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Exploring tech, ethics, and video synthesis with creative developer Ronald Sardarian

Software and hardware developer Ronald Sardarian discusses the ‘Hypno’, an intuitive video synthesis tool for beginners.

by Manu SharmaPublished on : Dec 24, 2021

Ronald Sardarian is a software and hardware developer who is recognised for his contributions to creative tech. Sardarian develops and sells his ‘Hypno’ video synthesiser and describes it as an “all-in-one video synthesiser that can do many things; plug-and-play”. He explains, “Hypno covers the basic techniques of video synthesis in a compact UI with logical button combos. It can also smash two shapes together and feeds them back in various ways to make moving paintings that sometimes even look like landscapes. Most of the functions are made to "just work" by default. For example, you can plug in most USB cameras and they will immediately be put on-screen, and plugging in a USB drive specifically tries to load a random video file off of it.” What is of even greater importance to the developer than the usability of his product, however, is how well it is documented. One need only pay a cursory visit to Sardarian’s website to understand how intuitive he is making the generally niche creative pursuit of video synthesis. The Hypno is very well supported, with a handy manual and firmware updates to help users connect and operate the synthesiser across a variety of platforms. It would seem that accessibility within an increasingly esoteric market is key for Sardarian.

01 mins watch Untitled | Ronald Sardarian | STIRworld
Untitled Video: Ronald Sardarian

Sardarian holds little in the way of formal creative education, and tells STIR, “I have taken a few art classes while getting a BS in Computer Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, which is not by any means an ‘art’ school per se, but painting and drawing is wonderful fun, and some of the art school's instructors there really inspired me to go into some of the crazier stuff that I have with my work.” Still, the little bit of creative guidance he received from Rensselaer left a deep impact on Sardarian, who believes that the art department there does not get nearly enough credit for the work it does. Most notably, he remembers his time spent learning from Shawn Lawson, who is a computational artist and researcher, as well as the Director of the Department of Art. Lawson’s guidance and encouragement was of great help to Sardarian in the early days of his experiments with video synthesis.

Strangely as some of the Hypno’s results tend to look | Ronald Sardarian | STIRworld
Strange, as some of the Hypno’s results tend to look Image: Ronald Sardarian

The developer’s creative bent did not propel him as strongly as it currently does until after he graduated from college. Discussing what motivates him, he tells STIR, “It's a long story, but speaking philosophically, I myself really see it as a sort of disillusionment with the ideals that were fed to me externally. In college, I was interested in exploring success in a traditional way; getting "all the points" as I tend to call it, so I got sucked into the tech world's agenda and now I am on the other side and I am not interested in perpetuating the idea of a "career" in our current cultural context.” While Sardarian played music all his life prior to pursuing computer science, in fact even learning some digital music production in his childhood, he never identified as an artist or a creative in the wider sense. He looks back and says that in retrospect, he was always who he is now. He simply denied his true identity due to the pressures of conformity.

Sardarian likes to remind us that the Hypno is deceptively small | Ronald Sardarian | STIRworld
Sardarian likes to remind us that the Hypno is deceptively small Image: Ronald Sardarian

Sardarian began Sleepy Circuits in order to direct his energies towards tech-related work that did not disagree with him ethically, or as he puts it, “directly hurt humans or produce either destructive or manipulative products.” He explains, “I had a brief stint doing UX research for the automotive industry, but what I really wanted to do was make something that is just fun and people choose to purchase it willingly because it is just good and doesn’t have some secret, shadowy side effect. This sounds simple, stupid even, but this was something I was struggling to find in the programming and tech world.” Sardarian’s Hypno is exactly what he was looking for: it is, at its core, just good fun. It allows people with little to no knowledge regarding video synthesis to plug it into a device with a video output and immediately begin glitching, modulating, sampling and otherwise playing with video footage. Jokingly, the developer tells further, “If you play it in public on a big projector, you often amass a collection of staring humans. If you play it too long, it enters your dreams…so maybe don't do that.” 

Untitled | Ronald Sardarian | STIRworld
Untitled Image: Ronald Sardarian

While Sardarian tries his best to make Hypno a ‘neutral’ product akin to an artist’s brush wherein the user’s video system forms a blank canvas, one cannot help but notice a certain retro sensibility to the visuals the device produces. Sardarian acknowledges this, saying “The visuals look retro because the techniques are all very simple and ‘retro’ in nature. Hypno can be used to make many things, and the retro-ness of the way it’s visuals look is just a product of the classic feedback signal path.” He adds that in many ways, Hypno is simply easing old-school video synthesis, which required a cumbersome setting-up process involving a television system, the device itself, which was usually homemade, and finally, a camera set up in front of the television in order to record and archive the results. However, the fascinating visual tapestries created by the Hypno do not seem entirely to be a by-product of it’s simple approach, and Sardarian says “The visuals I make on the Hypno are what I see in my mind's eye; others have reported that they too have seen these feedback-like patterns in their heads before coming across Hypno. There's something very primal about this sort of feedback visual effect, I don't know exactly what the significance of this is, but it's certainly a weird, shared sort of thing many people experience.” Discussing his plans for the future, Sardarian says that he does not have a strict timeline in mind, but he is working on another video synthesiser that specialises in chopping video. This is exciting news for both, experienced users of the Hypno, as well as new entrants to the world of video synthesis, and it will be fascinating to see what Sleepy Circuits comes up with.

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