1. which is the origin of the titles " light form "of this installation ? why Light Forms?
i have used the term 'forms' as a second word for many of my installations - bird forms, air forms, etc. for me there is a relationship of the way i want to use sound to a kind of architectural space, so in this case 'light forms' relates on the surface to the idea of using light as an audio source material to create an audio presence that has form - that is a kind of space or room. sound as form - light as form....(the sound of ) light, forms (a space)... (the sound of a) bell, forms (a space)... in the case of this particular work, i was invited to present a piece for an evening devoted to works with light. i didn't want to use light in a traditional way in terms of using things like light sensors so that the relationship would be obvious so i used light bulbs as acoustic objects to generate the audio which was presented in the dark - the title light forms relates also to this idea where the sound of light evokes a 'form' in darkness - it goes back to another inspiration for me, which is the light works of the artist thomas wilfred who worked with mirrors and colored glass to create some of the earliest modern art works using light as source material, similarly an interest in otto piene's work with light. in the film part of the installation i wanted to give movement and physical form to a series of bell scores from the 1800's. i used colored light bulbs and construction paper to create the visuals which look like abstract amoebas or worms floating. all of the work deals with translation and in this case light is translated into form - both visual and audio.
2. have you been working before with light subjects or using light in your installations before?
how is important is in your work the effect of the light or the use of coloured lights?
it is different at different times - i don't like theatrical works, so i tend to stay away from dramatic light or colored light, loud things, spectacle or even quiet drama that manipulates an audience too much. light and sound can both be so seductive and i want to keep things a bit more human and hand made feeling. of course, lighting of the works is very important and even with paintings the light is very important both within the painted surface as well as how the works are lit. in terms of installation works dealing exclusively with light i did an installation last year at the contemporary arts forum in santa barbara california where i placed microscope lenses on a wall and inside the wall i used christmas tree lights and tin foil and mirrors to create a kind of moving hidden glowing world beneath the surface of what is seen in an exhibition space. the work was literally inside the wall and because of the blinking of the lights, their reflections and the lack of focus due to the lenses; the light created something like a film. there was also sound on headphones, so that all of the elements of the piece were not visible until on looks into the hole and places the phones on their head - it created a kind of secret world (and this piece was specifically dedicated to wilfred). in another sense when i decided to work with film for the first time almost 10 years ago i decided i wanted the film to deal with two things - time and light - the two elements that make film. so i shot 10 seconds of sunlight and natural shadows every day for a year - it was a way for me to think about and look at natural light with a specific aesthetic awareness every day for a year.
3. does "light" has a special meaning for you?
this is difficult, i think i am very very responsive to light and how it changes spaces. i recently was in hawaii, and with my cousin we went into a lava tube in the volcano national park. i am very claustrophobic, and in this very small cave you enter with a flashlight and can see absolutely nothing once the entrance is behind you. it is one of the darkest places i have ever been in, and negotiating the space with a flashlight was really interesting because you could only see moving fragments of the space you are within - so i didn't have as much problems as i thought i would, because i couldn't see how small the space was - only how dark it was, and if i focused only on the lighted portion i was ok. the relationship of darkness to light is part of many of the things that i work with. one of the masters of this for me is tadao ando, the architect. i visited his water temple a few years ago for an audio work that is still in progress, and the way he moves you through different stages of light is unbelievably beautiful - particularly when you go downstairs and arrive at the shrine and the sunlight is diffused through the red shrine and this shifting red glow that is diffused sunlight and constantly moving feels very peaceful and very otherworldly...
4. could you tell us something about the method of alphabet translation you use in your performances?
so much of my work deals with translation - i tend to reinvent my methods for each work. in the case of light forms i remembered writing down a phrase 'truth is the bell, bell is the truth' on a piece of paper upon waking up from a dream in the middle of the night a few years ago. i wanted that text to enter into the installation, but in a way that would not be 'legible' to others. so i came up with a kind of dance writing, where my hand movements would kind of be choreographed to spell out the phrase. i generally always end up with simple number equivalents for letters, so in this case a = 1, b = 2, c = 3, etc. i then set up hand movements for 1, 5, 10, and 20 so that with two hands i could get from 1 - 26, thus translating the alphabet into hand gestures, and thus translating the text into a kind of hand dance...
