Chicago’s Kate Simko made a distinct statement with her Lights Out album on Hello?Repeat last year and its accompanying live A/V tour with intermedia artist Jeffrey Weeter. With a sound palette that breezed blissfully through orchestral minimal, Detroit techno, modern classical and jacking Chicago house, the albums captivating live show was propelled even further into excellence by Weeter’s real time visuals.
Having showcased their ‘Lights Out’ collaboration around the world in 2011 to great acclaim, the pair recently kicked off Kate’s 2012 tour with a brand new show, both musically and visually. Debuted at the Istanbul International Independent Film Festival last month, Kate and Jeffrey will perform throughout the US, France, The UK, Italy and Mexico throughout April and May.
Collaborating with videographers in Tokyo, Berlin, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires and Chicago, Kate and Jeffrey have constructed a real time musical and visual exploration that showcases HD video footage.
“My best experiences in dance music have been about celebrating the here and now, taking a journey with a DJ” says Kate. “Our set is meant to carry on this classic spirit and love of underground beats – the power to transport people, and create an alternate reality during the show.”
Kate - incorporating a unique visual live show is clearly important to you as an artist – what has inspired you to push the boundaries and take your live one step further than many other electronic artists?
I think tasteful visuals can add a lot to live dance music, so this all started with me asking Jeff to VJ at my residency night in Chicago, around 2005. Once a year or so I’d perform my live set at the night (instead of DJ'ing) and so we started coming up with ideas on how to take the visuals up a notch for the live set. We started with visuals triggered by the audio - you could see the music moving to the kick drum and other percussion parts. In time we wanted to push things further and get the visuals to react to more subtle moments in my set – melodic changes, bass lines dropping, etc.
Because my set is a one-person live act, I thought interactive visuals were a good way of taking the live experience up a notch...
Now the set is completely interactive – I choose key elements from each song and Jeff programs the video changes and FX to coincide with them. The order in which I end up playing things changes the video sequence, so each night is different. Another thing was I wanted to make the experience cooler for me, and the audience. Watching most bands play gives you more to look at visually, and makes you feel connected to them as they put themselves out there in front of you. Because my set is a one-person live act, I thought interactive visuals were a good way of taking the live experience up a notch. I’m also playing live keyboards, using a drum machine, and using multiple MIDI controllers instead of touching the laptop, which help that cause too…
Kate you were formerly resident of Sonotheque in Chicago where Jeffrey was the resident VJ – is that where and when you first began to work together?
Jeff and I met a few years before that, while we were both university students in music technology. We collaborated on a couple pieces at the university, including a surround-sound piece at Chicago’s Union Station, then lost touch for a while after school. I basically called up Jeff a couple years later and asked him if he’d be interested in VJ’ing at my new residency night, and we’ve been back collaborating ever since.
|Kate Simko & Jeffrey Weeter Live 2012
Live A/V Set
Music by Kate Simko
Visuals by Jeffrey Weeter
Venue: Ghetto Genuine Music Lounge
Recorded live at the !f
Istanbul International Independent Film Festival
Jeffrey – you actually developed custom interactive software for this collaboration. That must have been a long and intense process?
It is something I am enjoying more and more of. As a complex creative project evolves, getting into the coding, patching and the problem solving can be incredibly stimulating work. New avenues of possibilities open all the time. The difficult part is keeping the right balance between staying true the original concept behind the piece and the drive to constantly explore the new.
Technically - how does the Max for Live set up work?
The original idea for the technology was to have it be clean and easy. Kate would be able to walk into a room, plug her laptop into a projector and a sound system, open Live and begin playing. The music performance side of things has gotten more complex for Kate as she wanted to enhance her performance this time around with live keyboards and tactile controllers, but the video side of things still works in a much more contained way.
There are special tracks for the video that have been created and work in tandem with the audio and MIDI tracks. Basically, as Kate moves through the set, firing off audio and MIDI clips, the video channel, containing a Max/MSP/Jitter patch, is listening for cues to create change in the video. There are also some audio effects that directly effect the look and content of the video as well. Some of the programming works directly as a result of her performance while some of it works more behind the scenes to maintain continuity or introduce variety. The result of this creates a real time video editor that is responsive to Kate’s performance and will produce a unique video every night.
