Visual arts Sculpture

Togetherness, subconscious and coincidence : the duo Sculpture tells us more about its audiovisual performance!
© Sculpture

Sculpture, an audiovisual duo, has a surprise in store for the audience on the night of the opening of Turn On! You can expect an extraordinary electronic audiovisual performance! To add to the excitement, we’ve interviewed Dan and Reuben, the two artists behind Sculpture. Dive into the tale of two friends who united their shared passion to form a duo and give life to unique artistic creations.

How did Sculpture start about? What’s the story behind your duo?

Reuben: It started when we decided to join forces on a sculpture show at this great place called Elevator Gallery” which served as both an exhibition and a party spot. The show went well had a natural flow, and was largely improvised, so required minimal rehearsal. Subsequently, we did more shows and at some point, it evolved into a duo.

Dan was already creating distinctive music in a solo capacity, as well as playing in bands that I was familiar with. We were aware of each other’s artistic work and achievements, and were also neighbours and friends in the old Hackney Wick semi-free zone before the main phase of gentrification.

Dan: Exactly, Reuben moved in next door. It was a perfect coincidence! I was interested in visual music and artists like Len Lye, Lillian Schwarz, and Jordan Belson/​Harry Jacobs and their Vortex concerts. Reuben’s animation amazed me, and I was inspired by the free, kinetic collage possibilities of the medium he was using – the video zoetrope’ or whatever you want to call it. Reuben uses it like a musical instrument, it’s visual turntablism. I had a similar semi-chaotic technique of collaging music from various devices, teetering on the brink of being out of control. So, we became a performance duo like a drummer and bass player. Sometimes I think of the visuals as the singer in the band, or the dance troupe, Busby Berkeley style.

According to you, how do visual art and music complement each other? Does the fusion of these two art forms take the stories you conceive to a different level?

Reuben: It definitely feels like the combination of visuals and music elevates both forms because they share common approaches, like the foundation of a collage. When we play together, it feels like both forms are contributing an additional layer to each other or achieving a sense of completion. Maybe the two forms give some meaning to each other but the result of the combination is subject to interpretation by those who listen and watch.

Dan: It’s visual music and audible visions. It’s a process of free associations

How do your creations come to life? Does the music inspire the visual art, or is it the other way around? Or do they truly evolve together and influence each other during the creative process?

Reuben: Actually, I feel like we work separately, then come together for shows and recordings and it just seems to work, though we only give minimal suggestions to each other. Being friends and talking regularly about everything and nothing is probably enough for us to understand each other in these situations.

Dan: From the start, it has been about unplanned simultaneity. When we first saw and heard what the other was up to, despite using different media, we both immediately said, we’re doing the same thing – what would happen if we just did that at the same time?’ And what happens is it becomes more than the sum of our individual work. Something like an overtone is generated. Although the resulting combinations are spontaneous, we set up conditions that we imagine are likely to lead to good things happening – so there is an intention to it.I prepare sounds and my mind’s eye is visualising Reuben Sutherland style anthropomorphic blobs and visual music splatter. I might leave things out because I know that in the duo performance, this will give space for something new to emerge, or I anticipate what elements might be required to shape a certain kind of flow, but I don’t try to finish anything… If I make music that is intended for a solo thing or something else, even if I use the same equipment and techniques, the intention and the energy are different, it leads somewhere else.

We are eager to discover the creations you’ve chosen to present during Turn On! Can you provide some insights into the stories behind them?

Reuben: It’s all about escape and ecstasy intertwined with horror and rock and roll!

Dan: Rather than traditional stories, they’re more like associative leaps. Reuben is really into patterns like tessellations or repeating shapes in infrastructure, combined with organic shapes and mutations, splatter core — mirroring the parallels in the music. There are also hints of pop culture references, recognisable people, cut-out paper puppets, there is some human activity in there too, cultural communication – a bit like discovering old analogue tape scraps at a flea market, each with an obscure message to convey.

