Words by: Photgraphy: Helena Majewska

On their Sónar co-produced show Models, producer Lee Gamble and choreogrpher Candela Capitán explore the intersection of tech, sound design, dance and the body.

Birmingham-born producer Lee Gamble is known for his experimental approach to electronic music, but his latest work pushes that mindset a step further. On Models, which was released late last year, he enlists a repository of digital voices to deconstruct pop. Creating disembodied tracks using these dehumanised voices, Gamble questions the link of the soul to music and the role that technology has in creating art.

Subsequently, the artist teamed up with Spanish choreographer, dancer and action artist Candela Capitán to develop the album into a multi-disciplinary performance piece. Known for her innovative use of new communication technologies and a cross-disciplinary approach, Capitán’s work is deeply conceptual, often focusing on how we create and interpret reality through the lens of modern technology. In terms of the themes they’re drawn to, the pair go so perfectly together it’s hard to believe it took them this long to collaborate.

Co-produced by Sónar and Unsound – two festivals known for championing experimental art and progressive ideas – their collaboration explores themes of learning, mimicry, the exchange of physical signals, embodiment and mechanisation. Bringing the inspection of technology to the forefront of the show, the artists also broadcast close-ups of the live performance on Instagram, offering a multifaceted viewing experience and prompting audiences to think about the mediation of technology in art.

Having first performed their work at Unsound in 2023, the pair reunited at London’s Barbican Hall on 31 May and will now take the show across Europe to be performed at Sónar 2024 this June in Barcelona.

Appearing as part of the festival’s AI & Music by S+TARTS programme, Models is one of a wide selection of dance and performance-focused shows at Sónar 2024. Shifting emphasis away from solely screen-focused visuals to explore more physical, dance-oriented shows, the wider line-up includes the likes of ASIANDOPEBOYS, Blackhaine, Kianí del Valle Performance Group and Mainline Magic Orchestra, as well as a panel discussion exploring the dialogue between choreography, technology, storytelling and club culture.

“I’m thrilled to present Models at the Sónar festival. Barcelona has been pivotal in my artistic journey, and Sónar boasts one of the most compelling programme selections,” Candela said on bringing the Models to life there. “I’m pleased to see the inclusion of performance, a rarity at other music festivals.”

Ahead of the upcoming shows, Capitán and Gamble link up to discuss their shared references, collaborating on Models, and how they want it to be experienced.



How did you first come across one another’s work? 

Lee: I started developing Models in early 2020 and I always wanted the live version to be staged with human bodies – not me, and not an AV show. I was looking to collaborate with someone who was a choreographer that had a dance or theatre or performance art background, and someone who dealt with less conventional ways of working with the body.

I first saw Candela’s work doing some research for this iteration of the project on Instagram. I’d been in conversation with Unsound, who simultaneously mentioned Candela to me, so we contacted her team. Candela and I had a video chat about the project and I sent her the music. I then realised we had a mutual friend in London and they put a good word in for me with Candela. 

Candela: My initial connection with Lee stemmed from our shared admiration for the artist Paul McCarthy. Our early conversations, often lasting for hours, revolved around our obsession with McCarthy’s work. We found that we shared many influences and spent months discussing potential collaborations over video calls.


"Our early conversations, often lasting for hours, revolved around our obsession with Paul McCarthy's work"


How much did you know about each other at that time? 

C: I had known about Lee’s music for a while, but I was unaware of his passion for art and painting. This discovery created a strong connection between us and laid the foundation for our smooth collaboration from the offset. 

L: For the movement in Models, I was looking into types of non-human attempts at bodily movement – things like AI-assisted human motion synthesis, pose estimation, biomimicry, insect robotics, machine learning robotics, the repetitive, automated movements seen in smart warehouses. These multiplying repetitive movements driven by capital. Automated warehouse technologies also look, to me, like a chain reaction of choreographed events. 

By working on creating the synthetic singing voices featured in Models, I’d learned that neural networks learn with repetition, a bit like children do, and make mistakes a lot. That was super interesting to me. Human and insect locomotion is hard to perfect in technology, so often during the training of robots (or synthetic voices), things don’t work. They produce unwanted repetitions, tics, falls, or failures. I really wanted to explore that in the piece. In more abstract terms, I was also thinking a lot about symmetry, mirroring, twinning, repetition, alienation, distancing, and how information is passed on.

These are the kinds of words we exchanged. I didn’t know a huge amount about Candela when I first saw her work via Instagram, but it immediately made sense. When I saw what Candela was doing with her work, I was pretty determined for us to work together on this project.



What factors are important for your creative process?

L: When collaborating with a team, time and communication are super key.

C: My creative processes vary greatly depending on the type of work I’m undertaking, whether it’s a commission, a collaboration, or a personal project. While many choreographers begin creating their works in the dance studio, I usually have a fairly clear idea of what the piece will be about by the time I arrive at the studio. In this case, we started with a fairly clear foundation: Lee Gamble’s album.

What have you learnt from each other, or been inspired by?

L: Candela has insane focus and commitment to detail in her practice, risk-taking and focus. 

