We round up a selection of the best music videos, short films and audiovisual experiments we were thrilled to present in 2021.
Fact’s focus on audiovisual art and performance over the last two years has enabled us to follow the infinite number of different directions our favorite artists are moving in, all at once. In a year in which Collins Dictionary made “NFT” (non-fungible token) its “word” of the year and a nebulously defined conception of the metaverse looms over the horizon, it’s clear the boundaries between physical and digital, online and offline, sound and vision, are becoming more and more porous.
Amongst some of the most beautiful, challenging and evocative music videos of the year, Fact has presented a number of works that push and pull at these boundaries, implementing generative systems, wherein sounds literally produce images, and GAN animations, which transform the complex computational processes of generative adversarial networks into otherworldly, warping visuals. We’ve even presented a couple of actual NFTs, although whether these works are even ours to present or not is another, more complicated, question.
Conversely, the series has also provided a platform for artists working in more conventional fields of filmmaking, as well as some who continue to experiment with resolutely analogue techniques, such as hand-drawn animation and physical film manipulation. The fact that the latter of these examples, Pedro Maia and Kevin Richard Martin’s gorgeous collaboration, was sold as an NFT just goes to show how fluid the space we’re trying to catch a glimpse of really is. Below is an unranked list of some of our favorite audiovisual work we were thrilled to present in 2021.
With ‘BLOOM/ROT’, illustrator and animator Aisha Madu explores two opposing sides of producer and vocalist LYZZA, creating twin avatars to accompany two irresistible club compositions, one light and euphoric, the other darker and melancholic. “BLOOM/ROT are two sides of the same coin. They’re polar opposites but not polarised,” explains Madu. “BLOOM is growing, sweet and hopeful. ROT is decomposing, destruction and chaos.” “Musically I really tried to encapsulate the two up and down feelings in my head. I composed the music as if I was a visitor in my own brain, looking around,” says LYZZA. “The first track represents a vision of the light at the end of the tunnel a lot of people have used to keep themselves going in the day to day. The second track represents the low points where one just wants to be left alone and might redirect anger at others or themselves.”
Over the summer, as part of its C0C “The Festival As A Performance” digital program, Turin’s C2C Festival and Fundaciòn Marcelo Burlon brought together experimental composer, artist and performer Alejandra Ghersi with multidisciplinary artist Weirdcore for a very special performance to launch fashion designer, Marcelo Burlon’s new charitable foundation. Featuring guest appearances from pioneering DJs and producers Total Freedom and Physical Therapy, Arca curated a unique concert exploring avant-garde composition, thrilling live performance and experimental turntablism, all of which took place amongst the installations, exhibitions and artworks of a sprawling villa in Ibiza, a venue owned by by the Fondaciòn Marcelo Burlon. The 53 minute broadcast attracted a global audience of 7,619 fans across 34 nations in support of the fundraising campaign for the trans and non-binary shelter Casa Rifugo Marcella, Ghersi not only delivered an overwhelming, virtuosic performance, but also acted as both and compère and conductor, orchestrating a vital cacophony of sonic gymnastics and glamorous theatricality.
‘Brist’, which can be translated from Norwegian as “rupture”, is the title chosen by queer filmmaker Matt Lambert and experimental composer and saxophonist Bendik Giske for their stunning collaboration. Commissioned by Oslo’s MUNCH museum for the third installment of their Contemporary Art Digital Shorts series, entitled Queer Desires, Brist was captured by Matt Lambert at the HAU Hebbel am Ufer theatre in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, yet another theatre lying empty during the lockdown. “Devoid of an audience during the pandemic,” says HAU, “the venerable stage stands empty, providing an eerie backdrop for Bendik Giske’s saxophone performance of his new composition.” Combining the jar-dropping physicality of Giske’s live performance with dim, sensual lighting, glistening latex stretched taut over straining flesh and the sleazy grain of 16mm film, with Brist Lambert equates the physical distance of social distancing and public curfews with the pent up desire of a furtive touch. The empty space of the deserted HAU1 theatre is contrasted with Giske’s solo journey around its labyrinthine sprawl of bathrooms, hallways and backstage areas, all the while pursued by a masked stranger.
