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WATCH: TVO Shares Breitbart Reaction Installation
Christian Eede , December 4th, 2017 15:43

Sound artist TVO breaks down Breitbart material in an attempt to turn their material "into something beautiful or at least worthwhile"

TVO, the project of sound artist Ruaridh Law, was last year invited to present an audiovisual installation on the theme of alchemy at Amsterdam's FIBER festival, and has since presented that installation in a number of other places.

The soundtrack that he created for the piece is now being lined up for a release later this week via V I S, the label of Nina Trifft, resident at Hamburg's Golden Pudel club. Above, you can check out the installation's soundtrack, in the form of a piece titled 'Hell Is Empty', set to footage of the presentation captured in September in a disused railway arch in Glasgow.

As Law explains himself, "all of the audio and video is generated from alt-right shithouse Breitbart, with the idea being to see if you can alchemically take the basest raw material possible and turn it into something beautiful or at least worthwhile, whilst also making a comment on how easily the raw material falls apart."

The audio, he explains is produced entirely from the site, adding that the raw code from the site itself was changed into audio, "numbers within the code used as MIDI information, the articles themselves run through a speech synthesiser into a dispassionate monotone which is then processed into random glossolalia".

The tape, featuring the soundtrack, will be released on cassette by V I S later this week, and you can read below for a more detailed breakdown of the project, courtesy of Law himself.

Could you explain the ideas explored in the installation, and the processes you undertook to create the audio element of the installation which V I S are releasing?

Ruaridh Law: The installation started life as a commission from the FIBER festival in Amsterdam for a new work for their festival based around the theme of alchemy. I had a think about what alchemical process meant to me; and thinking about how it related to the transmutation of substance from the basest material to the most precious, I decided to work around the basest raw material I could think of in order to try to wrestle some kind of gold from it.

At that point, Milo Yiannopoulos and Steve Bannon were in the news, and the rise in power of alt-right promoting websites like Breitbart were gaining a sudden exponential increase in influence both due to the Trump connection but also because of the inexorable - and under-reported - rise of the 4chan meme brigade. That seemed to me, from my subjective ivory tower, to be something very close to the lowest common denominator cultural base that I could use to try to sculpt something from. The self-perpetuating factory of manufactured outrage, bile, bigotry and dishonesty seemed to me to be as close to the shit that some alchemists supposedly used as a starting source as I could get.

The audio is almost entirely derived from the Breitbart website in various ways, pulled from it live - the recording for the V I S release was a rehearsal for the Amsterdam performance I recorded at the time. The php code of the site is the rather 'data-sounding' noise that travels through the whole piece, grabbed and converted on the fly to raw audio then stretched and pulled, and the majority of the rhythms (short of an 808 kick) are all generated by grabbing code live from the site and clipping it to short lengths. There's MIDI data and sequence data that are generated by pulling numbers out of the php code, and the drones underpinning the start and end come take their pitch, resonance and harmonics from light-sensing cameras taking data from the visual part of the installation, which is a gradual breaking down of the Breitbart site into granular pixels.

Some people might say that using material from alt-right figureheads like Breitbart gives them attention in some way, even if twisting their rhetoric into something entirely different to their message. What would your response to that be?

RL: I can see that - giving their flames the oxygen of publicity. What I was surprised to find, though, is the number of people who weren't already familiar with Breitbart - despite it being incredibly influential in certain areas of society - and they overwhelmingly found its rhetoric and lies to be at best distasteful and at worst utterly abhorrent. I think that raising awareness of the existence, reach and huge audience of sites like this is important and outweighs concerns against somehow converting people to its cause.

What came first after the initial installation idea, the visual or audio element? How did one inform the other?

RL: I'm not a visual artist at all and really everything I've ever done - from my first solo album to most of the things I've done since - has been based around processing source material, sometimes obviously and sometimes in a very covert way. Very unusually for me the thought of breaking down the experience of browsing Breitbart into a mess of pixels and abstract golden swirling blocks was what came first, and with it the idea of breaking all of that data down into something fundamental - in this case, the numbers inside the code which themselves create both the audio but also drive the visual deconstruction of the site, in a kind of orouboros-like snake eating tail regression.

The best thing about my preferred environment to work in - Cycling 74's Max/MSP - is that everything boils down to numbers and anything can become anything else, anything can control anything else, anything can generate something else because at its root, all data is just numbers. And maybe buried under all that there's a tortured metaphor underneath about how, at our own roots, we're all just collections of atoms that are essentially the same and all the petty manufactured prejudices, biases, lies, intolerances and hatreds are at their heart completely worthless because we are all just people. Or maybe I'm scrabbling for a metaphor and this is really just a lot of abstraction masquerading as meaning.

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