VERSA: The WL Interview

Purveyors of: The look of music

File next to: Pauline Oliveros and Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Playing: Wavelength Monthly Music Series: “Solstizio,” Friday, June 21st at 918 Bathurst Centre for Arts, Media & Education. Get tickets here!

VERSA is its own entity, an organism or an adjective that describes an emotional moment. The closest word in the Oxford Italian-English Dictionary is “Verso,” meaning a verse, or a word to describe moving towards, often behind crying, gestures, directions, or simply, a mannerism. VERSA really is this entity. Based in Guelph and sometimes Toronto, the primary duo of Alex Ricci and Monika Hauck create audio-visual responses to the gestures and mannerisms each communicate to one another: Alex’s bass supplies a subwoofer to a tank of water that Monika paints atop. This creates the visuals. It’s a symbiosis of music  and the look of music, all governed by human gesture. Wavelength’s Emma Bortolon-Vettor had a chance to ask VERSA’s Alex Ricci a few questions before their performance on June 21st.

I remember back in 2013 or so, we had played a show together as a finale for Texting Mackenzie. It was then that you were describing this new idea to me about a new performative, creative force. In its early conception, what was VERSA and how did yours and Monika’s ideas intertwine to create this project?

Good memory! That was such a fun show, and looking back feels like such a naive time for me. I had no idea I would be living right around the corner from that venue (the Press Club, which became Lucky Shrike) a few years later! And making very different music than I was back then.

VERSA began as a brainstorm between Monika and I, in response to the Kazoo! Fest Look/Hear grant, which commissions a new project each year that brings together music and visuals in a unique way. I was experimenting with a loop pedal, and making my bass sound not like a bass using a bunch of pitch shifter, modulation and delay pedals. Monika had just discovered paper marbling and we were both totally blown away by the results. The idea to send music (particularly low frequency sound from a bass guitar) through a liquid marbling bath came from brainstorming an idea for the Look/Hear grant. We had seen Nigel Standford’s “Cymatics” video, and thought “why can’t we do this live, and with swirling psychedelic colours”? We did a test video in our basement to prove that it would be possible, and sent that off to Kazoo. We were awarded the grant for the 2015 edition of the festival and then set to work, with the help of Will Vandermey [Future Peers] on drums, on creating our first live set of post-rock-sounding music and marbled, cymatic visuals.

Describe the emotional and creative context behind your newest video, “V.”

The creative context of that video came primarily through Colin Harrington (A Pocket History of Mars) coming up with an awesome, elaborate narrative idea, and then inviting us and [dancer/choreographer] Lindsay Roe to collaborate on the refinement and execution of the idea. We shot over several days spaced throughout last summer, and often let the story somewhat tell itself based on intuition, improvisation, and sometimes the weather/mosquito situation.

The original idea was about a being who finds themselves “human” for a day, and explores their body and movement curiously and exuberantly. In fitting with the song’s triumphant tone, the character bursts with excitement as the video progresses. I think Colin purposely did not try to prescribe particular emotions onto the experience of this character, leaving it open to the viewer to decide how they would feel at the end of such a euphoric day.

Your recent album was also published onto a VHS tape. What are the benefits of publishing on VHS and alternative forms of media?

The reason we published our album as a VHS was because we really wanted to pair our music with visuals, and draw attention to the intrinsic connection between the two media in our creative process. Like cassette tapes, VHS can be a really affordable way to release music. We already had a VCR on which to dub the tapes, and pretty much all the tapes we used were given to us out of family and friends’ old stash. There’s actually hidden tracks on some of them of our friend’s art school videos that I’m hoping some people have accidentally found at the end of their tapes!

How are pieces composed?

Great question, and not one I get asked too often! Our pieces often stem from a jam or improvisation. Recording is really important to the writing process; both with live-looping, where once I settle on something I like I can quickly record it and start building on top of it; and also because I often record our improvisatory moments and go back through them looking for gems to start a composition. One of our main deciding factors in choosing an idea to be the basis of a new composition is whether it is capable of generating good cymatics. Quite simply, does it make an interesting vibrational pattern that can create a strong visual accompaniment to the music?

The songs may go through many different arrangements as we try them with different musicians in our collective, discover what an electronic/MIDI version sounds like, and iterate in home-demos, studio recordings and live jams. Songs are typically never finished with us, aside from maybe when we finally settle on a recording and release it. But even then, we’re planning on releasing the second and third versions of one of our songs upcoming. Instrumental music provides a certain freedom in that way, where a strong melodic idea can be explored through multiple songs without sounding overdone.

What is in the future for VERSA?

After this super-exciting upcoming Wavelength show/Italian feast/multimedia extravaganza, we’ll be headed to Wildlife Sanctuary to do a self-imposed creative residency, and then playing a pretty neat Fourth Fridays show at the Guelph Civic Museum towards the end of the summer. We will also be doing a large-scale projection installation at Lumen festival in Waterloo.

We’ve been really focussing on developing our media art/projection installation practice in the past year, and have some big plans for upcoming work in that area, both as visuals for other musical artists, and as standalone installations. We’ve got about 21 songs mostly-recorded in the studio at Copper Sound Studio, so I see a couple of albums in our future! We’ve decided to embrace a rather shape-shifting identity, hopping between electronic music and post-rock, duo performances and six-piece band shows, and all of the visuals that we do for ourselves and other musical artists as well as interactive installations.