Tarik Barri gives us an exclusive peek at the live visuals for Thom Yorke’s upcoming tour
Earlier this year, Thom Yorke announced the news of a lengthy solo European tour, for which he’ll be hitting the road with longtime collaborator Nigel Godrich and tapping multidisciplinary artist Tarik Barri for real-time visuals.
Barri and Yorke have consistently worked together in the past to explore the intersection of sight and sound. They recently collaborated on City Rats at the ISM Hexadome at Berlin’s Institute for Sound and Music, a 360-degree audiovisual show comprised of warped images on six screens with the sound spread over 54 speakers. Barri uses his own, self-made Versum software to build overwhelming and immersive universes of digital graphics and, on stage, he creates the visuals live, imaging the linear skeleton and nuances of sound to fracture and morph to the music. Scenes flicker to a track’s pace, and effervescing images pulsate to the beat.
First created in 2010, Barri’s style has grown with the development of his software. Ahead of Yorke’s solo tour, we dropped a line to the artist and programmer to talk about his Versum world, how his art has evolved over time and the ways in which his visuals for Yorke’s tour will differ from their previous collaborations. Most intriguingly, he sent Crack Magazine an exclusive sneak peek of his own digital sketches.
What are the ideas behind this particular collaboration and what can we expect to see?
The idea behind this collaboration is very closely linked to the idea behind the software that I use for the visuals. I’ve created this software ‘Versum’ myself, for the sole purpose of creating a way to perform live music and visuals on stage.
I started developing it eight years ago as a tool to create music in 3D, meaning that I have this virtual space filled with sounds that you can also see. When I then fly through this space with a joystick, we hear all the sounds I fly towards, which in effect means that my path through 3D space determines the melodies and rhythms we hear. Literally all that is seen can be heard and vice versa. The creation of this concept and my performances with this tool placed me right in the middle between audio, visuals and software development.
After developing the first version of this tool Robert Henke (aka Monolake) had proposed I use the visual side of my software as an accompaniment to his music. This meant that I would use my software, originally intended to created 3D music, as a purely visual tool. That worked perfectly and I really enjoyed the flow: since my software was set up to work musically and in real-time; the visuals that came out of it also felt like music to me, even if from my side there was no sound involved.
Many years later I’m still using the same techniques, though in a much more advanced version. And it still very much feels like I’m co-creating the music in the broader sense of the word, in that my musical instrument is perceived through the eyes rather than the ears. I see music as something that is created in the brain, as movements in time that we perceive and connect to. Our perceptions of sounds and visuals are so closely linked that together they can create another type of experience – still a musical one, but it goes beyond the pure auditory domain.
So I regard myself basically as a band member, very much creating from a similar abstract sense of movement, harmony and composition as Nigel [Godrich] and Thom when they create their music. What you can expect to see is therefore a colourful, constantly evolving abstract imagery that flows in musical ways. It’s all very associative and is created out of improvisation; it’s really just about if it ‘feels right’. It doesn’t mimic the sound, it’s more about connecting to it and adding a visual layer that’s in a very close and intimate relationship with the sonic ones.
Can you elaborate on your project with Thom Yorke at the ISM Hexadome? How will the visuals for the upcoming solo tour differ from this?
The project with Thom Yorke at the Hexadome was a project in which I used my software to create both the visuals and the sound. I used it very much in the way that I’d originally had in mind when I first created it. The installation was basically a flight through 3D audiovisual landscapes that Thom and I had created, with six huge screens all around the audience, and 54 speakers, so the sound would come from exactly that direction where you’d see it.
The upcoming Thom Yorke tour however is completely different; Thom and Nigel create and perform all the music with their electronics while I take care of the visual side without having any influence on the sounds. Since in this setup sound and visuals are technically completely independent, I’m totally free to do anything I want and go wild visually, without worrying about sonic consequences. Generally this means that I take it all into a more painterly and often psychedelic direction, where colours and shapes blend seamlessly into each other.
You’re performing the visuals and lighting live – how will you be preparing for this and how will it be achieved?
Preparation initially will happen by creating visual presets within my software that somehow seem to feel right with the music. I basically just sit at home and listen to tracks while I fool around with visual elements until it feels like some sort of a symbiotic relationship is appearing. After this period we’ll then have a week of rehearsals in the UK where we take all the elements and merge it into a bigger audiovisual story, a proper set. During this time I try to get a feel for the directions that the music and the tracks can take in the live context, and I make sure that I’ll have an easy and intuitive access to all the controls and parameters I need to change in order to improvise on any turns and changes that our set may make in the moment. This means that I pay great attention to defining which visual consequences specific slider movements or button presses have. I basically define where I need the freedom to improvise and change things on the spot, and which parts I’d rather leave to the automated presets. It’s about choosing exactly where I want to focus my mental energy during the gig and how far off the rails I need to be able to go.
