'we are carving our own space': transmoderna on bridging digital art and electronic music

'we are carving our own space': transmoderna on bridging digital art and electronic music

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transmoderna crafts immersive physical and virtual ambients

 

As emerging technologies continue to inspire creative expressions in the digital sphere, Transmoderna carves its own space amid the buzz. Situated at the intersection of digital arts and electronic music, Transmoderna has evolved into a transdisciplinary artist collective by integrating new media and technologies into club and museum settings alike. ‘Our goal is to unify the different arts and media used in our works. We thrive to create a total work of art, something that doesn’t belong here or there, something that is its own territory,’ Ana Ofak, co-founder and creative director, tells designboom. Spearheaded by DJ Steffen ‘Dixon’ Berkhahn, the Berlin- and Lisbon-based collective has since 2018 sparked a new era of transformative experiences, rooted in collaborations. Transmoderna’s artistic projects thrive in both exhibition settings and on dancefloors, straddling the line between two worlds that are often perceived as antithetical. Their signature immersive ambients merge artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and audio-reactive worldbuilding, pushing the boundaries of synaesthesia.

 

One of their most prolific undertakings, Terraforming CIR, is a virtual reality installation that has evolved into a screen-based work. It has formed part of the Worldbuilding: Gaming and Art in the Digital Age exhibition curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and shown at the Julia Stoschek Foundation and Centre Pompidou Metz. Its cinematic narrative is set in the post-anthropocene, immersing its audience in speculative realms and envisioning enigmatic otherworldly planetary colonies devoid of human presence, yet brimming with vitality. ‘Terraforming, a process of making an uninhabited planet habitable, is turned upside down. What is being terraformed is the earth itself, while machine learning and AI systems serve as the gateway to uncharted scenarios,’ shares Ofak. Read on to learn more about Transmoderna’s journey of branching into new territories of new media, ethos of collaboration to enrich digital culture, practice of working between digital and virtual realms, and more.

transmoderna on bridging digital arts and electronic music
Ana Ofak and Steffen Berkhahn, courtesy Christian Werner

 

 

interview: from virtual club nights to speculative realms

 

designboom (DB): Can you introduce us to Transmoderna? 

 

Transmoderna (TM): Transmoderna is an artist collective and studio based in Berlin and Lisbon. It explores the possibilities that arise from merging digital arts and electronic music. We — Steffen ‘Dixon’ Berkhahn and myself — founded Transmoderna in 2018, when he was invited to do a DJ residency at the Pacha club in Ibiza. Together with a production team of new media artists and system designers we developed a club night that pushed the boundaries of what a dance floor experience can feel like. 

 

DB: What has your journey looked like so far? 

 

TM: Back then, Transmoderna was an experimental approach to clubbing. We introduced new media — LED screens, kinetic sculptures, and augmented reality — into the traditional setting of Pacha nightclub. As Transmoderna evolved and grew, we were invited to show both in museums and club environments, bridging the gap between two cultures that are often considered antithetical.

Due to that hybrid interest we mostly work in two fields artistically: on immersive ambients and large-scale event productions. Both are intertwined, as we create pieces that can be shown in both settings. The difference is that we specialise in virtual reality installations, when it comes to more intimate settings of a museum or a gallery, and on unique LED system design for large event venues. 

transmoderna on bridging digital arts and electronic music
Transmoderna’s ‘Terraforming CIR’ x Gabriel Massan at London’s Printworks 2021 | image courtesy Transmoderna

 

 

DB: Which milestones have you been most proud of?

 

TM: We are proud of all of our projects, because with each we ventured into a new medium or a new technology together with a fluid team of artists and developers. Transmoderna is like a cat, rebirthing itself with each new fall into a different project framework.

Having said that, a very special milestone has been the introduction of our AI-based ecosystem at Printworks London in 2021. When we first started to experiment with AI in 2020, there were no commercial platforms offering models or presets like Midjourney and Dall-E today. So when we developed our in-house AI app it was a huge step for us.

