by Jerry ElengicalSep 30, 2021
The Sri Lanka-based Fold Media Collective, founded by Asvajit Boyle and Nigel Perera, is a space of exchange that boasts of boundless energy and an array of creative expressions coming together under a single roof. Working in sound design with electronic music, with graphic design and art, installations, interactive experiential works, code and much more, the sheer diversity of mediums and the synergy thus created can be seen as the creative stamps in the works coming from the Collective. “We believe that one of our greatest strengths is this diversity of our collaborators. There is a lot of overlap between our creative disciplines and at the same time there are multitude of perspectives. A project can take on many forms depending on the lens through which it is viewed,” explains Boyle, “and we are able to examine and find creative solutions much more effectively than we would if taking just one outlook into consideration.” There is a balance that is maintained in the Collective’s portfolio between commercial and commissioned projects and the more intensive passion projects, it is a way of staying true to their vision of never having to prioritise profits over creativity. This has in many ways led to what seems an almost workshop-like environment within which Fold Media functions, the heart of it lies in collaboration and connections.
Fold Media Collective’s series of ambient soundscapes and generative visuals created for Colomboscope’s #HeldApartTogether - part of the upcoming festival edition Language Is Migrant - was created as an ongoing practice of exchange. “Collaboration and genuine artistic exchange are key tenets of our creative practice and the first weeks of the lockdown were certainly a challenge for us. Having to move away from real-time musical collaboration towards a back-and-forth approach took some getting used to,” Boyle says. He continues, “Working on the #HeldApartTogether series with my colleague and Fold co-founder Nigel Perera played an important role in acclimatising us to the new normal and paved the way for many other collaborations during the period of the lockdown in Sri Lanka.”
The idea of collaborations and connections took on a weighted significance in the past year-and-a-half during the period of the pandemic, where physical spaces and sites of exchange were inaccessible. And yet, this was a period that required a certain kind of creative contemplation, an examination of the world around us, how quickly it was changing, evolving, thus impacting us. Interface came out of the disconnectedness of the pandemic, an examination of the relationship between technology and art in a contemporary virtual landscape. The project was a response to the pandemic, and it can perhaps be considered rather timely being that this was when the digitality of our lives was at its peak. As we all grappled with the fragmentation of our existence, the isolation and loneliness, the project looked to imagine what a new creative future would or could look like. How do we conceive digitality impacting and moulding our forms of expression and exchange? “As with most technological shifts, I think that the retreat into digitality which was ongoing for the last couple of decades (and greatly sped up by this pandemic), holds the potential for both opportunity and significant loss, speaking from both a creative and humanist perspective,” the artist says. “Speaking as someone who has chosen the creative and professional practice, this would all have been inaccessible before the advent of a widespread digitalisation, I am more inclined to view things optimistically,” Boyle explains further.
For Boyle, the digitality in our lives comes down to the question of accessibility, perhaps rightly so, where the barriers for entry are no longer unsurpassable having been slowly eroded by technological progress the saturation in these landscapes also allow for a never-before-seen diversity of artistic voices. “Of course, the danger of homogeneity exists but that is inevitable,” says the artist. “At Fold we try to remain open-minded and forward-thinking and are hopeful that we can all continue to maintain a certain level of authentication despite digitisation.” Returning to Interface, which is an evolving creative imaging exchange in the virtual age, in a manner of speaking, is a collaboration with Fold Media’s long-time collaborator, Lalindra Amarasekara. The piece is an audio-visual performance which brings together elements of code, generative visuals and electronic music. It has a fascinating polymedial construct that is both adaptive and shockingly audience sensitive.
“Over the last year, we noted that the response of many performers to the restrictions of public gatherings has been simply to stream their performances live. These types of performances attempt to translate the experience of a public event directly to a digital one and often received as pale imitations of the real thing,” says Boyle. He continues, “Attending a live event, is of course, about more than just the performance itself and is what it is because of social interaction and the experience of physically sharing a space with other humans. Live streams that look like regular performances minus the audience seem unappealing, especially when you think of electronic music sets which – in the context of a culture built around people packed together on a dance floor – look particularly off-putting.”
This idea of physicality experienced through digitality that Boyle brings up is particularly interesting and one that artists across the spectrum are grappling with in one form or another. In the Indian classical tradition this is the relationship of exchange, a bridge so to speak, between the performer or the Rasika and the audience which is built on reciprocity. In the contemporary backdrop of electronic music, it is the live ambient experience created by music reciprocated by the movement and engagement of the audience, that continues as a challenge to evoke purely through the screen.
“With this in mind the concept of Interface was developed,” he says. “Our goal was to create a performance format that did not try to emulate a real-world experience but rather embrace the aesthetics and limitation of its online/digital nature. This abstraction of a live performance allows viewers to engage with the performance on its own terms without the comparisons to physical events that would usually emerge.”
The performance begins with a coding-based introduction, moving into a live, hardware based electronic music performance presented in the context of a computer operating system. Musicians are filmed from multiple cameras, their features blurred out to invoke anonymity and the detachment that is a product of the digital age. The music triggers audio-reactive visuals, with each piece accompanied with its own specific visualisation which are manipulated in real-time to simulate the usage of an operating system. Interface is certainly a cerebral, sophisticated construction of creative expression as being an output of digitality, yet it struggles to overcome the obstacle that is achieving the emotional capital of a physical performance. Perhaps this is a kink yet, to be worked out by artists as they grow increasingly comfortable creating in a digital landscape, perhaps it is also a call to us as an audience to expand our artistic vocabularies to include new formats of performances and mediums, only time will tell.