Our friends at Thump undated their logo that they use on all of their in-house videos but rather than commission some uptight design firm, they picked their "favorite designers, who got stoned, and made really cool stuff with metal." When gallium, a metal usually used in the manufacturing of microwave circuits is turned into a liquid above room temperature and is paired with low sound frequencies, magical things happen as you can see in the intro above.
Thump recruited San Francisco-based visual artists Bradley G Munkowitz (GMUNK),Conor Grebel, and Peter Clark to create their new channel identifier. "We made metal bend in reaction to sound waves, and captured it on a near microscopic level,” says Conor Grebel. “Metal danced to music and we filmed it.”
Early in the conversations with the team, it was clear that their creative process was unconventional. Instead of energy invested into rigidly controlling their finished piece and promising a specific result to the client, their focus was in finding unexpected gifts and genuinely enjoying the ride. “It felt much closer to a process of experimentation than a process with a defined and predictable outcome.” says Peter Clark.
This group of artists repeatedly astound audiences around the world with their dedication to in-camera visual art, whether an electric laser installation for YouTube's Music Awards, or other forms of cymatics like what they created for the OFFF Cincinnati Awards promo video, which included a visualisation of audio using fluid materials. We took a few minutes to interview the team about their process and in experimenting with materials.
*The Creators Project How do you conceptualise projects? *
Peter Clark: I like to start projects by doing mind maps in my sketchbook. From there I try to do a lot of writing, collect references and talk about ideas with the Potrero crew.
Conor Grebel: I'm a pretty impatient person, I like to build things as soon as possible. I usually go straight from concept to designing in Cinema 4D. For me, the design phase is usually the height of most projects.
How did you learn to work with these materials?
Conor Grebel: We melted the gallium by pointing a light bulb at it and hooked up some synths to a bass-friendly keyboard amp. I think the first instruments we tried were a theremin and the JUNO-60. The best result came from making a custom synth in Ableton. It gave us a cleaner sine wave and much more control via MIDI. By rigging some fine-tuning MIDI controls to the Ableton synth, we slowly adjusted the frequency of the waveform to line up with the frame-rate and shutter-speed of the camera. When adjusted perfectly, the camera was able to capture the same moment of the gallium's audio-controlled transformation each frame.
What is your artist palette?
Conor Grebel: You’ll find a lot of my work relies heavily on backlit silhouettes, 3D volumes in fog, and shiny mirror things. I like it dark and I like it creepy. And sometimes I like it a little wrong and a little sexy. If there’s a wrong way to do something, I'd like to think I'm good at finding it.
Run us through the steps in making this piece.
GMUNK: We determined that the best way to shoot the gallium and the rest of the setups were with long lenses. We played with extreme shallow DoF and Bokeh to put the viewer in a narrow region of focus and let the surroundings fall off into a another world. We rented some longer focal length Master Primes, as well as our favorite Master Prime 100mm macro lens— which took the gallium setup to another level because we were able to focus on the very interesting minutia during the audio-driven experiments and really create some otherworldly shots. Countless times during the shoot we’d all look at the monitor and it felt like some alien birthing ritual with the gallium throbbing and pulsing accompanied by the synths driving it all.