It is a generative tool, so it creates images in real-time according to a model you train it on. The exception of our tool is that it’s audio-reactive. It reacts to the music played. We have several parameters we can tweak, so the impression of what you see is truly in sync with what you hear. That show at Printworks was pure euphoria for everybody. The pandemic was coming to its end, clubs were open again, and we all wanted to experience something fresh and radical. Having human agents work with a non-human agent (AI app) like that — allowing it to control visual output fully — was truly unreal.

transmoderna on bridging digital arts and electronic music
‘Xenopunk’ at London’s Printworks 2022 | image by Connor Baker 

 
 

the hybrid collective immerses in audio-visual spectacles

                                                                        

DB: The digital art realm is a vibrant, multidisciplinary space that’s rapidly evolving. How does Transmoderna find its position here?

 

DB: We are carving our own space. Due to the hybrid and collaborative nature of Transmoderna, we are standing on two grounds — on the grounds of digitals arts and on the grounds of electronic music — while at the same time drawing things together. Our goal is to unify the different arts and media used in our works. We thrive to create a total work of art, something that doesn’t belong here or there, something that is its own territory.

 

DB: How do you ensure each experience is meaningfully immersive for your audience?

 

TM: It all comes down to how the sound, visuals, and the scenography entangle.

In our large-scale events we try to showcase what we call the ‘immersive pit’: a unique screen set up that surrounds the dancefloor and gives the audience the impression of being hugged by the experience. In our virtual reality installations on the other hand it is all about implementing sound that melts together with the visuals, aiding their mutual impact; taking what is seen deeper toward a corporeal experience.

transmoderna on bridging digital arts and electronic music
Nxt Museum x Transmoderna – Artist in Residence – ADE 2022 | image by Maarten Nauw

 

 

DB: What role does sound play in your works? 

 

TM: Music is crucially important, if not the most important element of our works. We produce new pieces and tracks for each installation, and tweak the visuals so that they become one. The direction of a new piece will always be that of music and images united.

Especially with our works that were exhibited in museums like ‘Machine Concrète’ (2021) and ‘Terraforming CIR’ (2022-2024), we learned from the audience of the importance sound and music had for the genuinity of their experience; an experience to sink senses and consciousness into, rather than just something to look at and interpret.

In a club or at events, music is the framework set at the base of everything. When we talk about real-time visuals then it’s visuals merging with the BPM of the music. For us it is important that the relation between sound and visuals is kindred and not just supplementing. 

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Terraforming CIR — Alluvion | image courtesy Transmoderna

DB: How do you envision the intersection of music and computational arts enriching digital culture?


TM: In the beginning of video gaming, sound was monophonic and running on a loop. When Trent Reznor did the score for ‘Quake’ in 1996, it changed everything. The whole audio-visual experience went from flat to juicy. This jump in development is quite comparable to musical scores in computational arts. Only truly collaborative projects will reach the level of advancement that is needed to keep the audiences captive. Hearing is a very subtle sense. It recognizes the tiniest flaws, even if it is not trained; we hear when a DJ misses a beat while mixing, and it makes us stop dancing. The same applies to immersivity. If we enter virtual reality and all we hear is our breathing and heartbeat plus some ambient sounds, we won’t arrive anywhere but in our living room with goggles on despite the best visuals being served on the lenses.

'we are carving our own space': transmoderna on bridging digital art and electronic music
Terraforming CIR — Mycoforest | image courtesy Transmoderna

 

 

terraforming CIR: an otherworldly virtual reality voyage

 

DB: Tell us more about your VR installation, ‘Terraforming CIR’. What is the concept behind it? 

 

TM: ‘Terraforming CIR’ is an eight-minute cinematic virtual reality installation. The storyline unfolds in a time after the fall of human civilization. The viewer sets out on a journey through three worlds, ‘Exo-anthropocene’, ‘Alluvion’, and ‘Mycoforest’. All three explore different collapsed ecosystems, some of which might seem familiar.

