Screenshot of a Tachyons+ video synthesizer.
A couple of weekends ago, while strolling through Moogfest's Broadway Outdoor area en route to see Giorgio Moroder, I happened upon a pyramidal video installation. Its colorful, glitchy transmissions, simultaneously sacred and cyberpunkish, beckoned me Videodrome-style to gaze upon and enter its embedded TV sets. It turned out that this installation was a giant glitch video synthesizer built by Tachyons+, a collective that builds "custom modified electronics" for video artists.
The Florida-based Tachyons+ was formed in 2012, born out of thrift store and flea market junk. Masterminds Logan Owlbeemoth and Omebi Velouria forged the design project out of a desire to "offer low cost unique video gear to video artists interested in working with analog-based video creativity." To that end, The Tachyons+ Video Pyramid works by outputting to a HI-8 camera, which users can aim at themselves or at the installation's TV sets. The camera's signal is then routed to the TV sets' cathode ray tubes, which display the results of the user's knob tweaking. In the words of Owlbeemoth, this allows users to create "all kinds of lovely psychedelic video feedback tunnels."
Owlbeemoth recently took some time to talk about how he and his team, which also includes video artist Jason MCC, built the Tachyons+ Video Pyramid. He also mused on the art of glitch, video synthesis, and what we can expect to see from Tachyons+ in the near future.
When and how did you come up with the idea for the video synth that became an installation at Moogfest?
We had been seeking a place to do a video installation, and when a friend sent us the Moogfest MAP proposal, ultra-lightbulbs immediately fired up in our heads. What better place to display live, hands-on analog video art to an audience of thousands that fully resides in the spirit of Bob Moog and the experimental electronic dimension. The unreality answer to this question is: Some odd night in a dream, OG video art master Nam June Paik drove up in a bright holographic television and showed us the blueprints while a smiling old man named played organ in the background.
Cyborg artist and activist Neil Harbisson contemplating the Tachyons+ Video Pyramid at Moogfest 2014. Image: Phantom-Photon
Where is the video pyramid now that its festival debut has come and gone? It seems that three days at Moogfest is fairly dignified in the life of a video pyramid. A few people have inquired about using it for events, but it's a pretty big thing to load in and out. At 10 feet by eight feet wide, plus the technical time of connecting it all together correctly, its ultimate fate seems to be eventually used as scrap wood for other projects by [video artist] Phantomphoton. We could build another one pretty easy if anybody really wanted something like it for an event. Maybe as stage prop for a live band that can afford to carry something like that around?
So, what roles did you, Velouria, and Jason MCC take on with the video pyramid's construction?
Jason MCC directed the hand construction of the pyramid. He also works as a video artist under the name Phantomphoton, using his own modified vintage video gear to project for live performances. Omebi painted and created the color design. When not working full-time in the Tachyons+ lab, she moonlights as a ambient synth artist under the name of Omebi. I designed the idea of the video pyramid. And when not running Tachyons+, I create music videos for bands. I recently did a video with Gary Numan using Tachyons+ gear.
How does the Tachyons+ Video Pyramid work?
It's basically a giant mutant version of a Tachyons+ video glitch synth. The control panel with the big wood knobs houses the synth controls. Underneath is where the video glitch synth box lives. It outputs to a HI-8 camera, which can be pointed at the user or at the TV sets for all kinds of lovely psychedelic video feedback tunnels. The camera heads on to the cathode ray tubes, which displays the results of the user playing with the synthesizer knob panel. It's pretty simple and highly intuitive.
You call this installation a "video glitch synth," which also applies to past projects. How do you create your glitches within the video synth framework?
Our machines are mainly analog and offer a wide range of control, either with source or not. With them, you can insert either a VHS, live camera, or a computer source and affect that visual image with analog-powered glitch effects like how you would do a painting, a collage of video colorizing, distortion, or echoes on a television monitor. You can also use a negative source and craft textures, shapes, and patterns in all kinds of yummy, tripped-out, eyeball-popping delights. In the end, they can be used in all manner of applications from music videos, film production, still photography, live projections or late night meditations in the art studio.
A Tachyons+ video synth control panel
What are your thoughts on glitch in general? As a teenager in the '90's I grew up on a steady diet of glitched out electronic music like Mouse On Mars and Oval. So it's all very interesting to see how it's evolved into more of a personal visual art statement with kids sharing on Tumblr to being used for serious promotions in the music and film world. Glitch art could be born from being inspired, excited, and disgusted by reality confusion of the constant hyper-busy world we live in with smartphone love, matrix status updates, and over-paranoia of being watched by invisible eyes at all times. The glitch is there to destroy that surrounding perfect forcefield.
How does this video synth different from past efforts in video synthesis?
The work we do now is based off modifying obsolete video gear from the '80s. We are currently developing a stand-alone video synth from scratch that will debut later this year called The Lightlord. The video synths from the past, which we are highly inspired by, are much more serious, expensive, and hard to get affairs. One of the reasons we started Tachyons+ was because we could not afford to acquire one. So we studied and crafted a way to make and offer cheap machines. Now we offer amateur and professional video artists all over the world a reliable, educational and affordable realm who want to try dipping their minds into analog video art.
What was the reaction to the video pyramid at Moogfest? It seemed that quite a few people were intrigued by it.
We estimated around 5,000 people played it over the three days, so it was very well-recieved. The children, of course, loved it. To them, it's like a video game, but it's art! They completely understood it, and their parents had to usually pry them away. The adults also enjoyed it. Lots of technical questions, as you could imagine, especially given that it was at a festival based around electronics. On the last day, Neil Harbisson [cyborg artist and activist] stopped by and played with it for quite awhile. Wonder what he heard?
What project is Tachyons+ at work on now?
We are in the Tachyons+ lab daily studying circuits, building video glitch synths for customers, working on music videos for bands, and developing new ideas to apply in visual creativity for the future. We're currently gearing up for a five-week tour of Europe for our science fiction synth band OS OVNI. Our live show will integrate Tachyons+ gear in the visual projections. Members of the audience will be asked to play our the video glitch synths while we perform our music. A full-length film using all Tachyons+ for the production is also in the works.