. Conversations at the Edge (CATE)

Interview with Brenna Murphy

Posted by | Robyn Farrell | Posted on | December 14, 2012

Ian Ostrowski in conversation with Brenna Murphy on the occasion of her program created especially for CATE with Lampo on September 27, 2012.  Murphy’s performance explores a brand new virtual space and is accompanied by textured soundscapes generated from a home-made analog synthesizer and her own voice.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Brenna Murphy on September 28th, 2012.  Having interest in virtual spaces, games, and electronic media I thought it was an incredible opportunity for me to be able to interview such a prolific new media artist.  This was really exciting.  In this interview Brenna and I discuss her performance for CATE and how this performance relates to her practice.  We discuss her uses of time and repetition and how her digital images mimic 90’s computer games like MYST.  We also touch upon her love for Indian music and how it relates to her work, and also how her practice is evolving into several different performance collaborations.  

Ian: Could you begin by talking about your performance last night?

Brenna: I structured the night so it would go back and forth between videos and video games–four sections of videos and three sections of video game walk-throughs.  I made the game spaces with the Chicago performance in mind—they were made to be performed, but not to be played.

The first game / virtual space consisted of an arrangement of boxes on the ground.  The boxes were textured with images and I controlled my avatar to walk along, looking down at them. It sort of functioned like an animation that I was making live.

If I was going to make a game for other people to play, I don’t know if I would make this particular kind of game, because you have to think about people and where they want go and explore.  I just wanted to set up something that I could show people in a very specific way.  I attached sound to different parts of the game and different objects within each space.  As I would move through the space, the sound would change depending on my location. This enabled me to improvise in such a way, but also have a sort of structure I set up before so I knew where I was going to walk.

Have you ever designed a game for other people to play?

Yeah, I have a few on my website that can be downloaded and played.  I made those games with other people in mind, so they are fun to navigate wherever you go hopefully.

Are you only interested in creating that virtual space for people to walk around in or do you wish to attach a set of rules to what people do within the space?

I have never thought about the possibility of attaching rules.  But I think that because of the way I structure the architecture within the virtual spaces I create that those sorts of rules are inherent.

Well, come to think of it, one thing I would like to explore is experimenting more with the sound aspect in these virtual spaces.  For example, figuring out how to make it where people can turn the sound on and off by hitting a certain object.  This would enable people to play music by moving around.  It’s sort of that way right now, because as you get closer to something it makes a sound.  I like the idea of the user being able to jump on one object to turn on sound and hitting another object to turn it off.  That would be a cool way to make it more interactive.

It is obvious that music is a component of your work, but I also notice that time and repetition are inherent to your creations as well.  So I was wondering if time and repetition are reflected within your method/practice?

Well, I think you are referring to my videos.  A lot of times my videos can be really repetitive.  I will take a clip and repeat it twice and then the next clip is repeated twice and it sort of creates this rhythm.  And that does come out of just experimenting within the programs; it is sort of natural for me to copy and paste things.  It is an easy way to create a rhythm and as soon as you start repeating it, then it becomes this weird like song instead of just these video clips.

Are you working on any other things at this point?

Yeah, I have a group called MSHR.  We do a lot of things including building analog synthesizers.  They are very sculptural and have fun interfaces like gloves that control the sound by moving your hands around light sensors and it makes different sounds.  We use touch sensors to make sound too.  We make sculptural installations with interactive sounds in them so that visitors can play with them.  The art is sort of a surreal environment that’s kind of like a virtual reality realm, but physical.

What are your influences?  Are there any artists you pay attention to?

Definitely!  I get influence from other artists all the time.  I find a lot of inspiration from music.

What sort of music?

Raga music. I have been taking Raga music lessons for a couple of years.  I listen to Raga influenced music or Raga all the time. The structure of Raga music has influenced my work a lot.  There’s a framework but improvisation within the framework.  The harmonies feel very elemental and natural to me.  For me, my work reflects the Raga structure.

This is very evident in your videos with the trance, psychedelic imagery.

I was also reading that when you begin a piece, you like to take walks and take pictures of nature.  Do you just work from nature at the beginning and move on from that?

I like to go on walks as much as possible and pay attention to the way things are arranged and the surface qualities of the textures.  I like to pay attention to houses, trees, plants, and the sidewalks and how everything is arranged and looks.  I think it reflects the human mind a lot.  I’m not really IN nature as much as I am in neighborhoods and the way nature is arranged in a neighborhood.  You get a feeling of nature but you also get a feeling of how people have planted these things, these certain configurations.  And how the houses are shaped next to those things.  I like to try to just focus on the form and texture of all of that.  And let that shape influence me and when I go home and start working I try to let those shapes come through in my designs.

Ian Ostrowki is an MA candidate in Modern Art History, Theory and Criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with an interest in virtual spaces, games, and electronic media.