Kate- has the cinematic aspect of the show made it difficult to find venues that work both musically and visually for the tour?
When we debuted the A/V set last year, we were telling promoters all they needed was a projector and a screen to can make it happen. Now that I understand more about A/V set-ups, I realize that it’s not that simple. It doesn’t do Jeff’s work justice to be projected on a small screen that I’m casting a shadow on, for example. But honestly the promoters we’ve worked with over the past year have been really accommodating, and enthusiastic about putting in a little extra effort to make the show go off. Some venues that worked well musically and visually were Rex Club in Paris, fabric London, The i:f Film Festival in Istanbul, and Smart Bar in Chicago. I’m happy to be back at Rex and fabric in April with the new set!
Other than your past and current live tours – you have collaborated on other projects together including the DVD Ruts – tell us more about that...
Kate and I had been performing live for a long time together and this was an opportunity to create a more static, less ephemeral piece. I wanted to acknowledge our previous collaborations in the work and recorded eight VJ style performances along to her track, then I superimposed them on top of each other. The result was a grainy wash of performance and light that I thought suited Kate’s ‘Quiet Daydream’ track (for Belgium’s Meakusma label).
Jeffrey – our audience may be unfamiliar with your work and history as an intermedia artist - can you give us some background on you and your career?
Sure, I come from a music background and that informs the core of the work I do. I’ve composed music for dance and theatre in the past and have always enjoyed collaboration and improvisation. A pivotal moment came when a friend of mine Paul Deuth and I started the audio/video duo Fire and Ice.
We would put on performances in Chicago galleries remixing feature movies and television in real time along with a new soundtrack. From then on, I was hooked. I’ve also worked as a VJ and with the live multimedia ensembles Powerpoint, Lucid Dream Ensemble and Cartwright/Moorefield/Weeter.
After college, I worked for five years as a full time audio engineer for the Oprah Winfrey Show. There I worked with an amazing team of audio folks who taught me so much about live and post production techniques, not to mention the constant stream of pop stars I had a chance to work with and the locations from the Oscars to Madison Square Garden to Obama’s inauguration. It really was an amazing experience.
Currently, I’m a lecturer at University College Cork in Ireland where I teach music composition and get to live, breathe and produce art while sharing my skills with others.
Where and what did you study?
For my BA, I studied Music Composition at Columbia College Chicago. I followed that with a Masters and Doctorate in Music Composition at Northwestern University. The field of music composition can be wide depending on the university you are at and I was fortunate to have the encouragement and expertise available to explore technology and art along with my music. It’s my hope I can do the same for my students at University College Cork.
You’ve designed ‘real time video instruments’ – can you explain exactly what that means and entails for the less technically knowledgeable amongst us!?
This is in direct line with my music background. I’m a drummer and a performer. When I started getting into intermedia performance, I realized it was pretty dull for the performer. So I’ve tried to design programs that act like instruments and keep me engaged with the performance. Using the instrument metaphor has really helped me to develop the real time video programs. Then you have to practice like crazy on the computer keyboard, MIDI keyboard, knobs and other bits to try and play them well, but it’s worth it.
Jeffrey – You’ve have done many music/visual projects exploring the relationship between the two arts – which of your explorations have been particularly interesting to work on?
Pattern Portraits: Amsterdam was an interesting one to work on. It’s a solo work for computer performer with video. The whole piece was based on four five-minute videos taken of Amsterdam from the back of my bicycle. Limiting the source material in such a way was meant to provide small glimpses into the daily patterns of traffic in the city. Deriving a piece from it was a fun challenge and because of this piece, I was able to develop some creative tactics for dealing with video and audio data in real time that are still useful avenues of exploration for me today.
The video does act as a follower of Kate much of the time. This allows Kate to do what she’s best at, which is creating the right kind of vibe for the moment...You’re ‘On Six Corners’ in 2005 is also particularly intriguing – can you explain what the concept, process and results of that were?
Firstly, I must say it was a collaboration between Mark Cartwright (volcano!), Virgil Moorefield (Swans, Glen Branca) and myself. The concept behind the piece revolves around creating a feedback loop between the audio and the video. The piece is for three performers using four networked computers generating 5.1 surround sound and three screens of video in real time. All of the audio and video material used in the piece was collected at a certain site on a given day in Chicago.
