A Conversation with Matthew Collings

This is an interview I did last summer with a musician and video artist for Toolfarm's Inspirations. I thought the Max Bumps readers might enjoy it. (And now you all know my secret identity.)

Matthew Collings, aka Sketches for Albinos, is an experimental musician and music video maker, living and working in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Sketches for Albinos album 'Red' came out in March 2007 on Imoto records and took Matthew over two years to complete. Each song is a highly-crafted piece of music and multi-textured and described by Rawkstar.net as 'an individual masterpiece's. It is available on iTunes.

Matthew put this same lush texture and intricate detail into his video for the song 'Routine'. We discuss the creative process and visualizing his music, using lo-tech and highly experimental techniques. We even touch upon the topic of synesthesia. If you're not familiar with that term, you better read the interview!

Chat transcripts

Michele Yamazaki: Hi Matthew.

Matthew Collings: Hello.

MY: When we exchanged emails earlier, you said that you use "basic things for your audio". Can you tell me a bit about your creative process for making music?

MC: I actually try to use very basic things for sound and audio. I'm not hi-tech at all.

MC: I almost always start on a guitar. I'm a guitarist, but I like computers because of their power. I use many layers of things, mostly guitars, although they may not sound like it. You find things emerge in that way, organically and spontaneously.

MC: I also do most things on a digital 8-track machine and use the computer to tear things apart and to find new textures.

MC: When I make music, I always try to visualize it in some way.

MY: How did you go about visualizing the video for 'Routine'?

MY: The video has texture as well and matches the music perfectly.

MC: Routine... I had planned it for two years, after I went to the sculpture park where it's partly filmed. I went there at sunset, it was beautiful. It had this cold industrial look to it, like a Chris Cunningham video, or something by David Fincher. I love that mix of cold, electronic, distant, alien, with something warm, human and emotional.

MC: It's about twisting things into new shapes.

MC: I had this idea of it, like the images themselves should be able to bend, twist, flip colours, and suddenly change texture... all grainy, but not in an old, battered way. Texture is an important part of that, because something can be very familiar, and classic, but if it's wrapped up in a fresh or unusual texture, it suddenly becomes interesting.

MC: More hi-tech full of rich colours, like neon lights.

MY: Were the grain effects done with plug-ins or while shooting?

MC: I filmed it over two years in different places. The main texture effects are all real-time, totally filmed. There are no plug-ins used during the editing whatsoever.

MY: No kidding.

MC: I find people get easily distracted with plug-ins, thinking the plug-ins can do all the work for you. It stops you from having to use your imagination to produce new effects.

MY: The video is absolutely gorgeous. What techniques did you use to add texture to the video?

MC: It's actually done by routing the existing footage through an old tv monitor and then filming it again, on the same camera. The screen itself creates all those effects. Filming a tv screen is fascinating because it's a convex surface, light reflects differently off it, and the colours shift.

MY: Excellent trick! It does look really organic.

MC: I didn't capture exactly what I was looking for though.

MC: That was the aim! Organic, but in a twisted way.

MC: I love films by David Cronenberg, that twist what organicity is... blending machines and flesh and the like.

MC: In terms of experimenting, I think people are quite lazy these days

MY: I think a lot of people don't have the time or money to experiment as much as they like, too.

MC: If you listen to some of the first electronic or tape music made in the 40s, 50s, which took months, literally, at a tape recorder and slicer...

MC: and the products are still much more alien and far out that anything made on computers.

MC: The instant power of it can be counterproductive, I feel.

MY: Yes, I suppose so.

MY: I was just reading an article about creativity and they quoted Jack White of the White Stripes. The quote: "If we had five people on the stage, all the opportunity of a 300-track studio, or a brand-new Les Paul, the creativity would be dead. Too much opportunity would make it too easy. We just don’t want to be complicated, it seems unnecessary."

MC: When they first came out, The Stripes, I was really inspired by that attitude.

MC: When you place limits on yourself, you have to create, to test, to bend.

MC: When you have massive power at your fingertips, you get lazy because when you can do anything, you do nothing.

MC: I know people know try to start recording music, download loads of programs, and just get so intimidated by all the complexities of it all, they give up. That's such a waste.

MY: That's so true. You spend a good part of the creative process learning the technical aspects of a program.

MY: You said, "When I Make music, I Always try to visualize it in some way". Do you have synesthesia?

