EK Interview: Dark Matters

Copenhagen-based studio Dark Matters consists of only a handful of multi-talented creatives constantly experimenting with the dual nature of light and shadow. Their endeavors share no analog or digital bias, but rather a mutual hybridization that has allowed them to generate spectacular videos and live visuals. Check out the exclusive Empty Kingdom interview with said studio after the jump!

Social Zone / Roskilde, Installation / Live Event (2012).

Hello and welcome members of Dark Matters. First and foremost I want to thank you all for doing this interview with us and sharing your insight and experience to our readers. To get things started, let’s start off with a bit of an introduction about yourselves? Like where you’re based out of, who are the major players that make up the Dark Matters group, schooling background, and so forth?

Hello! Dark Matters consists of five. Rune and Lasse are the founding fathers of the studio. What was to become Dark Matters started out almost a decade ago in the progressive end of the Copenhagen club scene, where Rune and Lasse earned their credentials as a VJ duo. Over the years they developed their collaboration, the range of projects they took on, and in the recent years Dark Matters expanded with Ida, Nicky and Aske. Ida is our digital architect, Nicky is our brainboy and lastly there is Aske our design intern.

Where did the name “Dark Matters” originate from? How did the whole group assemble? 

Our shared fascination with outer space, space (room) and then the physical limitations of light that can only have an impact if there is darkness. Dark Matters is preferably pronounced with a low bassy voice. It sounds big because it refers to one of the phenomena we seem to know least about, but we meanwhile like to keep our studio relatively small with currently four steady members. Sometimes big scale projects require extra brains and hands, and luckily there is no lack of talented friends and freelancers in Copenhagen and beyond.

Our studio is based on almost a decade of collaboration between Lasse and Rune. One of the things that brought them together, and that we all still have in common, is our intense infatuation with music, a love that brought together Rune’s and Lasse’s differing creative approaches in the early days. Getting booked to a lot of the same gigs, VJing together allowed them to merge their work in a live setting and starting to raise their ambitions for the scale and complexion of their output. Like jazz musicians who suddenly found a deeper meaning in the simple but profound act of jamming together, Dark Matters grew into a solid, creative unit.

Collaboration has been a proven method to simultaneously pull off great projects, while being able to expand our skills and explore new techniques and expressions. We try and keep a similar approach internally where each member of the studio occupies defined roles that he / she can take responsibility for.

Kenton Slash Demon’s Daemon, Music Video (2011).

A lot of the physical set designs, installations, and visual projections that you all work within (like the ADIDAS SS13 catwalk construction, the ROSKILDE FESTIVAL SOCIAL ZONE, and KENTON SLASH DEMON’s ORE music video, respectively) seem to share a creative overlap with one another. Do you approach every collaborative encounter with the same mindset, no matter what the medium entails? How do the processes in each compare? How do they differ?

We are a studio for time, light and space. To blow a soul into each project we take on, which should result in a fitting unique and individual expression, we boil down all of the information we have in the beginning of a project to a point where we feel we have essence on our hands.

From there out we start building again. We, for example, start with looking at the context of a project, primarily how what we produce relates to the space / room it will be manifested in. We can’t deny we are heavily inspired by the contrast between light and darkness and the things that happen at the intersection of the two, so as we build we of course influence the projects we take on.

If you take our project for Adidas SS13, our main focus was on the movement of the catwalk models and ended up in the idea of the catwalk carrying models out. The Kenton Slash Demon video originated in the wrenching sound of the ‘Ore’ track. We bended flesh and pixels and thanks to our collaboration with some great models, the Emperor of Antarctica, and last but not least ourselves. Social Zone was a commission with a brief, the installation was to become a playground / maze for the Roskilde Festival crowd to play and hang out. We combined the aesthetics of waves of light with a central knob that controlled the content being projected on the installation, so that it would be both a playground but also a space for people to sit down and enjoy without active participation. Another good example is the Who Made Who tour visuals we created, which started with an object (the head of Claudius the emperor) which holds a certain aesthetic of classic / craftsmanship and matched it with the quirky bands personality through the projections on the head that we brought the statue to life with.

