There's a video to accompany Warp Records' second Artificial Intelligence compilation of 'electronic listening music'. It's called Motion and it's described, suitably, as 'electronic listening music for the eyes'. The phrase has been coined to describe the inter-sensory experience of listening to Richard Kirk, Speedy J, Autechre and other Warp stalwarts while observing computer-generated images of hybrid organisms wandering about all manner of virtual landscapes.
The video is a product of Warp's commitment to an integrated, artistic goal. Having broken 4AD's previous monopoly on consistently admirable cover art, the Sheffield label has set up a subsidiary called Warpvision to get things, literally, moving. Under the auspices of graphic artist Phil Wolstenholme and his colleagues David Slade and Jess Scott Hunter, Motion has been created on budget equipment fully in the spirit of independence for which the music side of the label is renowned.
After a degree in photography at Sheffield Polytechnic, Phil Wolstenholme made a name for himself in album cover design. He became self-taught on a computer when his design ideas outgrew the capabilities of his darkroom. "The computer was the logical next step," he says.
An advertisement for the Amiga caught his eye when the first models were launched, and with a grant from the Enterprise Allowance Scheme he bought a 500.
The memorable sleeve of a pot-smoking, skeletal android for Warp's first Artificial Intelligence collection soon followed. As did commissions for Cabaret Voltaire, 808 State (the Extended Pleasure Of Dance EP) and other Warp releases. He seemed to catch a growing demand for computer-generated graphics on the techno scene.
"You can get most of the USA on disk now"
At first, 3D was unattainable for Phil. "The computer couldn't handle it," he recalls. Gradually adding memory and processors, he now has an Amiga 2000 - "which again is ready to be scrapped" - although it has been upgraded to almost 4000 capability. The next step is to get two or three 4000s. In this game, processing speed is everything.
3D capability is now provided by Imagine V2.0 by Impulse. The next version of this software is expected to compete with the top end of existing computer graphics - epitomised by a program called Soft Image. And it'll be a fraction of the price. "It's quite shocking," says Phil. "Soft Image is about £30,000; Imagine 3.0 is going to be about £600." No wonder computer images are beginning to dominate popular music.
Some sequences in Motion were created with VistaPro, a landscape generator. It acts like a topographical database, and is one of those programs that lets you fly through the landscapes you build. Artists like Phil are getting used to dipping into real landscapes as a starting point for brave new worlds. "You can get most of the USA on disk, now," he casually remarks, "on one continuous map". If Hitchhiker's Guide's Slartibartfast had been marketing manager, of course, most of Norway would have been available first. "There's also a program called TerraForm," continues Phil, "which lets you manipulate the scenery - move mountains, in fact."
But why is electronic music evolving such close ties with visual media? Apart from a possible pharmaceutical connection, the answer may lie in the technology used. If computer animation is analogous with audio synthesis, desktop video has its musical counterpart in sampling. Real footage can be interwoven with graphics to create new effects, providing remarkably common aesthetic ground between graphic artists and musicians. Even the techniques overlap.
"As far as the 3D animation goes," reveals Phil, "it's very similar to music software. You're working on a time-based chart, and you're cutting and pasting time lines - over frames instead of bars. The parallels are quite clear. An object in the animation is effectively an instrument or sound, and you basically make it move between frames exactly as you would on Cubase, for example. And these parallels are getting closer all the time."
As they converge, you can bet Warpvision will be right there, twisting infinite worlds into the shapes of Warp audio.
News by Phil Ward
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