Interview with Chris Allen / The light surgeons


How would you describe your work?

We are currently working across the audio and visual plattforms so I wouldn’t describe myself as a real-time “visual” artist. Our work combines aspects of documentary filmmaking, motion graphic design, photography and music production. The Light Surgeons work has always spanned various different media explored in a live context. That might not always be about digital manipulation, I’m interested in the simple interaction of projection, light and shadows, as well as an in-camera approach to create the content. We’re always fascinated by the happy accidents that occur in any process but particularly that of a live performance.

How would you describe "live cinema”? Do you use that term for your work?

I prefer this description of what we do than the term Vjing, I think it describes our approach well as we work with narrative structures within a performance context and are not just creating random visuals to music.

How do you take into account the spatial aspect of performance?

We work with multiple sources of projection, so the spatial aspect is very important to us. Having a complex set up means it is always a struggle to adapt your show to different spaces but often that can throw up unexpected possibilities. Our show consists of three video sources and two slide projections, which are projected as a mixture of front and rear projection. We have two screens at the back of the stage and a large theatre gauze over the front to create a 3D layered effect. Of course, all of this has to be taken into account when making and editing the material. Technically, there’s a lot to consider, we always have to do that bit of extra work and planning to get this set up and sometimes it can be a real effort, specially if you have to work around other performers on the same stage. I always think it’s worth doing something a bit different than one video screen at the back of the stage.

What would be the ideal space for your performance?

My idea of space is something between a club and a theatre space, a sort of multimedia cabaret type of thing. Because we mix narrative and music it’s nice to have people attending with informal seating but give the audience the freedom to move around as well. The laying of the projection in our shows can be very different when viewed from a different angle so it’s nice for people to be able to explore that aspect. Somewhere with a sunken dance floor and nice cosy seating on different levels around the outside with a bar without a queue!

How do you build your performance?

It varies depending on the project, but with the show we are just finishing, it started with research and gathering some documentary material, another round of research and filming, a month of recording the music and then three months of postproduction. One week of rehearsals as well! That’s not normal but this isn’t a normal piece of work.

I’ve noticed that you use voice-over as an element, which gives continuance and narrative structure to your material...

Yes, I’m very interested in how language works in general, our new show explores this through the concept of myth, and how truths are created and distorted. I like to explore the spaces between image, sound and spoken word. Much of our early work revolved around collecting fairly random interviews with people on our various travels, we would cut them up with music and make them into a sort of montage radio pieces and then start adding visuals to them. This became a sort of loose, expressionist form of filmmaking, a collage that left more space for the audience to interpret the narrative. I love the space of radio, it allows you to imagine and that’s sadly lucking these days with all the highly polished 3D animation and snappy editing in popular culture.
Much of the work in the VJ scene can be a bit devoid of meaning and substance, its either just entertainment or just surface aesthetics. That’s the problem working in clubs really. I try to bring meaning and story telling to our projects because I like to engage the audience and make them think.
Maybe that’s all a bit too didactic for most club audiences, but I think, as an AV artist, we need to push this area of art out there more, connect with different audiences. It’s too easy just to preach to the converted. There’s so much to talk about in the world, so many stories and meaningful things to communicate! tiempo. ¡Estoy impaciente por mostrarlo ya a la gente!

How do you collaborate in the group?

I operate as the director and work with a freelance producer on most projects and invite different artist and designers in to collaborate on a project basis. These collaborations vary depending on the project, sometimes I’m acting more as a curator and letting people do their own thing really, and with some projects there are more direct collaborations within the group. It also depends on what stage of a project you’re in, some people are better at opening things up at the beginning and other closing it down at the end. With the New Adventures, or True Fictions (new title!) I have been directing and producing the project as a whole and that involves working on all aspects of it. I started out on the research and then began the documentary filming and interviews as part of the production with long time TLS member, Rob Rainbow. The music that we recorded in New York was engineered and part arranged by my brother Ben Allen, Dynamic Syncopation (Ninja Tune). We invited about twenty-five different musicians to participate in the recording sessions, none of which I had ever worked with, so there are lots of unexpected results from that process. Back in London, I have been doing all of the postproduction on the video and audio with a very talented man called Tim Cowie, who I’ve been working with on and off for the past few years. A couple of the tracks have been produced by other artists, a track by Scanone, AKA Jude Greenaway who is an old school member of TLS and Malcolm Litson who is another long time affiliate. It’s been a long haul project and has grown fairly organically really, but I think it’s going to be the best thing we have made for a long time. I’m just looking forward to showing it to people!

What is the relationship between audio and video?

With our new project, the two have been made together pretty much, all of the audio in the show has been recorded on video and we have mixed and arranged both at the same time.

How do you see the future of realtime visual creation?

I think we might see more interaction between the audience and performance, that could be very interesting; the possibilities of mobile technology could bring about some unforeseen developments in this area. The stream of new hardware and instruments are all very exciting to me right now, I’ve only just got into Midi! We’re about to do a show to launch this new electronic instrument called a TENORI-ON which has an amazing interface. I’m very keen to get our work out more by publishing it on the web and DVD, I’d like to develop a DVD label, push new and innovative ways to combine print, web and multiple angles of video on DVD. On a general level, we need to start finding a way to make these forms of expression more sustainable outside of the corporate world of record labels and commercial sponsorship. I’m excited by the new wave of social enterprises and ways in which the audience can invest directly into the art that they like. There is huge potential to circum-navigate the established institutions. Above all, I really hope to continue to be free and to make a living from doing these types of projects.

Chris Allen

Founder & Director The Light Surgeons’ work spans a diverse range of media; print, photography, motion graphics, digital film production, exhibitions, installations and ground breaking live audio visual performances.

You can see the original interview here.


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