Darwin: Today's interview is with Joshua Goldberg. We are to call this episode all about joy and risk because that's what we ended up talking a lot about. But in fact, what we're looking at is a really unique insight into the work and the history of one of the people that was actually there at the very beginnings of a live computer-based video art within the club scene. So without a lot of introduction, since he gives us plenty of introduction on his own, here's Joshua Goldberg.
All right - this week we're meeting with Joshua Goldberg. Joshua is a guy I've known forever in some fashion, I feel, and I think it's one of these kind of relationships that occurs because you see a person a lot on a mailing list and you feel like you know them - even if you haven't met them in person that much. We've met in person a couple of times, but most of our interactions have been virtual. Joshua, hello!
Joshua Goldberg: Hello, Darwin. How are you?
Darwin: I'm great. Thank you so much for being part of our podcast. Why don't we start off by having you give us a little bit of background where do you come from?
Joshua: I grew up in DC. I, went to a small school in Western Massachusetts called Hampshire college, where I was thoroughly convinced at all I was going to do with my life was direct plays. I got particularly interested towards the end of my time there in the work of Samuel Beckett, and very interested in the idea that there were elements of human motion, and the world that could be removed from their context and simply looked at in a kind of abstract form. And I got really into the idea of just isolating parts of human movement to the point where if you look at a word too closely, that word starts to change and becomes other things. I felt like that it was the same way with very, very small parts of human motion and human interaction.
And then I moved to New York and realized that I hated absolutely everybody who I thought I was going to be working in the theater world with, and kind of regrouped. I was living with my girlfriend who is now my wife and I worked a temp job and I sort of enjoyed just living in the city without actually having any direction. But by the time, '97 rolled around, I was really starting to miss art. It wasn't doing any art, it was occasionally seeing plays, but I was isolated from it. And I cold-called a theater company called Three-legged Dog. And I said, "Listen, you guys seem to be doing interesting work. I would love to just come and be your lackey." And so I was Kevin Cunningham's assistant on a couple of plays in '96, '97, '98.
And I was like the general chief cook and bottle washer for this nascent company as they were getting off the ground with a couple of their productions. And that was really invaluable experience. Not only because it actually brought me back into the theater world, but also because I started doing video, my experience with video. I'd been very poor in college because, my dirty little secret is I really hate editing. I don't think there's anything more boring than editing and making, and making decisions about how to process work that's been previously recorded. I like seeing these things go in the immediate moment and maybe, I think that's that's theater coming or that maybe that's just an astoundingly short attention span. But, I really, I'm not a big fan of editing and seeing the possibility of using, of using live video in a theater and a tactical context was a lot of fun.
And, so I did finally end up directing a couple of plays in the city. And then, the day after a very successful fringe show that I directed closed, I entered ITP. I entered NYU Interactive Telecommunications Program. And what I said when I entered ITP was that first off, not only did I not want to do anything that I'd done before, but I really actively wanted to stay away from anything that was regarded as a marketable skill. I said this walking in, I said, you know, maybe I'll do sculpture or maybe I'll lie. I don't know. I couldn't figure it out, but I played around just writing these funny little bits of sort of abstract code and Director and C writing these little, these little art projects, but what really grabbed me...
And, this is - it's funny, but it's true. I actually saw a Max patch in action and I said, "Wow, I don't know what I want to make, but I want to make it with that!" It just it's, that's, that's exactly the way code should work. You should see this flowchart as program, what a great idea. And I started doing a lot of little individual sound experiences, you know, like the standard MSP one-offs, and you make drones or noise or things like that. And I just love this because one of my hobbies when I'd been in high school was just a huge interest in 20th century music. And I hadn't actually gone back to that interest since I was in my teens. And so this 10 year hiatus from it brought back to the memories of just how extraordinary the things that people were doing were in the modern, classical electro-acoustic electronic world.
And that was just a true pleasure, but I really got into it when I realized that there was a possibility of doing video with it. And so I jumped off the deep end and I took a plunge and I said, yeah, I'm going to buy in and software. And the thing about it was that in order to get a discount on it, I'd actually somehow managed to convince five other people at ITP to buy this. And, because we were just given this almost inscrutable, like - did you ever see the NATO manual?
