While I'm sure that many of you have already downloaded the Vsynth collection of modules for Jitter via the Max Package Manager (if not, I highly recommend it), I'll wager that many of you - like me - have wondered about the person who made it. Kevin Kripper, the creator of the Vsynth package, was kind enough to sit down for a brief chat about himself and his work.
Since the universe occasionally surprises and delights us with its various alignments, I've also noticed that my friend and colleague Darwin Grosse has just posted an interview with Kevin for his Art + Music + Technology podcast this week, too.
How did you get here? What's your background?
I’m Kevin Kripper from Argentina. I think of myself as a visual artist and indie developer. I have studies in electroacoustic music composition, new media art and programming.
So when all this ‘started,’ you were an electroacoustic composer, then? Wow. Knowing that make some of your mad Max skills a little easier to understand. There’s a really rich tradition of electroacoustic music in Argentina going back to the days of electronic music on tape. Most of the Argentinian electroacoustic composers and works I’m familiar with are from Argentinian composers who left home and worked abroad - Mauricio Kagel, Horatio Vaggione, and Mario Davidovsky, to name a few... So I’m curious about who (or what) interested you about electronic work early on - were you a classical kid who discovered electronics, did you grow up listening to Argentinian Prog at home?
I’ve never considered myself as an electroacoustic composer. I spent some time studying in the field after finishing high-school. At that time I was into synthesizers, experimental music and basically music and technology. I made some pieces, but nothing really transcendental - they were more just experiments. But during that time, I was introduced to algorithms, generativity, interactivity, and Max - so new media art really got my attention. I guess I changed and realized that my path was in visual creation, installations, and the like.
I ended up making interactive installations, live visuals and creating my own tools to work with, using Max as the medium. I think I’ve been making patches for my personal artwork, other artists, education and advertising since 2010.
Advertising? Tell me a little about that. Don’t worry - I’m not one of those people who thinks that working in advertising compromises your Romantic-style “artistic vision.”
I used to work for an agency with electronic engineers, interactive designers, graphic designers… creators. I worked side-by-side with Nahuel Sauza, one of the best Max users I’ve ever met. We set up from tribias to interactive projection mappings with multiple projectors - almost everything with Max. It was crazy - many networked computers running systems of patches for months, a lot of work that you'd initially not believe you could do with Max! Even though I’m not doing that anymore - or at least not at that scale - that experience gave me skills on so many different levels! It taught me to use Max out of the box. I guess one thing led to another but at the end is just chance deciding in the right space and time! So here I am, using Max almost every day!
I've never visited Argentina myself, and I'm wondering about what the "scene" there is like for artists/musicians/improvisors/visualists - are there a lot of local scenes in cities spread out across the country, or do things concentrate in, say, Buenos Aires?
Well, it kind of depends on your artistic field. But yes - speaking of new media art - I think the scene is focused on Buenos Aires now. But there are growing communities in other places despite the adversity associated with expensive technology and lack of budget. We still have some grants and places that support art and technology works, but it is not easy to produce work. That is why I think there are so many creative people and amazing projects here… we have learned to manage with what we have!
I'd say that a good time to visit the city is in our spring, where some important electronic arts and video-games festivals, exhibitions, workshops and lectures about different topics of art, technology and society intersect in what it is known as Noviembre Electrónico. It takes place in several emblematic places in Buenos Aires.
How did you hear about Max, and where or how did you learn it? You seem pretty fluent to me.
Thanks, I’ve learned Max in different scenarios! I started in 2010 with Max 4 when studying electroacoustic-music composition and never stopped. At that point I was following tutorials, opening tons of patches and participating actively in the forums exchanging recipes. Then, I think were hours of practice and research. My first “public” appearances were with some Standalone apps and Max for Live devices. Some of the cool ones were the Ultimate Mixer and the Spectrum Analyser S8.
I’m really curious about how you moved from being a composer to being a visualist - did you find the transition to be a difficult one? I don’t mean this so much in a technical or programming sense, but more in terms of the sensory modality you’re working with. Do you think of your senses of sound and sight as being easily combined, or were there new things you needed to think about?
It was a natural transition for me. I just started giving more place in my thoughts to visual ideas. I began to experiment with realtime graphics - audio reactive graphics, at first - and then just focus on the images. Day after day, I was going a little deeper in the computer graphics/visual art world guided by some ideas of my own, different aesthetics I liked, artists whose work I appreciated, and the technologies available. So yes - I had to learn a bunch of new things from scratch in totally different worlds. With time, I just came to focus on graphics and work with musicians from time to time.
