Interview: Bret Battey

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Bret Battey
UK based artist

artist biography

His video “Autarkeia Aggregatum” is part of the “image vs music” selection

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Interview: 10 questions

1. Tell me something about your life and the educational background

I grew up in the Seattle area. I showed a very early interest in electronic sound and music, drawing and visual arts, and in computers and programming. I was fortunate to have parents and environment that provided many opportunities to explore these areas as a child. I ultimately received a Bachelors of Music in Electronic and Computer Music from Oberlin College. After five years working outside of academia, I went to graduate school with the primary intent of creating combined image and computerized-sound artworks. Fortunately the Masters and DMA music composition degrees at the University of Washington were flexible enough to allow me to pursue that vision. I know teach in the Music, Technology and Innovation programme at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK.

2. When, how and why started you filming?

I made my first film probably when I was age 10 – hacking a switch to control my parents’ Super-8 film camera so I could advance it a few frames at a time – allowing me to make a paper cutout stop-animation. After that, the next film took until I was in my masters degree! At that time, I felt a strong drive to explore the idea that I could treat visuals in a way highly complimentary to electroacoustic music composition. At first I was planning to pursue live music performance with which visuals were generated using electromechanical and computer image processing – but it quickly became clear that I was going to have to work in non-realtime to get the quality of image and sound that I desired. I also thought I should do the work collaboratively – that it was foolish to try to do both excellent computer music and video. But I couldn’t find video artists who understood or related to what I wanted to achieve. So I decided to do work in both mediums myself. It turned out to be a powerful experience for me.

3.What kind of subjects have your films?

My films are tightly integrated sound and image compositions. They involve (mostly) abstract image and sound. However, I tend to have distinct philosophical and/or psychological themes driving them, even if I am not able to identify that theme until late in the work. I see the works as evoking certain ways of being in the world. They are primarily evocational, as distinct from conceptual, works.

4. How do you develop your films, do you follow certain principles, styles etc?

So far, each work has had a distinctive approach. I do not yet have enough distance to see the common threads, though there are clearly some there. The works all involve some degree of algorithmic means and custom signal processing (initially just in the audio realm, now in the video realm as well).

5. Tell me something about the technical equipment you use.

My earlier works used heavily manipulated and layered video footage and still images. My last two pieces are almost fully synthetic. The visuals for Autarkeia Aggregatum were realized fully on a Macintosh G5 using Apple’s Motion 2 effects software – outfitted with a custom plugin I developed. I created the sound for all of the works using computer synthesis and composition programming languages like Csound, Common Music, and Common Lisp Music, along with conventional multi-track editors.

6. What are the chances of new media for the genre film/video in general and you personally?

I don’t see my own work as having a large audience in my lifetime, unless something about the consciousness of the human race changes radically. I spend two hours day meditating, I’m deeply interested in matters of both intellect and ultimate meaning, I don’t have a TV – so if I create work that reflects my experience of life, it seems likely it will resonate with a pretty limited audience in our current cultural/social milieu. I have chosen my path consciously; I trust that I am pursuing a way of being that is of ultimate benefit for the human race as a whole.

7. How do you finance your films?

By myself with the help of academic resources. Since they are abstract films, overhead is much, much, much lower than if I were doing representational and/or narrative work.

8. Do you work individually as a video artist/film maker or do you work in a team? if you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?

I work individually. Given the highly personal, exploratory, and experimental nature of my work, I have a hard time imagining how it would be completed in a team setting. But this is a reflection of my personality, too.

9. Who or what has a lasting influence on your film/video making?

Brackhage once said that the best way to understand the inspiration of his films was to close one’s eyes.

10. What are your future plans or dreams as a film/video maker?

Continue to develop an inner life towards the highest vision I can have for myself, and let my outer life (including my artmaking) flow from that.