Transforma — On Form

When Transforma — undergraduates in art, design and experimental media design — got together in 2001, their choice of name consciously foregrounded the transformative process inherent to the collaborative visual remix; and indeed, everything produced by Transforma — aka Luke Bennett, Baris Hasselbach and Simon Krahl — clearly bears the stamp of collective authorship.

Like many VJs and artists at the turn of the millennium, Transforma initially explored the potential of digital animation. Yet they also ranked among those frontrunners, who not only peppered their audio-visual (av) practice with real-time images but also immediately put these on stage and made no bones about showing how they’d been made. Transforma soon figured out that quick work with a video camera — like cinema or any other representational mode involving work with lights, objects, costumes and masks — was much more productive than fiddling for weeks on end with digital software. Terms such as „hapticism“ or manual animation perhaps best put the finger on this tactic: for it implies a hands-on approach to real objects, and processes that can be defined, controlled and calibrated manually. Manipulation in its most literal sense sums up Transforma’s aesthetic intervention in cinematic or staged events. As such intervention relies inevitably also on digital technology — from the camera to editing to presentation — it falls under the heading „post-digitalism“ these days. Which is to say, digital technology may be deployed, but only to underpin an interest in both the real and its discernibly manual signature treatment. This post-digital approach now so commonplace in art and design could be noted already back then, in the work of Transforma; and their work may arguably, even have launched it.

Transforma very quickly learned the value of producing their own film material for use as concert visuals — a development fostered also by the Shitkatapult label, which was active in promoting auteur concert visuals. Transforma have retained the format to this day, most recently producing visuals for Chloé (2010) and Shrubbn!! (2012). They mix pre-filmed material live, during gigs — and of course thereby constantly transform it.

The „Synken“ project (2006–2007) marked a caesura in Transforma’s development. It too was based on pre-shot footage yet culminated in two distinct formats: an av concert with music by O.S.T. and a film on dvd. The music and footage were created in parallel, as closely interwoven and mutually defined strands of the project. Here, the predominance of largely improvised concert visuals cedes to more structured concepts and work in the performative format. „Synken“ insofar laid the groundwork for the next av concert „Operators“ (2009), as well as for music videos such as „Bangout“ (2009) and concert visuals such as those produced for Apparat (2007–2009).

Not only the music in „Operators“ is produced under Transforma’s aegis — in that it derives, for instance, from the real sounds made by objects handled live on stage — but also the stage itself is in a peculiar way under their direction; for the camera steps back from the action quasi, to reveal not only the end results but also how light and sound are generated on stage, along with objects’ treatment at the hands of various players. A „making of“-style documentary approach further complements the audio-visual results. The action on stage is filmed prior to the gig however; the live action consists in the compilation, processing and presentation of this pre-prepared footage.

With „Asynthome“ (2010), an audio-visual performance co-produced with the artist Yro, Transforma take this approach even further. They do so by abandoning work with pre-filmed staged action in favour of live performance on stage: as actors and musicians as well as on film. And the camera takes another step back. No pre-filmed footage is used in „Asynthome“. Everything seen on stage or on screen takes place live. The skeleton framework alone is pre-determined: when and where which camera, light or sound source is to be switched on, or who is to act, when and where. Editing and montage are likewise performed live on stage, and so too is post-production, a core element of cinema that here drops its „post“ prefix to become a practice one might best describe as real-time post-production. With „Asynthome“, Transforma have created a new kind of real-time cinema, in which everything, from acting in front of the camera to recording to post-production, takes place live on stage. An artwork and its „making of“ hereby virtually merge, and are equally important.

With regard to format development, Transforma becomes increasingly conceptual year by year — but only insofar as this allows for more surprises, spontaneity and unpredictability. Their declared goal is to put experimental film live on stage. And to use everything at hand — space, lighting, music, bodies, a plot, objects and cameras — to transform the stage into a cinematic instrument that enables sounds and images to acquire new resonance, and every performance to unfold as a unique and fleeting phenomenon.

„Acquisition of medial leeway“ — another term one might use to describe Transforma’s tactics; leeway also within the strict bounds of genre classification, gained not least by crossover between genres and cross-germination. For Transforma meld club vibes, concerts, theatre, film and the arts in a singular style, and apply this crossover blend not only to their formats but to content too. For the trio’s audio-visual settings comprise a melting pot for their various roles: craftsman, scientist and magician. All three are all three, to a shifting degree, in different situations, in conflict, in consensus, and in the overall dynamics generated by variable positions. Which is reflected also in their images: mysterious and scientific activity, rituals and electricity, chequered masquerades and precise editing. Craftsman, scientist and magician — three roles it was possible once to imagine united in a single figure, that of the shaman for instance, such as Joseph Beuys most recently and so skilfully revived — admittedly in a pre-digital age. Whether Transforma are perhaps pushing a form of audio-visual shamanism, somewhere between shenanigans and high-grade experimental earnestness, remains still to be seen.


March 2012, Holger Lund /
(Translated by Jill Denton)