Egyptian poet, singer and artist Abdullah Miniawy has been collaborating with Carl Gari for close to five years, debuting back in 2016 on The Trilogy Tapes with Darraje, before releasing The Act Of Falling From The 8th Floor to critical acclaim in 2019 on AD93. A highly conceptual project, the six-track release saw Miniawy coming together with the German trio, made up of musicians Jonas Yamer, Till Funke and Jonas Friedlich, to respond to a poem that describes the poet jumping from the eighth floor of a building in Cairo. As he falls, he describes what he sees on each of the building’s balconies, building a fatalist portrait of Egyptian society under the brutal Al-Sisi regime. The result is an immensely difficult, yet hauntingly beautiful, collection of songs, with Carl Gari providing devastating sonic architecture for Miniawy’s unflinching testimonial. For the group’s performance at the 2021 edition of Rewire Festival in The Hague, which took place both online and offline, they enlisted the talents of multimedia artist and filmmaker Justin Urbach to create a special live documentation of a unique live performance. Combining performance footage with cinematic elements, Urbach guides us through different scenarios, each accompanying a different track.
‘Bioplastics’ is taken from Molecular Level Solutions, a breakneck plunge through the roiling waters of DJ Stingray 313‘s singular sound, fusing clattering percussion and weaponised bass with the kind of glittering future soundscapes that are the producer’s speciality. The track’s video is a collaboration between DJ Stingray and Iranian-Canadian visual artist Bahar Noorizadeh, who explores the twin histories of electro and Detroit’s industrial past, transforming their continuities into a sci-fi parable. “Techno commenced where the factory withered away,” she writes. “One person, one car: two diachronous beats. Automated selves reverberating to the rhythm of brakes, axles and engines, imagineering the assembly line across the walls (picture Chaplin in Modern Times.) What better narrator than the car – or cinema – to speak of a hundred or so years of aporia (picture Hal in Space Odyssey.)”
Melding avant-garde electronics with surreal computer-generated environments, ecolagbohrsac2021 is purportedly backed by England’s Council of Legislation and Governing Body of Hyper Real Simulations and Constructs, a fitting sponsor considering how accurately they capture the experience of moving around a city mediated by social media, navigating the virtual stack that sits atop the smog. It’s a theme that’s at the forefront of the exceptionally titled ‘Fucking with an online date at a beautiful natural spot somewhere in the Beckenham Place Park’. The digitised back-and-forth of online dating apps appear transfigured in this hyperreal space, manifested as quotes from Andrei Tarkovsky and lyrics from American hardcore band AFI and British prog group Porcupine Tree. A lonely man mouths off about a bedroom recording setup, while Hatsune Miku drifts off with Porcupine Trees ‘Deadwing’ stuck in her head. “How are you feeling these days,” asks someone. “Ready and Able,” answers someone else.
In the visual for Rinse France resident Elise Massoni’s ‘G & More’, created by visual artist Jack Anderson, the French producer’s complex rhythms and glistening melodies soundtrack a digital forest scene, which zooms into microscopic levels of detail as organic fractals emerge from a falling droplet of water. The video’s serene natural setting is juxtaposed with burned-out cars and industrial waste littering the scene, which are slowly engulfed by the plants that grow up around them. The video’s concept reflects Massoni’s thoughts on the track itself, and Straight is a Lie, the EP that ‘G & More’, is taken from. “Straight is a Lie was made following a series of personal disasters,” Massoni says. “It is a tale of those catastrophes but also of how they came to be resolved.”
femme culture co-founder Elkka wrote ‘I. Miss. Raving.’ at the beginning of 2020, in response to the initial days of the pandemic. “When this track was originally written I had no understanding of when the sentiment of nostalgia, frustration and unending desire to be out raving, to be alongside friends and strangers would expire,” she explains. “But here we are and it still feels just raw as it did when I wrote this towards the beginning of last year.” “In times like these collaboration has been a saviour,” Elkka continues, “and fortunately I have some very talented friends who were able to create something beautiful and symbiotic to go alongside the music which I think really captures the moment we are living in.” She called upon director of photography Michael Filocamo and director Alex Lambert to create the video.
Experimental filmmaker, musician and multimedia artist Edward Quist, who makes work under the alias embryoroom, imagines New York City as a shadowy hellscape in his latest feature presentation, Ravaged By The Sun (American Cannibalism). Developed over the course of the last year with various live lockdown screenings on social media, the expansive audiovisual work weaves together stroboscopic video montage, CGI and a seething score of pitch-black techno and chilly electronics to paint a nightmarish picture of an alternate reality that draws inspiration from the very real anguish and trauma of life under lockdown.
