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Ben Curtis

January 7th, 2014

It’s been just over a week now since I got the news I’d been fearing. I was sitting in London Heathrow waiting for my connection, sometime between 30 and 31 December and two-hour nap bursts…somewhere between full consciousness and a daze. Ben Curtis had died of cancer. For those of you who do not know, Ben was my favorite musician (topping a shortlist of Anthony Gonzalez, Brian Eno, Dave Grohl, and a couple others) and, most notably for me, guitarist and beyond for Secret Machines and School of Seven Bells. Stories from those who knew Ben are spread throughout the Internet, reflecting on his warm personality and transcendent talent. I only spoke to him a couple times, importantly at the Secret Machines concert that change my life at the Black Cat in Washington, DC. It is no exaggeration that that show changed my life–it propelled me into a new stratosphere of inspiration and wonder at the possibilities of music, of audio filters, of stage lighting and visual effect…. I was at the Home Depot the next week purchasing stage lights for my band. Thus my visual career was born.

Days that were only possible because of Ben stand out in my memory: the day my friend Brian brought over “Alone, Jealous and Stoned” by the Secret Machines as the first single off “Ten Silver Drops”; seeing the Machines mesmerize the 930 Club and wondering if they’d invented grey lights; being so utterly upset when Ben left the Machines to form School of Seven Bells; the joy of seeing School of Seven Bells live at the Black Cat and realizing they had the potential to again change the way I thought about music; the day I decided “Alpinisms” was my album of the year when it came out; the day I bought “Ghostory” for my brother and felt like I was letting him in on the best secret in the universe… I could go on and on and on. Instead, I should just share some of his music. Enjoy.

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The Soundtrack(s)

December 3rd, 2013

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The Soundtrack (the journal):
Cool surprise today to see my first published article as an artist in the new edition of The Soundtrack. I was asked to do a piece on my film Awakening. I wrote the article before the move to Germany. With such distance comes interesting perspective–reading it again was like reading the words of an old friend. And yes, I laughed at my own reference in the article. I guess I thought it was funny at the time, too?

So far, leafing through the journal has been very rewarding. Their description of it summarizes the content well:

The Soundtrack is a multi-disciplinary journal which brings together research in the area of music and sound in relation to film and other moving image media. A complex cultural, technological, industrial and artistic phenomenon, sound-with-moving image is a rich area for analysis, investigation and speculation. We encourage writing that is accessible to audiences from a diversity of intellectual backgrounds and disciplines as well as providing a forum for practitioners. The Soundtrack’s aim is to nurture this new and expanding area of academic investigation in dialogue with soundtrack producers of all kinds.”

http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/journals/view-Journal,id=146/

The Soundtrack (of experimentation):
Also pictured above are four Laser Jet toner refills. No, I don’t have a Laser Jet printer… I am attempting to DIY some ferrofluid. If you don’t know, ferrofluid is a magnetic liquid that is used in some really interesting fine art sculptures and (expensive) toys. A gallon of the stuff can run more than $500. My Laser Jet toner attempt could result in something not only cheaper but much more colorful. I will post the results on the website soon! I already have my neodymium (read: strongest things you’ve ever seen…I could barely separate them) magnets ready to go. I’m very intrigued with the possibilities of filming it for Digital Synthetic-like textures. Yes, calling this section “The Soundtrack (of experimentation)” was a bit of a stretch, but you may be laughing at me, so that works.

The Soundtrack (of my December):
Based on recommendation of my collaborator Brian Young, I’ve been obsessing over the production on the London Grammar album–this song is my favorite so far. Enough people have been writing about the band to the point that I don’t have much to add but to encourage you to listen:

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Salzburg, Austria

November 10th, 2013

Spent the weekend touring, filming, and sound recording Salzburg, Austria for use in some upcoming projects and just generally having a great weekend with the wife.

Gorgeous city, and everything was musical.