5. your artistic activity develop in different fields, sounds installations, painting, musical compositions, how much are these activities part of the same inspiration and how much are independent?
you have hit the nail on the head here - in terms of inspiration, all of the works come from a similar place. i simply wander through the world and find things that inspire me to create works. it is very simple. generally a piece is generated from a collision of a series of inspirations that might not seem to relate on the outside; and yet through intuitive and intellectual responses to the inspirations a piece of work begins to germinate. everything i make is very much connected to the things that inspire them - so while there are no bells visually present in the film portion of light forms, every hand gesture and moving colored image is connected to bells in terms of bell scores and text translation of this phrase about bells from a dream. so at the ignition stage, everything is the same. in terms of the final stage, for me, each activity or more precisely each result, is independent in the sense that a film is a film, a painting is a painting, a sound work is a sound work. it has been rare in the past when i would use an inspiration or source material for a sound work and a painting. i want very much for each medium to have a kind of integrity that is connected to the source material - so that something like a stencil set generates a series of drawings, while something that deals with time or light would generate a film, and a field recording would generate a sound work. this isn't always the case of course, as i don't try to fit things into neat little compartments - hence sound has started to generate drawings, sculptures, and even silent film. text has always generated every medium. and in the end of course, all of the activities are so related conceptually and through process that they are linked and all part of the overall path my work has taken. i suppose i would say that i try to keep the individual works in a place of integrity so that a film doesn't depend upon a painting for meaning or credibility; and similarly that relationship exists between all the mediums i work with. everything informs everything else; but each work is a singular piece...
6. your music, is very minimal and subtle, quiet and relaxing despite been often recreated from the sounds of unanimated objects as lamps, light bulbs, chairs how do you get the inspiration in working with such materials?
one thing i never have been able to predict is what will inspire me - what kinds of things generally spark the creation of artworks. it generally happens when i am unaware and i suppose very open. being in a state of openness is so important if one works from pure inspiration - believes in a kind of inspired moment, where something in the world suggests something profound, deeper, or simply extended... like the piece on 4 possible landscapes where i use only the sound of a light switch for the entire track. i was in a cabin and simply went to turn on the light and the switch simply sounded beautiful. i spent a few minutes turning the light on and off, listening to the switch, and then made a few minutes worth of recordings of it. after i returned home, i kept thinking about that moment, when i simply went to turn on a lamp and got lost in the sound of the switch - kind of like proust getting lost in his biscuit. i don't usually start out with an idea such as "i want to make a piece using a lamp and a lightswitch"; it's more about letting things come to me and letting me be open to reception. so with the things you mention such as the cd i did called 'lamp'. i had this beautiful old bubble lamp designed by george nelson, and when we had an earthquake the lamp skin was cut open to reveal the metal ribs. well i simply kept playing with it and for some reason couldn't throw it away even though these lamps can't be repaired. i suppose i liked the feeling of running my hand over the ribs and skin - certainly i didn't pick it up because i WANTED to use it to make sound with - it simply happened through simple handling and focused listening. sometimes an object or a space will attract me for reasons that are outside of sound making; and yet as i wander through them i find a way in which to use them as sound sources. for me it goes back to this idea of integrity. if i feel a connection with an object and want that in the work, then i must struggle a bit with the object to kind of 'pull' the sound out of it.
7. you are musically born as "in between noise", while in the last productions you started to use your real name, is that because of some changes in your works?
it is twofold - the first time i used my own name it was because i felt that the piece (crop circles) fit into my visual art world more than my sound world (which was known as simply in be tween noise). once that cd was released i realized that all of my work is simply a part of me, i don't need an imaginary band name, i don't need a stage name. the sound art is simply an extension of the painting, sculpture, etc... so i began to use my own name for everything - but this also caused some problems, so that when i released 'the radio' franck wanted the in be tween noise name to be there because he had such a fondness for my first two cd's which also used that name and he wanted to contextualize this work with those two. now i simply use steve roden, and i think it is much easier and less pretentious. the work is just me, so it makes sense for it to be presented as such.
8. could you tell us something about your next project?
i am currently involved in a number of different projects - perhaps the one that is taking up the most time at the moment is a collaboration with art center college of design and california technical institute (cal tech) here in pasadena. i am working on a sound installation for the art center gallery in collaboration with a number of scientists at cal tech. cal tech is one of the premier research institutions regarding seismic activity of the earth. i am currently working with some scientists as well as the director of the williamson gallery at art center for a large scale installation for next october. because we are going to work with scientists, engineers, and scientific data and computer programming, we are starting early. essentially we will be translating satellite data related to the movements of the earth into a kind of player piano that will trigger strings and other sound generating acoustic objects in an architectural installation in the gallery. for me it involves a number of very significant steps outside of my normal mode of working - first i will be collaborating with several people whose input will definitely have an effect on the final work; and second i will be working with actual objects in the space as opposed to presenting recordings. my hope is that people will walk into the space and see and hear the movement of acoustic objects and have some sense that this movement and these sounds are connected to the movement of the earth - and it is the earth's movement that will become a kind of score or conductor of the piece...