It’s been around four years since Cyclic Defrost caught up with the work of audio-visual artist Scott Baker, who performs and records under the pseudonym Abre Ojos. In that time he’s undergone changes, from equipment through to home base, moving from the outskirts of Melbourne back into regional New South Wales. The latter in particular slowed his recorded output but not performances, which included an innovative projection workshop using granite sculptures as screens in Griffith last year — a collaboration with Cyclic Defrost contributor Jason Richardson that was made possible with support from Regional Arts NSW.
Baker was keen to discuss some of these changes and promote his most recent recording, which continues his “sound and vision for dystopian meditation” for the increasingly uncertain times we live in at present. What follows are his words:
The Rule of the Mountain EP was recorded from live recording sessions in a airless box on the 18th floor of a Sydney hotel. From living in a small seaside village the contrast of surroundings from a small coastal town to a major metropolis mirrored the contrast of the open generosity of the human spirit to the mean neoliberal negligent rulers fucking things up royally around the world. After reading Dante’s Purgatorio, the second part of his Divine Comedy, where he describes two types of people on the lower slopes of Purgatory – the Excommunicate and the Late-Repentant. A component of the Late Repentant are the Negligent Rulers. This rang bells about the current political leadership around the world. It seems that at every level we have negligent rulers that are tied to the ruthless pursuit of profit from business leaders, so much so that the there is a ruthless capitalist at the helm of a large global power.
Where do we go from here?
With this turmoil as the back drop and armed with a small Eurorack modular suitcase and Beatstep Pro I dropped out and then dropping in to the sound of animated raw waveforms. This becomes simultaneously a protest, by consciously dropping out of the system, and a meditation on sound and vision. So much noise, so many distractions, soap operas, cooking shows, traffic, small talk, football matches, 24hr news cycles, fuck! When do we get a chance to reflect? To breathe? No wonder Hikikomori is spreading across the world and kids drop themselves into whatever they can escape to: their bedroom, video games, drugs. The act of creating these sounds and videos are my way of turning it all off but in a positive way, in a way that has little impact upon the shit state of affairs our world is in and through the act of creation of potentially putting something back out there.
Letting my conscious mind focus on creating sounds and images creates some kind of personal space. I used to build and repair hearing aids and the number one reason why people would stop wearing them is that everything was amplified, not just the voice of the person they were trying to communicate with but the background noise too, making things louder doesn’t make things clearer. Only simple information reduction will do that. The act of creation is that form of personal simple information reduction. My audio-visual works let me build some space in my life by using slow sounds and images that might trigger a conscious reaction but are random enough to smear that conscious thought sideways with a healthy whack of technicolour waves. It was always an intention of my work to fill the LED screens of our spaces with something that wasn’t trying to sell you something, wasn’t telling you your life isn’t valid because of how you look or what you wear or how you think or who you love. Instead a slip a shifting artwork of light and sound into your life to try and wedge some space into the noise.
The sounds were made with a Roland System 1m which is the best-function-per-dollar-semi-modular-in-a-euro-compatible format out there. Amazing waveforms with full animation capability, a great filter, heaps of modulation options, it’s a fun box. Pairing this with a Mutable Instruments Elements gave a minimal set up but with enough complexity to create drones that could alternate from dense to sparse with minimal twists o the dials. By sending a continuous looping note to the Elements module it turns into a complex drone machine while still spitting out percussive tones when asked. The tracks were recorded over three nights in the centre of a large city. Robert Smith’s lyric in Other Voices “But I live with desertion, in eight million people” nails it. It is ritual electronic magic to open a portal to another place.
The visuals were built from videos found on archive.org and series of short video clips from David Hannan, an acclaimed Australian underwater videographer, which were used with permission. (Help save the Reef!) These were all put into the After Effects blender and looped, reflected, effected, distorted and otherwise treated to create a collection of clips to be loaded into Resolume Avenue. Resolume lets me pair the clips with a range of effects and feedback add audio reactivity and record the visuals simultaneously while recording the audio. The process of setting up these audio visual environments allow the space for unexpected things to happen, they tie up my conscious mind by focussing on changing controls which lets my subconscious flow. There is always the worry of mistakes and imperfections but that is just life, we learn from our mistakes. Releasing these things warts and all is infinitely more interesting than pouring meticulously over programmed arpeggios and triplets.
With the three audio-visual tracks finished it is always a question of how to release them. I used to make DVD’s and probably still will in the future even though that medium of the future is very much in the past. People with DVD players probably also have a record player or tape deck in their home too. Bandcamp doesn’t host videos but it is a good place to put the audio. The main spot to release is on my website, where I can embed the three videos on a page, put a Bandcamp player on there and add in some liner notes. If people download from Bandcamp I provide them with a link to download the videos as mp4 files. If it’s a tv series and you are watching it on Netflix or downloading it via a torrent acess is easy, it fits to a prescribed format, putting experimental audio visual works in-front of people is difficult. Audio has CD’s, tape, records, downloads, plus players to organise and facilitate the medium, audiovisual options are limited.
What has made the Negligent Rulers of our world lose their light? For all our sakes I hope they do not become the Late-Repentant.
You can find out more about Abre Ojos here.