Empiricisms 2020- Detailed Essay
The artistic purpose of Empiricisms 2020 was to place multichannel video in an installation art context.
I aimed to create an audiovisual composition, inspired by my personal reflection on the year 2020, when everybody needed to fit in the new reality. A big part of people life required to be transferred to the internet; this inspired me to use laptops for the projection and create a videoconference stylistic. Initially, the project was meant to be a digital recreation of The Last Supper and be site-specific to St Mary de Castro Church, where each laptop would symbolise a character from the painting. However, the pandemic forced me to change the plan and led me in an interesting direction.
Working on the piece's concept, I created a list of emotions that accompanied my friends and me in 2020. The list helped me in creating the following structure of the piece.
Chapter 1- New Year
Chapter 2- Virus
Chapter 3- New Reality
Chapter 4- Courage
Chapter 5- Human Nature
Intro: a symbol of preparing for the new year. People are slowing down and reflecting on the past. This part is also meant to introduce the video call stylistics.
Chapter 1: New Year is an excellent catalyst for bringing positive changes in people life. This chapter symbolises new ambitions and plans for the upcoming year.
Chapter 2: Looking back at the beginning of 2020, one can conclude that people did not take the Covid-19 virus in China as a danger for the whole world, people believed that the virus is
only a problem in the remote country in Asia.
Chapter 3: The virus started to spread worldwide, and we all had to fit into the new reality. People moved a big part of social and professional life into the internet; the routine and the feeling of uncertainty took over our lives. Also, the sense of anger started to grow.
Chapter 4: 2020 was also a year of protests, accumulated anger, and catalyst events started many antigovernmental movements in many countries such as Belarus, Poland, USA and Nigeria. This chapter is summing up the significant symbol in Empiricisms 2020 - The conversation. In my personal opinion, many people do not listen to each other. It is a natural thing that most people believe that their views on the world are the most correct and important, but one can observe that very often people don't want to listen to each other; left-wing don't listen to right-wing, right-wing don't listen to the left-wing, young people don't listen to older people, older people don't listen to young people, people from different races don't listen each other and so forth. One often forgets that taking other people perspective can help to find a compromise. The lack of valuable conversation with both sides of conflict actually listening to each other is a reason for significant protests, where people are trying to be heard by the governments or most of the not-natural catastrophes. In this chapter, I used the All-Poland Woman Strike to symbolise all people who try to be heard and listened to.
Chapter 5: This chapter symbolises a vicious circle of human life. Unfortunately, most of the protests mentioned in the chapter before did not win anything or won only a little. People give up, and huge movements change into small groups of activists. The rest forgets about it and carry on as they did before and life "loops".
The name Empiricism 2020 originated from the philosophical movement that states that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience, which are the information received through the senses, particularly by observation and documentation of patterns and behaviour through experimentation. (Stathis, Curd 2010) The name is my suggestion that people should take the lessons given by all the events from 2020, draw conclusions and bring positive changes to their lives. The year 2020 showed the big impact of civilisation on nature and revealed many gaps and disadvantages of the political systems. I believe that careful analysis and utilisation of the knowledge given by this year would make the world a better place.
The work on the installation started with composition. I did not have any particular idea in mind other than my draft structure and the fact that I want to use audio glitches.
I produced the composition and mixed in stereo in Ableton Live 10.
For the intro, I decided to create a very textural ambient in lo-fi stylistics, which establishes the computer start up sound. To achieve that goal, I used two granular patches created in Arturia Pigments with a saturation effect and combined them with patch from Spitfire Audio Contemporary Drama sample library.
To create the transition to Chapter 1, I made a patch of analogue bass with automated waveform and moving low-pass filter.
Having in mind that the first minute of composition is very static, I wanted to create much more energy in the next chapter and create a symbol of the beginning of the new year, so I came up with an idea of mimicking the firework show using snares. I experimented with many synthesised snares, but I was not too fond of the effect, so I looked for something more organic. Finally, I created a few rhythmic layers using Spitfire Audio Drumline library.
I had a feeling that I moved out the glitch stylistic that I had in mind, so I built a speech-based patch in Arturia Pigments and created a transition to the next Chapter with an idea of glitchy visuals that I will make.
In Chapter 3, I was looking for quite a lot of movement to have room to experiment with the visual aspect of the installation.
I used eDNA sample engine again by Spitfire Audio that allowed me to combine and reprogram organic and electronic samples and create smooth movement between them; then, I created a loop of modified news audio to provide the feeling of being overwhelmed by the amount of information in isolation.
In Chapter 4, I wanted to create a feeling of monotony, so I purposely didn't bring any significant changes from the previous chapter, but I focused on building the tension, so I came up with the idea that allowed me to introduce the glitchy stylistic that provided me with a room to visual experimentation. I used one of the eDNA patches and used a sidechained gate to create the glitchy texture, but I wanted to add some more randomness, so I started experimenting with various glitch VSTs engines. The Krush VST turned out to be perfect, as it had many parameters that I could automate to create multiple patterns.
