The interview to Otolab is a result of the event that was organised on January 16 th by the O’ Gallery of Milan, in collaboration with Marco Mancuso, Digicult curator. During that evening, some members of the Milanese collective (which has come at its eighth year of life) could meet, have talks and watched the national exclusive preview of some of their recent creations, such as “Circo ipnotico”(Hypnotic circus) and “Giardini neri” (Black Gardens).
A few hours together transported the otolab phenomenon into the gallery event room: not only an artistic entity, yet also and above all a means to improve interpersonal relationships and sharing. That is the heart of the collective, which has been configuring itself as a rhizomatic core that can tag along and connect, cross different worlds and generate them. An open and complex system, in which the mutual relationship of every element causes something unexpected and unpredictable. A spontaneous and changeable complexity, made up with the members’s different experiences and attitudes, that otolab transformed into a method: a relational and creative method, a laboratory audiovisual-experience method, an approach to technological tools and to an interaction with the audience.
An audience which is the reflexion of otolab, an aggregation and mixture of origins and contexts. A composite audience, as well as the one that was at the soirée in the Galleria O’, a varied crowd that converged there for the same interest in the collective. The purpose of this meeting was to keep two completely different live together, Circo Ipnotico and Giardini Neri, to produce the heterogeneous product of the group, compare two absolutely different poetics and experiences of audiovisual live performance. The analogical digital improvisation, the audiovisual trip violence of Circo Ipnotico, as well as the almost cinematographic inner trip of Giardini Neri.
“Giardini Neri” is a new component in otolab production, and not only from the chronological point of view; it is an experience that moves away from a style whose main topic is to reduce visual patterns. The last live performance leads one’s eyes through a tridimensional journey, and lets the spectator find vegetal elements where the scene is plunged in atmospheric evanescences, filtered lights mirrored on water. An immersion into darkness, which both environmental and internal. Otolab hasn’t explored this aspect of narration as story, of the environment born to reflect an inner life.
Many works by otolab act through audiovisual stimulation inside the observer, and they lead him to experience the perception of his self. The trip of “Giardini Neri” is instead an emotional emanation, the senses are transported through suspended as well as obscure suggestions, images fathom to desert landscapes commuted by sounds. Till the final implosion given by water. The vision of the liquid element, from 3D synthetic realism, suddenly breaks into its graphic structure, a breach made into the mind and the shape, towards an optical tunnel, a perceptive unconsciousness. An initiation to a new lie for the image, a perceptive resurrection which marks a double limit, a transformation walking concurrently on two levels: the formal one related to the image, from the figurative to the optical side, and the symbolic one that goes past into an inner and individual state. The 3D image of the water, a realistic kind, suddenly opens towards its frame. All this can be read as a revelation of the image’s nature, of what looks like real but that heeds a synthetic structure, and at the same time as abandonment familiar perceptive environments; the real frame moved to pure vision, broken and arranged into an elementary geometry of black and white.
So, “Giardini Neri” is the starting point for an interview to otolab for Digicult, because a meeting between these two realities is needed, as both otolab and Digicult have run after common directions over the years, have collaborated, have come across the professional and personal spheres.
Claudia D’Alonzo: Let’s start from “Giardini Neri”: could you tell me how it was born, how did the production of this project develop?
Xo00: It originated from Mud’s mental disease, which kept expressing itself during our tour in Mexico: he shut himself into his house for a week, in the sunniest place in the world. He could do anything, and instead he stayed inside the house for a week just to depict the idea he had in his mind. In fact, the project comes from Mud both for the audio and for the video. It was later integrated by other otolab members. Androsyn, Dies_ and me
Mud: Androsyn has enormously contributed to the 3D creation in all the most complex parts. The fluids, the particle systems, were possible thanks to him, because he had very specific competencies absolutely unusual in otolab.
Androsyn: My intervention was following a common fully detailed project. The means of particles and fluids wasn’t only used for a technological or algorithmic purpose, but it was needed for the development of some elements during the final touch. Most of the project was by that time completed, but some forms of expression of the situation were missing.
Mud: As far as I worked alone, Giardini Neri was still a series of audiovisual images, yet without a structure, a complete narrative pressure. It was rather a series of rooms, that is a series of successive areas. The upheaval came by the time I had dropped the project for some months. I put it on the table again to prepare a new live performance and I asked Dies_ to give me a hand to take decisions on the audio. Dies_’s contribution was very important for the story.
Xo00: However there was a basic idea, that was a journey into the gardens of the soul. The rooms needed a connection, a unique trip that went through them. .