We then edited the material down into usable bits and started performing, experimenting and composing the final work. The ensemble was completely linked. Performance, audio and video data could be sent by any performer to be used by another. If one was performing with the video, they could send data to an audio performer and they in turn could send audio information back to the video performer. This is where the feedback occurs. It was surprising how much of a presence the feedback had in the ensemble. As a performer, you always new it could be used by you and a co-performer, but it was unpredictable and difficult to control, as feedback should be, so it was very exciting as well. Data feedback is really fun. The last section of the piece really allows the feedback loose here and there and I think the results are interesting.
Live performance onto 3-screens and in 5.1 surround
By Mark Cartwright, Virgil Moorefield, Jeff Weeter
You debuted at the Instanbul International Film Festival very recently – Kate how did it feel to see your show recognised outside of just the music spectrum that you are most used to?
It felt great! I’m starting a program in composition for film in London this fall, so getting our “live cinema” show into a film festival was right up my alley. It seems like a few different creative avenues are coming together in a natural way, which is super cool.
How do you strike the right balance between making the show visually captivating without detracting from the music?
It was conceived as a show for a party, and the music had to take precedence. Striking the right balance is tough because there is the huge beam of light shining at the stage and it’s a bit unavoidable.
However, the way in which the piece is constructed has helped a great deal. The video does act as a follower of Kate much of the time. This allows Kate to do what she’s best at, which is creating the right kind of vibe for the moment.
Being in real time both musically and visually every show is a new experience – for the audience and equally for yourselves. Do you come across new ways of playing and displaying your art forms with each and every show that even you don’t expect to happen?
Jeff: I’m sure Kate will have something to say here, but I will say that when I play through Kate’s set it produces a very different result from when Kate does it. She surprises me every time and I’m happy to see the piece change as she develops the live set further.
Kate: Yes there are definitely times when I play the songs in a new order and the effects from the last song linger in the new song and create something totally fresh. These surprises are what make each performance unique!
We know that the visuals are comprised of video scenes from around the world – Chicago, Berlin, Tokyo... which videographers shot the footage and how did you come across them as individuals?
We had Paul Deuth in Chicago, Afsun & Atiienne from 8visionproduction shoot in Paris and Berlin, and we also had a couple other videographers gathering footage in Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Chicago, and we have new upcoming footage from Istanbul too. Every time we were interested in a videographer in a certain place we would start asking around in that city. We found everyone pretty easily that way.
|Kate Simko & Jeffrey Weeter Live 2011
Live A/V Set
Music by Kate Simko
Visuals by Jeffrey Weeter
Venue: Rex Club
Paris - 4th July 2011
Last year’s ‘Lustre’ Live show consisted of a similar content angle – with videographers from around the world contributing content – how have you adapted and evolved the angle this year?
I would say it’s stripped down and less flashy, you can enjoy the content more deeply now. You can see the HD video more clearly this year, it has less FX overall.
Am I right in thinking the experience will eventually transpire into a DVD release?
There’s talk of a possible DVD release. More on that soon…
What feelings and emotions do you both hope the audience will experience via the show?
Jeff: I hope they enjoy the show for what it is, a unique spectacle being created in time with each breath.
Kate: As a listener and artist, I’m always hoping to experience a timeless moment when I forget about daily life and get transported to another place via the music. That’s how I fell in love with dance music, and I hope our new A/V set can create this experience, at least on the good nights.
Kate Simko Next Dates
Friday April 6th - Hello @ Seconde Nature – Aix En Provence (AV live)
Saturday April 7th - Hello & Azuli @ I-Boat – Bordeaux (AV live)
Sunday April 8th - Hello @ Le Pearl – Lyon (AV live)
Thursday April 12th - Hello @ Rex Club – Paris (AV live)
Friday April 13th - Animal Social Club - Rome (DJ set)
Saturday April 14th - Moxa - Mantova (DJ set)
Friday April 20th - Gamma Club - Turin (live)
Saturday April 28th - fabric - London (AV live)
Friday May 4th - U Street Music Hall - Washington DC (AV live)
Saturday May 5th - Smart Bar - Chicago (AV live)
Friday May 11th - W2 Media Centre - Vancouver (AV live)
Friday May 18th - Rioma - Mexico (live)
Saturday May 19th - Cluster Studios @ Denver - (AV live - 2nd show of evening)