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Sound recording in the Mirabell Palace gardens

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Capturing video of the train ride by the Alps

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Hard to mess up capturing a city this gorgeous

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Unexpected bonus: sound capture of cannon fire. We still have no idea what this ceremony was about, but it is very well recorded!

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New Media Art and Disability Awareness in Russia

October 19th, 2013

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One of my TV interviews at the opening of “Sustaining and Creating” at the State Russian Museum

Well, that’s it. Close the cover, button the clasp, and toss the book on the shelf. Thanks to an incredible amount of support, this week I accomplished just about everything I could possibly hope to in my career, and I am on cloud 9 x 999. (I edited that sentence several times… initially it said “art career,” but that wasn’t encompassing enough.)

This past Monday I set out on a Kennedy-Center-acquired grant to St. Petersburg, Russia. The Russians had allowed a show to take place in their State Russian Museum (the largest and finest collection of Russian art in the world) featuring only Americans. The show was organized by VSA and featured some absolutely fantastic art.

I have a great relationship with VSA and I was thrilled that they asked me to go as their sole representative to the opening: it was not only my opportunity to debut The Almagest Series at one of the more incredible museums in the world, but an opportunity to raise awareness for disabilities like Tourette’s Syndrome. I prepared extensively, but had no idea what to expect.

Wow.

Four talks, a press conference, 5(+) television interviews, radio interviews, and hours upon hours of conversations later, I am done.

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The madness started Tuesday. My first event was giving a Master Class at the Smolny University of the Russian Academy of Pedagogy with students who were learning to become art teachers. A tour of the University allowed me to glimpse what incredible drawers and painters they all were. I presented for about an hour and had such an enriching conversation with them… they were eager to learn more about coping with disabilities and we created audio/visual pieces together. My favorite part of the talk was showing them Videopong; they all created their own video pieces using the free resources that Videopong can provide. I am so excited that I was able to spread video art in this way, and that they will in turn be able to show their own students. They gave me a bell they had handpainted as a thank you… it’s beautiful!

Tuesday night (and again Thursday morning) I spoke to masters students at St. Petersburg State Bard-Smolny and St. Petersburg State University about approaches to new media art, both in studying it and installing it in galleries and museums. I’ve never seen audiences so interested in how to install a SONAR sensor! I felt like a toy soldier who’d just been reassigned to Candyland.

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The exhibit sign outside of the State Russian Museum

Wednesday was going to be my easy day…I took a trip to the Hermitage and then went to the State Russian Museum for the press preview, and I did a couple different interviews before the show opened. The setup was elegant and beautiful. The Almagest Series was showing in two different rooms in the museum (a former palace), synced up… the sound creeped along the floor but also echoed on the 20+-foot-high ceilings. The effect was incredible… it truly helped the piece fulfill the meaning of “ambient” (I love Eno’s definition–the piece works equally well when paid close attention to, or when taken in passively).

Then I was taken to the large hall by the exhibit entrance. We opened the door to open the exhibit, and behind it there must’ve been 150 people for the opening conference… including 6-10 (I don’t even remember) television cameras, journalists, and radio people with microphones facing the front. And, of course, one microphone in the front facing all of them. Thankfully the exhibit curators spoke first, so I had time to prepare some quick remarks! This exhibit was a huge deal for three reasons:

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  1. The art was incredible. Seriously, check out the work of Alice Chen (above). Look at the DETAIL in her work. The image just can’t capture how gorgeous it is.
  2. The artists’ stories were inspirational. I was so privileged to share the stories of these artists with the Russian people. Alice, above? She is legally blind. Instead of letting that keep her from drawing, she uses a magnifier to draw one small part at a time. This methodology CONTRIBUTES to her art… look at all the details that result from working so closely. Using disability as an aesthetic enhancement was a major theme in my talks. Read her story: http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/alice-chen.html. 
  3. U.S./Russian relations. The Russian culture as a whole is further and further embracing disability. In the U.S., we are so privileged with what may seem like the most basic accommodations for the disabled (like wheelchair access) and cutting edge research… the Russian audiences were curious to learn more about these and adopt our lessons and experiences. But even beyond that, they wanted to learn about our music scene, our artists, our landscape. They wanted to know if I felt safe on the city streets, what I loved about St. Petersburg (the architecture… the people!), if I would do a piece inspired by my trip for them (ABSOLUTELY). Just outside the exhibit were two flags on the same stand: U.S. and Russia. I took several pictures standing in front of them. Despite all the gorgeous art in the exhibit, I think this may have been the most beautiful sight. Art speaks a universal language, and it was incredible to use it to bring our countries closer together.

On Thursday, several people told me they’d seen me on the news the night before. There was so much media coverage that Facebook even told me I needed to put my Russian name (my website won’t let me put in the Cyrillic characters) as my native name, because people were having trouble finding me. Crazy. I did another talk to curators and critics Thursday morning, and a couple of them came across town right after for my next talk, focused on disability awareness, experiences, and educational practices in America. I suppose the media coverage paid off… there were more than 60 people at that final talk: educators of the disabled and also some of their disabled students. What an incredibly rewarding conversation this was! We walked the gallery to discuss the art, talked about my experiences growing up with Tourette’s Syndrome, public vs. private education, and the benefits of new concepts in disability education (neurodiversity, neuroplasticity, differentiation… thanks Claire and Jayson for your incredible help! It really made a difference). Everyone there agreed that art was a great equalizer, putting disabled and non-disabled people in place to be taken at the same face value. I was able to share resources to help the disabled Russian artists find international exhibit opportunities. The theme of my talk: embrace what makes you unique.

Thursday night, I was so utterly exhausted that I was only able to muster up enough energy to go to the Russiain McDonalds and order a Bolshoi Mak. Friday, I came home. I am spent, but having the opportunity to raise disability and Tourette’s awareness, exhibit in one of the most gorgeous spaces I’ve ever seen, and help improve U.S./Russia relations? It shows you the power of art.

There are dozens of people I need to thank… from the curators, to the drivers, to my wonderful translator… but I want to especially thank Sonja and Tatyana for making it happen! And of course I would be remiss without thanking Volkswagen, which has been an incredible sponsor to the VSA programs.

I may not be ready to close the book on my career QUITE yet… a Polish group came to my Thursday talk and they want me to come talk about new media art and disabilities in Poland. Time to start brushing up on my Polish!

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The Church of Spilled Blood, right next to the State Russian Museum

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This is a staircase in the Hermitage. The whole museum is this gorgeous, but, you know, also has art. The collection of Impressionists was great!

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When in Rome… yes, I drank compote. Yes, it was good. The fruit gives it a delicious flavor, even though it looks a bit… unappetizing

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The Almagest Series: The Audio/Visual Album

May 26th, 2013

My birth as an audio/visual artist was on stage, often playing instruments with my hands and controlling visuals (and audio effects and lighting) live with my feet using a Behringer BCF2000 (and getting a lot of foot cramps)…. like so (that’s me on the left):


The Console War in Washington, DC, circa 2009

The Passenger Car, which I created for the doris-mae art gallery last year, was my first non-live-performance piece to tap back into using the BCF2000 to “play” visuals. I recorded an entire performance that I did in my studio using just the BCF2000 controlling Resolume Avenue and projected the recording on a loop in the doris-mae space.

I always have fun exploring different delivery methods and capitalizing on other distribution models… The Almagest Series, in my mind, needed to be not only a recording of a performance, like The Passenger Car, but a recording of a series of performances: a 12-part audio/visual album.

Imposing the album structure on The Almagest Series gave me an entirely new framework to play with. I took lessons from many of my favorite albums and strove to illustrate the different character of the piece through different sections, while simultaneously sticking to a loose narrative arc that I had constructed in my head.


A screengrab of “10/12” from The Almagest Series

Much like the creation of an album, I recorded about 17 visual pieces (my “video paintings,”) again using the BCF2000 and Resolume Avenue to tap into that narrative/emotive arc and whittled the album list down to 12 pieces. I then imported everything into Presonus Studio One for audio creation, and got to work.

