RML History

This last week I have been sporadically posting various snippets of information about the re-establishment of our latest Recombinant Media Labs installation at the Experimental Theater during a month of launching at the Conrad Prebys Music Center at UC San Diego. I’ve received a lot of questions from those who hadn’t seen our previous San Francisco facility about what RML is, and now that the initial implementation at our new location is largely complete, it seems like time to pull together some more data about where RML has been and where it all might be headed.

RML SF Egbert

Biosphere and Egbert Mittelstadt at RML San Francisco

Recombinant Media Labs is an organization founded in 1991 to research, create, preserve and portray Spatial Immersive Synthesis: the science of projecting image, light and sound objects into 3 dimensional space. We support the production of projects that further the aesthetic and technological boundaries of panoramic installation, surround cinema, and multichannel AV performance. Under the direction of Naut Humon, former head of A&R for Asphodel Records and longtime member of the Ars Electronica Digital Musics juries, the RML platforms provide international artists in residence the opportunity to take their creative impulse to the furthest frontiers of aural and cinematic language, and present them in the formats for exhibition, symposia, workshops and real time cinesonic chamber concerts.

The RML story began in the early nineties when its predecessor, Sound Traffic Control, was invited to Tokyo to world premiere its “dub dashboard treatment plant”. While preparing for this engagement in 1991, Humon described the performance as a “sonic airport where various musical cargos land, taxi, and take off from an imaginary runway inhabited by ‘audience’ passengers amidst the dynamic audio trajectories.” Japan’s Panasonic Corporation took this metaphor literally. They constructed a large air traffic control tower from corroded metal that housed multiple video radar screens and searchlights over a bed of fog, in an expansive room of 800 floor-to-ceiling loudspeakers. At these shows, Recombinant’s omni-directional media system began to emerge.

Upon returning to the States, Naut set out to construct a movable model of what had occurred in Japan. Throughout the rest of the decade, subsequent Recombinant spectacles were mounted at festivals, and customized for special locations around the world. During this time, its sponsoring partner Asphodel LTD., began releasing CDs for artists selected from these events. One of the most renowned Recombinant presentations occurred at the 20th anniversary year of the Ars Electronica Festival on September 9, 1999. Playing on the 9/9/99 calendar date, Recombinant designated a nine hour, nine minute and nine second production format, consisting of 61 timed modules created by 33 participants. After viewing preliminary events in the outdoors and adjacent auditoriums, spectators entered into a larger hall surrounded by stages on all sides occupied by Powerbook orchestras, turntable assemblies, sizable steel sculptures and an encompassing matrix of screens, lights, and loudspeakers. This technological configuration provided a springboard for a substantive, content-driven array of artists and film/video works as each module unfolded.

After appearances in Asia, America and Europe, Naut and associates drafted the blueprint for two fixed-location media laboratories that included a base for the Asphodel imprint, and a comprehensive studio complex. Within this structure, the RML consolidation was substantiated as a culturally coherent enterprise, hosting a vast range of visual artists, musicians, engineers, designers, curators, organizers, technologists, educators and theorists from around the world.

RML Lights On

Lights on at the RML Theater San Francisco

The San Francisco incarnation of RML consisted of ten 16:9 screens in 360 degrees attached to the four enclosing walls of the room around the audience. The ten channel video surround video format in a rectangular configuration was used so that the works created for the system would be both scalable to other channel counts and transferrable to other festivals and events. The rectangular room is the most common architecture for typical auditoriums around the world, which made this setup  more sensible and common than a dome or other geometric configuration for works that must maintain longevity. By using discrete 16:9 screens we can reformat works for more or less channels as they are available, and for arrangements that might not afford a 360 degree setup. Playback is accommodated by 10 synchronized DVD decks, also chosen because of their compact robustness and over a decade ofubiquity in museums and installs around the world. This visual panorama was supported by a high impact sixteen channel surround sound array, capable of spatializing sound in three dimensions. Two rings of eight L-Acoustics PA speakers, one ring overhead and one slightly below ear level, encircled the theatre, allowing for the positioning of sound in conjunction with the visuals, creating a unified compositional canvas for diffused audio/visual works. These point sources were reinforced with eight 18″ subwoofers, one under each speaker column, two dual 18″ sub-bass channels at the end of the room, and sixteen transducers under the floor to create visceral vibrational effects. All of these combined created a truly immersive sound field that could accommodate vast dynamic amplitude shifts for layering of delicate or even overdriven frequency spectra.

RML Sakamoto

Performance at RML San Francisco.

Over the initial years of RML’s first SF operation shows were presented from a wide variety of international artists, including Ryoji Ikeda, Thomas Köner, Pan Sonic, Blixa Bargeld, Carsten Nicolai, Monolake, Maryanne Amacher, Christian Marclay, Ryoichi Kurokawa, AGF, Ikue Mori, Biosphere, Egbert Mittlestädt, Chris Watson, Vladislav Delay, Matmos, Kode 9, Pole, Richard Devine, Morton Subotnick, Deadbeat, Skoltz_Kolgen, Granular Synthesis, Thomas Brinkmann, Richie Hawtin, kangding ray, Richard Chartier, Joe Colley, Kevin Drumm, Markus Schmickler, Sonic Boom, Trevor Wishart, Mix Master Mike, Invisible Scratch Pickles, Executioners, A-Trak, Jochem Paap, Scott Pagano, Rechenzentrum, Fe-mail, Li Alin, Semi-Conductor, Scott Arford, Otomo Yoshihide, Masako Tanaka, Francis Dhomont, Francisco Lopez, Zbigniew Karkowski, John Duncan, Daniel Menche, Florian Hecker, Yasuano Tone, Louis Dufort, Alvin Curran, Lasse Marhaug, Murcof, Sutekh, William Basinski, Sue Costabile, Tikiman & Scion, Barry Schwartz, as well as starting production on upcoming cinematic offerings from Kronos Quartet, Survival Research Laboratories and Synchronator.