When we made Nearest Neighbour, which is a graphic novel without words, we said:

The sounds might be a key to decoding the wordless world propagating through the pages of the book, but this is only a theory. The progression of environments suggests a possible narrative or at least excursion through the complex. A peculiar logic is at work but is this a mystic journey or a catalogue of fabric designs and carpets?”

The patterns in there are kind of linguistic – something is being said – what is it? Nearest Neighbour is influenced by the process of extreme gentrification and remodelling that was going on around us in Hackney Wick at the time. But we don’t tend to get specific, we are more into suggestion and abstraction. Like Reuben said, it invites interpretation by the audience.

What sort of emotions do you hope to draw out of the audience?

Reuben: I don’t have specific emotions in mind but I want people to feel that when they listen and watch simultaneously, it’s a unified experience, not two separate things. It is also a one-off, it’s never the same and brings joy, similar to the joy of watching turbulent, raucous waves.

Dan: Some kind of very direct perceptual experience that causes people to detach from their own selves for a little while.

Where do you draw inspiration for your diverse creations?

Reuben: My inspiration stems from a lifetime of watching and listening to a lot of music and animation that is not trying to fit in’ anywhere. Sculpture’ is the primary output – free and unconstrained.

Dan: Metamorphic music genres like musique concrète, hip hop, dub, and free jazz. Pop cut up experiments. Physicality of rock and disco. The way music and sound are used in abstract film and cartoons. Imaginative leaps of early electronic music. We want to make electronic audiovisual happenings with the energy of garage punk.

Malculus, your black vinyl single with zoetropic centre labels, caught our eye. It becomes a form of participatory art upon purchase: the audience must cut it, place it on a vinyl and then film it to bring the drawings to life. What inspired this participatory art concept?

Reuben: I would say that comic books, cut-out models on the back of cereal boxes, tax receipts, darling slaughter and the Cramps inspired this concept.

Dan: What is darling slaughter’?

Reuben: It means being able to trash an idea, even if you are invested in it but you know it needs to go.

Dan: We’re also very into the idea of making zines and DIY media, encouraging everyone to make things, and generating a feedback loop.

Live performances, video, music, visual arts — your duo is comprehensive and full of surprises! If you had to single out a creation that holds a special place in your heart, which one would it be?

Reuben: I think Plastic Infinite 7″ is a peak of the combo.

Dan: Yes, Plastic Infinite is definitely a very effective distillation. We half-seriously refer to the records/​media as byproducts’. We’re fascinated by the possibilities with various media forms including films and zines, but making zoetrope vinyl picture discs does seem like a perfect sort of encapsulation of the central idea and our ongoing process. When accumulating and manipulating all this material, everything feeds back into itself through the live performances – although the records are always just one possible snapshot of what the process could lead to.

That’s why we refer to generating temporary states’ – first the instant then the document. Our first Zoetrope vinyl LP, Rotary Signal Emitter, that Dekorder put out in 2010, felt like an energetic marker, since a sequence of excellent coincidences led up to and cohered in that form. The chips fell in a perfect pattern (of course it’s a very messy record… we want chaos, but perfect chaos, haha)

Tell us more about the techniques used during your live performances!

Reuben: The visual technique is straightforward – printed circular patterns are put on a spinning record player, filmed from above and projected to create animations on the screen. The trick is simple, we work out the speed of the turntable and the shutter speed of the camera and through a simple equation we know how many divisions the circle needs.

I use a couple of samplers, a CDJ deck, a battered reel-to-reel tape recorder and some FX units, and the approach is kind of DJ-adjacent. It’s taking prepared sonic material, throwing it into a kind of chaotic arrangement of instruments and seeing where that takes you. There are routines that I come back to, tracks’ or set pieces and a lot of scope for extemporisation. That combines with what Reuben’s doing, which is to use this library’ of zeotropic prints that he’s created (there are hundreds maybe even a thousand – too many to bring them all out at once), throw them on the turntable, project these hyperkinetic visions, which are also really off the cuff, see what associations appear, visible, auditory.

Share three words that capture the essence of your concert on the opening night of Turn On.

Reuben: I would say togetherness, subconscious.

Dan: And coincidence!