Darwin: I have bumped up against it. Yes, I did. Okay.
Joshua: So this unbelievably hostile piece of software, it's just been dumped in our laps and everyone's like, "Well, what do I do with it?" And I felt so I felt extremely driven to teach people how to use it and show people what the potentials were if only because I convinced people to drop so much money in this thing. So I started a regular sequence of showing people how to use this and what was possible with NATO. And I started publishing the results and people were increasingly interested in using it. I used it for a couple of projects on the floor at ITP and the shows, and then I graduated from ITP. And the day after I graduated, I got a call from Parsons who was interested in the possibility of my teaching students how to use NATO. And I was like, "Oh, this is great. This will be easy." And then six days later, the insanely hostile multi-headed net art identity project, that was when NN decided that I was terrible. And I think it had to do with the fact that I was actually publishing how to guides as well.
Darwin: You also did sort of like a review online that I think...
Joshua: That review is Jeremy, not me. Jeremy had the definitive, "This is what you can do with NATO" document up at Boot Squad. But what I had was "This is how you go through the insanely stupid process of registering it." And "This is how you go through the stupid process of installing it correctly." And "These are a couple of different individual tips and tricks that you can do." And boy, did they hate that because they liked, I think they liked the idea of it being somewhat inscrutable that the not only did you have to pay the money, but also solve certain problems to get to the temple. And a lot of what I did in those early days, like the early part of the 2000's, vis-a-vis Max and video, was to try to destroy the temple.
I hated the idea of people being able to charge a great deal of money for things that should be naturally available. I mean, I kind of live off of probably the most important object when I first started doing visuals for me was the port of The Bomb to Max. You remember that? So do you know who Scott Graves is? He had the Electric Sheep. All right. So Scott had this amazing open source video instrument in the late nineties called The Bomb, which was an app that could be launched, and it was keyboard controlled, and David Z ported the thing to a Max object. And this was a huge deal for me. And I actually use The Bomb and I used NATO's somewhat peculiar way of pulling content from the screen to filter the work that The Bomb was doing.
So it was this weird combination of NATO and The Bomb. And, I first got shut down by NN for providing help files, which actually made me say I cannot teach at Parsons because I cannot in any kind of good faith provide any more money or support for these people who are now telling half of the world that I'm a short, fat, stupid balding, whatever. You know, we all got lumped into that pile, so that was super fun. So I said, listen, you know, if it's something I know that somethings else is going to come down the pipe, because this is unsustainable, and this is the way... this is a programming method that is waiting for someone to figure out video.
And when they do, I'll be back. And then a couple of months later, I got an invite to David Rokeby's, SoftVNS beta. And then John gave me an invite to Jitter. And, I started trying to figure out what's going on now. Here's the thing I told you, earlier about, about the idea of building systems of sort of improvising systems. And I feel like this is idiosyncratic to the way that I work, it's idiocy. It may be idiosyncratic to the way that people actually, to the way that a lot of people use Max, but I wondered why don't you explain what you're talking about because I'll get there. So I knew that there were many things in Max that I didn't understand.
And I started writing patches that included these objects that I didn't understand, that were somehow coming on to results that I didn't understand, but somehow worked. And I liked making machines that did certain things. So I would make a machine that did a feedback pattern, right. Make a machine that wthat would scrape together and just show a lot of images that were in a folder, randomly, but more than anything else, like the, the first thing that really attracted me to Max as a video creation environment, was that I could put randomness into it. And I never had the ability when I was programming to really sort of push the button and watch the randomness occur in ways that could be stored.
I mean, a little bit with Sirector, which was the "professional" environment that I was using, but I wasn't really able to build these random systems until I actually started dealing with NATO and then SoftVNS and Jitter. And that was just hugely seductive, hugely, hugely seductive, because it's the opposite of editing. Right? So with editing, you have many, many sequences and clips whose nature you kind of understand. And you're trying to work, to assemble those into a coherent, a whole - as opposed to the other way around when you build these systems for improvisation, where you've got a whole collection of happy accidents and glitches and mistakes that you can kind of marshall into something that starts to feel coherent, but by actually linking them together with code, as opposed to recording all of these things and putting it and looking at them afterwards. And this goes back to theater. So the problem with theater is the theater. It's all in the moment. And you feel like everything, every aspect of theater that works is because you were actually in the moment, you are looking at these events occurring and you are in the moment with them. If you videotape theater or you videotape dance, or you videotaped live performance, it is never as good, even if the performances were flawless.
