The Reverse Evolution Of Glitch Art: Q&A With Francis Théberge, Co-founder Of TIND
Since 2000, the TIND (ThisIsNotDesign) collective has carved a considerable place for itself in the artistic scene in Montréal, Québec. This video art group was initiated by Mylène Cavana and Francis Théberge, who cleverly distilled audiovisual creations using tools such as distortion pedals, propelling their audience into an immersive visual environment created by the rhythmic relationship existing between image and sound. Creating a singular imagery, they work at the crossroad of prepared interventions, mastered errors, and controlled improvisations.
Their project TRAME is an animation that falls somewhere between an audiovisual performance and a laboratory experiment. Presented to the public on several occasions, including the Elektra festival in Montréal or the Mapping Festival in Geneva, TRAME is constantly changing. As we were eager to have a better understanding of the artistic thinking behind this project, we met Francis Théberge, one of the co-founders of the group, in their research laboratory.
The Creators Project: Can you tell us about the collective and how everything got started?
Francis Théberge: We started the collective in 1998, with a bunch of friends passionate about video art. Our first professional opportunity was our participation in the first edition of the Dérapage festival in 2000, where we won first prize. At that time, we were all students at the Centre de Design. This success enabled us to meet more experimental people who were kind enough to trust us, such as Joseph Lefèvre from the Society for Arts and Technology or Jason Rodi from Moment Factory. This is how the adventure got started, with Mylène, PavL (our programmer), Jonathan Pilon (our sound designer), and myself. But for professional reasons, only two of us stayed in the collective, but we do collaborate a lot on numerous projects with other artists.
The Man Who Counted To Infinity Twice
Your work technique is pretty original, because you have always done your best to take advantage of your lack of expertise. Technically speaking, how do you approach your work?
Our first obsession was to work with these errors or “bugs” and to control them afterward, something that we are able to do today. We handle the sound and visual material with similar equipment, 8-bit machinery, Nintendos, Ataris, VHS, V4 and our famous distortion pedal. Using this type of equipment can be a true advantage, and it really helps us in terms of technical imperfections. We often create from visual textures with controlled errors found after compression, with noise and video feedback. This texture accumulates in layers, thus creating a gray area between the figurative and the abstract. Our visuals are structured on the rhythm of the music, echoing one another.
What is so special about this distortion pedal? How does it help you with your work?
This pedal called FTG-636 or “footgritcher” was made from an old TV box. We asked Karl Klomp, an engineer and glitch artist, to make it specially for us. He transformed the decoder into a patch bay, a kind of synthesizer which can make connections using cables to create effects and combinations. The possibilities are huge, thanks to this system. For the pedal part, he made three audio options that we can simultaneously manipulate with the video.
I guess that the apparition of high definition didn’t make your work easier. How did you face that technological improvement?
With the advent of HD, standard resolutions have doubled and everything became digital. Generating glitch art from HD and a digital signal is way harder. We had experimented so much with analog equipment that it became impossible for us to stop working with it. But today, we have no choice but to cope with that and working with digital and analog material. Of course, we still work a lot with our analog equipment, but we record everything in a digital format. Since the beginning of our experiments, we haven’t really respected video standards. We usually like to stretch the image or magnify it to switch it to an HD format, which is actually not recommended. But in light of our experiments, I think that the results have been pretty satisfying.
Your project TRAME follows this glitch art aesthetic. Can you tell me what motivated this project? What were the ins and outs of it?
TRAME is the logical continuation of the research we’ve been doing since the creation of our collective. Started in 2007, this project gathers all our little experiments. In the beginning, a journalist named Carrie Gates asked me to create two videos on glitch art, in order to illustrate her articles on VJing. In 2008, our sound designer Sébastien Gravel finished a complete soundtrack for the first live version of the project, and we were able to present it at the Mapping Festival in Geneva where it was quite a big hit.
Shortly after, many people got interested in our work, especially the founders of the Elektra festival. We made a special version for their 10th edition in 2009, and this pre-recorded DVD version was truly a dimensional jump for us that contributed to the success of this work. We tend to use this version a lot, but with a few improvements or alterations resulting from permanent improvisation.
Do you think that this project will be finished one day, or is it doomed to remain incomplete forever?
Since its creation, TRAME has always been constantly evolving. Lately, we’ve adapted a fourth version of this project to adapt it to the SAT space. This is what interests me most: adapting our work to other projection formats, be they interactive installations or video mapping. We’re also working on a project entitled GRAYSCALE, in which we will present a simpler version of TRAME focusing on the theme of optical illusions, Op art, and persistence of vision. We want this experience to be extremely physical on a sonic and a visual level. To make that happen, we will have to do a lot of technical research in order to find the ideal equipment to experiment with it.