On a breezy, sunny day in Minneapolis, I sat down with the artist James Richards, whose newest work, Radio at Night (2015), premiered here at Superscript. The work was created for Walker Moving Image Commissions, an online platform featuring the work of six artists and launching on June 1 with Richards’ Radio at Night and Moyra Davey’s Notes on Blue (2015).
Ryohei Ozaki: I’m struck by the central place that music has in your work. How does it play into Radio at Night?
James Richards: The commissioned piece is a continuation of a process that began in spring of last year, when I was making Raking Light (2014). The starting point is sort of technical; I hadn’t really updated my music equipment for about 10 years or something, so I bought a new music application. The program is all-encompassing and contains synthesizers, sequencers, and samplers that allow you to work in many different ways. I spent a lot of time making music independently of visual art while I was on a residency, learning and finding a way of working with this software and trying to find a voice with it. It was about trying to funnel that into a piece and make something unapologetically luscious.
RO: This ties into my next question, about the phrase “digital age,” used in the title of the conference. It’s a bit vague and overused IMHO. But what does it mean for you as an artist working in digital audio and visual media?
JR: If we weren’t in a digital age—well, you can’t really hypothesize this stuff too much—but if I wasn’t in this era, I’m not sure I would be a filmmaker. I’d probably work in collage or something. Digital has an immediacy I like. One can work unprecedentedly in a casual, cheap, and constant way, which is very much the product of recent technological changes, compared with work made earlier. Artists I admire would likely have to go out to special facilities for a very limited time frame, perhaps with a great cost, and so they’d have to plan and organize it in a very different way. Now all one’s tools are on a laptop and you can be generating and manipulating and experimenting. There’s something about that immediate relationship and that way technology makes working like this almost like writing, with a similar level of directness.
RO: What are you most excited to be working on at the moment?
JR: I’m continuing to experiment with the material generated and developed in my last two pieces, Radio at Night and Raking Light. Next year I’m making a large installation of this material, fragmenting it and working with multichannel setups in an exhibition context. I did something similar six years ago, but I’m approaching it with new material and a new attitude. I’m thinking of moving music away from images, working with sound installed in space, which I’m really excited about. This will be at Bergen Kunsthall in Norway and the Kestnergesellschaft in Hannover in a two-part show.
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