Claudia D’Alonzo: Did the other otolab step in at that moment?
Mud: Exactly. In the audio I used some of Dies, Scrub and Chiara Frantini (a trainee of mine) audio samples, by giving them a frame. From the audiovisual point of view, apart from the musical structure the point was to yield a valid story in a dramaturgical sense. We felt that this sequence of rooms, be they beautiful or subjectively interesting, needed a breach. That was an opportunity for further considerations: through the water, we thought we glimpsed an element giving access to the endless world. The optical drift of the end represents the gateway towards the absolute, from a figurative and contextual world to an unlimited dimension.
Xo00: From this dark atmosphere, at times somewhat threatening, there’s the access to a dimension other than the real one.
Claudia D’Alonzo: “Giardini Neri” is a very narrative creation, of course not in absolute terms but in relation to otolab’s work. You already told me how did the storyboard come into existence. Nonetheless, I think that in every otolab creation there’s a storyboard and that this is more explicit in some of them, while it is less clear in some others. What is the difference between the narrative structure in Giardini Neri and other creations? For instance I’m thinking about Op7, where the construction of the different phases in the live performance is still reachable by the observer, or other works like Circo Ipnotico, where the narration is less clear…
Xo00: Between “Op7″ and “Giardini Neri” I don’t see much difference, apart from the creation procedures. In “Op7″ we worked all together from the very first moment, the entire collective took part into the concept and to the structural building as well, which was divided into very precise chapters. “Giardini Neri” comes instead from a project that Mud had already been developing on his own, so there was a storyboard on his mind, and the following work we completed together was no more than add the required elements to complete it.
Img: courtesy by Otolab
Claudia D’Alonzo: And so you worked in both projects following a structure made of “panels”?
Mud: Yes, the idea of the narrative structure is interesting. “Op7″ is based on a symbolic structure, Kiefer’s seven towers, that is the essence of the concept. All the seven towers have the same importance, no one is more relevant than he other ones, they all hold the same degree of plainness. Each one has its own characteristics but they all have the same kinetic importance. In Giardini Neri there is a different line, which was what I had been searching for, from a beginning to an end. As a result, it isn’t an homogeneous track divided in chapters, as it is in Op7, with a structure such as the one of “tunnel break new tunnel “.
Xo00: Yes, in “Op7″ there are seven different travels, while “Giardini Neri”, as well as “Circo Ipnotico”, are just one trip, one passage
Mud: Indeed, in “Circo Ipnotico” there’s a deeper storyboard and it is influenced by the mask changing of the psychoscope, by lighter changing: the theme is always the same, therefore it is more balanced. .
Androsyn: In “Circo Ipnotico” you go through extremely abstract subjects as for instance hypnosis, which cannot be applied as an objective picture but as an individual one and an experience. While in “Giardini Neri” there is a familiar context, even to depict plants. The branches are a recall, a familiarization with an already familiar place. That’s in everyone’s dream memory exactly for an environmental confirmation, with fog, rarefied lights and nightly wood crossing. I supported the idea of those silhouettes moving backlight and creating shadings that directly recall a natural habitat, the one we have in our DNA.
Claudia D’Alonzo: Natural beauty, but at the same time its abstraction, in fact the form of those plants is naturally closer to a pattern or to fractals …
Androsyn: Yes indeed, inside there’s a very fractal element, which remembers algorithmic models. That’s beautiful, because it gives a sense of double sense of belonging to the world of Giardini Neri, the one of logical conception and the other one of almost genetic memory.
Claudia D’Alonzo: What was the kind of work on the audio? Is there the purpose to blend the synthetic and the natural domains?
Mud: We had to decide on the audio: after the first proposals, I added sound-tracks to the videos. They were a kind of dream sound-scape, searching for an emotional synesthesia, not pointing at precise aspects. The audio phase is not a particularly radical task, I’m absolutely conscious of that. The audio’s intention that goes with the images is not to upset further on. I looked for some audiovisual matching that could allow a sweeter observation of the images, balance the video’s haziness, make the anxiety of the image more attractive.
Claudia D’Alonzo: Do you think to re-elaborate or develop again this sort of creation?
Xo00: By now the object is to create a DVD, look for a production. During all these years, otolab’s need to produce a DVD has arisen. For sure, the live performance has its own characteristics, but we need to freeze these projects
Claudia D’Alonzo: Do you think about Giardini Neri because according to you it satisfies a unique nature that is most appropriate for a video , compared to other works in which the space component and the live set up are more important?