Darwin: Yeah. I totally agree that the in the moment thing is so important. I work with a couple of dance companies and that is so much the case. There's such disappointment. If you look at a video tape of it for anything other than to critique how you're going to do the next performance, the "in the place" thing is so critical to a sense of there being value there.
Joshua: It's because it's exciting in the moment, right? So all of a sudden something happens and it's unexpected and, and you get an adrenaline rush because you've got this unexpected thing that you actually, that you're hoping to be able to exploit, and your audience may get an adrenaline rush with you, only because they're along the journey with you right there with you. And, man, it doesn't matter how good I felt when I was making these accidental journeys; inevitably, when I would go back and look at them outside of the context of the actual performance, there'd be so much to critique and so much to really hate about it. And at first it really cast me into depression. I was like, wow, you know, no matter how good I feel, what I'm making this, maybe it's really crap because every time I go back and I look at it, it's kind of crappy.
And that was such a weird thing being able to step back and say, okay, no, it's not crap when it's in the moment. And, it serves a purpose in a way that is important. When in that moment and I need to be okay with that because it's not like everyone is looking at you and saying, "Wow, what he's doing is crap!" They're kind of with you. If they're there with you, then they're really are with you.
Darwin: Right. There's, some of the performances that I've both attended as well as, as put on and then had the opportunity to view the material afterwards, really points to how pathetic the mechanisms we have to document that are. Because again, as you said, that adrenaline rush - there's, there's no way to really generate that in a video of performance. I mean, even if you're able to provide like additional emotional pull through music or some other means it's just not the same, it's really not. And, you know, I sometimes wonder if it's not only your adrenaline rush, but your sense of the pheromone discharges of all the people around you,
Joshua: You're talking about pheromones. So this is why I like working in clubs. I like working in clubs because there is a way that I like having my work add to the synthesis of the entire package of the entire, of the entire field. So I live it. I mean, it's crazy to say it, but honestly, my favorite audience are the kids on drugs because I like it when the reaction to my work - which is, and always will be abstract. I avoid stories like the plague and I really just, I like light and I like motion and I like movement. And I respect the power of abstraction and I flee very, very fast from telling coherent stories. And I think that, you know, stories are great, but I want, I want to make feels, I don't want to make tales.
And I think that the people who are most open to these kind of experiences are the people who are standing up and dancing, whether or not they're sober, you know? If they're actually moving their body and there they are, they are seeing and hearing the whole experience of what's provided in a club. Then that is [how] you can make such an amazing impact. I mean, at its, at its most harmless and least connected, it's just a bunch of screensaver-type stuff. And I've had people many, many times over the years saying your stuff just looks like a screensavers. And I'm just like, well, you know, "It is that bad?" Obviously there was some screen screensavers that you truly enjoy, and people say, "Oh yeah!" And I said, "So what's the problem with putting this in a live context?" You know, that they're not screensavers aren't necessarily about something, but they make you feel a certain way cause you're looking at it and they're mostly being generated in real time, you know? So, I don't really have a problem with the screens, everything, even if it is sometimes directed, you know, it may be, it may be an aggressive declaration of how people see my work, but I don't really consider it an insult. We spend a long time looking at the damn toasters.
Darwin: Right, right. Well, I sometimes wonder how people enjoy the process when it tends to be narrative based because - and in an analogy I would make is, it has to be difficult to be like a comedian who has to obsessively prepare jokes and then deliver them the same way every night. Because after some period of time, you must just get sick of your joke. And even if it's a good joke, the fact is you can't deliver it with any kind of emotion because you're tired of it.
Joshua: Oh, you better believe it. You showed that clip, that same clip three times, and then it's just, you will see it again. Never want to see it again. And again, it's the editing problem. Oh my God. Nothing will make you hate, will make me hate the source content of a project I'm dealing with more than looking at the same clip three times. It just, it kills all joy.
Darwin: Right. I hear that. So, I want to talk a little bit about the club activity and, and VJ type work. Because from my perspective, you are one of the people who was in the early game of doing live visuals, live VJ type things, live real time production - in a club environment. Would you say that's true?
