Surrounded by an artistic environment since his early years, Lithuanian artist, Andrius Sarapovas was meant to become a multifaceted artist. His creative interest ranges from sculpture, to music, to kinetic art, which is why he’s been able to create a walk-in installation that turned the visitors’ personal data into sounds. An experience that made them think about the interaction between gadgets and humans, and our constant need to feel connected even though we’re isolated.
Andrius, you have worked in a very wide range of media. You first studied sculpture in Israel, and then worked with electro-acoustic music for eighteen years; you’ve even created music for theater performances and films, as well as experimental videos and short films. How has it been for you to experiment with such a variety of artistic disciplines?
I'm the son of a well-known Lithuanian modernist sculptor, Steponas Šarapovas, so I've been surrounded by a diverse artistic environment from a very young age. Fairly early on, I understood that I was interested in image and sound related objects and the various relationships between them. In my adolescence, like most cultural youth, I played punk rock in garages, soldered my own gear, recorded street sounds onto tapes, and mixed them with electric guitar sounds and radio noises. I was interested in everything that had to do with sound. At the same time, however, I was studying and working as an assistant of a well-known Lithuanian sculptor and ceramic artist, Rimantas Sakalauskas. I drew, I took photos on film, etc. Everything seemed to come together intuitively and led me towards my continuing exploration. That's just about what's still happening now.
Let’s talk about your latest project, Kinetic Generative Music Installation. How did you come up with it?
This project involves transposition and conversion. It turns big data into generative music. If we take it word by word, ‘kinetic’ means movement and energy, ‘generative’ means complexity made out of a couple of rules and also constant renewal, and ‘music’ is systemic variation, a consciously experienced excerpt of acoustic reality. So, the data generated by half a million people is turned into energy impulses that produce a complex acoustic variation.
What message do you want to deliver to the audience through it?
Our new times are turning us into rather interesting creatures. We multitask constantly. We are becoming more and more interpersonally alienated, all while growing closer to various smart devices. Perhaps this is because these devices adapt to us while other people may not – often you're the one who has to adapt. My inner intention was to contrast something against all of this alienation, procrastination, multitasking and constant running about. Something made out of it, that would help you stop and focus your attention on the present moment.
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What made you think that turning a mathematical science into sound could actually work? And did you get to the conclusion to the question: can statistics sound like music or not?
That depends on what you call music, I guess. Of course, statistics don't sound like a radio hit, but, at least for myself, I define music as a human’s state of mind in which a person makes a conscious decision to focus on experiencing a part of ones acoustic reality. For example, I walk in the woods with my dog every day, and, in the sounds of the woods, I find everything that currently interests me in music. They possess space, various rhythmic patterns, unique harmonic formations, and melodic events. Even various irritating everyday sounds can stop being repulsive when you listen to them carefully and choose to experience them as music. The most difficult thing to listen to as music is probably human speech, as the meanings of the words make it harder to focus on their sound. However, it's not impossible. Therefore, I think that statistics can certainly sound like music, and in the case of the installation at hand, a set of rules was created – an algorithm that was balanced according to the statistical extremes and spatial arrangement of the segments, harmonic rules. All this allowed the statistics to sound a certain way.
The technical construction and components of the installation look very complex, almost like a piece of hi-tech engineering. Could you explain us the technical process of its realization?
From the very beginning, I saw the installation as a minimalist object consisting of many identical segments. I wanted to form a spatial structure where strict symmetry would be challenged by the movement of mechanical elements and patterns of sound. Metal, wood, plastic and glass were considered as sound sources. Aluminium bars were chosen because of their acoustic properties – their sound has a long sustain and is rich in harmonics. This allowed us to use a unified resonator, which supported the initial minimalist concept. The segments that made up the installation were hung on wires that transferred impulses to the sound activator and the damper. A dedicated algorithm turned statistics into impulses that were distributed to the segments. The strength of the installation lighting and the speed of the shadow animation were also tied to the algorithm.
The installation mixes together statistics, big data, technology and music. How are all those things connected between one another in contemporary daily life and how is this reflected into the installation?
There's a XIX century Romantic slogan I like: all art constantly aspires to the condition of music. It refers to the experiential abstraction of music and its freedom of perception. In my creative work, a quite important thing to me is the relationship between chance and order. I use randomization and chance as tools, but I constantly oppose them to strict rules. I'm interested in the boundary where both of these systems meet and work in balance. The data generated by half a million people is chaos. My first impression when I saw a graphic display of the data was of viscous buoyancy and inevitableness. I chose this internal feeling as one of the creative leitmotifs of this project. It was also important for me to reflect the complexity that could be generated by small changes in simple rules.
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The sound range of the installation consists of four notes in four octaves, and each one of them is assigned to the North, the South, the East and West of Lithuania. This made me think that thanks to technology we live in a highly-connected era, however people seem to be every day more disconnected between each other when offline. Do you also see this kind of contradiction and tried perhaps to create a tool for reconnection?
This is a relevant question. These days, when the boundary between reality and the digital world is blurred and when people's creative efforts are focused on the digitization of reality, we have to look for ways to keep ourselves from forgetting it. Transposition and conversion are creative strategies that can be paths to this end. On the other hand, though it’s a paradox that gadgets meant for communicating lead more and more people to solitude, I would not depreciate solitude. As Cato put it “Never is he more active than when he does nothing, never is he less alone than when he is by himself.”
The sound produced by the machines has a kind of hypnotic and relaxing effect. Is this the result that you were looking for?
We did some work on fine-tuning the algorithm and the mechatronics. Buoyancy and inevitableness can be felt in the musical movement and the rhythmic and harmonic patterns, but there is also a clearly reflected motion of statistics. Depending on the intensity of the statistics, there can be especially dense and active periods in the installation's operations, as well as totally calm periods with individual notes ringing out.
Did you ever snuck into the Tsekh Gallery while the exhibition was in Vilnius to see how people reacted to the installation?
Sure. I’d go to the gallery regularly for the maintenance of the piece, to check the sound and all that stuff. So, I’ve seen peoples’ reactions. Everyone reacts very differently. Some would grab their phones and begin to document it as soon as they enter, while others would sit or lie on the ground, lean on the walls, walk in circles, or leave and return. The average visitor spent about fifteen or twenty minutes there, which is quite a bit for an artistic object. There were also people who spent an hour or even more. At one point, jazz musicians played an improvisational concert at the installation.
Is Kinetic Generative Music Installation going to be shown during others exhibitions during the upcoming future?
There’s been interest shown for that from various parties, but it is slightly early to go into details about that. Let’s see.
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