An Interview with VOICEGEMS’ Reeps100 | The artist opens up a world of vocal compositions and generative systems, in conversation with Dimitria Markou.
Dimitria Markou: You initially rose to prominence as a beatboxer over a decade ago, can you tell us about your background and what attracted you to the arts?
Reeps100: My journey began with an interest in vocal composition and technique. I found the recent advancements in vocal techniques particularly fascinating and dove deep into exploring the peak of vocal possibilities. This led to opportunities such as creating vocal pieces on YouTube, which had over hundred million views, and judging major vocal competitions. I then shifted my focus to exploring the connection between vocal techniques and visual art, experimenting with methods to pair vocal expressions with visual systems, primarily using Cymatics to create voice-driven artworks and sculptures that respond to the human voice in performances.
From Saatchi all the way through to the HeK (House of electronic Arts Basel) and more experimental music festivals.
Image below: VOICE GEMS by Reeps100 and Trung Bao, Physical Vibration Sculpture exhibited at Saatchi
Over the last five years, I began working primarily with generative systems, which are digital representations of Cymatics. My deep love for Cymatics, the physical expression of sound, has led to a combination of exploring the human voice and generative visualization. That has brought me to where I am today.
Dimitria: How is the process of working with the voice as a medium?
Reeps100: The thing that I love about the voice is that even though it's unique to every individual, as every human on this planet has unique attributes, it also has its limitations. For example, as an adult, you have a certain range and dynamics that you can sculpt and shape, but fundamentally you have a limited palette. It's within those limitations that you seek out beauty and try to create something that stands out to the rest of the world. Especially in the world of vocal composition and technique, I'm always seeking to discover new sounds and techniques and to combine them in ways that no one has ever done before.
Even though there are limitations, there are exciting gems that can be found within them. This is also true in generative processes, where you spend a long time finding simple rules and fundamental algorithmic features, but within those simple rules, you can find something that is both consistent and beautiful that engages and excites people. Sketching and finding the rules tend to come in the beginning phase, where you're deciding your limitations and rules, and aiming for something that is dynamic within those consistencies. The hardest part of designing generative systems is working with the rules, and this applies to both physical (cymatics) and digital forms. It took me about 10 years to find my rules for visualizing voice, and those rules haven't changed since the beginning of the project. The simplicity and limitations are a huge part of what makes working with projects like this so fascinating, and you see the same thing in nature, where profound rules are expressed in vast and complex ways.
Video below: #1041 VOICE GEM - IZAYUS (7TH PORTAL) view on elementum, link here
Dimitria: You stated in an interview before: “One of the key rules is that I will never make a piece unless there’s a direct connection to the person or the audio that’s been sent.”. Can you elaborate on this?
Reeps100: We only create VOICE GEMS that have a connection to the audio used. Every VOICE GEM is a collaborative effort, where we find individuals or groups who believe their voice is worth preserving for a thousand years. We have a conversation and explore if this is something that should be generated. We now have over 120 pieces and every VOICE GEM has a different story and meaning, which keeps the integrity of the archive special. We are cautious and slow in creating new artwork, building something over time. We will never make a VOICE GEM unless we are connected to the individual or an associate who is connected to them, which ensures the project has integrity.
Before VOICE GEMS there was a generative system that I worked on, called "Voice of a Jewel" I used it to generate hundreds of voice sculptures and did public installations, showcasing it with The Mill NY, a Creative Technology department in New York. Through this process, I realized that it is more exciting when other people use the system, and what sounds and responses they create. This led to the development of the VOICE GEM system, which involves a collaborative effort with individuals or groups to preserve their voice for a thousand years.
Together with Trung Bao, we are both fascinated by the potential of voice expression, not just in the audio or music sense, but also in emerging tech. In 2019, I designed the concepts and wrote the manifesto for VOICE GEMS and approached Trung Bao to collaborate on defining the specifics of the newest system. We come from different places and have slightly different technical capacities, but we work well as a team and our ideas have influenced each other. Together, we have been working on a whole new front of generative possibilities and we are proud of the work we have done over the last year and a half. The project has allowed us to meet individuals like you and to view it as a positive.