This year producer and designer Caleb Halter, aka Feral, returned from a five-year hiatus from music with his long awaited debut album, The End, which sees the artist approaching electronic music with the wide-eyed grandeur of stadium shows experienced as a child. “My earliest memories of mixes weren’t on Radio 1,” he says, “but at Labor Day fireworks displays over the Ohio river synchronized to classic rock, at an arena filled with fog at Monster Jam, or at a laser-light show at Cedar Point looking out across Lake Erie.” “I wanted to create a mix inspired by that world, a super-set of agony and euphoria, a flickering radio transmission, spinning the dial across genre and time, all held together by an invisible thread.” Halter returns to similar territory with the album’s second single, ‘God’s Country’. Beginning with plucked strings before building to an epic barrage of driving synthesis and shimmering, effects-heavy guitar, the track arrives with a lysergic visual from director and animator Erik Carter, who follows the bizarre progress of a glitched-out cowboy.
In Azimuth, audiovisual artist Sarah Badr channels a tension between organic and synthetic forms, digitally rendering pulsating alien objects and shimmering surfaces that change and transform in a responsive, symbiotic relationship with the tactile sounds she corals into the intricate texture of her compositions. Resolutely synaesthetic, Azimuth oscillates between the recognisable and the impossible, a dichotomy that is suggested in the work’s title. An azimuth, in geometry, is an angular measurement in a spherical coordinate system and is derived from the Arabic word السَّمْت. When applied in astrology and used as a celestial coordinate, an azimuth is the horizontal direction of a star, or other astronomical object. In one sense the title, and the work, is functional, referring to a unit of measurement, but when applied to the world around us it becomes ontological, a marker for locating an object in physical, or artificial, space.
On her latest album, Aralkum, avant-violinist and electronic composer Galya Bisengalieva reflects on what she terms “one of the worst environmental disasters on the planet”, the shrinking of the Aral Sea. Located between Uzbekistan and Bisengalieva’s native Kazakhstan, the Aral Sea was formerly the fourth largest lake in the world, but back in the 1960s the rivers that fed the lake were diverted by Soviet irrigation projects, causing the lake to shrink to 10 percent of its original size by 1997. It is this process of desertification and desiccation that Bisengalieva responds to on Aralkum, which is split into three sections: pre-disaster, calamity and future. ‘Moynaq’ is taken from the first section and takes its name from a long-since abandoned sea port in northern Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic in Uzbekistan. For the dramatic visual accompaniment Kazakh director Sana Serkebaeva imagines the flora and fauna of a lush sea forest, now lost to the heat and death of the desert.
The audiovisual practice of HDMIRROR is a hard thing to describe, it’s really something you have to experience. If asked, the artist opts for “dysfunctional dance music”, “transformation through overload”, “euphoria simulator”, “neural fireworks” and, perhaps most cryptically, “sabotage and tradition.” Citing key influences as Guy Debord, Jean Baudrillard and Dutch EDM giant Tiësto, HDMIRROR is an ever-evolving site of 21st century iconoclasm, a hard dance glitch in the simulation causing the sounds and images of dance music’s past, present and future to buckle and twist as they are catapulted at frightening speed into the stratosphere. Yet, in spite of the artist’s “high octane music theory”, HDMIRROR’s off-kilter Music for Accelerationists never regresses into techno-nihilism. Uncontaminated by the digital world, the artist’s disruptive audiovisual broadcasts are precision engineered to wreak havoc IRL, imbued with a purity of spirit and a pranksterish playfulness that seeks to commune with the ghosts of rave past while at the same time transcending the machinic grind of the modern music industry. In many ways, “THIS MUSIC” can be understood as a potent distillation of this drive, a hyperreal reflection of what it’s like to rave in a world where the physical and the virtual are constantly at each other’s throats.
Responding in kind to extremely dark times with equally intense sounds, Kevin Richard Martin inaugurated Intercranial Recordings with a volley of solo albums, Frequencies for Leaving Earth Volumes One to Five. Moving from “smacked out jazz” and “massive low-end gravity”, through what Martin wryly refers to as his “gospel album”, to “celestial drones” and “cavernous dubspaces”, these five albums saw the producer plunging further into the sound worlds he has been exploring since the late ’80s. Coming together with Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Maia, Martin sent these sonic explorations into deep space against transcendent analogue visuals. Using a combination of traditional analogue processing techniques and digital technology Maia presents four contemporary variations on 2001: A Space Odyssey‘stargate, each catapulting us past earth’s orbit into the unknown.