Xo00: Yes, “Giardini Neri” is very cinematic and it has a layout that doesn’t lose anything when it shifts from two monitors to one. It is different from other lives, in which the use of several monitors is crucial.
Mud: It is even more suitable to try the singularities of DVD creations, to work on synesthesias which are managed with limited estimation possibilities, as a live is shown real-time. Time rendering doesn’t cause this sort of problems. This production would be different from a live work, because some synesthetic elements can be pushed to the extreme.
Claudia D’Alonzo: A question about the general state of otolab, from inside and after the soirée at O’ gallery, which I think was very successful. How do you perceive this moment in otolab, give a consideration about the audience. I think that during these years some audience that follow you, caring for your work. Do you perceive anything?
Xo00: Yes, the evening in O’ was very strong, also because we don’t organise many evenings of that kind in Milan . My impression was that our fans were there, as well as people who come from the gallery or Digicult circuit.
Claudia D’Alonzo: Beyond the O’ soirée, could you take stock of the last years, of how you managed to be known by the audience?
Xo00: Indeed, in the last years there was a progression but I wouldn’t have been able to define it at that time. I’m thinking about when we created the “Quartetto.swf” at Netmage 03: the live was much expected, but we were completely unknown and the audience greatly participated. That probably happened because the news spread and a few words were written about us. Some time before we had won the Italian Live Media Contest, probably our participation was well communicated … I know that there were great expectations at that moment. And obviously, time after time we did several things, that even had few audience, in some occasions. But I think that it is from the Netmage 2004 that an Italian audience began to follow us.
Claudia D’Alonzo: As you started from the underground and you took part into festivals, rather than galleries or international spaces, do you have an idea of the kind of fans you have and how it changed through time?
Mud: otolab audience is rather heterogeneous, we go from flashings to designers or simply to the experts of digital imaging, audio-video interaction, live interaction. It is mostly a wide audience of art and entertainment.
Claudia D’Alonzo: However is it inside the electronic world?
Mud: Yes, but very wide-ranging, from raves to cultured sectors, because we work in the contemporary music sector as for raves or non-institutional spaces. I think that the audience well reflects the heterogeneity of our projects and of the areas in which we propose them.
Claudia D’Alonzo: I think this is one of the most interesting aspects in otolab and not expected at all: it is not expected that, starting from counter-culture and going towards contemporary art and institutional culture, this heterogeneity can assemble inside your audience and arouse some attention. The soirée in O’ seems to exemplify perfectly otolab’s particular ability.
Orgone: The soirée of Sincronie 2004 at the PAC was a fantastic example in that sense. Sinfonie is a contemporary music Festival which sets every year in Milan , maybe it is the most interesting festival in the town. For that event we developed several projects for Sincronie. It was very well received by the public. But it was very funny to see the traditional audience of contemporary music in Milan , even more elderly people mixed with our younger underground audience, with piercing and tattoos. I think it was a peculiar experience for everyone .
Photo courtesy by Otolab
Claudia D’Alonzo: How did each field of deal with influence your work? How did they condition some positive or negative choices over the years, as well as some limitations and possibilities?
Xo00: I think we travelled along several spheres and that we maintained the same state of versatility all over the years, because we have in our group people coming from different worlds. Maybe at the beginning we were more pop. But I remember that when at the beginning we organised events in social centres (for example the Bulk in Milan, a very devastated place), without means , we tried to give a research style, even in the exhibitions, without endorsing to the audio or video stereotypes that circulated in that sphere. We even organised a mini audiovisual festival at Bulk, and we invited some artists experiencing new music rather than the same dance soirée. I remember that even at that time there were radical choices that people didn’t accept. We showed our projects in sectors that were away from that sort of things, that would have probably worked well in a gallery or in a different set.
Claudia D’Alonzo: What’s your working principle to present your material in so different fields
Xo00: First of all there are some creations that have a precise storyboard, a defined time and that fully insert into the format of the festival. In the community centres more often there are dance situations, entertainment, soirées that last six/seven hours. The requests are varied.
Claudia D’Alonzo: Do you think that the counterculture circuits, the community centres, that is your original world, care less your live production, performance, and structured works?
Xo00: Less? According to me they don’t exist. I didn’t hear about them in Italy . Once there was the Link, but then it became a haunt. We experienced V_, the festival we were talking about at Bulk, but after that I don’t generally see much attention.
Mud: Festival … yes the first edition of the Netmage was inside the Link.
