WHP FEATURE 05
Interview:

DENIZ KURTEL / LED INSTALLATION ART

WORDS: 
MARCUS BARNES © SEPT 2012

My experience of making LED art is very different and much more planned than making music; with music I usually just write a random melody — whatever I’m feeling that moment — and take it from there.
Widely known as a producer extraordinaire, with a stunning debut album on Crosstown Rebels and some great singles along the way too, Deniz Kurtel recently released ‘The Way We Live’, a second album featuring a series of collaborations with The Marcy All-Stars, a tight-knit group of musicians featuring Wolf+Lamb, Tanner Ross, Pillow Talk and several other talented members of the contemporary electronic music scene. As well as her musical endeavours, Deniz creates stunning LED installations, such as the Introspectacular – an immersive LED-filled. experience inside a trailer – which she took on the road as part of ‘The Way We Live’ US tour. We caught up with Deniz to speak in greater depth about her brilliant installation art.

The Warehouse Project: You’ve been touring recently for your new album The Way We Live and your LED installation the ‘Introspectacular’. How’s that been so far?

Deniz Kurtel: Great, yeah it’s been a long album tour, although the album was delayed a few times because I wanted to make a special lenticular 3D cover for the CDs and the LPs and that took forever, and there were some issues with it, etc...

I’m also a LED artist and I made the ‘Introspectacular’ LED installation for the US road tour and I installed it inside a trailer and we drove it across the country in April and I took a bunch of photos of the lights changing — me and Zev (from Wolf+Lamb) designed a lenticular cover with these images where you see the colours changing, like the real sequence. It’s very cool.

WHP: That is super cool... bringing back that whole ‘album artwork’ type of vibe, like super special collector type stuff.

DK: Yes! It’s a lot of effort and money, but I thought it’s not like we make so much money from record sales anyway, so we might as well make it really special.

WHP: You ended up working with LED through your connection with the ‘Marcy All-Stars’, is that right?

DK: Yes, I met Zev and Gadi back in 2005. They had just moved in to the Marcy, I guess it was some sort of a house warming party and then we became very close, went to Burning Man together, started living together and I started making LED installations for their parties.

WHP: Amazing... Burning Man has a lot to answer for right?

DK: Yeah for sure, that’s how I got into the LEDs actually. Zev bought some to use out there and didn’t end up using them, so he gave them to me and that’s how I started. Then a few years after, I started making music and that developed very fast much more intense than the LEDs, but I still love to do both.
WHP: So how exactly did you start making LED installations... were you self-taught? How long did it take to learn how to do things properly? And then how did she start to make music.

DK: I was with Zev when he was first figuring out how to use the LEDs and I was watching him figure out the basics, and then I decided to take it further and taught myself how to make more complex designs and patterns and then started using different software to connect them to my music, and then experimented with response to motion, and most recently expanded to making interactive projects where the audience can control the lights with a midi controller and play sounds with the same keys, which I made for my last album road tour in the US in April. So I can’t say how long it took me to learn; I’m constantly learning and developing new ideas. That’s how it stays so interesting to me, there is infinite ways to expand on what I’m doing and the challenge is very stimulating intellectually as well as artistically.
WHP: Cool, yeah I was going to ask the difference between the two disciplines...

DK: The art scene is still very weird to me, there are a lot of possibilities for super bullshit artists to make it to the top but as I’m think about that I’m realising I guess the same is true everywhere. I guess I’ve observed it more there and I’ve been exposed to the art world a lot as an observer through my mom. Maybe I noticed it more than I did in music, I don’t know... with music I feel like you can reach many more people - having to deal with less restrictions and bullshit. I’m not sure how to answer this question actually because maybe I’ve been extra lucky in music and my work was noticed right from the start and pushed further and further. I always had someone listening, someone interested in releasing my music, and there are a lot of very talented musicians that don’t get that chance so someone else might answer your question in the opposite way, thinking that the music scene has barriers too.

WHP: During the US tour, did you get to see much of the reaction to Introspectacular?

DK: Yeah, there were a lot of very good reactions — I was in there most of the time playing the keys, talking to people, etc...The most exciting one was seeing people who were shy in the beginning saying, “But I don’t know how to play the piano...” But then they start playing and see the lights reacting to their sound and get really into it and start performing for the other people in the trailer. Someone told me that they were so inspired, that they went home and were jamming all night and decided to start a band together... because it’s a very intimate space and dark so people get comfortable and just start playing for everyone whatever they want, and almost everything works because the lights make everything feel so amazing – it’s very encouraging environment.
WHP: What’s happening with it now? Is it ongoing?

DK: We might do a similar tour next summer for now the trailer is stored in Florida.

WHP: How do you conceive the LEDs? Do you work direct from your mind or do you work on stuff on paper?

DK: I do a lot of drawing on paper before. There is a lot of calculation that needs to be done ahead of time.

WHP: Cool, so what’s the starting point and how do you evolve your ideas. Is it a similar principle to making music?

DK: I usually get inspired by an image in my mind or some sort of light “animation” that I observe in nature, and get excited to recreate that. The amount of space and material I have to work with is very limited for achieving that vision, so mirrors help to sort of magnify everything and create these big events in small spaces with a small amount of material. My experience of making LED art is very different and much more planned than making music; with music I usually just write a random melody — whatever I’m feeling that moment — and take it from there.
WHP: What would you have done if you never ended up doing music/LED installations?

DK: I might have stayed in school and got a PHD maybe. I was into [scientific] research methods. I’m pretty far from that world now but I still love philosophy and maths. I don’t have so much spare time... well, I do, but I spend it making music — I guess I love that more.

WHP: So what are your current ambitions?

DK: I want to complete my next solo album, and work on my house in Berlin to build the studio again and make a huge LED installation on the ceiling that responds to my music while I work on music. I can’t wait.

WHP: Is this something you could have ever dreamed about as a youngster?

DK: I did dream about making these “experience” rooms for people to go inside and have these crazy trippy experiences... I didn’t know I would make it a reality with LEDs, but I guess I got close [laughs]. And I was always involved with music but I don’t think I could imagine having this kind of a career.
WHP: How much does each discipline influence the other? Does your music feed into LEDs and vice versa?

DK: They definitely complement each other well, and the projects I’ve done combining the two have been very interesting and fun, but even more important to me is that they give me an escape from each other when I need it. Sometimes if I feel stuck or bored or need a break from what I’m doing I can turn to the other and still be doing something creative but in a totally different atmosphere. It’s not the same as feeling stuck on a track and starting another track because then I’m still in music, or just taking a break where I’m not making anything — but to have a totally separate area where I’m still being creative and productive keeps me fresh and stimulated in both. I feel like this is one of the biggest advantages of being involved in more than one art form.

Deniz appears as part of Crosstown Rebels presents Rebel Rave on Saturday 15th December

Buy Tickets Here