Joshua: I would say that, that I'm part of the second wave of laptop visualists. The very first people who I saw doing visuals with a laptop, doing improvisitory work on a laptop using, using computers was physically using Max as a framework. And I didn't really understand that. What I had with NATO was the, was the capability of building a video instrument, alive video instrument. I just didn't get that until I was, I had an installation as part of this thing that the Trend Cinema 00 event at here arts center in, on Sixth Avenue in New York. And, I put a version of this piece that I'd been building, which, which involved, pulling actors voices out of static. And, but the main event, as far as I was concerned was the, was the, the live visual, his performance. And that evening, I saw Jeremy Bernstein and Curt Ralske improvising audio and video. They swapped off. So one of them would be doing video and one of them be doing audio and the other, and then they'd swap off. And they were just using their laptops and to generate all of this video and using this custom interface. And I thought, Oh my God, that's what it's for.
That's what it's for. That's what they're, that's what all of this is leading up to is that it's their instruments - and you could build the instruments. And it just, it blew my mind, the work that they showed that night. I don't know if there's been maybe one other individual night that I can point to, which had such an extraordinary artistic influence on me. And there that work just meant so much. It was so breathtakingly beautiful, and it wasn't even necessarily that the content that they were showing was something which was interesting. You know, they got a couple clips of planes and you got a couple of filters, all the rest of it. It was watching them make those decisions in real time. It was watching them improvise that way. That was so inspiring and so beautiful.
Andjust exciting, truly exciting. So I had actually, at that point, I had already done one "VJ performance". And that was because someone had seen the work that I was doing with these installation pieces, these fine art pieces and said, "Hey, you know, your stuff might look good when we're throwing a party." And so the Halloween party at ITP in 2000 was the first time that I brought a computer and I plugged it. And I started showing the effects and the techniques that I was building. I didn't have anything even close to an interface where I could actually make the decision in real time. I just set these things up and started to let them go. And so I'd already come to the party scene from being this guy who was playing with computers, who knew a little bit about theater.
And, and after I did that, I actually started to say, "Okay, well, what I want to build is the system. And I want to build a system that allows me to start being flexible about how I show these pieces." And NATO's performance was just so terrible in real time that I got fairly frustrated early on and just wrote this system for showing DVD clips out of the FireWire port. But when I finally bit the bullet and bought a laptop, I did it because I'd just been invited into the Jitter alpha. And I started playing with generating the same effects that I've been doing before, but with Jitter and in real time and somewhat faster. And I loved, loved, loved feeling like my way of dancing with the DJ was to play this instrument.
And I felt like it was that it took this kind of weird one-sided relationship that people and dancers may have to DJs and turning into something where I was doing - a call and response. And a couple of DJs who I was working with really saw that there was a... I did a lot of work for a girlfriend/boyfriend (now husband/wife) DJ pair named Sleepy and Boo, where they were really where they told me that the visuals that I was doing were so interesting that they were really, that they were saying, "Okay, what's that...?" - it became a call and response thing, you know, they up their game a little bit, because they thought, "Oh, he's doing that."
"I'm going to do this. Okay, he's doing that. I'm going to do this." And you so rarely see that in a club situation. I also saw that, and I saw that a lot more when I started doing a little bit more of like ambient experimental, VJ performance, with a guy named Sheldon Drake, with, I guess, early performances there included... There was a guy named Todd Hollenberg, who's now the, associate technology director for Blue Man Group. And working with him, musically, it was also really inspiring. And I gradually built up this instrument over the course of that summer of 2002 when Jitter was in alpha and then beta. And, and then I realized that I think somewhere around like July of that year or something like that, that actually what I had was something that I could possibly turn into a distributable tool and something where that impulse that I had in grad school with NATO to educate and to evangelize, was actually something that could be really great for Jitter itself.
And the other thing, and there were two more impulses and the first impulse was to make it free and to keep the license absolutely free, because I'd been inspired by, by Scott and The Bomb and he'd taken this absolutely beautiful piece of code and suddenly you can do whatever you want with it. He put it under the GPL, but I decided that I was going to do more. I decided that I was just going to go ahead and make the world a better place by assigning no license whatsoever to Dervish - steal it, make it your own, take it apart, I don't care. Here you go. And the other thing that was a reaction to was, and this is kind of awful to say...