Claudia D’Alonzo: Yes, the Netmage is another example of an important reality in the electronic music which was born into the community centres. Therefore, according to you, the underground areas are a fertile field to arise some electronic testing experiences, and paradoxically the same areas aren’t open towards the evolutions of these testings?
Xo00: Not at its better level compared to its possibilities. There’s no planning in these spaces. I don’t know any community centre interested in it.
Claudia D’Alonzo: Do you think this is due to the absence of mediums?
Mud: According to me a consciousness and a true interest don’t exist yet .
Orgone: According to me, indeed, the community centres have been for a long time a fertile breeding medium for loads of technological experimentations. In Milan it worked with Leoncavallo and Conchetta to begin with, there were ECN and Decoder, Breda and Bulk, the electronic music began to reveal itself and the Hacklab came to existence. Many people coming from our circles ow much to the movement sectors, as regards cultural growth. That’s why we were angry for the Cox18 evacuation these days. What a shame for the city! Unexpectedly the community centres weren’t able to make the grade in their event management planning capacity. As a consequence, the artists who had explored more professional international domains gradually drew away. That doesn’t inhibit the event organisation in sites suited for dance music, as for instance the Natale Anticlericale in Torchiera. .
Claudia D’Alonzo: Otolab mostly identified with live media, and performance. Do live creations someway reproduce the group planning stage, or are they absolutely different?
Mud: Staging needs are different from the live performance ones. Anyway, every choice, during the staging phase, is planned to realise a live performance. As for the live itself, we are trying to become the more interchangeable. In fact I wouldn’t cut off the possibility that otolab members may perform Giardini Neri.
Xo00: It depends on the creation. For instance, in Circo ipnotico we are five and there is much live, more than in other performances. Here the outcome is readily altered, the live is different if different otolab members work on machines. Other lives are more well organised, they planning of stuffs is more elaborated and the live issue isn’t much different, it is consequently easier to alternate.
Mud: This comes very spontaneously, as everyone shared this method from the start; it means working with the purpose to make the best choices for the live performance. In the first live our experience wasn’t well distributed and didn’t share it to express our pliability. This way now it is easy to face every kind of craft, as we have set our method.
Claudia D’Alonzo: Compared to the collective’s constitution, that has an open structure which has been changing over the years, some members were admitted, some others went away. This openness is a potentiality, but I think it was also difficult to manage. How did you meet the consensus of a continuously growing group and the exit of some representatives?
Mud: That’s the routine group dynamics, there are different duty quantity and capacity. Enthusiasm and mutual aims are the most important thing. If there are interesting projects, that can create a good humus for new creations, things go. Anyway, otolab is not a nonprofit production studio, and we produce just what we like.
Claudia D’Alonzo: How did you keep mutual intentions?
Xo00: According to me it is almost a miracle, I’m surprised too. Some people went away because they disagreed with some choices by otolab, as well as with personal life preferences. There are also people who approach otolab and endure, and other people who stay with us for a short time. But probably otolab is in the black because a number of people always found anyhow something they couldn’t have achieved alone in their experience of the audio-video. It is not a rational retrospection, yet it is emotional.
Orgone: During a long summit, some months ago, in which we tried to examine these transformations, a fundamental aspect was emerged: on the one hand, the many changes, conflicts and transformations during such a long period are a natural fact; on the other hand it is true that many of the critic phases are connected to the fact that after 8 years we still find it difficult to break the barrier with cultural institutions, which should help us administer our work. This is true for us as well as for any other person dealing with electronic art in Italy , where there is not culture and consciousness at all in front of the argument. Therefore there were some moments of great potential projects to run in the laboratory, but not much occasions to present them. And this can engender some tension. Although not all of the cloud has a silver lining: staying on the sidelines raises your self-consciousness, your awareness of what you do and how you do it.
Claudia D’Alonzo: How did these changes in the collective influence the numerous projects?
Xo00: I think Circo Ipnotico is a good example, because it originates from people who have quite recently approached otolab and have taken part to the realization by encouraging with new stimuli. It is a non-studied project, it is a work in progress that has slowly modified and has grown by the collection of different contributions.
Orgone: form this point of view, I’m particularly enthusiast about the studies that are being done in the laboratory on auto-produced software for live performances. There are people relatively “new” who plunged with enthusiasm in the exploration of these worlds. And I’m sure that something interesting will come out.
Claudia D’Alonzo: Sharing knowledge is one of the main elements in otolab. It materialises even in the workshop activities and in the didactics, bringing this knowledge outside the collective. Do you think these kinds of activities changed through time, as methods, contents or objectives?
