Switched on retro

Sep 6, 2006 at 12:00 am

Audio-visual artists Kyle Lapidus and Tali Hinkis aren't looking to write a catchy tune that will stick in your head for a week. They're not looking to tug at your memory by writing a line that perfectly summarizes the way you felt last summer. But they are looking for a reaction — something they accomplish by wrapping you in dense and beautiful layers of sights and sounds.

As the analog mash duo LoVid, Lapidus and Hinkis rely on outdated technology to suggest an alternate universe where computers were never invented. The New York twosome deliberately restricts its working methods, using archaic analog systems that treat electricity as a sort of lifeblood rather than the mere carrier of digitized information. Though they also incorporate contemporary techniques gleaned from hackers and the do-it-yourself community, LoVid's forte is audio-visual retro chic in a digital age.

Their focus on live audiovisual performances is a combining of their talents. Hinkis grew up in Israel and studied video at art school in France. Lapidus has been active in the noise music scene for a number of years, and the two met when, according to Lapidus, "Tali picked me up, and I promised to make her video effects pedals." They've been collaborating ever since, and are now married with two kids.

The sound is luxurious, with layers of varied textures — rather like fine embroidery, velvet and lace. Their music also has a lot in common with noise music and abstract electronic improvisation. Bass throbs with violent intensity while the middle ground crackles and hums with prickly feedback. Overlaid is a high-pitched oscillating drone that's barely perceptible at first, then gradually grows in intensity, until it dominates everything. Rhythm sometimes plays a role, but not to the degree it would in dance or pop music. The visuals are equally important.

As the audio's pitches or rhythms are manipulated, the video images are too. Abstract patterns clash and layer, geometric slabs of color collide or a red orb pulsates. The give-and-take between the aural and visual components results in a rich synchronicity that draws out the subtlety of both mediums. Says Lapidus, "The video is the music and the audio is the image."

Their working process is improvisational. They establish parameters beforehand and then explore the possibilities offered within the system of routed signals they've created. Traditionally, the analog process begins with "real" sounds and images that a microphone or camera converts into an electrical signal. That signal can be manipulated, recorded or replayed on a speaker or monitor. LoVid inverts the system, starting with raw electricity (called "sync") that is manipulated and routed through filters, oscillators and other hardware to generate abstract patterns of audio and video. Often, they'll establish a visual or aural motif, then create variations and manipulations of color, timbre, repetition or sound intensity. As a result, no two LoVid performances are alike.

LoVid's exuberance for ideas is evident in other aspects of their performance. Body suits, homemade instruments and tapestries set the stage for the noises and pictures, making a live show more immediate and intoxicating. One "stage prop" is an instrument called the Sync Armonica, a long, sleek table of transparent canisters, filled with hard-wired jacks. They also plug in a collection of multicolored cables, which are used to generate the audio and video. The scene is monochromatic and futuristic-looking, but also vibrantly chaotic. The visual contrast is intentional. "We combine many opposing elements into our work, contrasting hard electronics with soft patchworks, analog and digital, or handmade and machine-produced objects," says Lapidus.

Such juxtapositions are evident in an installation LoVid assembled for one gallery performance in New York. Focusing on the tension between man and technology, the duo created body suits covered in mini-LCD screens, with a lacework of cables streaming like blood vessels — also a reference to the days before "wireless" anything existed. They wore the suits during the performance and left them afterwards hanging on cables. The suits retained the shape of the performers who wore them. "We are interested in romanticizing the age of tangible, honest hardware," Lapidus explains.

All of their creations, both those acted out in front of a crowd and those designed for an installation at a gallery, present a visceral, intense experience. What's more, their performances provoke the audience to question the materials and processes. In today's increasingly digital world, LoVid's focus on the "old-fashioned" demonstrates there's still plenty of room to explore the past.


Doors at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, at Detroit Film Center, 1227 Washington Blvd., Detroit; 313-961-9936.

Brent Cogenhauer is a freelance writer for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]