• Pierre Paslier

Interview with Alberto Novello

GH: We're so curious to find out: who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?

Alberto: My name is Alberto Novello a.k.a. JesterN I was born and live in North East Italy but I lived around Europe a lot. I'm a composer/performer of electronic music lately experimenting with lasers and old analog CRT monitors to display sound signals.

"I love the fact of repurposing old technology to question if the “old” is really that bad and what the new actually adds."

GH: What is the underlying philosophy behind your work?

Alberto: There are lots of influences but I think my main interest is towards having people listening to sound in a more conscious way. Pauline Oliveros called this Deep Listening. I have noticed that through visualization one can hear sound details that would otherwise remain obscure such a phase shifting, filtering, wavefolding, panning etc. I call this Visual Listening extending Oliveros' ideas. I also believe in the beauty of analog light, one can tell immediately by watching it live and it's more difficult through a digital screen. But still there is something magic about the fluid movement and the intensity that strikes me. I also love the fact of repurposing old technology to question if the “old” is really that bad and what the new actually adds, it's connected to a discipline called Media Archaeology.

GH: Can you pick an artwork and describe your workflow?

Alberto: I try to change workflow as much as I can. I approach different mediums and try to explore their possibilities. Sometimes is code. I use Max/MSP to code my signals then send them through a MOTU soundcard and in different ways to the monitors. I need usually three signals XY and Z (intensity). I make most of my monochromatic creations in this way.

For Laser I use 5 channels: XY and RGB for the colors. I mostly keep the signals for the shape (X and Y) and use them as audio in my videos (L and R). In this way I connect to what I said before, people can listen to the shapes and watch the sound. The sound sometimes is weird but I like its coherence, it's more than just a figure with an arbitrary sound, it becomes a complex entity. In a live show with proper sound system the audience gets also stimulating by the vibration of the bass frequencies. It's a true synaestesia for the aural, visual and tactile perception.

GH: Tell us about your setup. Where do you create? What tools do you use?

Alberto: I work at home in a small room. I have few screens that I bought very cheap cause they are old, old cameras, a computer and I built all my LZX video synthesizer modules and most of my Eurorack system. I use this setup for live performances.I add a short video for simplicity of description.

GH: What's been inspiring you lately?

Alberto: Mostly it's nature and its geometries, arab architecture, video games from the '70s, the work of great video artists such as Woody and Steina Vasulka and trying to imagine what I could not do so far with three signals and build on that...

In general, I'm fascinated by the Rutt-Etra synthesizer built by Steven Rutt and Bill Etra in the beginning of the '70s and used extensively by Woody Vasulka to create what he calls Time/Energy/Objects.

This technique allows to distort the TV raster, e.g. the horizontal lines crated by the electron beam of an old analog television to create its image. Usually these draw a 2D rectangle holding the TV broadcast. However with the correct maths, one can insert some signals to distort this 2D rectangle into a sphere, or extrude each line point based on its intensity: in this case a face would seem to protrude from the screen towards the viewer, progressively acquiring a third dimension. The same can be extended to abstract imagery and create 3D objects that rotate inside the TV box. It's still a fascinating effect used consciously or unconsciously by many digital artists, for example to create seas of lines, alien landscapes and deconstruct images. The original analog effect has still a very powerful depth, hard to reach digitally, that must have looked so futuristic back in the days!!!

GH: What are you working on next? Alberto: I'm always working on new shapes, but now until COVID allows me, I'll be on the road to present my latest works. I have one called INspiralscombining laser and CRT monitors that I'm showing around and I'm very happy with the results.

The inspiration in INspirals, as in all my work, starts from the observation of the instrument itself: understanding what each tool is best at doing. The little engines that deflect the mirrors in a laser (called galvos or scanners), move slowly compared to speed of the electromagnetic field in the coils of the CRT monitors. So the CRT beam draw many more lines (few hundreds) and more detailed imagery. Lasers don't like sharp corners, can draw fewer lines simultaneously but have beautiful light and colors. So I thought of combining both, using each at what it does best: the CRT to draw the complex skeleton of my objects and the laser to highlight some of its parts. I think it's quite effective and I'm the only one performing live with such setup.

To achieve this I code the maths of my 3D scene as three sound signals in Max/MSP. I output these three voltages from my MOTU sound-card into the the X,Y and Z (intensity) inputs of my Tektronic620 vector monitor. At the same time I use my other 5 outputs (so I use all channels) from my MOTU for the laser X,Y, R, G, B inputs. In this case I need to simplify the shape into fewer lines that the laser can handle.

I developed a hardware hack to insert voltages directly into the laser to skip the usual digital approach that results in segmented shapes and colors.

So the colors are handled by my modular synthesizer, I prefer the vibrancy of analog signals and I can create beautiful gradients that digital laser DAC cannot achieve (usually each segment has just one coded color).

I finally compose the image by rescanning (e.g. shooting with a camera) the CRT screen and reproject it using the live HDMI feed, and finally superposing the laser to it. The calibration of light between the two sources and the perfect alignment of images is very important to integrate the two projections together, to create the impression of a unique object

It's a relatively novel and complex technique that I optimized through the years. But thanks to it I'm able to create beautiful alien creatures that resemble some species that live in the oceans depths in complete absence of light.

– Alberto Novello, Italy


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