Mud: the idea is to try to spread acquired knowledge, culture, a interest for particular forms of creativity, in otolab. All this falls into otolab’s point of view.
Xo00: this method is not so far from the one we use inside otolab. As a fact, we generally teach to people that know less than us, but we often experience together things that we consider useful.
Img: courtesy by Otolab
Claudia D’Alonzo: Is there a difference between the didactics in schools and workshops?
Xo00: Much easier that the sharing atmosphere in otolab proliferates. The ones we have been organising until now lasted five days, during which we dedicated night and day to the production together with all the guys. The benefit of the teaching courses is that we have much more people to confront with and have a feedback. As regards the contents, I don’t believe they have changed over the years. We don’t attempt to communicate the use of a technology rather than another one, or to teach great philosophies. We aim to communicate a working method, our method.
Orgone: The most interesting thing is that during the workshops there is a very strong feedback process. The guys are often hyperexcited because they want to draw everything from that experience. And this leads us towards fields we had not explored yet. For example, at the Summer School in 2008 students presented some lives with projections on architectonic spaces, the complex live electronic augmented architectures, or as you wish to call them … it was something we have been interested in for long, but that we didn’t have the opportunity to study in deep. We did it for the first time with the students, and the results were very satisfying for everyone.
Claudia D’Alonzo: One aspect of this method, that came out of the meeting in O’, was the experimentation of new projects, new live, hardware that can be produced in otolab, left aside and then reopened after some time. The development of some works can follow an even longer and fragmentary period of time. Do you have some works you wish to reopen by now?
Orgone: Actually, the whole life in the laboratory is surrounded by tens of projects that can’t rightly be unattended. We rather see them as frozen. And the funny thing is that maybe after many years someone studies the stuff again, upsets it and extrapolates a completely different project. I believe that is one of the most beautiful aspects of otolab’s life.
Img: courtesy by Otolab
Mud: Among them there is certainly “Punto Zero”, which we would like to undertake more determinably.
Xo00: We consider it as a incomplete project. We presented it once at a festival in Trentino, in Porto Besseno, and we created it specially for that event. They asked us a live for an external area, a lawn. We produced Punto Zero as a performance for lights and multichannel sounds. There are six sonorous fonts, twelve strobe lamps and twelve headlights disposed in circle, quite a complex hybrid system of lights, planned by Tonylight and Peppolasagna. This circle lightens the area outside the circumference, the environment. While the sonorous part is directed to the interior. The observers are at the centre.
Mud: this project is in hexaphony, with linked strongly to the landscape, a sign on environment. Punto Zero is a source point: during the performance we want to give the sensation to be at the hub of the earth. The ideal conditions would be of absolute darkness. We saw, for example, that the effects of light on the wood. A strong symbolic strength originates, the live is quite a sign of landscape-art.
Xo00: In Porto Beseno there were some elements of the landscape, mountains, trees, high-voltage wires, that were illuminated by the circle, and the show was done by the landscape itself.
Mud: Besides, the live was very amazing, a hexaphonic projection submerged by the landscape. It is astonishing to see how your endurance threshold is higher in an open space, because you can linger on sounds.
Photo by Arianna D’Angelica
Suddenly the bell rings and Marco Mancuso introduces himself into the lab. The studio has always been a meeting point for friends and artists passing by the city. He waits for the end of the interview, and then he is looking forward to make otolab a question.
Marco Mancuso: I think the creation of architectural and audiovisual atmospheres in space , starting from the architects’ experience in otolab, is still one of the collective’s potentialities partially expressed. Could the change from the pure live media to the two-dimensional projection and mere work in relation to a space, innovate otolab in order to interact and confront in a tridimensional perspective?
Xo00: Yes, we wish to develop such works but it could be complicated: it’s a kind of site specific projects involving a series of production problems. The projection we presented at Dissonanze festival included this sort of research. We were asked a vjset for the terrace of the Palazzo dei Congressi in Rome . It wasn’t neither an installation nor a live, yet we managed to use that space. We decided to give the projection a horizontal perspective by using two screens and trying to enhance the front of the palace. Thanks to our architect Dies_ , we changed the architecture of the building with graphic shapes. As the video goes, the marble tables that compose the wall seem to open and rotate. This work entitled Shadow Play emphasized the gaps between the lives during the soirée. This created some sort of interaction between the observer and the architecture, some installations as the vjset went on. At last, we would like to create new audiovisual or interactive scenography for the theatre. We would like to contribute to the planning of a theatrical project.