AV artist Lucas Paris explores the softer side of audiovisual performance culture in Light Center Folds, a technicolour exploration of a virtual wilderness recorded live, in real time, for Fact. “Light Center Folds is a digital environment of complexity fusing a range of themes and research into a real time audiovisual environment captured live for the final video work,” explains Paris. “This work stems from the efforts of imagining the rules of a virtual environment from scratch with a conscious effort to move the use of game engines beyond adversity, conflict, attack, evaluation, scoring and reward.” Chasing light particles around a barren wasteland populated with glitched-out emoji collages, grotesque CGI sculptures, skeletal vector art and digital foliage, Paris dives deeper into the virtual space of an audiovisual environment, viewing it through a specifically spatial lens. Exploding flattened notions of user interface, Paris glides between discarded landmarks of digital detritus, expanding the two dimensions of a smartphone screen or laptop display into a fully developed world.
“Since I started making music, my intention has never been to explain a personal story or express my emotions – at least not in a conscious way,” explains Marina Herlop. “There is no extra-musical reference sheltering my music so far, the only principle that has led my creative process has been an aesthetic one.” The first we hear of the experimental pianist, vocalist and producer on ‘miu’, her debut release for PAN and the first glimpse of an album forthcoming in 2022, is a gently distorted layered harmony. The first we see of her in the stunning video from director Anxo Casal is Herlop wrapped in a headscarf, crossing a pink and blue sky plucked straight out of science-fiction. It’s clear that, wherever we are in ‘miu’, this a world of Herlop’s making, an alien earworm that sounds at once hymnal and foreboding. “My will is to create music that is self-contained and thus does not intend to describe emotions, ideas, landscapes, characters or scenes of my life or lives of others,” she asserts.
EYE FALL is a dizzying meditation on the digital image from artist and filmmaker Mark Prendergast. Using a wide array of imaging tools and editing techniques, Prendergast deftly draws together a jumbled assemblage of video material and digital ephemera into a non-linear reflection on the world viewed through a small screen. “It was made in a period where there were a whole lot of ideas and observations floating around,” explains the artist, “so this work isn’t really about one thing in particular but it’s the end product of around 18 months of thinking about what it is to be a maker in the current visual/cultural climate.” Cutting between footage of his friends, animals, children and objects, Prendergast crafts a kind of videographic free verse, a poetic response to everyday life mediated by digital media, for digital media. “The initial starting point for the work was that I wanted to explore the feeling of being in free fall,” continues Prendergast. “I was feeling – and still feel – that in this contemporary moment the ground is quite unstable and were all in a collective state of free fall. It seems like we’re in the middle of a paradigm shift where meaning, roles, genres, rules of representation, everything is all up for grabs, so I wanted to make a work which is a kind of meditation on the digital image and where we’re all at right now.”
MSHR is the audiovisual performance collective of artists Birch Cooper and Brenna Murphy, a collaborative project focused on the building and exploration of sculptural electronic systems, cybernetic compositions that take form as installation work and live performances. For the last decade they have toured the world with their unique, improvisational live show, centered around self-built analog synthesizers that use feedback from light and movement to create dense sonic landscapes. For Liquid Conglomerate Presence Cycle, the duo’s innately somatic approach to synthesis is complemented with reactive visuals that form city-like circuitscapes, which are themselves extruded from diagrams describing the signal flow of MSHR’s electronic musical systems.
“Grotto is a bit like if King Lear had been a millennial soap opera with a happy ending,” says object blue of her latest release for London label TT, a five-track, audiovisual EP that sees the producer teaming up with her wife and creative partner, artist and photographer Natalia Podgórska. “Grotto is a stage,” blue continues. “It’s not a soundtrack to an existing play, but whilst creating it I was thinking about the space we move in, the characters we play, the dialogues that happen.” blue and Podgórska shared an excerpt featuring a live rendition of the project’s anthemic opener, ‘Opened Close’. blue corrals an ecstatic, stabbing synth line as Podgórska conjures a fantastical digital environment around her. “The video is half inspired by object blue’s interest in medieval art and theatre, half inspired by imaginary friends/characters we make up to cope with our home situation (which is what Grotto is about),” she explains.
