Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Interview with David Linton on The Cortical Degausser

Interview with David Linton on The Cortical Degausser
by Tuce Yasak for PLSN, 12.31.2011

David Linton's sound and video installation entitled "the Cortical Degausser", at Clocktower Gallery* in New York City, employs synchronous and proportional sound and colored light pulsation delivered via video signal and viewed from special stations. As a result of the frequency of pulsation closed eye visions of spontaneous geometry is experienced by most individuals while their eyes are open. While Linton’s work exteriorizes and socializes flicker phenomenon, it leads to an unusual interactivity that occurs in the neurologic chain of each viewer.
TUCE YASAK: Firstly, how would you describe your work?
DAVID LINTON: My work deals with time, perception, social space and music. Coming out of certain traditions in experimental film and video, hopefully I explore perceptual clues to how consciousness works. As an artist, a musician and a designer, I find evolutionary psychology to be a good place to locate my work.
Most of my work up to date has been performative. The systematic of my work is that all the elements have direct analogic effect on the other elements. Video is created by sound being turned into video. I use a box that takes audio and produces analog video from three separate inputs which let me blend colors in the same way that can be done with a monitor. I work with a rescan monitor, a camera and a physical space in between those two where I make interventions with objects that are inserted in real time into the image chain and also the processing chain between the audio and visual feedback . So, an object held in the foreground and sharply focused effects the image and sound in a certain way, whereas an object out of focus in the background effects it in a different way. I work in any space that has a certain projection architecture built in. I really like large scale cinema environments where I can sit facing a big image, often times with my back to the audience, and my tools on the table. Audiences can see both the large image and what I do in order to create the real time flow of sound and image which forms the performance.
TY: Could you describe your most recent work “the Cortical Degausser” which is an audio visual installation that is currently on view in Clocktower Gallery in New York City?
DL: The Cortical Degausser departs from the rest of my work as for the space is occupied only by media that the visitor enters in to and has to explore without too much guidance or direction. When I was given the opportunity to make a room in Clocktower Gallery, I decided to concentrate on the non-pictorial part of my work -that has to do with fluctuation in sound and light- and present it in a context where it would be on in a room and people could come to interact with it no matter if I was there or not.
The fluctuation in sound and light causes brain and visual cortex feedback so that people see typical geometric forms that appear to hover in space, in an oscillating field of color and light. We all see similar forms which can be compared via verbal description or drawing brought on by the same stimulation. You definitely know that it is happening, you see and feel it. It appears to be in the space before you but of course it is not. You wonder where the threshold to be experienced really is.
The stimulation is merely a fluctuation in light in the range starting with 10 vibrations per second and the sound in this case actually derives from the same basic fluctuation transposed up into the audible range. So, it is a harmonic system where the actual fluctuation in the video image that is starting at 10 cycles per second is a low frequency audio wave. That low frequency audio wave is transposed up many octaves so you can hear it as well. I built several octaves of a sound to make this oscillating tone cloud that is an appropriate accompaniment for the pulsation of light. In other words, I have maintained the harmonic relationship between the light pulse and the sound pulse. The two frequencies are not identical; they are the harmonics of identical frequency.
TY: You also host guest musicians in Clocktower for the weekly live performances within the Cortical Degausser.
DL: Guest musicians just respond to the environment in an improvisational and also a distinct vibrational sense. So, they need to tune harmonically to the system that is oscillating in this installation. If you perceive the visual space that you enter into as a temporary experience in the way that film is ,the sound that is accompanying it now with addition of the musicians becomes a kind of score to escort you on that temporal path.
TY: How would you define the interactivity that is involved in the Cortical Degausser?
DL: Interactivity is happening somewhere in the neurologic chain. It is a symptomatic response of your nervous system and visual cortex to this certain kind of stimulation, flickering, and it has something to do with what the brain’s operating frequencies are. Once you are immersed in this flood of pulsating imagery and geometry, it quite often triggers associations for people. These associations actually effect what you think you are seeing and the imagery becomes more literal and representational and that is the stage where the mind is acting. The actual experience happens ahead of the mind. The audience is invited to find their own perspective and relax enough to experience their own perceptions.
TY: Does the amount of time that is spent in the room effect the experience?
DL: There is an initial period of adjustment that can take a minute or two. If you get through this initial period, then time falls away and you can stay with it for a long time, and then walk away as if nothing has happened. It has no lasting fatigue. Actually, I think it helps you relax your eyes because this particular frequency -10 vibrations per second- is very peaceful. If it were any slower it would make you sleepy. If it were any faster, it would speed you up. I am interested in the full range. I would like to make modulated pieces that could take you from sleep through to high level of stimulation. I can create many works by focusing on just frequency, chroma and brightness of fluctuation. For example, change of color creates a complete shift in what the geometry is and this would be something to explore. Right now I am changing the colors just with feeling.
TY: What type of equipment are you using for this installation?
