As part of “The New Infinity” 2021, digital artist Lucas Gutierrez and sound artist Robert Lippok will present their new fulldome work “SPIN”. For this world premiere, Natalie Koerner spoke with the artist duo.

SPIN, film still, 2021 © Lucas Gutierrez & Robert Lippok

Natalie Koerner: Right now, you are at the planetarium, where you just ran some tests. Let’s start with the basics: what happens with sound and with film when they are experienced in the fulldome?

Robert Lippok: You completely lose your sense of space and scale because of the dome shape and the way Lucas has designed the circular bodies of the artwork. It’s similar with the sound because we have some possibilities here to simulate realistic spatial sound so we can imitate real spaces very accurately. We can create many different acoustic situations that change drastically from one second to the other. At times you perceive the sounds close-up, intimately, and at other times from a great distance.

Lucas Gutierrez: We first explored a version of “SPIN” in a different medium – in an online game. Compared to the virtual space of the game environment, here in the dome there is much more of a sort of zigzag exchange between the simulation that we are trying to build as an ecosystem of elements, and the building—the physical architecture of the fulldome.

The relationship between the piece, the viewer and the space is extremely specific and revolves around circles and spheres: On your round eyeballs in your round head there is the reflection of the two rings spinning in the half-sphere of the fulldome … But it’s also almost as if the planetarium is too round to really give the “SPIN” bodies their proper shape. It was a surprise that even though you are looking with round eyeballs at round shapes in a round space you can’t really grasp the “SPIN” bodies.

RL: The audience, that is built up of rounds shapes and many circles on top of more circles, is also sitting in a circle while we are presenting them with more circles.

NK: When I watched “SPIN” I noticed that there is nothing about the spinning, circular bodies nor the sounds that tells us anything about the human body. Do you even need a human body to understand the piece?

LG: No, we don’t. We don’t need to be a specific form to talk about nature. We don’t need to be a specific form to talk about organisms.

RL: For a long time, I considered incorporating sounds of the human body or a human voice possibly telling stories about materials, because that’s such an important part of the piece. But then I decided against it because what we show is so non-human and I didn’t want to compromise that. Instead, I used everyday sounds of non-living entities from plastic bags to stones to metal to ceramics, inspired by the bodies Lucas built and their surface.

SPIN, film still, 2021 © Lucas Gutierrez & Robert Lippok

NK: Maybe we can think of “SPIN” as an ecology where the sound is a living thing, and the rotating wheels form its habitat, or the other way around? To me, the surfaces look alive – did you take inspiration from living things?

LG: I was initially interested in tattoos on trees [arborglyphs]: Where does the idea come from for people to go and leave traces on trees, for example to declare love? And I wondered how time affects these traces or writings. I was having fun with the idea of the traces becoming part of another ecosystem, damaging the materiality of that tree or that body but also merging with it.

The look of the surface comes from this interest in tree scratchings. But it’s not about trees. It’s more about leaving something somewhere or manipulating a place and not returning to it, probably even forgetting about it. In the game version of “SPIN”, you could fly around and visit points on the rings again, to find different moments and to start to follow the sound. Or while you stood still and the bodies kept rotating, you might be confronted with a specific mark again at a later moment. That’s how the piece was conceived initially. But in the fulldome version, the film curates the experience for you and it’s just a fragment of the endless cycle of ecology of “SPIN”.

RL: We brought in the playfulness of the original game version, where you could go inside the circles and the circles were moving around you and you could listen to sounds while they moved around you. “SPIN” was a bit more like an automated mixing desk, or like a sonic sculpture, that you could walk around in or fly through. And we wanted to bring that liveliness into this pre-recorded film, where “SPIN” becomes like a dance. It’s also like a masquerade to me because you are constantly wondering if what you’re seeing is a wet surface or a ceramic surface? Is this metal? Is this tar? Or is it soft or is it hard? And all the sounds are playing with that too, because they never actually fit with the material – they’re not illustrating what we see or think we see. There are sounds from all kinds of materials dancing around the circles while the circles are dancing with each other.

NK: How do you portray this vibrancy in the fulldome film?

LG: In the film, there is a lot of speed and content and unexpected cuts, so sometimes it feels like you don’t have the time to watch everything that’s happening in detail. The simple symmetry of the rings doesn’t look symmetrical anymore, like it did in the game, because it’s been deformed by the dome. And in the film, there is no linear narrative like you would build in the game. We also integrated parts that could be annoying for example, because the piece is not a showcase of the best shapes or angles of “SPIN”.