Patterns created in Chapter 4 were the fundament of the next chapter.
In Chapter 5, I wanted to explore the glitch patterns and create a techno musical cue that will let me investigate different visual possibilities during video production.
Chapter 5 is based on repetitions that were meant to bring to mind monotonous life in the lockdown and symbolise the philosophy I mentioned before.
The installation's whole concept was to keep the video call stylistic visually, so I wanted to mimic the characteristic quality in the composition, but I didn't want to make it sound too lo-fi, so I tried to find a compromise between lo-fi and hi-fi music by keeping some layers distorted and downsampled.
As I am not an experienced video editor putting my vision together in Adobe Premiere Pro was one of the biggest challenges of this project.
Editing the five videos with preview turned out to be quite tricky to set up. After long research, I found out that the only way to work on my setup is to edit on five video tracks, each for one video, nesting it, and checking the preview in multi-cam; however, it was a very time and CPU consuming; however, I couldn't find any better way, so I needed to carry using this method.
Because I couldn't have a live five-screen preview, I manage to develop the workflow based on creating a visual pattern on the timelines using various colour labels on clips.
The video materials used in the piece are recorded video calls with my friends and excerpts from the news.
In each chapter, I tried to create visual symbols supporting the narration of the piece.
Intro introduces the video call stylistic by the waiting room graphic from the popular application.
In Chapter 1, flashing lights' role was to mimic the fireworks as a symbol of the New Year.
In Chapter 2 and 3, I wanted to create a monotony that transformed into the overwhelming feeling of repeating bad news and showing the life's routine by repeating videocall footage.
In Chapter 4, I used the All-Poland Woman strike footage to symbolise people's courage that decided to fight for their rights. It is also a symbol of the lack of dialogue between the government and citizens. I wanted to make this chapter visually dynamic and distinct. I utilised the musical patterns created in the composition process, translated it into visual content, and took a similar approach in the last chapter.
After, the whole video starts from the beginning, with only one difference, the meeting host changes to 2021, as a metaphor for the vicious circle of human life, which can be only broken by people who decide to escape it by bringing positive changes to their life.
Working on the video content for this installation without any previous video editing experience was a big test for my patience and motivation. However, I gained a beneficial skill that I can utilise in my next project and seeing the final product after long hours of work was very satisfying.
Having the composition and videos ready, I created an installation set up in my bedroom. I placed the five laptops on studio monitor stands and put the desk in front of them to get the reflection from screens on it.
I also decided to make a red and blue light background using led video lighting with filters to enhance the visual experience. Unfortunately, I managed to get only four stands, so I had to place the speakers on the floor in the corners of the room.
Researching the project's ideas and resources, I came across many similar to various extend installations, which helped me place my work in a broader Digital Installation Art concept.
One of the most interesting pieces for me was Nam June Paik's Fin de Siècle II, a Video installation with 207 television sets and seven video channels. The work was first presented in 1989, featuring a flood of imagery and music from David Bowie, Kraftwerk and others. (Whitney Museum of American Art 2018)
Another concept utilising similar ideas to mine is Working Class Hero (A Portrait of John Lennon) by Candice Breitz, where the author uses a collection of videos of people singing John Lennon's song. (Breitz 2009)
While I was looking for the way of synchronising videos on multiple devices, I found an interesting approach in "The Sounds of The World" installation by Francesc Marti. (Marti 2016) The author used a multiple Arduinos, and I really liked the idea, however current situation deprived me of access to hardware resources, but I believe it is something that I would like to investigate in the future projects.
I needed to develop my way of synchronising the videos without any external components or installing additional software because laptops were borrowed and run different operating systems. After ineffectual tries of pressing the spacebar on multiple devices at once, I came up with the idea of putting an audiovisual metronome before every video. I added 5 bars of the audiovisual metronome, counting on four for the first video and one less bar for every other. It worked surprisingly good, and after some training, it let me synchronise videos without delaying any screen.
I believe that I achieved my project aims. However, I can identify some weaknesses of this project. I am not completely happy about the quality of mix and master I created; I think that I could have made it better in the studio environment. There were also things that I didn't take into account, like different refresh rate of the laptops, what was visible when the flashing patterns were appearing among the news or the size of the front I decided to use in the graphics at the beginning and end, which are very hard to focus on with the camera.
In conclusion, this project developed my musical, visual and technical imagination. I discovered exciting tools, set the workflow in a video editing environment, and tried something new. I believe that this project widened my artistic horizons and inspired me to explore audiovisual music and digital and installation art.
Breitz, Candice (2007) Working Class Hero (A Portrait of John Lennon) [multimedia]. Accessed 4 January 2021
Marti, Francesc (2016) The Sounds of The World [installation] Accessed 12 January 2021 http://fmarti.xyz/portfolio/the-sounds-of-the-world/
Paik, Nam June (1989) Fin de Siècle II [installation] Accessed 4 January 2021 https://whitney.org/collection/works/8532
Psillos, Stathis; Curd, Martin (2010). The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Science (1. publ. in paperback ed.). London: Routledge. pp. 129–38.