Johnny DeKam, if you're listening to this, I'm sorry. I was so annoyed about people taking the core functionality of, sofie[sp?] and asin[sp?] of NATO and, selling these usually expensive programs like these early VJ programs, VJ laptop software programs, I'm not going to go ahead and say Imagine, but I am going to point to the very first and second versions of VDMS and Saja[sp?] Cues. And I felt like what we had here was a beautiful nascent medium, and the lower we set the bar to starting to work with these tools, the faster we'd be able to accelerate development of this medium, the faster we'd be able to actually make the tropes and the shorthands of this media. Something that was understandable by a greater number of people.
Darwin: Well, it's interesting because we are following the line of how I at least imagined the live visual thing going, because it's interesting. The number of people I've talked to. I mean, when you saw Jeremy and Kurt, how many people were there?
Joshua: 30, 40.
Darwin: Yeah. See, that's, that's what I understood, but it's one of those things that has become something where an awful lot of people claim they were there. The other thing is, your, your creation of Dervish is sort of like the starting point for an awful lot of people.
Joshua: Oh, God, it makes me so happy. I don't know, there, aside from my kids, it's probably the thing that I'm absolutely proudest of. Really, like to this day, I will talk to people who say, "Wow, you made dervish! I can't tell you how much you helped me. I actually didn't really understand how all this stuff could be bundled into, into these, into these frameworks, how you could actually start doing this kind of thing until I had that, you know, and thank you so much for sharing that code."
Darwin: Well, it was, it was one of those things where people who weren't sure how to get started could just say, "I'm going to stop worrying about learning for a second and I just want to play...", and they could bring that in and, and sort of have a joyful experience with it. And that was the hook that got a lot of people started. I've heard that probably a dozen times.
Joshua: Oh, God, it makes me happy every time I hear that. And the key word here being joy, I feel like that is the state that I aspire to. Every time I sit down with the laptop and I plug it in my video out and I'm in a live situation. What I want is joy. And I start out by trying to find a sequence that gives me joy because it just is working so well, the music, and it's so beautiful. And, my article of faith is that if I hit on that, if I find the sequence that's giving me joy, that that joy will be infectious. And if you're working in a club situation, joyous, is it...
Darwin: That's the thing, that's the currency.
Joshua: You really, you are, you are working to give people this transported, this transcendant, this transporting joy. And if you can, if you can help trigger that, if you can help bring it along, you know, drugs or no, then you have done the right thing in that situation, and you are making the world a better place.
Darwin: Truly. So, in the early days, what did a system look like that you would haul to a club? And how does that compare to what you would take to a club if you were doing a gig tonight?
Joshua: I went from, G4 tower running, DV streams out of the FireWire port, a laptop running S-video out of the built in, sadly long lamented S-video port. I still miss those. And I had, for a while, a fairly complicated system that I actually tried to - probably the most ambitious system that I ever took to gigs was a laptop, video mixer, DVD player, frame grabber, and an analog monitor and camera. The four streams that I would mix with the V-4 would be the DVD player, the camera output, my mixing of the camera output and the DVD player. And I think that there was one more sequence that I'd bring in, but mostly I would sort of set these situations up where I was actually doing feedback transformations on feedback transformations, on feedback transformations from the analog and from the digital world and the computer signal back into the mixer for a potential feedback.
Crazy. Yeah. And, and I would also use the output of the mixer on a little like crappy 13 inch television that I had a camera pointed at. I'd have digital feedback transformations going on inside the laptop. And then analog feed transformation is going back into the mixer. And, I had this tendency to bring a whole bunch of balls and throw them up in the air and do my very best to grab them and take it out. And, it's the move to HD has made this a lot less easy, because - the not the least of which is because feedback doesn't look quite as good with the cameras. Now that's for one, like being able to use an analog camera into like a DSG into an imaging source frame grabber, it's how to add a specific look that you just can't really get as much anymore.
