All photos by Steven Grisé.
Dr. Edwin Abbott's 1884 novella Flatland imagines a world inhabited entirely by geometric beings. The narrator is named "A Square," who can't conceive of anything beyond his own two-dimensional existence. Eventually, A Square comes into contact with a spherical, three-dimensional being from space, when he begins to consider the possibility of even a fourth or fifth dimension beyond his own. A satirical romance of sorts, Flatland challenges notions of perception by hypothesizing that there are dimensions which have not been explored, and wondering what one might find there.
The Brooklyn lighting collective Nitemind look to Abbott's writing on multidimensional experiences as they continue to develop an ongoing light installation and performance series that's also called Flatland. Last April, the first edition of the series was held at Wallplay Gallery in New York City's Lower East Side, and featured performances by modular synth and noise artists like Greg Zifcak and DV-i in an sculptural light environment dominated by LEDs and fog. Since then, Flatland installations have occurred in Camden, NJ, at Palazzo Chupi in the West Village, alongside Bibi Bourelly in Chinatown, and at the iconic Russian & Turkish Baths in the East Village.
This Saturday at the Knockdown Center in Queens, Nitemind will partner with Brooklyn ambient curators Ambient Church to bring along another unique immersive experience of sound, light, and altered perception as part of the next installment of Flatland. Through a structural laser installation, multidimensional LED sculptures, and a sumptuous amount of fog and haze, the crew will transform the cavernous converted factory space into an alien scene where all senses are activated (the fog has a taste and smell). Along with the lightworks, sound artist Lawrence English, White Material co-founder DJ Richard, ambient techno producer Earthen Sea, and NYC experimentalist Soramimi will perform live sets of their own ambient material in what promises to be an unforgettably disorienting experience.
The Nitemind collective was founded in 2012 by Michael Potvin as a DIY lighting solution for raves that he was throwing in Bushwick at a space called Steel Drums, which has been closed since 2014. In the years since, the collective expanded to become one of the most unique lighting companies working not just in New York, but in all of electronic music. "We do things that would be considered apocrypha in the 'normal' event lighting world, like putting colored light directly on a person," production artist Raj Medhekar told THUMP recently at the Nitemind studio located in an industrial corner of Williamsburg. Their raw studio space overflows with lighting equipment, LEDs, projectors, fog machines, Arduino computers, and countless other gadgets and gizmos. Aside from their Flatland project, Nitemind has also captained the lighting at upstate New York techno festival Sustain-Release, created stage environments at last year's MOMA PS1 Warm-Up series, worked with big brands like Google and Infiniti, and collaborated with the fashion line Chromat for a line of wearable illuminated garments. They stay busy.
While Nitemind's installations recall the colorful fluorescent sculptures of Dan Flavin and transportive spaces of James Turrell, the group told me that a deep love for techno is what brings them together and inspires their work every day. Citing inspiration from genre pioneers like 808 State, Kraftwerk, and a perfectly looped Roland TR-606 drum machine beat, Nitemind creates light art that serves as an ideal accompaniment to the trippier shades of electronic music, enhancing DJ and live sets by providing a thoughtfully considered visual counterpart.
Potvin further described that the alchemic interaction between light, LEDs, and lasers is best suited to the repetitious nature of the aforementioned techno institutions. "The audio is running in these repetitive ways and it's got tons of different frequencies," he said. "With the lighting it adds in a whole bunch more frequencies—and they're all interacting together," he continued. "But the light and the sound aren't interacting with each other. That's left to a job of your brain. Your brain is taking both of those and it's creating a third group of frequencies which is an interference. Like moiré, or aliasing. If you cross over slightly different angles, frequencies work in a different way."
The interference Potvin describes is accentuated through the dissociative effect of fog, one of Nitemind's central materials. "There's [going to be] a lot of fog [this weekend]," he told me flatly. "Fog is used to construct a space that we idealize in our mind," Medhekar added. "Fog is like white paint almost. It diffuses light, gives a medium for lasers to pass through." More than just a medium, the interaction between fog and light can be so strong that it effectively cancels your ability to see. "We want people to be in their own personal space. An immersive environment where all senses are being stimulated at once."
In addition to Earthen Sea (a.k.a. Jacob Long), who will perform a mostly beatless set of new material, Australian producer and multimedia artist Lawrence English will also present his own compositions, that he said are meant to be heard and felt by one's whole body. "We tend to forget that our body is a massive ear and under the right circumstances it can be made active," English told THUMP over email. "My concerts are entirely focused on that kind of sonic affect, consuming the body and making it resonate." Nitemind's aims with their installations have always been similar—they want to engulf you. "It's invading the space of consciousness and replacing it with an alternate version of reality," Medhekar says. "I am now creating your reality. I'm in control of all your senses."
Flatland will take place at the Knockdown Center in Maspeth, Queens this Saturday, March 25. Tickets and more information is available here. This event is 21+.