Back in 2018 experimental composer Britton Powell came together with cellist Lucy Railton and producer Brian Leeds, perhaps best known as Huerco S., at Gary’s Electric Studio in Brooklyn, New York. Over the course of a number of exploratory sessions Powell presented the group with a collection of compositional sketches, each centred around multi-tracked electronics and recorded acoustic percussion. Taking these sketches as a starting point, the three musicians then began adding to Powell’s sonic scaffolding with instinctive, improvisational playing, with Railton on cello and electronics and Powell and Leeds working in tandem on laptops. It was out of this period of experimentation and improvisation that Pilled Up on a Couple of Doves was borne, a collection of recordings edited, distilled and collaged together over the course of the next two years. Filmmaker Drew Hagelin contributes a fittingly abstract visual accompaniment, realising a concept devised by Powell with layered projections and slowly shifting editing. Dark ripples and silhouettes fold into each other in gently lysergic patterns, a technicolour filter picking out areas of light defined starkly against shade in a process that mimics the act of listening for recognisable acoustic forms amidst discordant electronics.
Austrian-born, Berlin-based artist and filmmaker Rainer Kohlberger and Viennese producer Jung An Tagen are partners in audiovisual chaos for Emergence Collapse, a new collaborative project adapted from the artists’ forthcoming live AV show. Functioning as an extended exploration of the neuroscientific effects of synthetic sounds, the album’s compositions are equal parts dizzying and ecstatic, oscillating between satisfying and frightening, concrete and abstract, as Shilla Strelka describes in the album’s liner notes, “an overstimulated exploration of perceptive processes.” It’s an effect that is stretched to breaking point with Rainer Kohlberger’s visual accompaniment, a swirling, swarming mass of neural nets and machine learning, a Deep Mind fever dream that draws out the lysergic energy of Jung An Tagen’s synthetic experiments while at the same time gurgles towards the bioluminescent, organic qualities his sounds occasionally assume
Producer and sound designer Robert Dietz and digital artist Claudia Rafael are close friends, in fact, they live next door to each other. When the time came for Dietz to think about visualising the sounds of Schnups, his debut EP for Live At Robert Johnson, Rafael was the obvious choice, but not just because they happen to be neighbours. Swallowing Tubes is a profound testament to the strength of their creative partnership, showcasing a stunning marriage of sound and image that seems to work at a molecular level. Drawing inspiration from the dreamy pads and transcendent arpeggios of Dietz’s track, Rafael set her sights on the heavens, using a text-to-image GAN (generative adversarial network) to create an infinite zoom through a lysergic landscape of heavenly bodies.
By utilising a mixture of photography, 3D animation and analog technologies, Canada-born, Paris-based artist Sabrina Ratté investigates the interplay between surroundings and subjectivity. Her practice includes video, animation, installations, sculptures, audio-visual performances and prints, all of which function in service of a multidisciplinary exploration of space, both digital and physical. For her latest video series, Floralia, Ratté draws inspiration from the writing of Donna J. Haraway, the author of A Cyborg Manifesto, as well as science-fiction writers Ursula K. Le Guin and Greg Egan, as she imagines a speculative future in which samples of extinct plant species are preserved and displayed in a virtual archive room.
In Cruelty Squad, interdisciplinary artist Ville Kallio envisions a grotesque, low-resolution alternative reality where power, capital and ultra-violence are one and the same, where corporate liquidations involve quite literally liquifying employees and where biomechanical, drug-addled assassins are tasked with “performing wetworks” for despotic conglomerates. This is what Ville Kallio terms “an immersive power fantasy simulator with tactical stealth elements”, a first-person shooter in the style of classic late ’90s and early ’00s games such as Perfect Dark, Deus Ex and Quake, that draws aesthetically from a diverse collection of influences, including Super Mario 64, LSD Dream Emulator and Dark Souls. You play as an “emotionally dead combat-substance fuelled grunt” of the titular Cruelty Squad, a “depraved subsidiary company” headed up by the Corporate Arch Demoness.
SVBKVLT‘S resident sci-fi rap iconoclast Yen Tech embraces the bombast of pop excess, channeling dystopian swagger and video game hyperactivity into his cinematic sound. It was this quality that artists Korakrit Arunanondchai and Alex Gvojic saw in the rapper and producer, leading them to feature him as a major character in their 2016 collaborative work, There’s a word I’m trying to remember, for a feeling I’m about to have (a distracted path towards extinction). Lazarus is an excerpt of this longer work, and features Yen Tech playing a character preoccupied with realising his digital self, in spite of the planetary extinction he is only barely surviving. Rather than attempting to preserve the natural world, he siphons the last of the life blood of the earth to power his virtual world, a space in which he is able to manifest his unfiltered pop star id. “He becomes a manifestation of his ultimate self,” explains Gvojic, “a pop star, the pinnacle of cultural production.”
Watch next: Fact 2020 – Audiovisual