Side by side
object blue and Natalia Podgorska on their new audiovisual collaboration FIGURE BESIDE ME
Words: Vivian Yeung
When object blue released her debut EP Do You Plan to End a Siege? last year, it was created for “all the women on the dancefloor”. For her latest release, FIGURE BESIDE ME, the Tokyo-born and Beijing-raised producer moves away from the ‘floor, constructing a sonic world that, instead, draws upon her relationship with photographer Natalia Podgorska. While the two-track release landed earlier this month, the producer’s vision of FIGURE BESIDE ME is set to become fully realised with a one-off live performance in London as part of Red Bull Music Festival on 28 August, complete with 360-degree visuals by blue’s wife and collaborator Natalia Podgorska.
Described as her most personal work to date, the TT affiliate has, as she says, poured her blood, sweat and tears into FIGURE BESIDE ME. Love has often been a driving force behind many great works of art, but how her latest EP differs from previous releases is its inward gaze and use of narrative. While her past works were produced as standalone sound designs separate from her own personal experiences, FIGURE BESIDE ME is based upon ideas of ecstasy and love’s ability to transport oneself into another world – one that belongs entirely to the producer and Podgorska.
As a still life photographer, Podgorska’s work elevates the mundane with its focus on precise, artful arrangements of everyday objects. It’s a fitting collaboration, then, for Podgorska to create the imagery for the audiovisual performance and the EP’s accompanying booklet, which maps out the essentials you need to bring when journeying to love’s other dimensions.
As they gear up to debut the show at Red Bull Music Festival later this month, we spoke to the pair about their dynamic, the symbiosis of their work and where their artistry connects.
How did you both come to start working on this project?
OB: We’re married and we'd already been dating for over a year when we decided to do this AV show together. It was more like I chose to ask her to do it, because I was already writing this music about her, about love, and I thought there is no one better to make the visuals for it. So, yes.
NP: Yeah I guess you just asked me if I could do that, because I did something before for you.
OB: Yes, you made live visuals for me before, but this one is a lot more involved, because it's a very long intense piece I think, and it's about our relationship. But you didn't seem to have any reservations to do it?
NP: I'd say it was a fun thing to do overall.
OB: Cool, I'm glad. Has our relationship changed throughout working on the show?
NP: I don't know, I think not. But we have a lot of conversations about technical things now...
OB: Yes we do (laughing). And I think it doesn't change our relationship that much because you were always making photography and videos and I was always making music anyway, and it just kind of figures into our life quite naturally I think.
NP: Yeah I think it's because [usually] if you didn't give me any guidance as an artist, I don't know... it would be a bit more difficult I guess. But here you don't really tell me what to do, because it's about our relationship, so I have an insight to it as well, from my point of view rather than just trying to figure out what you're gonna be making.
© Ewa Szatybelko
OB: Yeah, I remember you saying, oh like 'you're being so vague about what you want', and I was like ‘well, you're in this relationship and you're in love with me so just go off on that…’ I wouldn't necessarily work with a friend or lover just because they're my friend or lover. Because art is a lot more about that person’s personality, it's to do with tastes, skillset, their interests, but I thought your work was very - like I've always been a big, big fan of your work.
For me, when I collaborate with people, it's far more exciting for me to choose the person for the potential I see in what they could make, and then let them do it, instead of me telling them what to do. Because for these visuals you came up with things I'd never think about, but it feels really right. And that's exactly what I wanted, I didn't wanna be like 'oh please take a video of me running around on the beach'. I thought that was such an unproductive way to ask for collaboration. Because that's more like me asking an assistant.
What inspires you the most about each other's work?
OB: It's stuff I will never think of. It's like you're in another world, but it's not alien to me, it still really, really moves me. Now we have been together and I have seen quite a lot of your work, I see things like, I see a metal sink plug and I'm like, oh that's Natalia's style, but I'm also always surprised by what you make. It has this like, really like, life energy, and your work is not pretentious at all, it's you - you might photograph strange things in a strange way, but it's not pretentious for me, because it really speaks to me and to a lot of people I've shown it to, it's very immediate and honest and it's not, 'airy fairy, what does this mean'.
