Derivative: Boris, Timo, please tell us about your backgrounds as artists, designers and creative developers and how TouchDesigner fits into your tool kit.
Boris: My background has always been sound. Ever since I can remember I’ve been tapping onto every free surface I could find to see what kind of sound or timbre different materials would have; and to cure my enduring impatience ;). No wonder my first ever instrument was the drums; I started playing drums when I was 6. Still I was not so much only interested in creating rhythms; composition and the creation of sound always played a bigger role in my musical endeavours. No wonder that the introduction of a cheeky 90s demo CD with an ancient version of eJay changed direction dramatically and got me into electronic music production.
Electronic music basically was the start of looking for this combination of elements in sound, light and movement. The club environment also got me interested in philosophy. I started reading up various philosophers like Hegel and Bergson at art academy as my fascination for the experience of ‘the now’ and time in general started to grow. That fascination led me to question the experiences at parties more and eventually got me switching more to the realms of installation and media art. The parties that I was throwing with friends also got more experimental; implementing Kinects, processing sketches, max for live and Ableton in my workflow - it became more about the combination of the auditive and the visual as a singular experience.
After art academy I made a brief step into film directing, with a good and talented director friend by the name of Jerom Fischer. Building narratives is still a big thing for me, however abstract they become, and this period felt like it was of major importance to this skill.
After loads of projects TouchDesigner really entered my work because of a collaboration between me and Timo Lejeune of Lumus Instruments. I was asked to design a scenography for an adaptation of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s early music and asked Timo to join me as I knew he was experimenting a lot with TD. He made these beautiful reactive visual sketches that found their way into the immense screen crossing the room - with a fully grown tree beneath it. Click
The projects that followed - mainly between me and Timo - always have a TouchDesigner layer in them.
With me focussing mainly on the Ableton side, creating custom echo lines or spatial settings to control things over OSC to connect to Timo’s TD sketches we easily get to quite interesting layers of depth and a super nice question - answer workflow.
Timo: After studying mechanical engineering I started a master in Industrial Design at the university of Eindhoven. This is where my interest for lighting, and the physical manifestation of digital systems started to emerge. Before that I had been active in nightlife, making and playing music at club nights and raves. During my Masters I got into coding and electronics, and that is also how I discovered TouchDesigner as I wanted to design something with touch sensors (Google searches makes you go places).
After graduating in 2017 I started Lumus Instruments, the studio that I represent, together with Julius Oosting. In 2019, another long time friend Timothy Hendriks also joined the party. At Lumus we are fascinated by the physical manifestations of computational technology. Through iterative design processes, we design a variety of custom lighting systems and objects that inhabit a minimalist futuristic aesthetic. Because of our background in architecture and design, R. Buckminster Fuller has been a big inspiration for a variety of installations and our design philosophy.
A lot of the projects that we do use generative methods to create new ways of live performing or interesting aesthetics. For this, I pretty much always use a combination of Lightjams together with TouchDesigner. In this setup Lightjams is used to control conventional lights, and as a pattern or data generator that is used as an input for Touch. I have a background in Processing but at some point Touch felt more intuitive to me. During performances I use a selection of custom built Teensy-based hardware that use MIDI controllers to create certain OSC outputs.
One of my personal interests is complex systems, generative design and evolutionary computation. I think it's fascinating that seemingly simple and elegant patches can create beautiful complex patterns and behavior.
It challenges me to think in those same principles. The end result always becomes really flowy and unpredictable which makes it fun to play with.
Derivative: As co-creators how do you collaborate in the originating, design and production processes?
Boris: It is mostly one of the two parties coming up with the design or ‘system’. For example Einder was conceived by me, whereas in another really interesting collab of ours - a live show in Contrarium - the system was conceived by Lumus Instruments. Einder in this case is a special one, as I came to Lumus Instruments to ask them for the motion part as well as the software part. We wanted to be able to manipulate vertical fabric into different shapes and movements and they came up with these amazing controllable linear actuators that form the base of the installation.
As we research and try out different light and movement settings and get to know the instrument the narrative mostly takes shape organically; it can also be a generative narrative or an abstract method, but working your way through the parameters and possibilities you get to what an instrument can be. I think we both really believe in a way of working in which masters of all disciplines are present.
Something I also learned during the filmmaking: Jerom and I would always do sound and editing simultaneously; getting to amazing results that you would never get putting audio on a set timeline or the other way around.
In our case I think this really is the uniqueness; Timo and I can literally sit 14 hours next to each other molding, forming and shaping this thing in front of us. Slowly breathing life into it as it were a living being - and talking a lot about seals and otters ;)
Derivative: What was the inspiration for EINDER?
