Vincent Houzé: 'Electronic Sounds Have Always Felt Visual To Me'

Light and sound collide into spell-binding motionscapes.

From AV&C + Vincent Houzé, Lull (2016). Courtesy Vincent Houzé.

 

In 1962, the late futurist Arthur C. Clarke declared that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." In the case of artist Vincent Houzé, whose immersive light-based installations sizzle and sway in accordance with the audience's movements, it would seem that Clarke's assertion continues to hold water.

Riding on years of industry experience as a visual effects designer for tech firms like AV&C, the Paris-born, New York-based digital artist has since struck out on his own, drawing on polymathic fluency in art-making, computer programming, and special effects graphics (or FX) to create visually spectacular motionscapes.

Houzé's recent projects count collaborations with fellow NEW INC members. One notable project involved the assembly of an interactive display for the band Neon Indian, which he designed in conjunction with creative studio VolvoxLabs. In December, Houzé completed a second installation for the annual "Day for Night" music festival called Phases (2016), a follow-up to his debut presentation in 2015.

From the enormous possibilities that arise from his work, to the people and places that inspire him, take a closer look at the visual wizard's process in our interview below.

From AV&C + Vincent Houzé, Lull (2016). Courtesy Vincent Houzé.

 

1. You work with motion, sound, special effects technology (FX), and code. Can you describe exactly how these mediums come together?

Code is my primary medium these days, as it allows me to produce custom and flexible animation and control systems that can respond to a wide range of inputsbe it sound or human motion. They can have rules of their own. Motion, in the sense of moving images, has always been more appealing to me compared to any still output, as it gives room to allow stories and systems to unfold.

Sound is a big inspiration for me, especially abstract and electronic sounds which have always felt very visual to me. I am fascinated by the phenomenon of synesthesia, where sounds and visuals are intimately connected. This manifests through working with musicians and visualizing music. I also have a background as an electronic music producer, which is where I started before making visuals, and it is something I hope to develop again in the future.

FX refers to visual effects for movies, which was my bread and butter before I started focusing on real-time graphics, and encompasses a wide range of dynamic effects. I became fascinated with very organic motions: swirling or billowing smoke, splashing rivers, landslides or avalanches, which I incorporate in my practice. It loses the focus on photorealism but emphasizes the organic motion itself. Never-ending technical progress makes it possible now to create these very computationally expensive simulations in real time, which opens up a lot of interesting possibilities to me.

AV&C + Vincent Houzé, Phases (2016). Courtesy Vincent Houzé.

 

2. Tell us about the projects you've been working on.

I recently completed the visual and kinetic control system for Phases, a light installation I made with my former company AV&C that premiered at the second edition of the Day for Night music festival in Houston, appearing alongside pieces by Bjork, UVA, and Nonotak. It was very well-received.

Another project that I finished recently is a music video clip for the electronic producer Max Cooper as part of the release of his new album "Emergence." The video clip will be released in January. Even though the final output was a video, I focused on using and developing real-time tools so I can reuse them in different contexts.

I am always working on developing my custom animation toolset, and a lot of this development drives the projects I work on which, in turn, advances the tools.

3. Can you tell us a little bit more about this custom animation toolset?

It's more of a collection of tools than a proper toolkit at the moment, and it encompasses real-time systems for using physics simulations to create organic animations, as well as systems for directing large numbers of simple agents with a small number of rules.

They all revolve around the idea of controlled chaos, and being able to partially direct animations but also having things take a life of their own. Currently, my primary software is TouchDesigner, though I am exploring others.

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Wassily Kandinsky, Fugue (1914). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

 

4. Generally speaking, where do you draw inspiration?

I draw my inspiration from various sources like nature and science. [It is] always fascinating how simple rules govern a lot of phenomena, and can be seen at work in various areas. Music [is one example], especially abstract, which I always find very visual.

[I also draw inspiration from] other artists, notably abstract painters from the 20th century, like Wassily Kandinsky or František Kupka, who themselves created works inspired by the music of the time; or early motion graphics pioneers, like Oskar Fischinger or Viking Eggeling. And last but not least, [I look to[ light art pioneers like Otto Piene or Laszlo Moholy Nagy.

[On Kandinsky,] I think it's mostly his explorations of sound and visual relationships, and looking for correspondences between color and sound, and how he constructed paintings as a piece of music with repeating motifs, such as Fugue (1914). On the formal side, it is the fact that his paintings always have a strong sense of movement, [even] before the first experiments in moving pictures. This has inspired me in some of my own work to use a layered approached, matching sound to motion, and trying to give a piece an overarching sense of [continuity]..

Neon Indian, Volvox Labs, and Vincent Houzé, Glitzy Hive (2015). Courtesy Volvox Labs.

 

5. Do your collaborations shape the way you think about your work?

Collaborating with artists from a different field and thinking about how to turn their universe into visuals is always an enriching experience. Collaborations are also a great opportunity to get exposure to and [collect] feedback from different crowds.


Editor: Rain Embuscado