Wandering Eye #1

by Chad Eivins (Chizmo.TV)

So this will be an ongoing monthly series focusing on musical performances I’ve documented in St. Louis and the stories floating around them.

For this one, it’s a performance by Kevin Harris and Matt Erickson in the basement of Blank Space.

To set the scene, the show happened on a Sunday night around midnight in late April. There were five people in the audience: Kevin’s girlfriend, Kevin’s girlfriend’s friend, a guy who had performed earlier, the owner and me. They could have decided not to play and I think everyone would have been fine with that. Instead, they took us on an absorbing experience creating washes of sounds and distorted signals that penetrated cerebrally, as if from some alien transmission. It was rad.

From a documentation stand point, the visual elements for this show were going to be two guys sitting in the dark, wiggling wires. Two additional videos would be projected by Kevin and Matt would play sax at some point but mentioned he planned on staying seated. I came to the conclusion that it would be less about capturing action and movement and more about composing images and layers that emphasize their sounds.

I used a Videonics MX-1 mixer that has four video signal inputs. It’s been my lo-fi live switcher for almost 20 years now. I used three infrared security cameras and a video feedback signal to edit the live images and audio to VHS. This form of editing and camera control requires improvisation and being in tune with the moment. Unexpected, chaotic results happened with the video signals and the outdated equipment. Dust particles are seen in the infrared air, random glitches appeared on the VHS tape and abnormal compositions formed among the layered images. All of this contributed as aspects to a truer story of what happened on a Sunday night, in St. Louis.

I’ve been talking to Kevin Harris about documenting his upcoming collaboration performance at the Contemporary Art Museum called Chromaconditional.

This one-time performance will have massive projections of super 8mm film and video signals with surrounding sounds creating an inimitable experience in the space. To have a better understanding of what was going to happen, I asked Kevin a few questions about the night:

Chad Eivins: Can you describe your role in helping coordinate this performance?

Kevin Harris: I was approached by CAM about building a replica of an optically controlled synthesizer for a performance that would serve as an homage to Erkki Kurenniemi (who is the subject of many works by exhibiting artist Mika Taanila). We discussed many possibilities, including using dancers who would trigger sound with movement. We settled on using video projections to control sound because it will allow us to utilize the complex infrastructure already in place with the Taanila exhibit.

CE: This project has multiple people collaborating with sound synthesis and visual composition. Can you describe the process of how the visual images and audio will work together?

KH: The piece features 3 simultaneous HD projections, totaling about 9” x 60”. The projections will cast light upon a series of photo-resistors attached to each screen. The resistance from these components feed circuits that convert resistance to voltage. The voltage is then sculpted by mathematical operations into levels suitable to control an analog synthesizer. Three musicians will receive the voltages from the screens and decide how to use them to alter the parameters of their modular synthesizers.

We made custom circuits for this performance designed by Mike Murphy and built by myself. The projections will consist of analog video synthesis and 8mm film abstractions created by Jeremy Kannapell and myself. Mike Murphy will be performing using his various voltage controlled “electroniums” of his own design, Adrian McBride is coming in from Portland to perform on modular synthesizer, and I will also be performing on modular synth.

CE: There can be unexpected occurrences with analog equipment, which can compound in collaborations. Will this piece rely on pre-production/rehearsal?

KH: Well, it will definitely be a big mess in a certain sense. The fact that the circuits that produce control voltages are analog and very much dependent on a controlled lighting environment ensures a level of instability and unpredictability. I think we all consider this a benefit because it allows for interesting surprises to happen.

CE: Are you expecting elements of improvisational "unknowns" happening?

KH: Yes, the videos are composed, but we don't really know what types of voltages will be produced by the videos until we are in the room and it is dark.

CE: Your work often takes advantage of the spatial layout of rooms. Do you feel there is a continued theme with using a space in a more three-dimensional way?

KH: The performance space at CAM will use three PA systems – six independent channels. Stereo is... stupid. And Boring.

CE: Does your approach to Chromaconditional differ from other collaborations you help design, such as performing in a basement versus a large open space?

KH: Physical space always affects the approach to performance. I welcome the challenge of an intimate basement as well as that of a large open space. Chromaconditional will be interesting because it will be like collaborating with 4 humans and 3 projections.

Kevin Harris
Mike Murphy
Adrian McBride
Jeremy Kannapell
@ Contemporary Art Museum Saint Louis / 3750 Washington Blvd 
8 p.m. / $10 / 21+