by Dilpreet BhullarApr 09, 2022
Club culture has always existed in a temporal space, and has had its own lexicon. Now commonly associated with neon colours and long bathroom lines, the history and visual culture of raves go far back in history. What was originally used to describe ‘rowdy parties’ hosted by the Beatnik scene in London in the 50s, evolved to characterise the founding elements of what we now call electronic dance music in the 60s. Like most musical movements, Electronic also generated its own visual ecosystem of design, fashion and graphics. However, another very important aspect of any musical genre is spatial design; with electronic music one sees a special affinity towards light and sound as a means of defining spatial quality. Sound and light do not occupy space, yet have the ability to create space; it is one of the defining ideas at the Design Museum’s latest exhibition in London. Conceptualised as an immersive experience, the exhibition seems like an alternate to attending an actual rave. Featuring synchronised light and sound installations, the exhibition also features archival material that highlights not only the aesthetics of electronic music, but also the technology linked to its development. Starting all the way back from German pioneers Kraftwerk to the world tour of The Chemical Brothers and their incredibly intricate stage performances.
Electronic: From Kraftwerk to The Chemical Brothers is an adaptation of the Electronic exhibition from Musée de la Musique-Philharmonie de Paris, with a special focus on the electronic and rave culture of the UK. In addition to the immersive installation, the exhibition is presented in four distinct sections, and has about 400 items on display, including revolutionary instruments created for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop by Daphne Oram. There is a strong technological element to this genre of music. Beyond instruments like synthesiser, the sound and light co-ordination calls for a near scientific composer, a code. The exhibition features three main immersive experiences, which blend light and sound to create three-dimensional spaces. One can experience The Chemical Brothers’ psychedelic ‘No Geography’ global tour, created by Smith & Lyall, or immerse in a 30-minute concert of Kraftwerk, and experience the variety of warehouse scenes from across the world while walking through the Design Museum.
The exhibition also features a volumetric light composition by 1024 architecture, called CORE. The studio also did the original scenography and set design for the exhibition at Musée de la Musique-Philharmonie de Paris, using basic scaffolding as its main structural element to create an urban set for the show. While the original plan was to adapt this at the Design Museum exhibition, the layout was altered with less open space, also requiring people to follow a path to respect the social distancing rules. Elaborating on what the practice defines ‘music spatialisation’ as, the founding partner of 1024 architecture, Pier Schneider, explains, “Music spatialisation is at the heart of our work since we started 1024 studio. Since then we have made many other projects, from stage design to urban installation, using different techniques and technologies, but always connecting the architectural space with lights, movement, and rhythm.” Talking specifically about the installation at the Design Museum, Schneider says, “CORE was created especially for ELECTRO exhibition and is a simple cube of light. A 3x3x3m volume of 3D mapped LED lights grid that we sync to Laurent Garnier soundtrack created for the show. We also produce a specific track of music called REBOOT that we play in between each of the eleven mixes made by Laurent.”
Using digital techniques like visual mapping, projections and synchronised light, the studio creates dynamic changes to the same space. Schneider further elaborates, “François Wunschel and I created 1024 studio in 2007, and for our first stage design project, the SQUARE Cube, we worked in collaboration with the French electronic music producer Etienne de Crecy. The goal was to make a new kind of stage design using basic scaffolding structure and video mapping projection, which in 2007 was the very beginning of this technology. The SQUARE Cube is a basic cube structure augmented with visual mapping on the architectural cubical form and synced to the music”. In addition to the obvious changes the studio had to incorporate, Schneider laments the practice’s inability to fine tune the performance. “Yes, some changes and modifications were made in between the two exhibitions. We like to work on that piece every time we can do it. When the piece travelled to the Venice Biennale, we had the opportunity to work a few days in front of the piece and adjust some of the soundtrack visualisation. Unfortunately, for the London edition, because of safety reasons, we were not able to do this workshop session at the Museum,” mentions Schneider.
With the kind of installations 1024 architecture creates, there is a sense of temporary occupation of spaces. So, when the light and sound end, what happens to the space left behind? Schneider elucidates, “There is a deep sense of temporality in our work. But we like to be involved in different times and temporality rather than just the show or the event. We also do many permanent projects, for which the piece has a dual aspect; by day and by night, with light and music augmentation and without.” While 1024 does not have a classical design process, they do have a deep interest in exploring the cubical form, iterations of which can be seen across their body of work. “We made several projects with this basic geometrical form, such as the Walking Cube (also exhibited in ELECTRONIC show), which is a physical cube that is moving, shaking and dancing. The TESSERACT is also a big cube with a grid of moving lights, inspired by the HYPERcube geometrical definition; we showcase that particular project in different urban situations, such as the Vancouver Digital Center, an urban place in Guanajuato, Mexico, a historical square in Prague, and a submarine base in Bordeaux.” This 14x14x14m volume creates an immersive space for the public to interact with.
Creating space without building it sounds like an oxymoron yet it is the very basis, not only of 1024 studio’s practice but also in some ways the very definition of how rave culture developed. As one will see in the timeline featured in this exhibition, rave events and parties were hosted in secret and in constantly shifting locations. From dingy garages to abandoned warehouses, light became a tool to change not only the setting but also the mood of these events. Birthed out of necessity, it is now a key feature of how contemporary music performances, festivals and events take place. We often forget the art and the science involved in bringing these psychedelic shows into being, something that this exhibition highlights very clearly.
To celebrate the launch of the exhibition, The Chemical Brothers have announced the release of a limited-edition pink vinyl 12-inch of Grammy winning single Got to Keep On. This limited collector’s edition features an extended version of The Chemical Brothers’ live favourite and the classic Midland remix.
The show is on display till February 14, 2021.