After that, I started working in advertising making Max patches for interactive installations and video projection mapping. That got me into the vast world of Jitter, OpenGL, Arduino and the use of Max as a brain. That really shaped my future work. I started to be really attracted by realtime visuals, generative processes and interactivity, and I slowly started a transition to visual arts and new media. In 2015, I decided to dedicate myself almost exclusively to art and making tools. Since then, I've created quite a few patches to generate or process realtime graphics for art installations, live visuals, experimentation, education - all of which use Max right out of the box. At the moment, I still go to the Forum and keep myself up to date, following some gurus in Patreon and, of course, sharing content myself.
One contribution that I feel proud of is the Jitter(C74) Facebook Group that I established along with Federico Foderaro in 2015, I feel that its creation was a breakthrough - a before and after event. A lot of outstanding contributions are happening there.
I'm interested in the approach your Max package takes of looking at the "classic" analog video synth. You don't seem old enough to have lived through that old equipment, so how did you decide to create such a compelling set of tools that bring a tear to the eye of anyone who loves that old gear?
I felt really attracted to this modular way of creating graphics from scratch. Two years ago, I was doing image processing mostly… like making concrete music. The idea of synthesizing images using concepts from analog computing looked to me like a really interesting research field. So, in a way, I think of the Vsynth package I've created as a research tool and a quick way to prototype ideas. The analogies with the sonic world I knew made it easier to me to understand the digital image world. For instance: In an image, amplitude values that gradually change in space (like a gradient) are considered in terms of a low frequency oscillator, while a high frequency is a rapid change of amplitude in a short space - for example, a square wave, noise, an edge. With this approach, I started building the different modules while learning and discovering so much stuff in the process. It blew my mind so many times, and I'm so pleased it blows some other people's minds too!
One of the things I like most about Vsynth is that it can go through a lot of different aesthetic approaches associated with the history of electronic images… I guess it depends on the patch: it can make a classic video synth pattern but also take advantage of digital features and build totally new imagery.
Since I don’t have much experience with analog video gear, it wasn’t my aim to emulate it, really. I guess not a lot of people do. There is not much manufactured in comparison to the audio synth world, and it's expensive. In fact, I’m lucky that some friends have custom gear or lzx modules and video-mixers. From time to time, we set up a video-synth jam (all video gear allowed) to catch up and experiment with the stuff we make… I also had the opportunity to meet Dave Jones and experiment with his creations at Signal Culture - an inspiring time.
Vsynth is both my research project and a more experimental tool, so I share a lot of daily videos in Instagram with the results of exploring the capabilities of the system. I also share those patches on Patreon for those people which are more into it. Anyway, I have to say I kept some of the results - the ones that I like more aesthetically - to use them in live situations. But I eventually end up sharing them. Sometimes I don’t use Vsynth at all, but Vsynth modules are part of my work nowadays because I can combine them quite easily with a lot of other patches, abstractions and software. It allows me to prototype new ideas very quickly.
I presume that you're using the tools you've created in your own artistic practice, so I'd be curious about how you think about your own work - do you work in live situations? Do you collaborate a lot? Do you consider yourself an "improvising visualist?”
I do not consider myself an improvising visualist. I prepare my patches for a ‘safe performance’.
I also build some Vsynth interactive installations (or “device” version) with Arduino: people without knowledge of Vsynth or video-synthesis at all, can control some parameters I left open and experience the system in a more controlled scenario.
On the other hand I have pieces like Deconstruecento or Glitch Substitution, that are in another line of works - non-Vsynth related which explore concepts of technophobia, technopoetics, glitch aesthetics, and digital structures. And then there's my installation wok, but that's for another time, I guess!
What are you working on now - either for your artistic practice or new Vsynth stuff?
I have a lot of art projects sleeping in my computer ready to be released. The general lack of budget and the fact that technology here is at least two times more expensive than other parts of the world, delays the completion of projects.
Vsynth, being just software, is different, I release updates when I have time, but I’m planing to release updates more periodically to stop being always behind my own schedule! I have a really cool to-do list including wave-shapers, new waveform generators and some examples to add to the Patchbook! With every new update it becomes more powerful!
In any-case I always suggest mixing Vsynth modules with your own stuff because it's really easy to combine it with Vanilla Max, Vizzie, even other shaders. That allows you to expand Vsynth possibilities and discover new things, that's for sure!