242.Pilots Interview

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42 pilots
For mating purposes the South Australian Lyre bird has developed wonderful song and signal capacities. It can even mimick urban sounds such as a camera lens zoom and click or a car alarm. The fine feathered 242.Pilots on the other hand, are a video performance trio whose signal processing and improvisation often has them compared to a freejazz ensemble. Not sure how their recently released DVD fits into their mating strategies, but it’s a great showcase for their capacity to improvise.

(( Update : this interview was done in 2003, and is part of large import of writing from the now defunct octapod.org/jeanpoole, which covered live video and electronic art from 2001-2005. Mostly I’ve been publishing the posts with their original date, but this slipped through and has been linked to already. See the archives for more. ))

DVD: – Live @ Bruxelles
Distributed through Carpark Records, this DVD allows the chance to see and hear a live recording of the 242.Pilots performance at a Belgian festival in 2002, three solo pieces and an interview which illuminates their processes and interactions. Under the pilots bonnet, lies custom made software – video components for the max/msp programming environment. Having built their own software with this, the pilots can freely improvise in real-time, layering and transforming imagery in real-time. Effects are also layered in real-time, and the customised effects are often foregrounded more than the actual content itself. The end result is at times haunting, beautiful and fantastically elastic. For the most part they maintain a level of visual interest, if not surprise, and interplay with sound. The occasional lapses you would expect within a long improvisation, I found were related to the saturation and predictability of certain effects. Even their own customised software has it’s certain aesthetic trademarks and glitches. Fascinating DVD though, available through http://242pilots.org. While you’re there, click along to www.nervousvision.com, the site of Berliner HC Gilje, who answered these questions:

What are the challenges of building a video ‘instrument’ ?
Our instruments are a combination of software and hardware, and must be built in a way to encourage/stimulate our visual dialogue. The challenge is to make a interface, maybe a mix of hardware controllers and video software, which is very flexible, responsive and which gives room for unexpected things to happen. The biggest problem is balancing features with an intuitive interface: if you end up having to think too much while you perform you have a problem.

What is liberating / limiting about customising your own software?
Achieving results not possible with available commercial software, and also to make mistakes which creates interesting results. The limitation with using an environment like max is that you spend hours and hours on your interface, and continually keep implementing and changing the program which makes it less intuitive. In max based work you tend to get bored with your patch when you know it too well. With programs like imagine, you can learn to master the features to a certain degree.

How much do u consider the audience & their perception of ‘liveness’ when composing a video work?
242.pilots wants the focus of the audience to be on the audiovisual output of the performance, not us as performers. For us the interesting thing is to create experimental video in a live setting, which gives a complete different energy and dynamic than to make a prepared video and screen it in front of an audience. The presence of the audience and the other players, as well as the space, our mood++ totally effects what we create, as it is always completely improvised.

Have you noticed with your live work with dancers, that the audience is more receptive to the live-video?
In my recent work with dancers I use no recorded source material, only the dancers as input for my video. It is then obviously easier for the audience to understand the “liveness” of the video than in an impro-setting like 242.pilots.

Live video-art is often criticised for not feeling worthwhile, unless you know how it is was made. How do you feel about this?
At our performance in Bruxelles upon which the dvd is based, a large part of the audience didnt understand that it was created live, but looked at it as an experimental film. From my experience with improvisation there will always be uninteresting parts but usually there are those magic moments which makes the whole jamsession worthwhile, just as in a music jam. If the total experience of a performance is negative, then it’s a bad show, and not related to the genre itself.

What are the difficulties with live video compared to audio?
It demands more attention, as people aren’t so used to watching longer stretches of non-narrative video. Compared to laptop audio performance, at least you don’t have to watch the boring guys behind their laptops as you are supposed to look at the video.

Abstract cinema? Graphic design in motion? What are you aiming for with your improvisations?
People always look for some sort of story no matter how abstract and non-narrative the video is, and I find it interesting this dialogue between us and the audience in terms of creating meaning. Our improvisations are like taking a walk in some unknown landscape, and depending on the curiosity/attentiveness of each indivual in the audience, they will all walk out of the space with their own unique experience.

Future projects? ( any longer narrative live-cinematic aspirations? )
A collaboration with contemporary music composer Yannis Kyriakides, a 20 minute piece which will tour with an ensemble and be performed live, and my Tokyoproject, which will be a 4 channel video installation, a live video-audio piece and DVD with Jazzkammer. The live Tokyopiece would be something like a longer narrative cinema. Am also continuing collaborations with the sound artist Kelly, in our impro duo BLIND.

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