Headwaters

Making it

Illustration by Morgan Krieg

 

KIRK CORNELIUS

O over the years, I have become comfortably confident in my ability to turn an idea into a thing. I have always given myself the license to pursue something interesting to see where it would lead, knowing that I would eventually discover something meaningful by continuing to push into it.

In 2008, my wife and I were living in New York City, having moved there from Nashville. That year, with the help of our friends, we started a recurring multimedia art show called Brooklyn Campfire. We had talked about doing something like it for years while touring the country with a group of musicians, something that would give us a reason to consistently collaborate on music and art when we all got back to New York. The “campfire” concept communicated the informal setting that would allow us, as well as the audience, to expect a night of improvisation and collaboration with new pieces we prepared for each show.

At one of those campfire nights, I met Lana Vogestad, a video installation artist who creates ethereal phenomenological videos that are contemporary and abstract. She showed one of her video pieces and, separately, I performed a few of my ambient electronic songs. There was an affinity between what she was doing with her video installations and the music that I was creating at the time. We spoke after the show and quickly found ourselves talking about working on something together.

When we first began collaborating on new works, I had mostly used instrumentation and sounds for songwriting purposes. The transition to composing an audio accompaniment for a video installation required a philosophical shift: I had to think about the purpose of sound differently, using it to evoke a particular feeling or concept versus how it was used when recording more traditional music. It is most similar to sound design for film, where the sounds become as essential as the visuals in the overall experience. It took a while for me to shift out of being a songwriter and into a role of designing and layering sounds that weren’t necessarily intended to be musical. I spent a lot of time with the visual piece to try to understand how to reinforce the concept with audio. Eventually, I was able to break through my predisposed musical mindset to create something that evoked a feeling of diminishing tension. It ended up being a bit disturbing and unsettling, which was our intent for the piece.

In 2017, Lana called with an idea for our sixth piece. This time, she decided not to explain the concept first, but wanted me to sit with the video and react to it on my own. We had worked together enough where this part of the process was the easy part; we trusted each other and gave each other full creative license. The video that she sent to me was of steam flowing from right to left, shot in black and white and slowed down to accentuate the movement. After spending quite a bit of time with it, I called her back. We realized that we had independently arrived at nearly the same artistic concept, and for some reason, I wasn’t at all surprised.

I immediately started sketching the framework for how I wanted the audio to sit in the piece. I had never done this before and I wasn’t quite sure how it would be used at the time. That sketch later became the blueprint that inspired how the piece was performed and recorded in the studio.

We called the piece “Thalpein,” which means “to heat.” We created it to simulate the warming process that has contributed to the extreme shifts in climate, changes that previously took place in geologic time but are now happening in the span of a human lifetime. The audio composition follows a repetitive pattern that slowly reveals nuanced changes, in the form of three subtle movements as the piece unfolds. The subtle complexity of the piece reinforces the theme, and the viewer finds themselves a bit lost in it without recognizable points of reference. I have really enjoyed working with Lana on all of our projects, but I’m most proud of “Thalpein.”

Video installations being created at this level are not bought and sold. “Thalpein” was on display at a gallery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for the month of March in 2018. Our other pieces have been shown in art galleries in Atlanta, New York City, Reykjavik, and Berlin. They are on display for a period of time and then they are gone, and we move on.

My satisfaction comes from simply making it, and that is enough.

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