But I was at this kind of awkward stage and the awkward stage was going from the old tape and camera based VJ's of the mid nineties. And then you've got these modern OpenGL kits. So I was trying to get the best of both worlds on there and do transformations in the computer and transformations outside of the computer and see where I could come with it. And it actually, on the downside, sometimes it would be really messy. I remember there were like, if I brought too many balls to throw up in the air, it was definitely possible for me to have nights where nothing felt right. And that's when you have the practice that I have, where you don't really know what you're going to end up doing, where you don't really have: "Well, I've found this preset that is going to work."
And I actually, I built a very... When pattr [a Max preset saving system] first came out, I built in this very complicated preset manager and preset saver. And after about two or three performances, I fricking scrapped it because presets were making me lazy, in weird ways, you know? Like I would say, "Okay, well, here's this preset. Okay. I guess I cross fed to it. All right. Get a look that looks like it did before. Okay. Here's this preset. Alright, what do I do now?" And I found that throwing myself off of a cliff and saying you have to make all of these balls work with something - that would more often result in the magic, in the joy, than if I knew what I was doing when I walked into the, to the situation.
Darwin: Yeah. You know, it's funny. And I'm always curious, talking to people who do live performance, because there's this scenario with digital systems where conceivably you can manage risk. You can basically say I can set it up so that the system mitigates any potential errors on my part and gives me what would be an error-free performance. But then in fact - even now I do a lot of live performances that are feedback-oriented and like, you know, I map it to sliders on a controller and there's 2% of the slider range that's actually valuable, but I can't expand it because when I changed this other thing, that 2% changes, and you're constantly sort of doing this high wire act, you know, trying to balance the things and then catching it before it goes out of control. And so what I am, and I do that because I found if I press the button and get there, it doesn't inspire me in any way. It'll be error free, but it also be sort of magic-free. And it sounds like that's what you're talking about.
Joshua: You better believe it. You nail hit the nail right on the head right there. When you're dealing with, with parameter ranges, if you've predefined a parameter rage and sticks you into a box and, and you can't like, sometimes I'll find out like that, that if I waver between a fluctuation between say, I don't know, 41 degrees and 45 degrees, then it has this specific look, especially when I've got like this noise filter going on. But that range of 41 to 45 is going to be utterly meaningless when I'm in another situation where there's a different kind of feedback transform. And so I want to be able to have like an easy control on there. And I found that I was getting lost in presets. And so it was sort of like, it wasn't a particularly surprising thing for me to say, I'm scrapping this whole pattr system that I have here. I mean, the downside is that if I, occasionally the machine will crash and if the machine crashes, then sometimes it will take me five to seven minutes to get everything sort of back rolling. Like I have a couple of quick time videos and things like that, that I'll put up on a full screen.
Darwin: Okay. So you have some sort of backup plan.
Joshua: I have a backup plan, like exactly, you know, there's this clip of an octopus walking on the sea floor that I can't stop looking at. You know, that'll keep it water for a little bit, but then...
Darwin: To all new Yorkers, if you're at a Goldberg performance and you see the walking octopus, you know what happened!
Joshua: Catastrophic, right! But, this is, I mean, it's interesting, right? Because that's a very tough decision to make. And it's a tough realization to make that I'm not in a situation where I'm comfortable with having these very neatly placed effects and neatly placed boxes. And I have to kind of throw myself off the cliff every time. It makes it very difficult to sell as a performer in some ways, because sometimes it doesn't work. But it certainly, it has brought me more joy working that way than it would be if I was simply moving from preset to presets and knew what was going on. I mean, I have the patch that I use in performance every single time has elements from 2001.
Joshua: There are boxes and lines in there that are 12 years old. And it's because I've set this thing up in a way where I can continually know where to go in the labyrinth to find tunnels I have not yet explored. And that's a pretty exciting thing for me. That means that I can keep on reading this book and there's parts of that. There's a story, but it's not really a story I can keep on flipping through these pages and see things that I haven't seen before. And that to me is that, that makes it, that makes it such a beautiful system.
Darwin: Well, that's kind of interesting because one of the things that, comes up when I talk to a lot of people is the idea of shiny objects versus knowledge in depth. And one of the things, I feel like both when I, when I teach and when I work with other people who are starting to learn different systems is that there's this tendency right now. There's a new technology that comes out every week and it can be really exciting. And to jump from one to the next always gives you something exciting and new, but you talk about the exploration and, you know, I'm going to jump to another bad analogy, but let's say that you wanted to explore the sewer system of New York. I'm sure that would be awesome, but, you can't really do it by going to various manholes and opening them up and peering at them. You know, you have to get in there...
