Revisualising the Real / Slideshow

Creative practice and research unit, Rubedo, bridge the disciplines creating multisensory experiences, allowing us to access the intangible. They also apply the research to form innovative approaches to design. TiP spoke to Rubedo about contemporary synesthesia and sound-driven space.

Tell us a little bit about Rubedo – what is its mission and how did it come about?

Since 1994, Laurent-Paul Robert and Vesna Petresin Robert have been motivated by the idea of Gesamtkustwerk – bridging art, philosophy, science and technology by creating immersive environments and experiences. The clue to the mission is in the name: in alchemy, rubedo refers to the stage after transformation – of the material, the immaterial and the Self.

The practice has been based in London since 2004, and connects sound, space & moving image through performance, installation and artefact.

Morphing disciplines, media, art and technology brought amazing experiences in collaboration with artists and research teams around the world: we’ve helped form the first virtual office for architecture, contributed to the first realtime architectural visualisation tool, to Europe’s tallest sculpture and fastest-selling museum exhibition, to the first non-commercial satellite, to patents based on extreme velocities discovered in human anatomy, and to award-winning films (Oscar, Palme d’Or, Bafta) and UK government-supported innovation.

As artists, we’re driven by the complexity within us and around us, examining the often invisible things that make us human.

Why is it important to you to fuse traditionally separated disciplines?

Since Descartes, specialisation has been instrumental to scientific progress and economic expansion. But the view today has shifted away from a world reduced to properties of its parts.

Specialisation can bring an excessive rigidity of mind, therefore we need to allow integrating sensory modalities and crossing disciplinary boundaries to bring new ideas and solutions. In turn, we might begin to accept that the result is only part of the process, that the whole is more than a sum of its components, and that error is just another opportunity in the creative process.

You speak a lot about synaesthesia, do you feel that this condition is an experience of a more fundamental reality?

Neuroscience shows an infant’s setup is synaesthetic; the centres in our brain develop as we grow older and develop tools to deal with the accepted notion of reality. Cross-modal phenomena that occur in synaesthetes, or in altered states of consciousness, have a generic elemental quality that indicates possible form constants; like the notion of deep structure that is abstract and can be mapped onto the surface structure of any language (visual, sonic, kinetic). From the creative point of view, this gives us access to a wide range of artistic materials that may have different physical manifestations but share a fundamental vocabulary of parameters and behaviours.

For Pythagoras, number in time (i.e. music) gave structure to number in space (i.e. geometry and architecture), and for Kandinsky, sensory fusion allowed reversing the roles of reason and emotion, focusing on creativity as experience rather than abstraction.

For Rubedo, synaesthesia is a method that integrates and recombines sensory modalities and disciplines, and allows immersion; however, there is no closed system with fixed relationships – every person will have a different experience and interpretation of it.

A need to create truly affective experiences through interaction and multisensory environments underlines your practice. Has this come about as a reaction to current social conditions?

In information society, social structure, the boundaries of our identities as well as the sense of self have become fluid. Tech utopia thrives on dreams of mobility, power and omnipresence; in this context, virtual, symbolic and fantastic universes offer a chance to escape from the trauma of the Real.

In fact, any ideology exercises control through projecting into an unattainably perfect future. This mechanism can be weakened by increasing the awareness of being in the present, by allowing to accept error, chaos and conflicting viewpoints. User-led experiences and immersive environments reinforce that position.

Can you expand on the idea of sound-driven space?

Space is defined by structure and the dynamics of events unfolding in time. Sound is crucial for the way we construct and navigate space, and how we relate to it emotionally.

For our live performances, we developed a composition technique and medium (‘harmonography’) that allows connecting film, 3D animation, colour, movement, light, soundscapes and narrative through a single interface, in real-time.

Chance, feedback and improvisation are the principal methods used in our installations and performances. Instead of using a linear organisation where a progression of tones unfolds in time between the start and the endpoint, the ambient approach and aleatoric composition allow exploring sound in space by combining musical phrases and moving image.

Improvisation and interaction render structures of sound and space unpredictable, shaped and transformed in realtime, and this invites the audience to question their perception and seek their own interpretations.

It has made us think of form as a system that grows in time, reacts and adapts to changes, and is dynamic rather than static.

Rubedo also acts as a research unit, a think-tank. Can you tell us what drives this research?

Rubedo use trans-disciplinary methods that typically aim at establishing a common system of axioms for a set of disciplines to address complex problems. By bridging disciplinary skills and knowledge, this approach has been frequently conducive to innovation; it allows questioning conventional solutions and relations, anticipating possible futures, negotiating new forms and contexts by experiment and application.

A fusion of arts and science often results in output that may be relevant to both fields; we are developing our own customised digital and analogue tools to further the expressive possibilities of our practice.

Dynamic processes of transformations inspired our method based on cross-modal data networks that led to solutions in fields where complex geometry and parametrised modeling and manufacturing are a challenge (fashion, textiles, product design, architecture).

Film technology has also allowed us to access tools for simulation of transformation processes in particle physics, we were able to develop our method for ‘sculpting’ in four-dimensional space with both the material (space and structure) as well as the immaterial (information, behaviour). This approach assists parametric modeling, animation and fabrication.

What are your upcoming projects?

It’s all about trying to get closer to achieving a Gesamtkunstwerk. We’re currently exhibiting our sound-driven architecture in Shanghai at Digital Future, a sound-shaped film and sculpture series at the London Design Week. We’ll be examining sound art in relation to particle physics at the Notes and Letters festival. We continue exploring the concept of Music of the Spheres in relation to body (through wearable sound-shaped sculptures) and to environment (through immersive installation, 3D sound and satellite communication), and are developing a project for the Large Hadron Collider.

Rubedo is an art practice and a think-tank founded in 2004 by Laurent-Paul Robert and Dr Vesna Petresin Robert. They have recently performed at Tate Modern, Royal Academy of Arts, Royal Festival Hall, Venice Biennale and Cannes International Film Festival. Their publications include Distructuring Utopias, The Double Moebius Strip, Trans_Form: Form Generation Using Particle Physics and Cybercity – An Urban Matrix of the Information Society.

Palladian Patterns, sound-driven patterns, 3D print on silk, 2009–10IWASI & IWASI 3.0 audio-visual installation, music by The Young Gods, 2003–06 & 2008Crystal Network, immersive installation, 2011–12