DL: I am using video as a light and color source in this installation. I am using old fashion cathode ray tubes with diffusion screens in order to allow viewers to enter through a cinema frame and be actually inside the picture. Also, I wanted to manifest a way that you could get the effects of flicker stimulation without having to close your eyes. When you close your eyes under flicker -like in most of the works exploring flickering- your eyelids become an ambiguous screen, a screen somewhere in space between your eyelid and infinity and it can change where you think it is. I wanted to take this largely isolated experience to a more attainable place. So ,even though you enter into the installation alone, you are in a room full of other people. This makes the threshold experience seem more tangible because it can be shared socially. In this manner, the diffusion screens create a different kind of eyelid. They provide a neutral canvas so that your eyes can search within the rhythm and make a decision about how it orients the phenomena to see it in space. There are four viewing stations to approach the same phenomenon from different perspectives. The accumulative effect of all these stations being given the same media feed and pulsing at the same rate creates an environment of its own. Even if you are not immersing in the geometrical effect, everyone is bathed in the pulsating sound and light. In this sense the whole room becomes a sculptural entity; and each station within it becomes an individual piece. Part of the richness of this experience is that you feel as if you are floating in an infinite space and that shapes are appearing constantly right before you; either you are moving through them or they are coming towards you. Even though this ephemeral experience is on the threshold of physicality whether it is there or not at all, the way to navigate and negotiate with that is very relational and architectural.
ty: Can you compare this installation to your performative works?
DL: I kept some contours of real time performance and tried to make them fit circumstances in a more natural way. The biggest departure is that, in this installation, people actually see a recorded media -a 58-minute cycle in terms of sound and changes in rhythm and color- running eight times a day. Though, it would not be essential for someone to experience the entire 58 minutes. A visitor who stays in the room for 5-10 minutes can take away an impression of the work.
In my performative works, when I work with an image and ask people to look at this composed image, I use an object. I put an object it in the foreground and have it go through a recursive process where it is repeated, mirrored and oscillates in and out of negative. By this, I create mandela like geometric displays which are usually triggered by flicker and seen when your eyes are closed. These objects quite quickly decompose and recompose into a pattern. In this installation, there is no image. I wanted to see how fluctuation stimulates your own visual cortex. Though, little abstract kernels of illumination and shadow that you see and is caused by the flickering in this installation are quite literally similar to the patterns in the performances.
I reintroduce the higher harmonics of sound back into the picture in my performative works, whereas in this installation, I don’t do it in order not to flatten the flickering effect.
My performative projects tend to be gestural and abrupt, where this installation has a slow solidness. I have a sense of real performative time which is different than receiving perceptual time. Performative time is usually motivated with effecting audience in mind. In this installation, I am asking the audience to let the light generated from video dance over their eyes. It is similar to having your TV on and putting a piece of paper in front of the screen so that you can only see the fluctuation of light.
TY: How do you relate your works to technology?
DL: This is being done very simply, very primitively and it is effective that way. I could imagine a kind of work like this being done with brainwave sensors that would have more digital generation field of interactivity added on top of what is already there. I think that there is still a lot to do just on this level and get people to notice things and experience them in time. One of the symptoms of the post digital world is the cutting away of time; everything exists in a disembodied, on demand zone. Attention span is grown very short and selective as a result of that. People are giving up their sense of phenomenological anchors in time, or experiences anchored in time. To me it seems like it is a question of health to be able to be present real experience in real time. It is a centering concern in my life and it really worked itself into my work in a very essential place.
TY: How do you relate your background to your current works?
DL: Since I was a kid growing up in 1960s and 70s, the music culture was everything to us. It was the place of your significant social interaction, it became an identity zone where people made the choices that led them to become who they became. It was particularly interesting in America in that time period. We always wanted to make a communal space that was available to everybody to explore what your senses had to offer. These were all hippie ideals. I was not old enough to be a hippie but I was certainly influenced by them. They turned the whole world upside down and we stepped into a new place. Psychedelic culture has something to do with all of these. The psychedelic movement in the West was an extremely real and valid departure from status quo and it started a chain of values being transformed that is still in effect. It is mostly sustained through technology culture now. I heard a quiz on the radio the other day: What famous person that died in the past year who’s last words were “Oh wow, oh wow..”? It turned out to be Steve Jobs. There is an attitude about what life means, what it means to explore it. That really was altered by the psychedelic door being opened. It even altered in people who did not go through that door themselves, but as a cultural effect. I do not think the jury is quite in about what the ultimate verdict is on the important significance of what it meant to reintroduce psychedelic experience starting in the West in technological culture. In my generation music was always the motivator. Technology itself is the motivator now and provides the frontier of imagination to people. As a result of this however, they have lost the ability to use their imagination in other aspects which is a downside. Similar to the critique that people have about obsessive gaming of young people, how it seems to be destroying some parts of their personality and brain. I believe at the same time it is enhancing other parts. I believe that technology is an evolutionary force. If there is one thing positive in the universe, one has to believe that it is evolutionary. We have to put faith in the fact that things are not static.

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