C: As I mentioned earlier, I’m particularly interested in Lee’s work with machines. He has a sensitivity to processed electronic music that evokes the sound of machinery, functional structures, or industrial environments, which resonates with my creative process.

His album also retains a human quality, with human voices appearing in almost every song, albeit processed. This not only presents the sound from an ethereal perspective, but also grounds it in a more earthly realm closer to our bodies. I believe this relationship reflects a symptom of our contemporary era, juxtaposing the superficial, ethereal, and intangible with the hyper-control of our current way of living.



What are the key similarities and differences – bar mediums – between yourselves and your work?

L: I saw repetitions, technological alienation and a kind of push towards the edge of a form in Candela’s pieces, which was really interesting to me.

The endurance aspect of it as well. In her pieces ‘Alone and Connected’, and ‘Mantis [Three Hours of Coffin]’, I love how extreme some of her work is. She seems to like to go to an edge and I really respect that. It’s a little dehumanised and kind of unwilling to perform for you, almost like the audience is there to watch, not be performed for. It’s quite voyeuristic. 

I used to do live computer music/noise performances in the 00s. A lot of them were extreme, pushing very abstract digital sound into a room at intense volume [with me] sat behind a laptop in the dark or in a lime green light with this ugly Apple logo the only thing you see. Those performances were quite alienating, to me as well, not just the audience. For me, these represented an edge but also a cold and perhaps emotional dead end.

C: Lee and I explore different artistic fields and his work tends to be more abstract than mine. However, we share a deep interest in the workings of machines, randomness, and the intangible aspects of art. We could find similarities in terms of aesthetics and sensory perception. While my work leans towards conceptualism, I highly value sensitivity, especially in art forms like dance and music, which I consider to be the most expressive. These elements are central to our collaboration. Although my own work may be more conceptually driven, I prioritise the sensory experience, which was particularly significant in our collaboration on Models

Both of you use your art to comment on the social realities of technological advancements and social media. Are these things necessarily negative for both of you? Why choose to incorporate social media by livestreaming close-ups?

L: I think Candela can better answer about the live streaming, as she came up with the idea to stream to our lives on Instagram. I wasn’t sure at first! But she convinced me. Personally, I think it adds this interesting splitting of how you perceive the work live – how you can view someone or something depending on the technological medium you view it through, how technology mediates your image daily, how it flips how we look or want to be seen. It’s a kind of symmetry or mirroring or twinning too, and those are two terms I had in a long list of things for Models to try and explore.

C: There’s no intention to express that technological advancements are inherently negative or positive; we simply depict our current reality. Addressing reality involves acknowledging our limitations, as we’re never truly free; we’re always subject to shifting power structures. In this case, connecting bodies to live streams on Instagram allows viewers to see two perspectives of the work, two ways of seeing. The audience may feel closer to the bodies, although it’s an unreal sensation; they’re close to them through screens.



Ultimately, what do you hope to convey with the show?

C: In my works, I don’t typically aim to convey a specific idea; I’m more interested in raising questions related to how we live, create, or interpret reality. The interpretation of my works can vary greatly depending on the viewer. I enjoy working with ironic or contradictory concepts that prompt the audience to consider multiple facets of the argument.

L: One thing that’s important in it is that although machine learning is the nervous system of Models musically and in its staging, outside the actual voice models, there’s very little actual AI in Models but the project really is in dialogue with it. How it feels as this technology is now embedded in human culture forever.

I was super keen to explore this strange distancing that I feel AI adds to your work when using it. It’s a weird thing to explain, to be honest. It’s like magic or a spell. It’s very in you and outside of you at the same time. If an AI told you a really sad story, could you cry in empathy? Part of you would naturally empathise, but part of you would know it’s a simulation and that would introduce a distance from the story. 

I often felt a little dissociated when I was writing the music for Models, like what happens to you in a daydream – where you’re just staring for a moment and the world moves away somewhat, kind of drifts to the edge and maybe even slows down. I love what Candela has down with the pacing, the acceleration changes, the stillness, the facial expressions. I think the performance feels daydream-like, magic, like you’re watching human bodies that are trapped somehow and attempting to learn and display themselves. This is what I feel we see with AI – it’s a simulation technology attempting to show us how good it is at being like us, but for now, at least, it’s not really, there are all these clues to reveal it as non-sentient. I think you can see Models as leaning into that. 

The lungs of Models’ are these disembodied synthetic voices you hear across the record. They’re not supernatural, they’re not ghosts, they’re not humans, they’re simulations imperfect and slightly off; vocal entities that play or act as human and that’s how we perceive them. In the room they manifest as sound. These voices don’t have a past, they weren’t born, they have never lived and they won’t die. Technically speaking, they’re recordings of extractive human-computer-cultural interaction. 

I imagine them lost, something that is there, but not graspable. I hope people see this in the performance. It’s not about mime or dance; it’s about these edges of human-ness and how we perceive human-ness. We’re in an age of synthetic simulation and new weirdness, so perhaps let’s not expect things to appear and work how we once knew. I think our collective read on things has to adapt for more and more weirdness.

Models will be performed at Sónar 2024 on 15 June.