Place: STEIM, HOL, Amsterdam
Peter Luining is best known for
his works "clickclub" and "FF00FF remixes". Luining's one time
curating job for the exhibition "Net Affects" also got quite some
positive attention. His interactive sound pieces have not yet gotten
the same recognition. The following interview with Peter was made
for a major upgrade of http://soundtoys.net/ . It focusses on soundtoys
as art pieces and vice versa.
Stanza: Could you come up with a definition of "soundtoys"
Peter Luining: Though "soundtoys" (note the quotes) has more or
less become the standard term for interactive music instruments, I
don't like it. Soundtoys are easily associated with the audio visual
thingies you find on more and more commercial sites to attract
traffic, though there are some of them i really like, and some of
them could maybe considered as art, most of them do not have
concentration on both the side of the maker and the audience,
something which -is- present in art works. I rather would prefer the
name engines or sound engines, which I would define as little pieces
of software which allow the user to make sound or audiovisual
compositions within limits defined by the artist. It's also
important to keep in mind there is broad variety of engines, and
there is also a wide range of possibilities how you can make
engines. I think soundtoys.net is good at showing this diversity.
S: What is your project for soundtoys.net and your work in
PL: Traber073 (initially made for digitalekunst.nl) is a piece
that lets the user make an unique audiovisual composition. As with a
lot of my pieces this work has to be explored by the user. At first
glance you see 9 blocks and when they hit each other you hear sound.
Going with a mouse over the piece you see the cursor changes into a
finger or a hand, this means you can do something with the
objects... The piece that is shown at soundtoys.net exemplifies an
important aspect of my work, which is dealing with possibilities to
let the user make his/her own audiovisual composition. Though this
is quite important to me, it is not the only thing what is my work
about. I'm especially interested in exploring and subverting
possibilities of the software that I use. Next I take much concern
with how to present my work on the net. The process by which I
develop my work is like a kind of exploration by itself, and the
nice thing is that the user will also go through this "journey" of
exploring when trying to find out how my pieces work and what you
can do with them.
When people are talking about "soundtoys" the emphasis is always
on sound, but for me the visual part of my work is as important to
me as the audio part. In my work you don't see sliders, buttons or
traditional controllers you identify with music instruments: you
directly control components of the piece, like colors, blocks, dots,
etc. which are again influencing the sound composition.
S: How long have you been working in this area?
PL: I've been making autonomous work on the net since 1996. At
first I did net based installations, but I was always fascinated
with the "interplay" of sounds and images. Though I was already
experimenting with java applets, my real explorations of images and
sound came when I discovered flash 2. Besides the fact that
attaching sound to images with flash became much more easy, flash
also made me work in a more abstract visual language. You could
easily make that minimalist. The character of flash (vector
graphics) allowed me to work full screen, and I started to work with
big abstract blocks, dots, etc. You could say I used the flash
esthetics to the end. Interesting to note is that someone recently
told me that he saw my work as a sort of comment on the "lekkere"
(dutch for tasting good) imagery you find everywhere, it was
bringing interactivity back to it's basic. The thing was though that
he commented on work that I made 3 to 4 years ago, that I did not
make as the direct result on "lekkere" imagery. It was simply that
in that time bandwidth hardly allowed big things (in size) on the
net, and this was one reason to use stripped down images. The other
reason was that I wanted to work just with shapes to leave more
space open to imagination. So using flash was an enormous leap
forward for me, but I soon felt limited by the possibilities of this
software and started using director, which had and still has much
more flexibility towards the use of sound. It also has another
digital feel in the sense that it allows you quite easy to use a
different graphic format (bitmap) instead of a vector that make
flash pieces so overtly recognizable.
S: Were you an artist/ musician first who got into using
computers/the net or did you respond to the net in an artistic way?
PL: No. I studied philosophy in the 80's and used a computer to
write my texts. In the early 90's I started to experiment with text
based animation. I did this by writing myself some lines of code.
Soon after this I discovered some programs in which you could do
animation very easy. From animating text I went to animating movies
with images, I'm talking now about the period 1994/ 1995. This was
the time I discovered the net, and I was immediately fascinated with
the possibilities of this medium. Html made the creation of
interactive environments very easy, even if it was at that time
mostly text and simple picture based.
S: What/who has influenced you in your work? (themes, other
PL: Two internet artists worked very inspiring for me in the
beginning: jodi and antiorp (nowadays called NN). In the field of
using interactive sounds I was greatly influenced by antiroms
"antidote" piece, especially regarding to how sound was attached to
images and the possibilities of it. My work developed from more
figurative and popular imagery and sound, like disco beats, to less
definable sounds (noise). The visuals of my work became more
abstract (minimal): big blocks, squares, dots. For me abstract
sounds (noises) were, like the use of minimal visual components,
much more open to imagination. Also the internet and software like
napster played an important role in this evolution of the sounds I
used. Through the net I discovered music from bands like pan sonic,
oval, farmers manual. On the visual side my work was influenced for
the biggest part by amsterdam painters that are my friends. From
them I have learned more or less to look at compositions with
different eyes, and because of this I also make compositions in a
different way then somebody who has some kind of multimedia
education. Painters that inspired me are people like Bridget Riley,
Elsworth Kelly and Peter Halley. If you look at their work you have
a physical experience. I try to keep the tension of this physical
experience at the level of the visual and I add noise to it to make
totally immersive pieces.
S: Are there any other artists covering the same field as you?
PL: I don't know, I've stumbled on interesting engines through
the years. It looks like artists just experiment with interactive
audiovisual things, but for nobody this seems to be their core work.
What is making my work different from most other engines is that
mine are minimalist. You hardly see this kind experience. Most cases
engines are trying to be somehow functional or referring to
something we know.
S: What define the aesthetics of new interactive music.
Pl: I think mostly the software by which it is made and the
hardware it is dependent on.
S: Does the net promotes visual awareness that is unique to it?
PL: In some ways it does. The imagery is 'slower' then television
or film. The behavior of the audience (clicking) defines the
experience of the audience in some ways. Computer visuals stand
between sketching book and video camera, the use of it is personal,
sketch like and electric. The net adds media access to this. The
sketch like slowness of the worldwide web (as compared to tv and
film) allows for contemplation, distance and intimacy at the same
S: How novel do you feel generative music and interactivity is?
PL: Interactive music has quite a history. I'm living quite near
to STEIM in Amsterdam, which did much research and experiments in
this field over the last decennia. The big change in this area is of
course the development of the net, which first of all allows easy
access and distribution of this type of music. The net plays also an
important role in the way people conceive music, it allows people to
make and compose music in new ways. Sound engines play an important
role in this renewal. Most engines redefine the way an instrument is
to or should be played, they have in most cases nothing to do with
the ways standard instruments are put together and work (for example
used to play notes). On the otherhand there are multiuser pieces
like for example the ones did by "altzero". They allow people on
different locations to make one piece of music. Another example of
this kind of multiuser software using the net is a program by "de
waag" called "keystroke". Though engines could be historically
traced back before the www, I think the net really gave the decisive
boost to them. Engines found with the net the ideal medium,
especially because they are small in bytesize.
S: could you describe yourself as a multimedia artist, a
net.artist, programmer, or none of the above?
PL: I see myself as artist.
S: What software do you use most and why?
PL: 2 pieces: a html editor & director. The first because the
way I put something on the net is also defining the experience in an
important way; the second because it's the most flexible when
applied to creating and working with sound and visuals. With
director you can easily compile your work to small size shockwave
movies, which is important in terms of download time.
Peter Luining URL: http://www.ctrlaltdel.org/
Soundtoys URL: http://www.soundtoys.net/