How do you keep the musician and music in mind when creating your visuals?
It could seem like a bit of a juxtaposition – on the one hand there’s the musician and the music, on the other hand there’s me and my ideas, and the goal is to somehow merge those. But that’s not really how it works, especially not since I only work with people whose music I really love. When I’m really into someone’s music there is no real distinction between myself and what they do: as I listen to their music, I can strongly feel it living inside of me, it becomes a part of me, so all of my expressions will necessarily also be expressions of the music as it flows through me. Obviously that doesn’t necessarily mean that the musician will always totally agree with what I’m making. But our interpretations will almost always be very compatible while their criticism often helps me express my perception of their music even more closely.
I’ve read that you don’t like to use virtual reality goggles. Are there any other technologies you actively avoid using, or any tech you tend to return to, in order to refine your style?
Generally I tend to be relatively conservative regarding the tools I use. I guess it has to do with the fact that I’m already quite innovative in the way I create my images and sounds. I’m constantly dealing with loads of unknown variables and I love that feeling of being somewhat outside of my comfort zone, not knowing quite what will come out of the creative process. On the other hand, if I take this too far I’m afraid to get lost in an ocean of possibilities without any proper known context to provide me with a sense of balance. This is why I’m generally more than happy using flat screens and relatively straightforward audio setups. And when I do expand on that, like I did with the Hexadome exhibition, I tend to take it slow and invest a good amount of time, to make sure I get a proper feel for what I’m doing.
Going back to your Versum universe – how has it evolved from its beginnings up until now?
There’s been loads of changes, but the two main things that come to mind are a better flow in the interface and more organic, colourful visual patterns.
The interface aspect, so how I operate my own software and how it gives me feedback, is hugely important. The easier and more intuitive I make it, the easier it is to really dive into a creative flow. Only when the connection between me and my software feels fluid can I let my feelings speak through it, rather than remaining forever on a more superficial level of rational and technical concepts.
Somewhat connected to this is also the emergence of more organic movements and shapes. See, computers natively are these digital creatures. They like zeroes and ones, they like on and off, they like black and white. And when you tell them to draw a line from A to B, it will be a perfectly straight one. This can and often does result in technological art that follows these tendencies. It’s all super precise, very linear, and often black and white. But music tends to follow very different types of rules, it’s full of rising and falling waves, subtle transitions, and its beauty so often lies in imperfections, in harmonies and rhythms which are ever so slightly off. Technology doesn’t have to contradict the inherent humanity of these types of beauty.
Are there any influences outside of music and technology that you look to for inspiration?
Music is a huge influence, as movements and structures of sounds and compositions have very visual qualities. But outside of that I mainly find inspirations in natural phenomena as simple and cliched as ocean waves, a spreading fire, thunderclouds forming, stars exploding or being born, etc. Also I find cinema and more traditional paintings very inspiring, since they are more mature art forms than that of real-time visuals and they also deal with compositions in ways that feel very close to what I’m doing.
What music do you listen to when creating visuals?
That’s always the music of the people I create the visuals for. So far that would be Robert Henke, Thom Yorke, Nicolas Jaar, Paul Jebanasam and Sote. Fortunately it’s a pleasure listening to all of them!
Are there any musicians you’d like to work with?
I find that a very difficult one to answer, especially since I’m so happy with those I’m already working with. But one musician in particular that does stand out for me is Oneohtrix Point Never. This guy makes stuff that honestly confuses me. I often find myself being unsure whether I even like it or not, but it always tickles my brain in super interesting ways. I really love that type of brain tickling, it’s rare, and I could imagine really enjoying the artistic challenge of working with that.
Do you have any other projects coming up?
Yes, I’ll be creating a new audiovisual performance with Paul Jebanasam this year, which I’m really looking forward to. And I’ll be doing more visuals gigs with Sote, an Iranian musician who makes music that expresses an amazing mixture of cultural influences. Aside from that I’ll also be doing more AV gigs with singer Lea Fabrikant where audiences will witness us constructing, flying through, and destroying virtual 3D worlds in real-time.