The Past, Present and Future with Juanjo Fernández Rivero (aka Gnomalab)
In recent years one of the biggest contributors to the online and offline VJ communities has been Juanjo Fernández Rivero. Along with his work with VJ Spain and other organizations, teaching workshops and organizing meet ups, he is also known as Gnomalab, a prolific VJ who has been creating live visuals going on 20 years. We finally caught up with him for an interview looking back at his career and to find out about his latest projects!
Who are you, and what do you do?
I’m Juanjo Fernández Rivero (Terrassa 1974) and basically I’m a video artist first and musician afterwards. I will try to be as brief as possible to explain my background, although I do not promise to achieve it: I always wanted to be a painter; I studied applied arts, where a little of everything was done; painting, sculpture, drawing etc. That’s where I discovered photography and enrolled in a photography school – in the analogical era – that gave me a very solid foundation on the image processing . After that I enrolled in a private school in Barcelona, where a subject of Contemporary Procedures of the Image was taught, where everything had a place. It was at this time when I was forced to leave the studies aside. From this moment – and to date – all my training has been self-taught.
At the end of the 90s I started to make my first steps as a live visual artist (I did not know that this was called and I did not even know anyone who did that kind of thing). First using slide projectors that manipulated live with liquids and that kind of lysergic things. but it was not until 1999-2000 when my career turned around. At that time appeared Fiftyfifty, in Barcelona a kind of collective / independent distributor of digital artists from different parts of the world. One of them was Pedro Soler (Who was for several years Director of Hangar Barcelona) gave a lecture on digital art and talked about digital art and MAX/MSP/ Nato.0+55.
When I left there I was very clear that these were the tools I needed. It was the moment of change. With MAX MSP on the one hand and the Nato.0+55 video engine, I had the possibility to combine all my concerns in a single tool; music, video and interactivity. It was the total tool! So I saved and bought my first macbook pro, this one with the little apple upside down (which I still have). At first it was frustrating; seeing a blank page was not what I expected to find. There was nothing there, everything had to start from scratch and there is no internet as we know it today. But with perseverance and stubbornness get to understand everything. Let’s say it was the moment when I started with object-based visual programming in 2003 and from one day to another Nato disappeared from the map, leaving many artists lying around. It is a very dark story, of which almost nobody who had been in the move, wants to talk. But that is another story…
After this I went to the equivalent in free version: PD-GEM and Pidip with which I even came to design, together with Lluís Gomez Bigordá, PDP-REM (Radical Easy Modules), a whole library of video modules with GUI in the style of Reaktor, to facilitate the artists compose their own programs, but after the little support of a community wears out and without means the project was in total abandonment.
During all this time, I tried and experimented with all kinds of software that went through my hand: Arkaos, Videodelic, Isadora, etc. , but it was not the same as using your own tools. You could get to a club and know exactly what was being used, just by seeing the fx that were used. ( The tunnel tunnel of Arkaos sounds familiar to you?)
SoftVNS passed through my hand, which was the embryo of VDMX 3 and 4, which are basically video objects created in MAX.
From 2002 to 2007 it was a golden age for me: I kept on bowling and getting to know other artists and Vjs from all over; strange people who did strange things like me!
During all these years, I have not stopped investigating and testing any tool that I think is interesting to develop my work. Combining my musical and visual projects. Some years I have spent editing documentaries and short films series for TV where almost always to all the processes I alone; from editing to color grading and musical synchronization. I learned a lot about all this, and I think it is reflected in my work live; The rhythm of the assembly and the look has its equivalent in the video made entirely live.
With the world of training and teaching, which I entered in a somewhat casual way; They were looking for someone to give a talk about MAX/MSP/NATO in a music school and somehow they convinced me to do it. Since then I have given dozens of workshops related to live audiovisual. Teaching others is my way of learning.
Currently I work as an audiovisual technician, as a specialist in video mapping projects for large companies for commercial projects and as a consultant for other creative studies.
What tools do you use in your creative process and performances?
Depending on the project, I use some tools that works better to them. Knowing several tools gives you a much broader range of possibilities to tackle each project. I do not think there is a single tool to do everything, although sometimes we insist on it.
When I work with video in real time and generative, I feel very comfortable with VDMX, I use it from there; It is quick to prototype an idea, it is modular and everything communicates with everything. Normally 80% of my shows are based on QTZ compositions (Quartz Composer) reactive to sound but now I’m learning something from ISF and GLSL. I recognize that the code is not my thing so I go little by little.
On the other hand, I have been learning Touchdesigner for a while, which seems to me to be a very powerful tool, almost immeasurable. At the moment I do not dare to work alone TD live, but I am integrating small patches that I send to VDMX via Syphon. What I said above; combine the best of each house.
