Sound Extrusions: Interview – Between Sound & Light with Jiri Suchanek

Sonic Garden

After the previous quick introduction to MAX/MSP I have catched up for an interview with Jiri Suchanek, who builds sound & light installations in the Czech Republic. Just to give you little taste of what he’s after with this exciting technology. We have met up with his girlfriend Karolina in their little home garden filled with collection of bonsai trees, tomatoes and his latest sound objects called altogether Turbulence: seven shiny round objects with a wind capturing propellers seemed as landing squad of miniature flying saucers into peaceful garden lit by late summer sun in Brno outskirts, the second largest city in the country.

Before diving into the details of Jiri’s projects, he also shared with me some of links to his favorite artists for example: Bartholomäus Traubeck with his project Voice of Trees – which is an experimental turntable making music based on reading sliced tree sections and use of MAX/MSP. The other artist to mention was Calum Scott with his project Guitar Glitch – three classical guitars turned into surprisingly vivid mechanical trio.

Let’s have a look on what kind of approaches Jiri took in wide variety of his projects we discussed in the following interview.

Can you tell us about your beginnings with art installations?
During my study at Faculty of Fine arts VUT I was standing quite between music and visual art ( and still I am…). I have built several electronic music instruments. After I finished my study I got a great chance to realise my old idea to sonify a big cave dome with multichannel sound and also solve some interesting synchronised light effects for the cave. The important breakthrough was when I got into the orientation workshop in STEIM. It was for the first time I saw dedicated people taking interface development seriously. I actually felt quite lonely in my city until I attended this workshop.

What is STEIM exactly about, can you mention other places for electronic artists in Europe?
STEIM (the STudio for Electro-Instrumental Music) in Amsterdam is an unique place for development in electronic music instruments and specially is focused for live electronic music performance. At the time I was there I met many interesting people, for example Daniel Shrno and Takuro Mizuta Lippit, who uses MAX/MSP patches along his turntable and unique hardware. There are few other places around Europe, for example Institute of Electronic Music in Graz and Ars Electronica in Linz, both in Austria and of course IRCAM in Paris.

How did you come accross MAX/MSP first of all?
I came across it quite a long time ago during my school courses, but it seemed so complex and intimidating, so I wanted to use way more simple tools than that. It took me a while before I discovered it’s power for sound installations, especially with my synesthetic controller called Meduse.

Meduse

Meduse

What exactly is the Meduse about?
It’s a (non)touch controller for my light & sound installation „Sonicave“ I mentioned above. It is filled with various sensors that controls music and light spread in the cave dome. There’s a bass line sequencer, samplers, synthesiser, synced delays along with another features that I’ve built all in MAX/MSP. The whole hardware is based on Arduino boards and software libraries, but specifically adapted and completely rebuilt by a collaborating electronic specialist. There is an another project of mine called Pulse, which is also exploring the synesthesia element. It’s a LED system following specific algorithmic structure. One light is connected to one tone, while the setup creates various rhythms and transmits them as light as well.

The use of MAX/MSP takes me to your another project called Cluster
This one is about connecting architectural aspects with sound and light installation. It’s a LED array sitting on top of the entrance of Planetarium and observatory of city Brno. There is a MIDI sheet composition being constantly transformed into the light. While it is altered it’s visually “replayed” on the LED system as well. In other words you could describe it as futuristic organism living on the walls of the planetarium.

Sounds like E.T. the extraterrestrial pointing his pulsating finger to the outer universe! What would be your interpretation?
For me it’s more about dealing with clusters or flows of elements and energies – kind of „astronomic“ feeling 🙂 and also the question of time in music. The building of Planetarium itself evokes the right association and mood for this installation. There are also two modes, which create a surprise element in the installation. The first one being the precise algorithmic mode, while every minute there’s triggered special sound and short animation, which are more emotional. I also want to upgrade it with a camera input interaction in the near future and change the behaviour of the whole system. I like to constantly develop my installations and change them from time to time.

And what would be the main motto behind your installations?
The machines are here for our freedom and creativity. Be careful of the technological traps. Never forget the nature and simple things! That’s why I try to make fusion of electronic art and nature. Behind that I like to deal with something I call „emotional electronic art“ and I always like moment of surprise – the way the whole experiment will end up.

Thank you Jiri, for your time and inspiration!

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