MC: I don't think I have synesthesia, but I'm fascinated by it.

MC: The most common form is to see colours in music, which I feel strongly.

MY: I went to a seminar on it a while back.  Very interesting.

MC: With the video too. It had to take on OTHER QUALITIES, be textural and the like, the cross senses.

MC: I released an album in March, and it had no titles, so I called it 'Red', which is a colour of that always seems to occur with me, even if I don't think about it. Red was just romantic and dark and rich and BANG!

MC: There was no way I cold find the way to sum up that period of my life, such an amazing time, with words or even a catchy sentence or title.

MY: Can you talk a bit about your editing process and the experimentation you went through?

MY: Does your final video look like what you had visualized when you wrote the song?

MC: We edited the video in Final Cut Pro.

MC: The song was actually the first song I ever did in this current setup, on my own. I wanted to do the video first, and chose that song.

MC: I had these visual ideas that I had to do...and I still haven't finished them really.

MC: The textural thing, and the synthesthia in video is the same that I want to achieve in music really, thing meshing and melting into one another in an unfamiliar but recognisable way.

MC: It feels like a big general idea, that is viscous in my mind, and it will always be there, shifting around.

MC: This the point in the conversation where I make lots of bizarre hand gestures to try to explain what I mean.

MY: He he.

MC: It kind of feels like some violent textural dough, that stretches and flips and is heavy and powerful. If that makes any sense at all.

MC: I wanted it to be even slower. Twice as slow. I just couldn't film it because I had no tripod, had to hold the camera, and it was -10°C!

MC: Have you seen 'Ganz Graf' by Autechre? It's the most amazing animation ever and helps the music to make sense, which it didn't really before, because it's so abstract.

MC: The video expresses this flipping, twisting thing, everything falling apart, coming back together, almost dancing, but it's still incredibly abstract.

MY: It does give the music a whole other dimension.

MC: It was also done years ago, maybe in 2001.

MC: I think that's one of the best music videos I've seen because it takes the music to another level, which is what video is for.

MY: That must've been crazy to animate. The timing is insane. I hope they had a plug-in to help them time it with the beats!

MC: It's incredible, isn't it! So complex.

MC: The machine comes alive...

MY: Every beat has something happen. It says the idea came from an LSD trip. I can believe it!

MC: Actually I think the texture and colour of music is one of the most important things.

MC: It's like with a painting, if the wrong shade of colour is used it just ruins everything. Same with production, everything has to feel right, be the right shape.

MY: You said it took 2 years to shoot your video. How long did your post production process take?

MC: When we actually we working on it, about two weeks, it was just that finding the time was difficult.

MY: What were some of the challenges you had in post production bring your vision to life?

MC: I actually wanted to film the whole thing again through a tv, and all the footage numerous times, to get 3 or 4 different versions of the same footage and mix them all together in layers, so they could, move and pulsate and flicker under one another.

MC: To be honest, it worked out exactly how I wanted, except the shots weren't long enough. I tried stretching the footage and slowing it, but it looked pretty crappy.

MC: Too cliched slow motion.

MY: I've got some terrific plug-ins I can sell you to smooth out your slow motion shots ;-)

MC: It should have a thicker texture, and the only reason it doesn't have it is because I gave up after two years of trying to get it done!

MC: I always work on things until they get almost exactly in line with what I had in my head at the time. It often takes 6 months to 2 years.

MC: I'm patient. Ha ha.

MY: Are you originally from Iceland?

MC: I'm originally from England. I moved here nearly three years ago.

MC: It's an amazing place. Best time of my life.

MY: I'm sure the scenery in Iceland is inspiring. It's the #1 place on my list of places to visit before I die.

MC: The thing about the scenery, especially in Reykjavik, is that it just becomes subconscious... you barely notice the sea and mountains at the end of the road, but everything just seems so HUGE, and you are part of it. It's inspiring in that way everyday.

MY: Have you started work on another video yet?

MC: Not really. I would like to do another one, but it's still forming. I should really start on another one. I have day dreams about music videos all the time, based on existing ones, but with whole new qualities over the top. A director friend of mine in Finland is making something to my music also.

MY: Very cool. Please send me a link when the video is online. I'd love to check it out.

MC: That may also take years... Ha ha.

MY: Thanks for talking with me, Matthew. It was so interesting.

MC: Thank you for inviting me. It's always a pleasure to try to explain these things. I always learn something from it

No comments: