"Special for The Creators Project is a video of Archimedes being itself, far from the confines of a club, and largely alone in a barn. In two parts you see the machine, its reflected surroundings, and the augmentation of that perspective. The music is titled “El Subidon.” —Daedelus
You know that LA beat scene that’s setting the standard for a global trend of hip-hop influenced electronic music that seems absolutely unstoppable right now? Daedelus has been creating those sounds in LA since well before the whole world started paying attention to the warped music coming out of the American West, and has been instrumental in defining the sound, influencing the new genre’s heavy hitters in their formative years and beyond. People throw the term “Godfather” around a lot these days, so we’ll avoid the cliche when describing this Monome master dressed in a really, really nice tux (like, REALLY nice).
With his outsider train of thought, it’s no surprise that Daedelus would come up with a novel, phenomenal answer to the burning question that grows in proportion to the scene that keeps getting bigger: How do you perform this stuff in an engaging, interesting way? Having answered this in part by popularizing the Monome, a control console that elicits rhythmic activity from its user, Daedelus sought to take the visual aspect a few steps further, and not by using any of the same old stuff that everyone else in the world is using.
What he and his team came up with is Archimedes. Named for the Greek mathematician, or perhaps the owl from The Sword In The Stone, Archimedes is a robotic sculpture consisting of 24 square mirrors on a motorized frame, which are controlled in conjunction with the music by visualist Emmanuel Biard. It makes for a live show that plays with light to create a spectacle that emanates from its source on stage, seeping into the crowd and enveloping them. And that’s without using visual technology any more advanced than a mirror.
Daedelus put together the video demonstration above as an exclusive look into Archimedes. We spoke with him in detail about how this mirror-bot came to be.
The Creators Project: What made you want to develop a visual aid for your performances? Do you feel there’s any remaining charm in watching someone perform with just a laptop and controller?
Daedelus: Lesson learned. Perhaps one constant in my history that I can point to for this subject is how I’ve been proven wrong. For every time I’ve thought certain about some tired or overused genre or technique, a reinvention-ist or revolutionary has appeared and shown me the error of a closed-minded judgement. That isn’t to say I’ve stopped being opinionated—it’s just that the other foot falls eventually. So of course, it is a tired concept to stand rigid behind the laptop screen, but as these machines themselves are tools (some quite primitive really: fancy logo-embossed hammers at times, no matter the processing power), in the right hands can be wielded to all manner of effectiveness. I rely on expressing myself thru a controller and laptop so I’m probably harder on others who also do, but never take for granted the precarious balance in performing.
It is thusly the perfect moment to push forward and reach for a visual systems like Archimedes, an extension of a performative idea, but with the knowledge that at times they will be just another blunt-ended tool. However I believe this one capable of far more inspirational outcomes.
Have you used projection-based visuals in the past? Did you feel something was missing from that type of visual show?
During the course of years performing at all manners of festivals, subjected to all kinds of angular staging, so many shows feature projection mapping or the rock and roll “shock and awe” (think pyrotechnics and strobes). I’ve witnessed and undergone some of the heights they reach towards and limitations therein. Those presentations have the potential to be mind-melting, reality-pushing affairs, but also require much preconception and optimum viewing angles that they are sorely pressed for improvisation or flexibility.
That is the most important part of performance to me—being there on stage with the audience jointly traveling somewhere: proceeding. Music performance is not a movie or painting to be passively watched. You are cajoled to hoot, holler, whistle, and dance. The motivation of a performer (be them audio or visual) is to surge forward, and the most effective way is to be coaxing interaction rather then bludgeoning reactions.
How did you conceive of Archimedes? Did it come to you in a dream? Or more fittingly, through a looking glass?
In 2011, I was booked to play at Coachella, close to home (Los Angeles) and possibly my most conspicuous show opportunity up until that point—a festival whose stages I was convinced would eat me alive if I persisted in solo performance unadorned by some kind of enhancement.
I began asking questions of the few visualists I had worked with over the years. All had very interesting things to say towards staging and what in the last few years had become possible—reactive systems, mapped shapes, volumetric displays. But the conviction of one Emmanuel Biard, when he started by stating, “F**k video mapping,” intriguing me.
I had experienced some of the perils of a well-conceived show poorly executed and how it undercut the experience intended. Loaded with the knowledge that at Coachella you have maybe 15 minutes of changeover between acts, I was eager to hear out his cursing point of view. We talked around other ideas, techniques meant to heighten the performer on stage already rather then diminish and obscure. Smoke and mirrors type simplicity, but somehow an added layer of control which would be furnished by robotics.
This heady idea floated higher then our immediate understanding and soon a real engineer was involved into the conversation, David Leonard. The implausible plan of mirrors on motors was hatched and prototyped. The first Archimedes was slow and broke down often from uses that manufacturers could never imagine for the geared motors, but no matter, the idea was so simple even in stillness—the mirrors will reflect and the perspective from the stage gets changed. We bus toured around America up through Coachella where, with some difficulties, had an absolutely incredible set.
Happily, David is a wizard at making things work, and the new version of Archimedes is quite agile and immune to sudden motor defeat with its beautiful, now belted, workings.
Do you know of any other artists using an analog visual component in their live shows as opposed to projections or LEDs?
Well I think the end effects can be similar, but sadly we are a little out there alone on a limb with this system. The work of Daniel Rozin has been pointed out (unusual surfaced, technologically-implemented, mirror-type surfaces), but not referenced in the conception of Archimedes. We have much more taken the maligned disco ball and tried to figure out a more potent versioning—a heightening of its effect and then further, as not only light reflected onto and outward, but the space and those constituting as well.
As far as light sources, what type of lighting do you use in conjunction with Archimedes to get that crazy reflective action? Or does it just react to environmental light like a disco ball?
We’ve now realized Archimedes in a number of situations, some far from the tightly-controlled confines of the black box theater—even into sunlight (fitting for its mythological namesake). The actions of the machine is not the star, it itself is more so; we reflect its inner workings, the motoring and the wingspan-like frame. Those moving mirrors are quite effective in showcasing the spaces not meant to be seen so well in these often manicured environments, the audience, the ceiling, indeed my coattails and balding…
Incorporating traditional box lighting and/or projectors as sources for highlighting with backlighting or directly onto (and out from) the mirrors. We curate rather than rigidly control. By asking the attention to be focused on specifics or abstracts, it gives extra dimensions to the stage without dominating. Archimedes can be a perspective.
How much of your set is planned and how much is improvised, and in conjunction, how much of Emmanuel’s operation of Archimedes is planned/improvised? Have you guys ever “train wrecked”?
I cannot say for certain, I’m on the wrong end of knowing being in front of Archimedes—rarely able to catch my reflection, save an adjustment of my tie perhaps. My feeling is that as we are improvising there will be some moments convoluted and others in perfect sync, but there is an importance to trying, and risking that I think is valuable.
No push play easy actions; this shouldn’t be a get-on-my-soapbox occasion, but why pay top dollar (admission) for a movie? “Pushing Play” has the potential to kill this golden age of electronic music we are currently enjoying, especially considering all the amazing live options we are afforded as performers. So Archimedes isn’t a formula nor perfectly plotted. Some nights, just like my own musical performances, will be better then others, a difficult conceit.
There are a couple of different sizes of Archimedes to fit different venues. Are these fully separate sets or do the smaller ones form together like Voltron?
Modular, Archimedes can be built up in any configuration, depending on maths (as the Brits say), that the interlocking steel can tolerate. I cannot alter my own 6-foot frame, but I expect over time we’ll try all manners of shapes and mirror configurations for Archimedes as the rooms might have us, sky being the limit. Whatever feels right, and now.