Summing up a bit, my audiovisual set at the moment is based on: VDMX – Quartz Composer – ISF and Touchdesigner. MIDI controller Akai APC40 mk2 for visual control; launch clips, scenes, fx etc. It also helps me for Ableton Live when I perform the audio / video functions at the same time with TSOWC.
Novation LaunchpadXL MIDI controller that I use exclusively for the total control of audio analysis. For me it is vital since they automate most fx and changes from sound.
Analogical audio mixer with 6 channels next to an RME Fireface UC audio card that helps me obtain a quality external audio source and greater control of what I am receiving. It is not very common to see a VJ with more audio equipment than sound, perhaps because of my musical experience, but it is a trick that I have been using for many years and it gives me all the power I need to make things move. When I perform the tests before the video for me it is more important to test the sound; I am sometimes confused with the musician!
And not least, to connect everything, an Elektron Overhub usb hub, NEO cables for usb power and Neutrik for audio. It may seem somewhat exaggerated this type of peripherals, but believe me, bad cables together with poor supply, is the equivalent of problems.
What are some of your current projects?
Surely people know me as Gnomalab is more for my work as Vj or my activism in forums and networks as Vjspain but not everyone knows about my «Site-specific» works. So I would like to highlight my most personal work through three works that I think define my artistic personality very well; the use of light and space as a medium:
les illes (The Islands) – installation mapping site-specific
Conversations with space – installation mapping site specific
I just closed my stage as a musician with The Suicide Of Western Culture, an electronic duo A/V Shoegazer that allowed me to travel and act all over the world. Now that I am more free, I can focus on picking up my work as a VJ, which is something I feel more comfortable with. Thanks to all these projects, I have had the opportunity to meet many artists, programmers; Interesting people from a scene where opportunities for collaborations arise.
Also note that, years ago I decided not to work on projects that are not to my liking; When I receive the call of a festival and I do not go with my trusted musician, before I learn with which artist I have to collaborate, I listen to his music, style, etc. before giving a Yes, since I feel more comfortable with one type of sound than with another. Sometimes I have refused to be with headliners and maybe opt for the local artist or less known but who does something more related to my work. It is not a matter of contempt, much less, I speak of affinity, not only musical or visual, but understanding, feeling. When there are stylistic conditions or there is no affinity neither musical nor personal, it is almost impossible for the spark to arise.
Since I have collaborated with many artists, I am going to focus on these last three:
Loppkio, a Techno duo from Barcelona formed by Álvaro García Moduleight and Pedro Pina. With them it is very easy to work since they have a thought very similar to mine, do and let do. They work a lot on improvisation, no gig is the same and that’s something that I love. We had a great time when we agreed and I think it’s something mutual.
Pina (The same as before, but alone) What to say about Pina, whe have a total understanding, I’m a fan of everything he does. The understanding is mutual and we don’t even need to talk. Work with him is the resume what has been said a few lines above. Our last collaboration has been to present his latest album Lärm published by Lapsus records at the last SONAR Festival 2018. I think it is one of the best shows I’ve given in time. of which I am very happy.
(Unfortunately for us and luckily for others, there is no quality recording of our show. In which there were explicit and uncomfortable images about the special situation that we are experiencing in Catalonia.)
And finally, my performance with LUSINE, which presented its Sensorimotor album at the LEV 2018 Festival, which was the result of chance. The organizers of the Festival and taking advantage of the fact that I would also be present at the festival with another project, they invited me to collaborate and they gave me two options and the lusine was love at first sight. They put us in contact and we crossed some emails and they sent me some original material of the videoclips, that served me as bases. It was something special for me, because I was not used to that type of sound or tempo and visually was a bit away from what I usually do, so practically all the material I prepared was just for that occasion. I had such a good time that it was short.
Fulldome – laser
For the future I am studying the possibility of creating visual sets in Fulldome format. The biggest problem is the access to this type of facilities and at the moment there are few festivals centers that have an adequate infrastructure. The biggest challenge is to generate visual content in real time, with high definition and in a fluid way. besides considering the possibility of combining it with lasers.
Your work as VJ community organizer has a very local emphasis, how did you become involved?
Although it can not be considered a project in itself, I have my little personal campaign about the treatment of artists. It is my usual (in Spain) to treat the musician very differently, or DJ than the visual artist or VJ. Luckily, it’s not my case, I think I’ve earned my respect in one way or another, but I can not say the same about other colleagues or artists. So I decided to do my little personal campaign with the leitmotiv #supportyourlocalartists to support local artists. I would like to be able to invest a little more time in this and be able to educate in some way not only the festivals that are the ones that hire, but also the artists themselves who often do not respect themselves. To give a little visibility, every time I do a video checking at a festival or event, I launch the graphic image that I have designed with the slogan, take a picture and upload it to the networks. It is a simple action, but little by little it can help to sensitize the programmers to a general public. Who knows, it ends up being a kind of ISO standard. I leave a link so that anyone can use it.