United Visual Artists are a multi-disciplinary collective out of the UK who specialize in manipulating the medium of light. In 2011, they redesigned the Coachella main stage as both a platform for performance and a standalone light and sound sculpture with experimental music provided by fellow Creator Mira Calix. Following Coachella, UVA took over the entrance of Nuits sonores' main site, transforming the cubes of their Coachella installation into a completely new artwork. The third iteration of the installation, Room With A View, then traveled to both our 2011 São Paulo and Beijing events. The final interpretation Origin with score by composer Scanner premiered during our 2011 New York event and traveled to our first San Francisco event in March 2012.
The Creators Project: How did UVA first begin its splendid attacks on our senses?
Matt Clark: We met in the world of designing for live performance. Working as individual freelancers, we worked on a couple of projects together and thought, “Why don’t we start up our own thing?” I guess our original vision was to create innovative live shows for touring bands, but we’ve diversified quite considerably since then.
How does everything transpire within the creative process?
When I first started working with them, it was different from working directly with other designers like I was used to. Ash [Nehru] is a software director and has experience in the games industry. Chris [Bird] deals more with production and technical skills. That kind of combination at the beginning of the creative process allowed us to do quite innovative things at the time, certainly in the live-performance industry. We’ve really expanded with that thought in mind. There are now 18 of us, and there are no two people with the same background or education. There’s a diversity and cross-pollination of skills.
How did your long-standing relationship with Massive Attack come about?
Originally we hooked up with those guys because Chris and myself worked on a show for a band called Leftfield, and the production director got a job working on a Massive Attack project. We got a meeting with the band and they had a really interesting idea to make their show new and fresh every day. The personality aspect has to be good, and then the technical elements come into play a bit later. They wanted us to go on tour with them and I guess a friendship was struck, which led to consecutive tours.
You’ve worked with lots of other big artists, like the Chemical Brothers in Trafalgar Square for the Institute of Contemporary Arts.
We created an interesting film for that. It was quite abstract, representing their sound through light. What was particularly scary about that project was that there were no rehearsals at all. It was quite technical getting your animation onto a big screen with lots of lights and stuff. We were standing in the audience just hoping it would work, and it did.
Is that part of the reason you started to develop your own software?
Yes, actually. Our software allows us to pre-visualize the environment in 3-D, and you get a sense of being there.
What’s the creative process like when you begin working with a musician?
It depends who you’re working with. We’re interested in a kind of sculp¬tural approach, which creates a world for the performers to occupy. We prefer to meet the band and get an overriding concept for the show with what you’re trying to communicate.
You directed a music video for Battles. How did that come about?
A phone call from Warp Records. The live aspect of them onstage is just really interesting to watch. We wanted to feature that. We chose a quarry in North Wales because it was very sculptural and created an installation for them to perform in. We used these linear digital strips of light and had this mad organic landscape. In an abstract kind of sense, it’s what their music represented to us in a way.
What was the transition like from directing to designing?
It was definitely a learning experience. We’ve had a lot of people wanting us to direct music videos, but for some reason that industry is crazy in terms of timeframe. It’s like, “Need to shoot a video in two weeks’ time, want to do it?” It’s never a right time for us here because we’ve got so much going on. It’s a shame, really, because I would like to do more of that. Maybe in the future.