Dark matter and dark energy—both are hypothetical, mostly unknown, but thought to be vital forces in the universe. Even popular astrophysicist and cosmologist Neil deGrasse Tyson struggles to explain the concept of dark matter. But that hasn’t stopped the audiovisual duo Recent Arts (Tobias Freund and Valentina Berthelon) from using these two universal principles as inspiration for their new experimental video, Static Universe.
In the video, Freund’s dark, ambient drones and audio collages get paired with Berthelon’s animated visuals, which take their cues from old astronomy textbooks. The overall effect is at once mesmerising and foreboding, and never visually or aurally dull.
“Static Universe is a poetical trip to the dark side of the universe,” Berthelon tells The Creators Project. “In the past it was thought that the whole universe was made only out of atoms or subatomic particles but this is wrong. New discoveries have proven the existence of an invisible particle ‘dark matter’ that has only been indirectly observed but never captured and whose properties are inferred from its various gravitational effects.”
“This hypothetical substance is believed by most astronomers to account for around five-sixths of the matter in the universe and it’s considered responsible for holding all the normal matter in the universe together,” she adds. “It’s estimated that dark matter makes up 27% of the universe, while ordinary matter makes up just 5%—so what makes up the other 68%?”
Berthelon was also inspired by dark energy’s repulsive force, which is hypothesised to be driving galaxies apart at an ever accelerating rate. These concepts first coalesced into Recent Arts’ last audiovisual show, The History of Darkness. The duo then wanted to show how visual representations of the universe have the power to convey stages of humanity’s evolving self-awareness, while giving a better understanding of how the universe works and humanity’s position within it.
“The visual work is based on photographs, drawings and diagrams of the cosmos taken from old astronomy books,” Berthelon explains. “The two-channel video A/V show highlights the beauty and simplicity of low-fidelity material by using images created without the technological tools available nowadays, but also gives a look into the future by combining this material with contemporary concepts of theoretical physics.”
To make the video, Berthelon animated hundreds of old black and white pictures of stars and galaxies.
Her process began with the selection and formatting of images to build simple video sequences in Adobe Premiere. These sequences were then animated in realtime with the VJ software VDMX. Using different audioreactive techniques, Berthelon generated complex behaviors, interactions, and visual effects.
Freund created the music with a “Loop Based Computer Controlled Engine” application based in Max/MSP. Originally developed by Max Loderbauer and Tom Thiel, it was finalised based on ideas by Freund. This loop engine repeats and processes sounds in a free and natural way.
“It feels like listening to the flowing water of a creek, or to the sound of the wind,” Berthelon says. “Repetitions are constantly being modulated—no patterns are the same.”
Which, in a manner of speaking, is a bit like the universe with all of its infinite permutations.