Impossible not to notice references to Kraftwerk when watching Robin Fox and Atom™ perform together. With their characteristic robotic aesthetic, digital sound and three coloured lasers, their A/V Double Vision show was the most harmonious duo act of the 2015 Mutek’s edition. For multimedia artist Robin Fox and polyvalent producer Atom™, the objective is to merge their artistic approaches and impressive audiovisual material in order to deconstruct the languages of pop music and sciences.
In a meeting between the young generation and artists of experience, it seemed natural for us to open the interview with a rather broad and once more philosophical and basic question: what is aesthetics?
What would be your own definition of aesthetics?
Robin Fox : The aesthetics is a group of sensibilities. I would say that it is not one single thing, but more a method to appreciate things generally. A way to move from the objective to the subjective ; things don’t have an aesthetic but you have an aesthetic…
For my whole life I tried not to have a symbol aesthetic, it’s easy to become too focus on one particular thing. I would consider my aesthetic very broad, but I try to have an inclusive approach to life generally rather than to try to “force” my aesthetic. So now I’m contradicting myself (laughs). The aesthetic is everywhere and I just receive it. My aesthetic is about physical experience, somatic experience, sensory experience more than an intellectualized experience. When I’m making artworks, I want them to be immediately appreciated for what they are, in the moment that you are appreciating them. I don’t want them to rely on a pre-existent body of knowledge ; I want any person to be able to appreciate. On a sound perception level, something incredible, something beautiful should be apparent, it shouldn’t be hidden.
Atom™ : Aesthetics is one of Platon’s three principles : the good, the truth and the beautiful. I was watching a pitch How to judge on the universe of Terence MacKenna, yesterday and he quoted Platon explaining how the first two principles are impossible to define. In my opinion the aesthetic reveals a much more objective truth, I think we feel and and know when it’s beautiful. It has of course something to do with sophistication ; you need to learn beauty. And to a certain degree with social behaviour. There is something objective about a beautiful sound or rhythm, it just happens, gets in, and do something to you. Of course it could be modify by personal taste. In the end I think it is superior to ethics ; what the truth and right stand for.
I think the personal aesthetic has always something to do with how you feel, it’s very sensitive and intuitive. When I make music I don’t think about the others, I just think about myself. When I have the feeling that something works aesthetically, I can conclude that if it works for me, it must work for a certain percentage of human. It’s easier to exclude people than to include them, and I do that a lot. I put things in my music that I’m sure some people won’t like. Nietzsche said ”you select the audience by the content of your art”.
Considering aesthetic as a question of sensibility, is a common sensibility necessary when you work in collaboration?
Robin Fox : I think so. Uwe [Atom™] comes from the world of techno and club culture. I come from noise and experimental music, avant-garde and more academic, but when we met, we were somehow doing the same thing. We had the same distrust of intellectualizing our work, we both had a confluent in this idea. I really believe that the connection has to be pure between the two mediums and the persons.
Atom™ : Since I started making music, it was always interesting to combine visuals to music, you could see what you were feeling in a way. Back in the 1990s, I tried a few collaborations because I didn’t have the knowledge to do it myself but it never really worked. Video artists don’t necessarily have a sense of music. When I saw Robin Fox’s performance in Australia three years ago, it was totally what I like, as if I finally found somebody with the same ideas.
Robin Fox : I think there is a problem with this idea of visual identity. I’m not very impressed when I see that the visual art is put there as a paranoia of a bad performance. I think electronic music still suffers from this hangover. The idea that electronic music needs to have a substitute for a performance, like an excuse, is not necessary. If it’s not part of the concept, I don’t really see the point. In this collaboration, it is very real : it is not the sound and the image, it is one same thing.
You were talking about physical reactions. What are you thoughts about it?
Atom™ : I think that there is something objective. I believe that numbers, mathematics, geometry and physics, come across in electronic music in much purer form because we can now manipulate electricity in a very sophisticated way. We can now make pure sound-waves and this comes very close to the Platonian thinking — sorry to bring that up again (laughs) — of the universe where the basic geometry and relationship to numbers is basically making the universe. We are now able to reproduce fractions of that, like an equation. You can make this equation sound and amplify it, then this equation creates a reality in the physics, we don’t know what it does but I believe that it is very real. With electricity it’s almost a miracle : you have an outlet in a wall, you plug in machines, you think about something, you do it and send it out to be amplified through speakers. It’s pretty insane! What he [Robin Fox] did in his solo laser show, it’s geometry. I think that it has a very direct impact on us, we form part of the universe, geometry forms part of that universe on a very physical way.
What would be the limits of technology?
Atom™ : I envision music becoming physics. What we know as music today is very formulary. For example, if you listen to the radio ; it’s musicology, an amplified fragment of a very old music idea. But my vision after having played on a very powerful system is that there is this moment in the club — if you are listening to a good artist playing in a good club — where everything is becoming much more physics. This is not a song, it’s a track made of frequencies and you just combine tracks. When things are working on the dance floor, something happens, and you notice that everyone knows it’s happening, the atmosphere becomes almost calm and peaceful.