Boris: To start - always nice to get the etymology down for this strange word, a beautiful Dutch word for horizon before that word ever entered our vocabulary.
The einder; noun (m.); Pronunciation: ['ɛindər] Declension: einder|s (plur.)
Meaning: the imaginary border between the sky and the surface of the earth where the two seem to meet; Imaginary Line; Horizon; Sight; Sight-end; Far Away; Imaginary edge created by the horizon;
EINDER originated from a collaboration between me and longtime friend, DJ and producer Elias Mazian. The idea came to life through Mazian’s own interpretation of his Dutch titled album ‘Vrij van Dromen’ (De Vlieger / Job Jobse, 2020); when listening to it he saw these endless repetitive natural patterns; the surface of water, lush fields of long grass dancing in the wind. We started searching for a way to generate and emulate natural patterns on stage and came up with a design involving a series of engines and fans able to manipulate the shape and movement of a large piece of fabric.
The pandemic enabled EINDER to evolve from an idea for a scenography to a full fledged installation about the juxtaposition between nature and synthetics. What originated as a ‘backdrop’ slowly transcended into a poetic piece about the constant friction between control and surrender; the fabric is only controllable to a certain extent. The parameters are controllable yet each synthetically generated wave behaves slightly differently than the next. EINDER progressed into an emulator of natural patterns and phenomena; a vertical water surface transforming into different weather conditions and appearance by movement, light and sound.
As Timo also is keen to go deep into philosophical themes I recall a very nice moment when we were doing a residency in Het Hem - a very nice Dutch museum. We were talking about the need of human kind to control everything, and the illusion that we do control everything. In each EINDER iteration something of this is present: we make this system to create something simple that becomes unpredictable and complex again.
With this in mind EINDER seems to trick people into thinking about human kind’s ways of controlling nature, of looking at nature and our ways of always wanting to control something we can actually never fully understand or grasp. And because EINDER is never the same it also seems to touch upon the theme of time. With EINDER in full swing it seems to be acting like it is in slow motion. Only when you see someone moving in front of it you realize: we are in realtime. It really became a hypnotic piece, not behaving exactly the same way even once, seemingly alive in every space it occupies.”
Derivative: How did you go about realizing the work and did it change in the process?
Boris: This was really one of the pieces that was conceptually consistent in all phases of the process. We did take out a projection layer but it stayed largely the same and true to the original concept. The biggest challenge though was to create the right amount of movement. In this case Lumus Instruments excelled in designing our own linear actuator fixtures. Something Timo can tell everything about.
Timo: The aim was to create an installation that was suitable for touring and easy to install. One thing that we have learnt over the years is that saving time in on-site production really makes the end result of any artwork better.
The base for this was a linear rails that were manufactured by Almotion, and stepper motors by Trinamic. Around these two parts we have designed custom housing that added the necessary features for easy install (truss clamps, proper connectors etc). These fixtures communicate with my computer using a Python script, so I can reset them, set limits etc. The fixtures themselves have a sleek black design, so they don’t draw away too much attention from the fabric, which is the main actor in the installation.
Boris: Another thing that really sets this piece apart in my opinion is the choice for fabric; we did this with an awesome collaboration with a fabric company we work with in Amsterdam called Levtec. It is the almost lightest fabric in the world which has these really intricate light properties. I’ve also been using it in the sun for some outside works as it acts almost as a water surface when the sun is refracting in it. Check.
Derivative: Did you encounter any unexpected problems that you solved and how was TouchDesigner instrumental?
Boris: One particular problem where TouchDesigner came in really handy, was the problem that the fabric is not stretchable and very delicate. So depending on the distance between the actuators and the slack of the fabric, the distance between the positions of two actuators cannot surpass a specific value. We had a failsafe using magnets, to make sure the fabric won’t rip. But we had to make another failsafe so we could safely program the composition without the fabric falling off constantly.
We can adjust a value that acts as a maximum distance, and when some positions succeeds this value it starts to limit the position values.This really turned out to be a life saver, as the system can always behave in unpredictable ways especially during programming. Luckily TouchDesigner gave us plenty of control to integrate a solution within the programming environment.
Derivative: The magic of the piece – and I imagine it must be even more powerful in person of course – is indeed as you describe that it feels like a "singular and living entity" which is quite an accomplishment! Can you talk about how you achieved such a work with sound, light, movement and fabric?