You have life and blood running through it. And I always say, your work is a bit perverted, but that's also what I mean. Perversion is like, a sexual force, it's like a life force, and I see that in you.
NP: Wow that's a lot, thank you. I think for me, is that I just never heard anything like this before, you know like your music, and that's why I told you before, in that movie where they try to imagine what music will be played in like 2050. One of my friends said, ‘oh it's so hard to imagine what the music will be like in 2050 for a sci-fi movie’. That blew my mind, and then I heard your music and I was like, ‘wow this is actually that - like this girl is already living in 2050’.
It's also observing your process, because you're very here and there with your laptop, sometimes tired, sometimes excited, and because obviously it all happens within whatever realm you're working with, software or what not, then only after you hear it you know what it is, and it's always so surprising, because you're just this little girl sitting in front of the computer and then there is this future storm rolling in. Obviously, people who don't know you on a personal level don't have this clash, so I am privileged to have it, but that adds to the experience for sure. So, I think I am someone who is capable of making those visuals because of that as well.
© Natalia Podgorska
What makes a great live set?
OB: The setting and the audience is so important, because I've played a great set of music - I thought - but it just didn't have that tension and attention and this feeling in the air because the location was off. Like for example, it was a Friday night and like there was like a big open door so drunk people kept wandering in and disrupting stuff.
I think that's a big difference between live music and recorded music. Like, recorded music is all dependent on the quality of the music and somewhat on the quality of the equipment the listener has in the privacy of their home to listen to it. But a live set, you're dealing with like 50 strangers whose behaviour you can't control. That's why for this A/V set I'm going to be a little bit tyrannical about how it's going to be. I don't want people on their phones, maybe I'll pull a Berghain and put stickers on people's phone camera. I want them to feel like they're stepping into a different place. So, I mean, I always put my best into the music I play live, but I'm going to be able to be more involved in trying to control the ‘club circumstances'. Because I'm not like a curator, I'm not a promoter, so usually I go into what is prepared for me, but this time I'm going to really be anal about it.
© Natalia Podgorska
What’s the inspiration for the title of the show / EP?
OB: I came up with this phrase while I was thinking about the concept of ecstasy, you know when someone is in such intense joy or rapture, they say they are 'beside themselves' and for me, falling in love was such an ecstatic experience and you really feel so alive, but you also really feel like you're elsewhere, like you're in this other world, and everything is new and everything is intense. So it's at once being here, and being elsewhere. So I'm at once in myself but also elsewhere in this crazy love land. And also, Natalia is the person beside me, she is the figure beside me, so there are a lot of double meanings.
The show is connected to a new release, did you work together on that as well?
OB: Natalia, you shot four images that are going to be in a booklet that accompanies my music, along with my text… I told you it's about ecstasy and falling in love with you. And you came up with these four images.
NP: I thought it was difficult to make images about love, because it's a cliche - so I was trying to avoid that. We agreed that we could make a travel guide, like a kit of some sorts, like when you're a kid and you want to go camping or travelling and you start collecting all these things, like a scout’s compass and a map and a swiss army knife. So that's why I thought we could have images that represent things that could help you on a journey to this land I suppose.
OB: I don't know how you come up with these things, it's incredible. I'm really touched that we could escape the cliche of like you know, a silhouette of my body, or you know, a hickey. There is one very literally physical photo though, of marked skin, but that's the map.
NP: One picture is a map, because obviously you need a map to get anywhere, the other one is a device, so I thought could be seen as this magical sci-fi device that's very connected to techno music, but also just a journey itself, you need a device, it can be a portal gun, or a mobile phone, you pick one depending on which reality you ended up in. And then we have one picture that is supplies and a guide, called a 'provisions book'. I mean you can see that there is some food involved, and there is you in that picture as well. And the fourth one would be, something I imagine like a poster, I imagine when you're a kid and you get, I don't know, a scouting magazine and you get a poster of Yosemite Park... like a picture of a red wood tree, so you know when you arrive, you've been looking at that tree/poster for your entire life and suddenly you are there. And you see that tree and you're oh yeah, I'm here.
object blue plays Red Bull Music Festival 28 August.
FIGURE BESIDE ME is out now.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.