Terraforming, a process of making an uninhabited planet habitable, is turned upside down. What is being terraformed is the earth itself, while machine learning and AI systems serve as the gateway for uncharted scenarios: synthetic corals share a subaquatic space with artefacts of bygone cultures, while fungi envelop mankind’s consciousness, preserved on cloud storages.

transmoderna on bridging digital arts and electronic music
Terraforming CIR — Mycoforest | image courtesy Transmoderna

 

 

With ‘Terraforming CIR’ we wanted to delve into worlds that come into being without humans being there. And into unusual interspecies relations trying to make them apprehensible to the viewers: how would it be, if we would be able to use sight in the way insectoids living in harsh climates do? They don’t see, but sense the sun. What if they could teach us? How would our perception change? How would we change by seeing differently? These were the core inquiries we followed creating the project.

 

DB: How was the VR experience created, and who did you work with to make it happen?


TM:Terraforming CIR’ was created in collaboration with 3D sculptor Gabriel Massan, neural artist Sofia Crespo, and AI developers Feileacan McCormick and Moisés Horta, as well as the technical creatives Carlos Minozzi and Timur Novikov. The music was produced together with Trikk and Âme. So it was a large collaborative effort guided by our conceptual, creative, and musical direction. 

'we are carving our own space': transmoderna on bridging digital art and electronic music
SURREAL FUTURES exhibition | image courtesy Max Ernst Museum

 

 

the future of creative expression in the digital realm


DB: Over the past years, the virtual realm has seen many trends come and go. Where do you see the future of digital art taking us?

 

TM: It is interesting to see that scale has gained so much importance in how digital art is being presented. The LED screens are getting larger by the minute. It doesn’t mean that the experiences are getting better too. Our interest pushes us toward more adverse media collaborations, trying to bring digitality into contemporary sculpture, and electronic music into performative arts, for example. We consider AI to be another very important collaborator, with human agents taking on the role of an observant tutor, teaching and learning from the AI at the same time.


DB: How do you think creators can find ways to create with more longevity? What role do you think collaboration has to play in this?


TM: For us, the implementation of new and experimental technologies has enabled the long durée of our works. For each crazy endeavour we’ve had, like building our own AI app in 2020, we sought out artists whose practice would lend us skills to go beyond the given. So instead of aiming for scale, we aimed for experimentality, innovation, and craziness. So far it’s proved to be a solid path to longevity.

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Terraforming CIR — Alluvion | image courtesy Transmoderna

DB: What are you working on at the moment?

 

TM: A number of projects, including a live show in New York, a collaboration with a TV series, and a new project called ‘ECHO’, which will be shown in a solo exhibition next autumn. All will have a large impact on defining our year, and how Transmoderna will shape and reshape its profile. 

 

Terraforming CIR — Mycoforest | video courtesy Transmoderna

'we are carving our own space': transmoderna on bridging digital art and electronic music
Terraforming CIR — Mycoforest | image courtesy Transmoderna

 

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Nxt Museum x Transmoderna – Artist in Residence – ADE 2022 – photo by Maarten Nauw
Nxt Museum x Transmoderna – Artist in Residence – ADE 2022 – photo by Maarten Nauw
Machine Concrète at Fondation Beyeler | image courtesy of Transmoderna and Fondation Beyeler
Machine Concrète at Fondation Beyeler | image courtesy of Transmoderna and Fondation Beyeler
Terraforming CIR — Mycoforest | image courtesy Transmoderna
Terraforming CIR — Mycoforest | image courtesy Transmoderna
Terraforming CIR — Alluvion | image courtesy Transmoderna
Terraforming CIR — Alluvion | image courtesy Transmoderna

project info:

 

creative studio: Transmoderna | @transmoderna

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