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[Interview] Joe Crossley Uses Technology to Weave Together Music and Art at Sydney Opera House

We speak with the new media artist about the technology behind Sound + Vision, an upcoming event where musicians collaborate with artists in real-time.
‘Tetra’, a pixel mapped LED installation by Joe Crossley. All photos courtesy of the artist

Sydney-based new media artist Joe Crossley works at the intersection of art and technology, using light, projection mapping, motion sensors and more to activate public spaces and create large-scale installations. He’s worked with fashion brands and adverting agencies, and has been involved in festivals like Burning Man and, numerous times, VIVID Sydney.

Later this month, he’ll bring his experience to Sound + Vision, an event held in collaboration with Samsung at the Sydney Opera House. On the night, musicians will be paired with artists to result in a series of immersive one-off performances melding audio and visual. Empress Of teams up with design studio Nonotak; Banoffee and Oscar Key Sung collaborate with photographer Prue Stent; and Charles Murdoch comes together with Melbourne creative directors Tin & Ed. Using motion sensors, midi triggers, and audio manipulation, it will be up to Joe to weave together the audio and visual elements of each set. We caught up with Joe ahead of the show to ask him about working with the talent and technology, and what we can expect on the night.


The Creators Project: When did you first start working with technology?

Joe Crossley: At school I had a scholarship for music so I would always be lugging a cello around with a new pickup I had made and playing with what was back then very basic samplers and synths. I studied marine biology at university and was always interested in microscopy and transferring visuals from slides to screen, and introducing sound to the biology samples and seeing how animals would react. In my twenties I was a DJ, so I was always into the newest devices, effects, and DAW’s, and then projections and stage shows.

When does something go from being a piece of technology to being a piece of art? 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder… I suppose anything can be art to anyone if it has a meaning to that person. I got to speak to UK artist Greyson Perry and ask him about the meaning of meaning and he said, “If you find a meaning in anything I am doing then I am going to take that and assimilate that into my understanding of my art.” Technology is intended for function generally, and in that same sense when the form or function is beautiful then in my eyes it becomes art.

Joe Crossley’s creative direction work for VIVID Sydney’s ‘Path to the Future’ event featuring projection mapping

Can you tell us a bit about what sort of technology you’ll be utilising for each performance and to what effect?

We have three very individual shows for Sound + Vision. Charles Murdoch is going to interact with Tin & Ed using a sound analysis program that takes data from the sound outputs—volume, tone, brightness—and then uses this data to interact with the artworks. Banoffee and Oscar Key Sung are going to be working with Prue Stent’s still photographs and a KINECT 2 sensory system we built. [It will be] simple and artful, very much like Prue's work. Motion will trigger effects and light constructs in the concert hall. Empress Of will be interacting with Nonotak via the use of the old school midi signals and drum triggers literally controlling the lights and projections via a custom-built grid visualiser, which was actually inspired by Close Encounters.


You’re also using some custom-built Samsung devices, right?

We’re operating the whole show using the Galaxy Tab S2, which will be wirelessly connected to a collection of computers and devices; rethinking control technology and breaking down the areas of what can be linked together with matched signals and triggers from sound, motion, and band.

Are you trying out any new technologies for this project?

Yes, we’re connecting three bands’ instruments together and processing sound, midi, and 3D data in real-time directly to a huge collection of outputs. We’ve developed our own sound analysis component, working closely with people like Chris Vik [sound and interaction designer] as well as an innovative drum/sampling machine with Dr. Ollie Bown of UNSW—so there is a heap of new tech going in at the back end.

A lighting design project commissioned by the University of Sydney

How closely have you been working with the artists involved? What has the creative process been like?

We’re still in the creative process as I answer this. We’re pulling the entire show together in three weeks, which is pretty much a huge task for artists and tech. We’re working alongside each artist to collaboratively craft a vision for the show. It’s like baking a cake—everyone gets to throw their ingredient in the bowl and the results are all going to be real-time so it will be experimental and not your average event in any way. It’s actually quite an unnerving process making the apparatus for real-time art, but the artists have been great so I’m keen to see what happens live.


Obviously there’s a lot of variables when it comes to live performance. How tightly is everything pre-planned? 

Well, it’s going to be as tightly [planned] as a real-time performance can get. The effects and art is set; the way it works and how it looks is going to be entirely up to the performers themselves—the notes they play, the movements they make, and the sound of their voices will all play a key factor. So we shall see what happens at show time!

Ambient visuals created for a sunrise set at Burning Man 2013

You can check out Joe Crossley's site here or follow him on Facebook here. Sound + Vision is happening on Sunday Jan 31 at the Sydney Opera House. You can find out more info here.


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