Rune Madsen got on our radar through some friends we have in the NYU ITP program. Rune is a multimedia artist (he calls himself a computational artist) working in the fields of graphic design and programming. Rune’s work is really rad and provided he continues to keep getting opportunities (like working with the artist Oh Land) – Rune’s work will soon enough be coming to a town near you.
What about living in New York inspires you to create? I moved from Copenhagen to New York in 2009 to study at the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at NYU. Before that I worked in advertising, and I hated it. New York – and especially ITP – showed me a world where it’s possible to be an artist and a programmer at the same time. There’s nothing more inspiring than walking on the ITP floor during finals, and now I’ve kind of grown accustomed to having brilliantly creative people around me. That’s the single most important thing about New York for me: The amount of talented people working in the intersection between art and technology. There is a generation of artists who use programming as their native creative expression, and this is definitely not something I can find in Copenhagen.
What kicked off the Oh Land balloon visuals project and how did you get involved? I was approached by my friend Paul Rothman of Fridgebuzz Electronics who was asked by Oh Land’s management to create her live visuals. Nanna and I are both Danish so I guess he thought it was a good fit. Paul wanted me to write the custom software while he worked on the barrel organ instrument to mount the balloons on. I think Nanna (Oh Land) came up with the idea of using balloons, and the projections were introduced as a way for us to visualize the music. Nanna has a lot of choir vocals in her songs that she can’t sing during the live performances, so we project her head onto the balloons singing them.
What was the most challenging part about working with balloons? First of all there is the challenge of keeping the balloons floating. Helium balloons are not really made to be mounted on a stage full of hot lights. During rehearsals for the P3 Gold award show in Denmark our 3 massive balloon clusters were placed right up close to the stage back wall. We didn’t realize this at first, but that wall was actually a giant grid of extremely hot spotlights. When they started flashing them, Paul and I were running around the concert hall trying to find the lighting guy to make him shut off the lights until we could move the balloons off stage. It took us 14 hours to blow up the balloons, and popping them this close to the show would have ruined the performance.
Another challenging part is the alignment of the projector and the balloons. On shows like David Letterman we only had 2 minutes to set up on stage. This means moving a giant cluster of balloons from the back room, rolling out the projector in front of it, launching the software and making sure the projections are aligned with the balloons. If the balloons have moved too much or some of then popped, we would have to plot the balloon positions into the software again. The software is pretty flexible, but 2 minutes is not a lot of time. All in all it makes for a really nerve wrecking setup.
If you were to have a theme song play when you enter a room, what would that be? The opening song from “The Wire” season 1. Indeed.
What is your favorite life noise? One of my favorite sounds comes from the Max Neuhaus sound installation in the dead center of Times Square. It’s normally a terrible place to visit, but if you find the triangular pedestrian island in the middle, there’s this mechanical sound installation that has been running since 1977. Not a lot of people know about it, so you’re often standing there all alone. Once you hear the sound it’s really hard to let it go. You can walk block after block and still hear it, and it always gives me a whole new perspective of that area.
What is overrated culturally right now? What is underrated? Well… Every week brings a new hip and trendy thing that half of the internet suddenly swears to. I’m generally very careful about embracing new trends in design and arts, as new trends often are about the tool and not the concept. The best example of this is graphic design on the web. For more than a decade “web designers” have been competing about styling and animations (who can apply the nicest drop shadow or make the slickest grayish background gradients?). Everyone is focused on the tool. The harder thing is to actually design something that is a product of your thinking. Something that embraces the medium. Photoshop or the latest CSS3 animations cannot tell you how to make great graphic design products. We do however have a long history of computational designers who made extremely impressive things under tight constraints. The history of computer arts is extremely underrated – to the degree that I could swear that very few young web designers know about it.
What was a video you saw recently that made your jaw drop in amazement? One of my favorite videos of all time is Jed’s Other Poem by Stewart Smith, which is a music video for the band Grandaddy. The song is about a robot who writes poetry before drinking himself to death. In the video Stewart programmed an old Apple || to display one of these poems in sync with the song. I think it’s a great example of what can be done in the intersection between art and technology. Jed’s Other Poem also inspired a simple video I did with Scott Wayne Indiana.
Who is an interactive visual artist we should check out? If you don’t know the work of Stewart Smith, you should definitely check him out. I think he’s unique in the way he approaches treating the web as a creative medium. He talks about many of these things in his “Code Play” talk, which is a great introduction to his interactive work.
What is your most recent accomplishment? I just finished the first prints for my newest project “Tiny Artists”. It’s a series of tiny computer programs that print a generative poster, delete the digital file, and then delete themselves. The result is an original poster generated by these tiny programs, that can never be printed again. Each program has its own sense of style and taste, and I like the project as a comment on the originality in digital arts.