Strange and Familiar

By Steven Ball


Semiconductor are generating dazzling Worlds in Flux

In 2001 the Brighton-based artists’ duo Semiconductor (Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt) collected their output to date on their self-produced DVD Hi-Fi Rise. Their work at that point was a mix of experimentation with a ‘digital materialistic’ aesthetic – sound and image working in integral relationship as glitchy abstraction – alongside slightly more conventionally graphical animated forms, all enhanced by a particularly elegant integral use of sonic and musical abstraction. This new DVD is the latest progress report; the intervening years have seen some intriguing developments.

Their work has evolved in two distinct but related directions. They have created software to create abstracted graphical sound and image in real time for improvised performance, a progression evinced here from the live Earthquake Films (2000) through Digital Anthrax (2002) to the most recent Sonic Inc. (2004), also the name of their software. Earthquake Films also doubles as an early example of another cluster of experimentation in which forces in the landscape become heightened through imaginatively processed, sonically mediated image transformations.

In particular The Sound of Microclimates (2004) and All the Time in the World (2005), both produced during residencies, contrive illusions of landscape and meteorological phenomena. Originally an installation in Paris, The Sound of Microclimates suggests microcosmic conditions that might exist around the city, localised to absurdly small areas as tornadoes hug skyscrapers, mist fills a bandstand and city lights themselves become a weather system. In common with the settings for all of their work Paris is here untroubled by human presence and these microclimates might have gone unnoticed without Semiconductor’s digitally enhanced reproduction. Meanwhile, All the Time in the World takes the data of seismic disturbances to produce sound that affects landscape images of the coastline and hills on the English/Scottish border, becoming a millennial time-lapse of artificial nature as seismic ripples snake across the land. 


With these and projects such as Earth Moves (2006) (not included on this DVD) Semiconductor take landscape moving image into new territory. Reference points might include the ‘structuralist’ landscape films of Chris Welsby and Michael Snow or the perceptual riddles of Tony Hill, but Semiconductor bring another integrity invigorated by the possibility of data-as-material, a relationship to landscape no longer mediated by individual human presence or shaped by the spatio-temporal constraints of being in the landscape. In doing so they unearth a digital geophysical sublime.

Brilliant Noise, made during a residency at the Space Sciences Laboratory in Berkeley, leaves the planet altogether as it animates archival images of the surface of the sun and its dramatic solar winds, the soundtrack directly translating image intensity into audio manipulation. There are 11 other versions of the piece on offer, each with a different soundtrack especially commissioned from artists from the materialist end of digital experimental music such as electricity magician Disinformation and post minimal techno disintegrator Cristian Vogel. Semiconductor’s work is becoming like an elegant hybrid experimental meta-science fiction which, like the best science fiction, dismantles material representations of observable worlds, reconstructing strange and familiar places.

Semiconductor Worlds in Flux DVD Fat Cat Records FATSP14DVD

Steven Ball is a moving image artist and Research Fellow at the British Artists' Film and Video Study Collection, University of the Arts, London.