Dave and Victoria: Nathaniel Whitcomb – A Visual Mind

October 21, 2011

Live Music, Live Art

Last Wednesday night, deep off the central stretch of Williamsburg, a candle-lit creative space called The End hosted the Stadiums & Shrines curated “night of sound and vision”, which crossed five musical performances with the live work of visual artists BriAnna Olson and Nathaniel Whitcomb. Dave and Victoria, being the two figures behind S&S, were of course on hand. And after that late and lovely night, they woke up to recount it with the man himself, who had flown in from his Detroit home for the occasion.

Who are you, and how did you get here?

That’s a very existential question (laughs). A couple years ago I started a culture/design/music blog and that was kind of out of a need to just start processing all the things I was looking at every day. Through there I started meeting people, and getting asked to do some more design work and video work, and it just kind of snowballed.

We spoke last year about your work with Brooklyn band Holy Spirits…

Yes, that was the first experiment where I really attempted to try and match what I saw in my head with the music I was listening to. And that project opened up so much opportunity, it brought me out here last time.

And this began as motion collage videos and eventually became live performance. Had you had any prior experience doing projections?

No not at all. Those shows were the first time I’d really tried to making something move and sync with music live, and I’ve tried not to stop since.

Sounds like what most Biology majors end up doing…

Ha exactly. Yes, I started out as Pre-Dental, and sort of took a step back a realized why I was trying to be a dentist, and I think it came down to a paycheck, and that’s not a good reason to pursue anything in life. I had been painting throughout the summer, and decided to add on a Fine Arts degree to the Bio program. That stuck with me but after school I got more into web design stuff.

I’ve noticed that you actively seek out how to do something and often teach yourself the software…

It always seems to be on a whim too. I get bored pretty quickly, and if one thing doesn’t catch my interest anymore I’ll find something that does, it just leads to a new project. Makes it sort of hard to perfect something, but at the same time I’m never bored, which appears to be my biggest fear.

Inactive time doesn’t seem to exist very long with you, which might explain how that first project started right?

Yup, I ended up having some serious health issues for an entire summer. So that set me back, and it gave me time to sit there and focus. It’s strange how that was supposed to be a terrible experience but ended up being awesome and shifting my life.

Tell me about the program you’ve been using for live visuals.

It’s a VJ program, like a live video mixer. The shows last year were very structured, based off pre-made motion collages, so I knew where to go for each song. The software allowed me to build my own interface, with plug-ins everywhere, so doing that actually helped me learn it. And that’s how I ended up building last night’s set.

With our show, you had a very clear vision. Once you knew who the performers would be, how did you prepare for it? And for how long?

I prepared like most anything—album art, design, etc, and completely dived into the sound. The real work started maybe three weeks ago, between four and six hours a night on weeknights.

So you’d get home from work around 7pm, and then do this for the rest of your night?

Basically. Going back to process, take Pressed And’s set—I built it around the video I had already produced for them, as far the right headspace. I listened to their album non-stop, fell asleep with it, and eventually could see what needed to happen, but I kept it to a fluid arrangement, where I could pull things in and out depending on where they were going.

And you had to know the songs so well, that you could react to their movements?

I didn’t exactly know what the sets were going to be, order-wise—it would have been impossible to structure based on a list, so I practiced to the point where I could improvise based on a number of scenarios, and always stay connected with how the song felt. Nothing last night looked exactly like how it was practiced, which was the idea.

Everything you chose for each artist fit their sound and aura. Each set had a unique palette…

Naturally the visuals should reflect each artist’s tone, but I also felt like it should feel cohesive as an entire night. Which you did audibly as a curator.

Right on. Yeah it was a selection that we wanted to feel both eclectic and connected. Let’s talk about the grand finale. What was your process heading into the set with anonymous electronic artist RxRy?

I knew of his work, but obviously not much else. He was on the general email chain, and all of sudden this invisible Gchat window popped up [from "the shadows"] and we discussed some visual directions. I could tell early on that he had a very specific vision. His number one thing was iridescence and an overflow of abrasiveness to it. He actually sent some of his own video files for more of the abstract color field portion. And he also sent a sample version of his set, which I lived with for three weeks. Driving to work with it early in the morning…in those weird points where you’re half awake, little elements of it would start revealing itself. I started writing things down, crossing things out, making sense of it later on.

It seemed like you guys both understood that there was a build-up of intensity, like you were pulling people into something…

There was this strange shared goal. I remember growing up in the Detroit techno scene, walking into those underground parties, that feeling you get, like it was slowly erupting. I got that from his sample set and went for it.

I’d look over at you during the set, and you were literally performing—hovering over the control booth, moving to the beats, almost synchronized with his movements. Were you aware of that?

I think it just happens. Every once and a while I’d look up to see what was going on, but there were these 15 minutes stretches where I was just in this world with him. We had gone over a few things earlier that day, and got this general sense that we are kind of in a band tonight, just separated by the crowd.

Stay tuned for a full photo recap of the evening on S&S.

Comments (1)
  • Visually | S&S CMJ Showcase [10/19] | Stadiums & Shrines [...] closer look into its visual DNA can be explored in this interview with Nathaniel Whitcomb, here. And traces of what it left behind, are [...] Sun Oct 23, 2011
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