, VTape. Generally, it was a pleasure working with Jan and I hope we find other opportunities to collaborate in the future.

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Projection is a massive part of Nuit Blanche. We saw many works which had more grandiose contexts than ours, but which undoubtedly had less technical attention. Some more narrative works, such as Noam Gonicks and Atom Egoyan’s, where very successful, while others where not. There is no doubt that the SAT projection dome would have a huge impact on Nuit Blanche and would give the project and SAT an amazing profile. I would love to get the chance to present or play in that system. Aside from tis obvious statement there are plenty of other ideas for Nuit Blanche projects, and multi-screen project in general that have come to mind.

In general I am very pleased to have had the chance to work in this manner with Jan as it has been a long time I have been interested in pushing video presentation into this more compositional mode working with a sound artist in parallel, rather than in a before or after model. It was a great opportunity. I extend my thanks to Le Labo, SAT, Joseph, Julie, and Jan.

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