Note: This interview first appeared on The 405, but with the launch of Jono Brandel’s latest project Tether, a collaboration with Warp artist Plaid, I thought it was worth revisiting my interview with him.
Born out of a fascination with synesthesia (a neurological phenomenon that causes people to see specific colours when they hear music) Patatap is an audio visual experiment that turns your browser into a musical instrument.
Load up the site and start hitting keys (or tapping sections of the screen if you’re on mobile) and you’ll be treated to a melding of electronic sounds and beautiful, geometric animations. Patatap‘s genius is in its simplicity. The blank screen begs you to interact and within seconds you feel as though you’re capable of creating Flying Lotus style electronic experimentation.
The man behind the project is Jono Brandel, a visual artist and member of Google Creative Lab, who has previously provided live video accompaniment to electronic artists such as Boy Noize, DeadMau5 and Crystal Castles. He’s also collaborated with Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin (both of whom were behind interactive music videos Three Dreams of Black and Arcade Fire’sWilderness Downtown on a project titled This Exquisite Forest, which became a year long exhibition at the Tate Modern.
Your most recent piece, Patatap, is an audio visual musical instrument. What inspired you to create it?
I was introduced to Visual Music in college at UCLA’s Design Media Arts program. The class was titled Visual Music and my professor CEB Reas, co-creator of Processing, introduced me to this fascinating space where artists attempt to visualise music and soundscapes. How does this sound make you feel? Is there an image that can evoke that same feeling? Patatap is directly inspired by this.
It’s an online piece, was there a reason why you chose to exhibit it in this way, as opposed to working with a museum?
It actually opened in a museum first! It’s currently being exhibited at The Tech Museum in San Jose and is open through August of this year. For me as an artist, a web browser is an increasingly interesting medium to explore at the moment. There is something unique to the medium that goes beyond a broad audience. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s very interesting to explore.
The visuals of Patatap recall Kandinsky and the Bauhaus. Was this a conscious aesthetic choice? Were there other, visual and musical influences you drew upon forPatatap?
Definitely! Norman McLaren, Viking Eggeling, Oskar Fischinger to name a few. There’s a great scene in Ratatouille where Remy tastes cheese and strawberries.
How did you create the the music in the piece?
I didn’t, I collaborated with composers Lullatone. They’re amazing!
What was the process you went through to ensure that the visuals matched the sounds, and how did you ensure it didn’t become cacophonous?
I made most of the animations before even contacting Lullatone. The design process was to create a family of animations that could be used to create compelling compositions – whether all are playing or just one. I spent about a year creating animations that elucidate space and composition in much the same way you’d play a piano. Lullatone and I worked together to match sounds for each animation, but we were careful to fill the soundspace in the same way as the visual design. We like to think each set of sounds could be used to make a number of songs.
How did you become involved in This Exquisite Forest?
My full time job is with the team who created This Exquisite Forest.
This Exquisite Forest seemed much more of a collaboration, how did the creation of that project differ to Patatap?
This Exquisite Forest was a bigger team than Patatap. Patatap is a passion project. As a result it didn’t have as much clarity while I was developing the project as This Exquisite Forest.
You’ve also worked with musicians to create live visual accompaniment. How do you approach these projects?
Each of these projects are different so it’s really hard to generalise. Most recently I worked on Arcade Fire’s latest music video Just A Reflektor, which has many live video effects that people can control. This experience was primarily driven by a strong concept and narrative. I’m currently working on a project where my focus is in analysing the formal qualities of the song. Listening to the stems, creating visuals that feel directly bound to the sounds. So it’s different for every project. I suppose that’s something I really enjoy.
Are there any artists you’ve collaborated with that have required you to push the boundaries of what’s technically possible?
I wouldn’t say an artist in particular. But, I would say that working with technology and using it as a medium forces me to constantly reassess what’s possible. I spend a lot of my free time just tinkering with technical opportunities. As I expand my repertoire of technical skills I keep that in mind when talking about projects. How could we leverage the things that I know in order to tell a story? That’s a question I ask myself a lot.
Nostalgia of Future Past seems to be your most personal project. Can you talk us through how you created this?
Initially it was a prompt for OFFF, however at the time I started to explore this visually my aunt passed away. She was an artist as well and I immediately drew a connection between her work and these explorations. For her sake I continued to iterate on it.
The final stage of that project was to create a series of postcards. Was there a reason why you chose to give the project physical form, when your other work is more digitally focused?
I was brought up with pen and ink. So for someone with that background who now mainly writes software, there is something really compelling about physical form. But this is not unique to this project. All my personal projects have a print component. I studied Graphic Design after all. With Patatap I also created a Synesthesia Poster, which represents one moment created within the application.
Most of your work focuses on interactivity from the public. Do you see this as an important way of engaging people with the ideas you are trying to explore?
One thing that I explore with all my work is how can technology empower the individual. In many cases in order to prove this point you have to let people use it for themselves. In this way I often don’t think about me or my work and how the public will receive it. I’m part of the public. I’m just a guy that lives in an apartment and goes to work everyday. But, if I make something for myself technology often allows me to share that with other people. Whether it’s something other people actually want, need, or find useful is a different discussion.
With Patatap now online, and reaction so far being overwhelmingly positive, are you now planning out your next project? What else is on the horizon for you?
I’m very excited to be working with Warp Records on an interactive project. This started before I released Patatap, so perhaps you’ll see something in the not too distant future.