Joshua: Gotta get in there. You got to get dirty. Yeah.
Darwin: And, and it takes time and it takes commitment. And it's one of the things that the constantly new technology that's available makes it doesn't make it difficult, but it's distracting, but I'm not sure. I mean, what's interesting to me is to hear that you're using some constructs that are 12 years old and you still feel like you haven't explored all the edges. That's really exciting to me.
Joshua: It's exciting to me too. Like, I'll be those situations where I'm like on a stage and all of a sudden I have something build upon something, I'm like, "Wow, God damn! That looks great. How does... Wow! Okay. All right. That happened." You know, and I'll take a screenshot so I can get a snapshot of what the parameters look like. But I deliberately eliminated pattr from my patch.
Darwin: That's really interesting because so often when I see people who are like making their first system, that's where their focus is: they'll do three knobs. They make sure that the pattr thing is super nailed down, because I think, I think early in someone's use, there is such a fear of making a mistake that the risk management becomes an important - you at least think it's important.
Joshua: And, and yeah, risk management. And there's a lazy way of thinking about this in some ways, like when you do visuals in clubs, there's very few people who are going to the clubs for the visuals, right. They're adding to the whole of it. Like, let's be honest here. The center point of attention is the guy who is actually making the music happen. What you are doing in a club situation with video is you are enhancing that. And so it's the way of sort of forgiving. Like, if you go off the cliff and nothing, your parachute doesn't open, you know, it's lazy, but sadly kind of sometimes true to say, "Well, no one was really looking at it anyway." Like they were, they didn't know that they were looking at it, but they were looking at it. So that's part of the whole experience, part of the whole experience.
Darwin: Interesting. So, how does, so when you define your work, I actually went and I looked at your CV and the way that you kind of badge your work is as time-based art, what does that mean? And how does that fit into sort of like this embracing of the happy accident?
Joshua: It's all, my work is all happy accidents. Absolutely all happy accidents, happy accidents that happened because I set up a process and I set up parameters to that process and I've watched it evolve in real time. One thing that I love, love, love doing, and I know that this is also like a personal love, is setting up what happens when you have oscillators that go out of phase. If you set up a couple of very, very slow oscillators, like in a geometrical feedback transformation, and you watch those oscillators drift and you watch what happens as those things move from being in lockstep, to being away from lockstep, then such extraordinarily beautiful things can result. And that's part of the fun of saying that I'm time-based artist because I like watching these processes resolve and that those processes do not resolve, unless you have the patience to sit there and see them through. And that takes time and that's in time. And, time-based - it's a bit of a lazy definition, because there's so many, like, you know, what's a movie? A movie is time-based art, but I mean, sometimes I feel like what I make and what I do is a little bit closer to genetic engineering or gardening.
Because I want to tell this story. I want to make it look like this. I don't wake up in the middle of the night and say, "I want something that looks like this." I wake up in the middle of the night and I think, "Oh, you know, if I took the numbers that were defining this kind of process, and I actually slowly mapped them increasingly over time to this kind of process, that might be kind of beautiful and kind of cool." But I never think about the results. I only think about the process of how I'd like to try to make something next.
Darwin: Sure. Now people who do more linear movie-making would say that what that lacks is a defined narrative. But my experience is that what you're actually doing is you're releasing the viewer to be able to create their own narrative out of the work.
Joshua: Exactly. And I also, I try very, very hard to never put any recognizable shapes into the work that I'm doing so that, people's brains can still assemble what they want. Like, I don't want everyone to have the exact same reaction to, to what I'm showing. I want it to trigger them, thinking about other things and trigger them, not even thinking about, but feeling. I feel like if I don't give anyone any narrative hooks whatsoever, if I don't give anyone any recognizable things that are nouns, if I don't give them any nouns, then what what people are going to create are feelings. And I feel like that's the goal.
I want them to define it, you know, it'll speed up their heartbeat. It'll cause a flush it'll make people have their own individual experiences that are physiological as opposed to narrative and coherent. Right now.