Boris: We’ve already touched upon this a bit earlier in the conversation; I think this magic is hidden in the way we build the narrative. When we first had this piece we were in the middle of the pandemic so we had the unique chance of occupying an immense space of a museum to call our studio; Het HEM. There we could really go deep into movement, placement, distance and everything in between and get to know this entity, we literally had 10 days non-stop to work on it. Normally you have way too little time to get to know something new and its agendas and basically real life intervenes. ;)
Secondly we had a spatial sound setup there to create the music on. So the sound, motion and light were created in realtime. We often thought of gestures and ways of sound influencing light and movement and the other way around and then realtime created these tools on two computers getting to lively scenes that I think otherwise are not possible to create. This ‘question-answer process’ - which I really rarely have with someone else than Timo - creates the magic of these beings we try to breathe life into.
Timo: As Boris also emphasizes, it’s interesting how this parallel and collaborative programming causes the behavior of such installations to emerge in a specific way. Its different than if you program it on your own. What also helps is that Boris and I really think in the same way about how these systems should work.
It’s not like you have a specific motion in mind so that is what you make. It starts with a lot of waving hands, and through a conversation a whole palette of behaviors arise that we again try to crystallize into a single tool.
Derivative: You mentioned a crazy start to the year and lots happening, can you share some of that with us?
Boris: I think we’ve been trying to do this interview for ages now; that already illustrates how busy we were. I’ve been working on a lot of things outside of Holland for the first time. Hitting Berlin for the amazing people of Himmel Unter Berlin with Durée, an installation with a Dutch percussion ensemble about the subjective experience of time. I set up the first version of PASSAGE - with Bob Roijen for DGTL, in which I got my feedback loop system to an extremely complex 800 channel feedback loop mayhem in Ableton. I visited the beautiful people of Metamorphosis Dance - in Madrid - to create a dance piece for them. The installation we are showing in Mexico later on this year is inspired by that scenography. Timo and me briefly went to Tiblisi for a rerun of the Sakamoto project with Alex Kordzaia. And I had my USA debut at Format festival showing together with the likes of Doug Aitken and Studio Drift. Got married with the most beautiful person in the world in between. Not bad at all ;)
Timo: 2022 was a bit of a chaotic yet pleasant surprise after 2021. It forces you to be back in the game in no time. It started with getting one of our light sculptures, Photonic to Copenhagen for the CHP Light Festival. Around the same time, we finished the design of an LED system that we have been working on for ages. So with this new system, we have been doing many projects at festivals like Dekmantel, Wildeburg, Paradigm and others. It is a very high performance and large scale system, and we are still exploring all that it can do in terms of spatial design and programming. Also recently, we have been creating two new works that were previewed at the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. And alongside everything we have been investing loads of effort into Lofi, a club in Amsterdam where we have a residency.
Derivative: In your work have you identified anything that is missing from TouchDesigner, even small things that would be useful to you?
Timo: A lot of the work that we do is with lighting over ArtNET protocols. I rarely use TouchDesigner as the software that actually sends out the ArtNET to the physical system. It takes a lot of time to set everything up. For large LED systems I almost always use Spout to Lightjams LED Mapper, which is really efficient on CPU/GPU and user friendly, but it also introduces some latency. Mapping LEDs and sending out ArtNET from Touch can sometimes be time consuming, but also worth the time in some cases.
For normal lighting fixtures (like simple wall washes or moving heads) it would be a dream to have something like a wizard to create and patch DMX fixtures, and an improved way to work with these fixtures in TouchDesigner. Of course you can make something like this, but integrating it in a smart way could make it easier to play and experiment with.
Derivative: Any other projects you would like to talk about?
Boris: The main thing we’re working on in the coming weeks is Mutek MX where we show EINDER / surface. An iteration of Einder that hangs on motors, controlling the fabric in a vertical instead of a horizontal way. We’ll be accompanying a great line-up with the likes of Caterina Barbieri and MFO so do come by when you are in Mexico City. I am finishing off the year with a scenography for pianist Joep Beving in Carré. A venue that most of you probably don’t know but which is legendary in Holland and Amsterdam, and then I will go for 6 weeks off which I am really looking forward to!
Timo: Also, we at Lumus will be creating an installation at Strafwerk in December that uses the full scale of our LED system for the first time. This will be an installation with 400 custom LED bars and 900 universes of Art-NET at 250fps. It is crazy when you realize how much time and effort this all took, but really keen to see the end result. We close down the year with one of our audio-visual live concepts called Contrarium, which is going to take place at Paradigm in the immense warehouse of the Suikerunie. This is also looking really promising, and loads of fun with the very kind people of Paradigm!
Concept & Creative Direction Boris Acket
Creative Coding & Technology Lumus Instruments | Timo Lejeune - Julius Oosting - Timothy Hendriks
Art Direction Toon Rooijmans
Music Elias Mazian
Sound Design Boris Acket
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Follow Timo Lejeune: Lumus Instruments | Instagram