The piece came together very quickly as I was able to record the majority of the audio in two days. All audio I tracked was done in sync with watching the visuals and playing off the movement and emotions I felt… sometimes enhancing the mood that the visuals displayed, and other times deliberately contradicting it. By viewing The Almagest Series as neither audio, nor video, but one cohesive ambient work that would be a part of the State Russian Museum (and possibly elsewhere), I was able to imagine it as a cohesive presence and use the audio and video to fill gaps the the other left, or play off each other, to convey one complex audio/visual presence to the viewer. Throughout the creation of the piece, I used the guiding principle that it needed to blend into the background to create a unique atmosphere, but on the same token be captivating and interesting if the viewer paid close attention to it… much the same principle used in ambient music.

I did all of the audio in one single Studio One session, treating everything like one song. As I wrapped up the the electronics and acoustic guitar, I was able leave room for certain cold, distant—almost desolate—guitar textures that I heard in my head when I originally envisioned the piece. Washington, DC musician and friend Brian Young came to the studio to collaborate and impart some of his distinctive guitar tones on the album. We tracked guitar takes for a couple hours into the one Studio One session, which at this point was about 20 minutes long, until my computer decided it had enough and I maxed out my RAM.

Once the guitar was done, I went back into the video file in Premiere and lined up transitions, did a couple tiny cuts, and the piece was done. I promised you all a preview, so in true album fashion, here is a “single,” 6/12:

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New Series to Debut at State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg

May 11th, 2013

For those wondering what I’ve been up to, well, a lot of things, but I am pressing very hard to finish a new series of works that will debut this September at the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. It’s so incredible to have an opportunity to not only share the museum with works like Brullov’s The Last Day of Pompeii and Malevich’s Black Circle, but I get to debut entirely new work there.

As you can imagine, I am not taking this incredible opportunity lightly, and for months have been hard at work on a new series of works that I have titled The Almagest Series. The Almagest Series is twelve separate (but related) audio/visual paintings. Whereas much of my previous work was about viewer interactivity, these video paintings are my own, crafted in my studio from generative visuals. The visuals and audio are crafted over a specific story arc and follow my own narrative. The delicate balance that these videos show between video paintings and blurry, almost-nebulous movement inspired me to name the series after the treatise on movement of planets and stars.

I will have several posts on my website about creating the series:

Monday, 13 May: How I embraced and conquered the technological challenges of creating the piece

Monday, 20 May: Details on my creative process for the series and incorporating chordal textures from musician Brian Young

Monday, 27 May: A quick preview of the piece for all to see

Looking forward to sharing this with all of you!

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You, Disappearing

February 20th, 2011

My first online audio/visual piece.

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Brittany Jean EP “Paris Stairs” Released!

January 4th, 2011

Woohoo! A long time coming on this one. We recorded in October at Inner Ear Studios with Kyle Downes and the EP is now officially released. Get it on iTunes, Amazon, or order a physical CD directly from the band for the low, low price of $4.99.

Hope that you all like it!

Check out the lead single “On the Balcony” up top in my music player.

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My Humps, Vol. 6 – Kevin de Souza

December 16th, 2010


Photo by Joy Asico, Asico Photo

Those who have known me for a bit know that I went to high school with a ridiculous amount of talented musicians. The first I ever pegged for success was Kevin de Souza, whose band Road to Nowhere tore up the high school cafeteria the first time I saw them when we were freshmen or sophomores. (“Wow, people my age can do this? Maybe I can do this too.” -Me. Thanks Kevin.) Fast forward to now, and Kevin’s moved to Nashville to keep his music career rolling and really take off. Today, he released his latest EP, “Remember Your Dreams, Pay Your Child Support.”

Kevin is the best bassist that I know (check out the bass work on ‘Call it What You Want’) and he has a lot of chops on other instruments too. But it’s his knack for great songwriting that really shows on this EP.

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