Each project that you’ve worked on also seems to combine physical and digital elements, in order to generate an interactive / immersive experience. With respect to the SOCIAL ZONE installation, could you take us through the workflow in how that particular idea went from inception to completion? What were some hurdles that you had to face during the creation of this project? How did you go about overcoming these challenges? What was the most rewarding experience? 

Most important was to make a 1:1 interactive experience for the audience. Somehow all of our first ideas were (computer) games, which was our biggest hurdle to overcome, because we wanted as many people to be affected and therefore be engaged on our installation but we did not want them to play against each other like in a traditional game. How to make an interactive experience that does not rely on a competition, however abstract the rules of that competition are? Also there were some technical difficulties. For example, tracking everyone on the installation turned out to become a bit too expensive of an operation, so how then do we host everyone in a space that is still engaging to all, both passive and active? Roskilde already came with part of the solution, they suggested to make a labyrinth – the challenge being that we would replace bushy hedges with walls of light. We ended up inviting our friends at Science Friction to build a controller that would allow for people to alter the walls (a bit like this board game), the content for which we created in collaboration with the talented Carl-Emil a.k.a. Sixth Sensor and Marcin.

Overlooking the installation from our control room six meters up in the air, watching people gathering in the fluorescent light of the control button a la ‘Apes-in-Space-Odyssey’ – which turned into somewhat of a religious object – at an overall fantastic Roskilde Festival was definitely one of the most rewarding experiences. Besides the fact that the mapping worked out on such a big scale, and that we found the right balance with the game / interaction part of the installation was very satisfying. Last but not least, the fact that Roskilde curated Dorit Chrysler to open the installation at sundown with a concert on her theremin was a perfect match. Watching her do her magic in the star-scape we were projecting from up top worked it’s magic.

The first Dark matters work that I stumbled upon was the ORE music video that was done for KENTON SLASH DEMON. It immediately peaked my interest into diving into the rest of your projects. I was a bit surprised to find out that a majority of your work is not intended for a single home-sized screen, but instead often on towering projections and architectural surfaces. For the KENTON SLASH DEMON project, were there any big noticeable differences in the way the team worked together to push through to the final product? What were some of the compromises that had to be met during this process? Were there any difference at all? Any limitations on working through a smaller scale? Any benefits?

We have been doing about 10 music videos all in all – for us it’́s about a single experimental idea coming together with a piece of music. It’s a wonderful medium for creating a universe on its own and the process is always very intense. “Ore” was a collaboration between DM and our old friend Christian Zander (Emperor of Antarctica) who was living in Bucharest. We did the shooting and Zander applied the bending effects in Processing with a lot of talk back and forth on the looks / clips etc. This was the first challenge due to the heavy files we had to transfer back and forth. On top of that you need a heavy computer to do the slit scan effect in 1080p, so Zander was using our PC through screen sharing, which was (understandably) driving him insane in the end. For the studio recordings we started out doing everything in full nude, but decided to do a “covered up” clean version since we didn’t want the focus to be on nudity, but the flesh as a twisting and bending structure. Unfortunately some really good clips got trashed in this process, but it all ended very close to the original vision for the video.

Kenton Slash Demon’s Ore, Music Video (2012).

From what I’ve seen thus far, a good portion of the work being realized has this hybridized resonance of both analog and digital components. Do you feel as though analog methodologies are just as important as current digital ones during your creative workflow? In your opinion, does one always trump the other? Or is there a mutual overlap between the two that generates the best results? 

We love and praise both – digital allows us to enhance what we can do with our own hands, as an extension of the organic analogue side of creation. But it goes further than that, for with the digital we can create complex universes that we would not be able to create analogously. That being said, we have had a period where all the digital grids and perfect circles needed to be challenged with our own creativity – how could we make our own love for minimalism in
an analogue way? The 5D / HD revolution was and is conquering creativity and ideas, and I think we loved the idea of putting some randomness and faults in our stuff. We did the music video “Daemon (http://darkmatters.dk/Kenton-Slash-Demon-Daemon)” for Kenton Slash Demon for a budget of €200,- and it has 90,000 hits on Vimeo now. No 3D, no digital generators, you can actually see Lasse’s teeth in the video. We really like that if you ́re imagination believes in the universe in front of you all the errors and glitches don’t matter and maybe even turn into a charming asset.