Image below: Reeps100 being interviewed during the "VOICE GEMS: 1000 YEAR ARCHIVE" at the W1 in London. VOICEGEMS is a project by Reeps100 and Trung Bao.
Dimitria: How was collaborating with Herbert W. Franke, a self described “dinosaur of computer art” on the creation of the "Astropoeticon" VOICE GEMS?
Reeps100: I first heard about Herbert W. Franke when I visited the HeK (House of electronic Arts Basel) in 2017. My work in Cymatics connected me to him. He is a pioneering mind who found a sensibility or a set of ideas that is now prevalent. When we first started creating the VOICE GEMS project, we contributed it to the exhibition “Proof of Art” at the Francesco Carolinum in Linz, Austria.
The curator of the exhibition, Jesse Damiani, informed us that we had a very special guest; Herbert W. Franke with his wife, Susanne. They walked around the exhibition and our VOICE GEMS presentation stood out. He inquired if we could do a set of legacy VOICE GEMS from his poems “Astropoeticon”.
The opportunity to collaborate in that way and discuss these sensibilities together with Herbert was an absolute highlight of my career so far - for me and Trung it was an absolute honour.
Image below: Clip from Internet Gems ( VOICE GEM) as exhibited at the group exhibition "Proof of Art", at Francisco Carolinum in Linz.
Dimitria: I understand that the “Proof of Art” exhibition was a crucial element in the establishment of VOICE GEMS, especially within the art ecosystem.
Reeps100: The exhibition was important for many reasons. VOICE GEMS is not a traditional new media project. We prioritize a spiritual and ceremonial quality, which slows down the amount of VOICE GEMS we make but that is intentional. Every time we exhibit, there is a curiosity that is kicked up and people connect with us from every exhibition we do. They all have a similar sensibility of looking for something different. We are proud of the human beings that support the project and the institutions that want to partner with us for a long time or collect the pieces. This was set in stone from the first exhibition with “Proof of Art” and meeting individuals like Georg Bak, Herbert W. Franke, Jesse Damiani and Anika Meier. They are all wonderful human beings and we have continued to meet and connect with wonderful minds in the world of digital and physical value.
Image below: Reeps100 at W1 London during the exhibition "VOICE GEMS: 1000 YEAR ARCHIVE".
Dimitria: VOICE GEMS were launched in 2019. Are there any future plans or goals that you're still trying to achieve with this project?
Reeps100:We focus on large-scale physical exhibitions and have created a system for guest curators. Each VOICE GEM we make is numbered and we are selective, but we’ve also been approached by a number of exciting partners for exhibiting opportunities. As an example, last year we collaborated with the World Economic Forum (WEF) to showcase VOICE GEMS from various artists with the goal of promoting hope during a difficult time. We ended up curating 17 works and all these VOICE GEMS are remarkable voices and the individuals; including Dr Jane Goodall, Will.iam, Rupi Kaur, Sadguru, who recorded the messages specifically generated the VOICE GEMS for this exhibition. It was the largest digital exhibition that we’ve ever done. Those are the kind of things that we’re really excited by. It helps the arts penetrate new spaces and generate that curiosity within teams.
Image below: clip from Sir Geoff Hurst's World Cup Memory VOICE GEM
We aim to continue working with new spaces and institutions to showcase digital works and preserve them in new ways. We also introduced physical sculptures last year.
We're investigating ways to guarantee the preservation of digital files in the long-term and studying why physical objects have lasted so long. We're focusing on this question this year and bringing it under the umbrella of VOICE GEMS from research to expression and art. We're grateful for the support we have.
Find out more about the VOICE GEMS NFT project on elementum, via the link here.