NK:  You said that the main sound producing agents are different kinds of materials, how did you approach them?

RL: Yes, I have some string sounds in there, but the main sounds are sounds from objects, which I manipulated in a way that’s similar to Musique concrète from the 50s. They had the idea that you have to make the sounds so abstract that you could hear the core of the sound. Some of the sounds in “SPIN” are a bit like that. Some sounds are super direct and clear, and others are super processed. But the main idea is how to work with different kinds of materials. I really like Jane Bennett’s (Vibrant Matter, 2009) idea that humans are not separate from nature, from material, but that we are one entity. The different materials have different powers and different longings and different needs. For example, if you look at water, H2O, you’ll find a very reactive molecule that wants a lot of action: it wants to react, wants to touch other molecules. So we are surrounded by a lot of non-living things which are totally responsive and have something like a will. That inspired me a lot.

LG: I think at some point we maybe tried to control all of this within “SPIN”, with this mechanism, with this idea of symmetry and building this machine as a nature. But we also tried to re-create something that has control. When the “SPIN” bodies start to move, we can’t be there all the time to listen to them. We probably are not there when something magical happens. So, this film is just a moment of the “SPIN” world that happened in this building.

RL: Everything in the universe is constantly moving. Nothing in the universe is ever standing still, not even a millisecond. And on the core of material, on the core of the atom base, there’s a thing called spin. So on the very tiniest part – if you can call that a part, because it’s actually a movement – there is something rotating.

SPIN, film still, 2021 © Lucas Gutierrez & Robert Lippok

NK: Because of this constant movement, it seems as if the rings are mutating or updating somehow, like living things. Are you creating a kind of alternative nature?

LG: Yeah. I really like that. Even though it’s hard for me to identify if there are rings, if there’s a circle, if there are donuts – it could be any of these.

RL: Maybe it’s nature.

LG: But it’s more about how everything comes together to form an instrument that connects the bodies and the sounds and the audience and might also form an ecosystem.

RL: Maybe it’s nature after the Anthropocene, so it’s totally poisoned. But alive. Maybe like the planet Solaris which has its own life and intelligence.

NK: Traditionally, there is a binary distinction between the mental, the imagined and the material.  Experiencing “SPIN”, these categories don’t seem to hold up. How do you navigate this when creating immersions in a kind of virtual world?

RL: Because we wanted to bring the piece as close as possible to the audience, we worked with memory and how memory gets processed in the brain. The brain can also synthesise input in ways that might feel like a memory of an event but aren’t. We tapped into that, especially in how we cut the film quite radically, to try to cause disorder in the short-term memory of the viewers. They might think: “ok, this is a metal ball, no, it’s a ring … and now it’s here and now it’s behind me … and now it’s in front of me … and this metal ball sounds like water.” We try to confuse the audience, to blur the lines between perception and memory.

NK: Your first fulldome piece, “Non-Face” (2019), was composed of impossible objects and sounds – rendered geometries, manipulated compositions and glitches that look and sound realistic but couldn’t actually exist in the physical world. What is the biggest difference between “Non-Face” and “SPIN”?

LG: The biggest difference is that “SPIN” could really exist because it’s not attached to any technical and mathematical factors that we used as the essence of “Non-Face”. Step by step we are taking “SPIN” out of the virtual and into the physical world. After the game environment, now “SPIN” is embedded in the planetarium architecture. Next it will form part of a collective experience of the live show, and finally it might be an underwater, floating sound sculpture. That’s something I dream of.

RL: Lucas said today that he wanted to ask a carpenter to carve the rings. So compared to “Non-Face”, with its impossible feelings of density and space, “SPIN” is totally concrete.

LG: “SPIN” is about a physical experience. Like an animal. You will be able to sense it with you. Even touch it.

RL: Yeah, because Lucas was working with the surface, which was super real, you always have the feeling that you have the memory of: “I touched something like that”, or “I know something like that” or “this looks like that”. So it’s really playing with reality.

LG: It’s like when you go back to this tree that was potentially engraved some time ago. You don’t know if there was a message or not. It’s already been taken over by time and tree growth and the elements over the years. The shapes look natural … They’re not, but who knows, they’ve been spinning there since a while. They seem familiar. They could be physical, just not yet.

NK: I like that as an end: “SPIN” is in a state of becoming.

As part of Berlin Art Week, the fourth edition of “The New Infinity” will take place at Zeiss-Großplanetarium from 17 to 19 September 2021 and turn it into a gallery of the future. The fulldome work “SPIN” can be experienced on 18.9.2021 (16:00) as well as on 19.9.2021 (23:30).