In relation to the aforementioned question, let’s dig a little bit into the technological side of Dark Matters’ production. What are usually your go-to hardware / software when developing a potential idea? Is there a consistency to the types of equipment / programs being utilized? Or is every new creation require a slight extension into new technological territories? Going back to the ORE MV, was the application of slit-scan a new challenge for the team? Were there any other memorable examples of running into similar hurdles? How did you overcome them?

We are working hard to develop new concepts in the game engine Unity. A lot is developed in Cinema 4D and the Adobe package, but it is a dream for the company to be able to wave goodbye to key framing and rendering. This dream is rooted in the complexity we mentioned before. Anyways, we try to push our own limits with every project, new methods, visuals approaches or how to use architecture. Safe waters quickly turn too comfortable and kills the spark we need to push things forward. We develop unique setups for each project we do, making every project a challenge, however we have a huge love for – and experience with projection so a lot of our projects tend to include video projectors and computers. But if push comes to shove we work by understanding technology but never because of technology – and it has resulted in nailing some projects with small time budgets (as mentioned in answer to the last question) that somehow seem to produce just that tiny bit more pride than when you pull it off with the big toys.

Where do you get your aesthetic inspiration from? Any specific artistic role models, films, TV Shows, literature, and the like (just a max of three will suffice)? What specific traits have these influences affected the overall development of Dark Matters? Is there even something non-art-related that has aided in the growth of the team?

Our aesthetics are clearly a mix of our personal references – the typical name dropping would be Gondry, Brockmann, Jodorowsky, Tarkovsky, Cameron.

One of our big motivations, as most other studios, is to create projects that make sense beyond a client’s approval / pay. Projects that embrace people’s own imagination and in that way pay back for taking an interest, projects that push our own technological know-how that can hopefully inspire others, and projects that equally pay respect to historical visual language whilst at the same time developing a visual language that sounds / looks like it is our own.

Trentemøller / Roskilde, Live Event Visuals (2009).

Are there any plans for Dark Matters to take on a more personal project? Maybe an idea that’s been sitting on the back-burner?

Working somehow in the mix of the entertainment and art trying to make surprises and out-of-the-gray-monday-world experiences for yourself and people, one of our old dreams is to open an actual go-to-experience. Open every day on a normal busy street, small weird door, cheap entrance and behind that a universe that sucks you up and leaves you a bit richer in the end. Collaborating with other people developing new themes over the year. Like a mix of an indoor playground for grown-ups and a real life video game, with the things we love.

Once again, we here at Empty Kingdom can’t thank you enough for taking the time, patience, and effort to do this interview with us. On behalf of the EK family, I extend my hand to all of you. Before we sign off of this “interview,” are there any exciting works-in-the-making or potential projects that you’d like to share with our readers?

Thank you for the interest EK! We are now ending the first year on our biggest and most ambitious project to date. Danish Castle Center contacted us last Christmas and wants us to make six video installations based on different episodes of the Danish middle ages – all in a complete abstract visual language. The task of changing Danish history with destiny of mighty kings, social structures in medieval society and apparently boring brick stones (which actually was the key to power) into abstract sexy dissemination has been the challenge of our life – in the best way one could imagine. It will be the main attraction of the museum, aiming at younger audiences with all the information on iPads (perfect for creating a clean visual experience) and a soundtrack written for the whole exhibition. They are even reestablishing the biggest moat in Denmark’s history around the museum. Medieval Ownage!

Veto’s This Is Not, Music Video (2011).

Music Video for Kenton Slash Demon’s ORE (2012).

Music Video for Kenton Slash Demon’s DAEMON (2011).

Demonstration for live interactive event SOCIAL ZONE (2012).

Demo of the WHO MADE WHO visuals for the Roskilde 2011 Festival (2011).

Music Video for Veto’s THIS IS NOT (2011).

Dark Matters