Darwin: I'm wondering - one of the things that you've been involved with is a number of sort of like high profile projects that actually are nouns. So I'm thinking of like the, dragon car thing from Burning Man, which I think is one of your most well known pieces of work that you've done, but you've done a lot of installation work and museum type pieces. How do you, how do you take something that is, you know, sort of like shows up in your lap as a noun and how do you redirect some of that energy?
Joshua: Well, because it's problem solving, the dragon was problem solving in the sense that, I had a certain number of fixtures, but I was told "You're getting these fixtures, make it work." And, I knew that it had to be something where the design for the dragon... I did the lighting design, the concept of the dragon and the lead artist on that is a guy named, Teddy Low. The lead constructor is a genius builder and welder. And I knew of Ryan Doyle. And I really came in, I was - I started out as just the manager on that one, and it was the second round of it. When we actually took it to Burning the second time, then I was able to actually build a lighting design the way I felt like it should have been done.
And okay, every object, every job is a little bit different, you know, I can say, "Oh, well, all of my work is problem solving." And that is to a certain extent true, but the problems themselves are sort of widely varying. And so I knew that what I wanted, the direction that I wanted to go with the dragon - for its lighting design - was I wanted to put together three or four different running patterns whose interaction and whose super imposition would create a wide variety of looks and feels. And so, you know, here's a chase and here's an individualized fade and here's a strobe and here's a... And if you put all of those things together in certain different ways, then they, then you start to actually, then you start to see the magic.
And I've done work where I worked for other people where someone said, "Oh, I want you to build this thing, but I want to be able to actually work with the ability to look..." So what I would do is actually build the systems. I love building the systems where I put together a couple of very basic building blocks in a way that people who aren't necessarily Max programmers, but have vision can actually steer them, steer these systems to help their vision. And it's actually very much a non-ego-driven thing, except for the fact that except for my own personal, like joy of solving those problems, but I really like facilitating other people to create. And I don't think there's any downside in that at all.
It makes me extraordinarily happy if I can make something that people use to make something sure that that is a big overriding joy in a lot of my work is if I can actually, if I've done performances where I set up things that were basically run on, like a mini keyboard or something like that. And I would just grab people in the audience and say, do something interesting and then, you know, layer those on top of it. But I, I love it. I love being able to use the tools that I know well, to help other people make, make art that they also feel invested in.
Darwin: Given that in your work - you sort of embrace risk and you like to walk the high wire a little bit. What has been the scariest or most uncomfortable situations that you found yourself in?
Joshua: When I can't find something that works and I've been in situations where I'm just sort of noodling around and it, all it feels like is I'm just doing stupid doodling around, I'm walking around pathways that I've seen before I'm walking. I'm using certain tropes that, that are just, that seemed to me stale. And that's scary when I feel like I'm just going through the motions. That a terrifying point. Cause I just don't know when I'm in a situation like that. And like I'm trying all sorts of different things. I'm just like "Oh, it just looks, so this is stale, this is boring. This is, this is sad." And I have to be somewhat discrete about that, you know, because I'm in the situation where I'm supposed to be working in creating.
Joshua: And that's what I, you know, those are the moments where I regret throwing away presets. But, I mean, it doesn't always work, but the always present ability for it to simply not work is something that makes the working so much more successful and more joyous. So the risk is there that what I'm building is just going to be boring. And I'm never going to find that I'm negative, never going to find that transformative moment that, that is, that is an omnipresent risk. Like I said, it, it keeps me from being someone who's good to book reliably.
Darwin: Well, we won't tell anybody about that.
Joshua: I took on the podcast. That's fine.
Darwin: Joshua, it's been a fantastic - today's talk with you. Do you have any last words for anyone?
Joshua: The, I, I don't know if everyone understands this, but the [Max] help patches are there to be broken, like break the examples. The best thing you can possibly do is to take something that you don't understand, take a patch that you don't understand that you have access to and break it in some way, because that's the, if you happy accidents or how I've made almost all of the really good art that I've made since I started dealing with real time work in audio and video. And, if I didn't have happy accidents, if I didn't have things that I could break, that I didn't understand whether I was playing with that, I wouldn't have been able to make this work.
Darwin: Oh, fantastic advice. Thanks a lot, Joshua.
Joshua: Thank you, Darwin. You too. Bye.
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