Finding Perpetual Motion in Mexico City
Created for the Yearning for the Infinite show at the Barbican, Max Cooper and Nick Cobby's collaborative video is a mesmerising montage of continuous movement. We chatted to the pair about its conception and realisation.
Ever fancied diving into to a real-time version of Google Maps and absorbing the endless movement of society?
For the first video from his next audio-visual album, and as part of a commission from the Barbican centre in London, artist Max Cooper, along with visual artist and long term collaborator Nick Cobby, have crafted a gloriously mesmeric top-down view of Mexico City.
Entitled Perpetual Motion, the film cuts between shots of people, vehicles and man-made/natural wonders, all the while backed with a thumping score and peppered with geometric animations, heightening the enthralling images.
We were beguiled by Cooper and Cobby's piece, so sat down with both to chat about its creation, meaning and how to deal with drone issues.
How did this project start? What was the involvement of the Barbican?
Max Cooper - The Barbican initially approached me with their yearly theme around new technologies and their impacts on society, and how this could be reflected in the arts. So I put together a project proposal titled Yearning for the Infinite, which takes the fundamentals of advancement and shows it in its purest form, visualisations of the infinite, set against imagery of humans caught up in their endless pursuit.
The Barbican provided the space to present the live show format of the project, and help to bring the album and visual content to fruition.
The imagined visual comes first and informs the music, and then the music informs the actual video.
You work with both audio and visuals - with projects like this does the music inform the video or vice-versa?
MC - First I wrote the ideas I wanted to try and communicate, and, for each chapter, provided some possible means of visualisation. I then started chatting to animators and mathematicians/scientists about how to make each chapter a reality. This gave me a fairly decent idea about what each chapter should sound like, so the next phase was to write the music.
When that was complete I then sent it to the animators and they used the music along with the ideas to create the visual content. So it goes both ways, the imagined visual comes first and informs the music, and then the music informs the actual video.
One or two chapters had the video coming first too, so I was scoring to real video for a portion of it.
Nick, how did you get involved with the project?
Nick Cobby - I’ve been working as a visual artist for Max for 10 years now and was asked to come on board for the Barbican show ‘Yearning for the Infinite’. We discussed Max’s concept of people in continuous motion in order to find meaning and Mexico’s City seemed like the ideal location. As I’ve been working and living there recently, all the pieces fell into place nicely.
All the footage was shot facing straight down with careful planning and multiple batteries due to the short flight time.
How did you achieve the shoot? What technologies were involved?
NC - The footage was scouted from satellite imagery and then I collaborated with three Mexican photographers Manuel Marañon, Santiago Arau and Roberto H, to capture the shots using only drones with 4K cameras attached.
All the footage was shot facing straight down with careful planning and multiple batteries due to the short flight time!
How long did it take to capture?
NC - Overall the filming was completed over a couple of weeks and a further couple of weeks in post. Because I do the editing myself and also some of the animation, it’s quite time-consuming.
I also had additional animators in Andy Lomas, Jessica In and Martin Krzywinski who provided some amazing generative forms to go with my point data-based work.
The video combines both shot footage and animation overlays. Where did the concept for the animation come from and how did you want it to augment the footage?
MC - The project is focused on this combination of abstract visualisations of infinite processes with stories of humans in their everlasting action. It's a means of making a statement about human nature and us as a part of the natural system of the world.
This video chapter comes later in the story and I wanted to combine some of the earlier animation chapters with Nick's real footage. The animation comes from Andy Lomas: who created mathematical models of endlessly dividing 3-dimensional surfaces; Jessica In: who created an aperiodic tiling system which never repeats and yields and infinite pattern of sorts; and Martin Krzywinski: who created a tree map of the digits of pi, which also never repeat, and yield an infinite sea of seeming randomness despite embodying the perfect (and also infinitely rotationally symmetrical) form of the circle.
Every chapter has a different way of representing the infinite, and Nick chose some chapters which could integrate with his footage.
The idea was to combine a human factor with graphic elements that appear at other points in the Barbican show.
NC - Max comes up with detailed concepts for each of his tracks. And so that is very much the starting point. The idea was to combine a human factor with graphic elements that appear at other points in the Barbican show.
The generative visuals help give more energy to the piece as well as highlight the matrix structure beneath the perpetual system of human movement, which is both rigid and organic at the same time. For me, visually it was all about chaos with a structured framework, which is why many of the locations are quite rigid or geometric.
How was the editing process? Did you have an existing idea for the structure or did that come through in the edit?
NC - Some of the edit was pre-planned, the repeating circular references for example. Some stuff happened during filming - the scene in the middle where the cars are passing by in time with the synth stabs illustrated this moment that was totally unexpected but fit perfectly. The structure of the rest was brought together later in the edit as I wanted the visuals to build and deconstruct with the energy of the track.
We survived wind, rain, trees, a hawk attack, a dog attack, low batteries and the police to get the right shots.
What was the most challenging aspect of the process?
NC - Filming with drones! It’s really hard and there’s are so many factors at play. We survived wind, rain, trees, a hawk attack, a dog attack, low batteries and the police to get the right shots.
What's happening with the film now?
MC - It will be integrated into the live show next. Then later we will do a full-length movie release of the whole project as well.
NC - The film makes up part of Max’s new show at the Barbican on 28th September called Yearning for the Infinite. That launch show is sold out but the second show is at Betonhalle in Berlin, planned for 23rd October.
On a personal note, I want to get the film shown in Mexico City soon and will hopefully get it I to some film festivals here.
What's up next for you, both separately and together?
MC - I have a load of work to do on the live performance system for now. I wanted to apply the infinite idea to the live format as well, so that meant lots of projectors and utilisation of the natural surfaces inside the beautiful Barbican hall, which in turn meant a new visual system for me with multiple machines triggered in concert and live control over how the space is covered throughout. Lots to do.
Then I'll be getting back on to the Glassforms project after that: a collaboration with Bruce Brubaker live reworking Philip Glass pieces, as well as plenty of normal live AV and DJ touring for the rest of the year.
As for the next collab with Nick, that's something starting right now, as we're also doing another chapter of the Yearning for the Infinite show together, and I hope plenty more projects in future - we've done quite a lot now, and it's always been a pleasure working with Nick.
NC - I am continuing to work on the Barbican show, on another track with scientific visualisation master Martin Krzywinski, where he has visualised the mathematical sequence of pi and my challenge is to sync it to Max’s performance.
It’s going to be intense!