10 Transforming Youths is a 4-screen digital animation with quadraphonic sound. This work has been commissioned by the Melbourne City Council's Public Art Program as the inaugural artwork to be projected from dusk to 3am at the new Signal building site - a Youth Arts facility on Northbank overlooking the Yarra River in the city centre of Melbourne.
Concept & direction - Philip Brophy
Design & key animation - Philip Brophy
Inbetweening - Steven Whatmough, Idora Alhabashi, Isobel Knowles, Teishan Ahearne
Source video filming - Philip Brophy
After Effects post-production & scripting - Steven Whatmough
Technical advice - Sam Page, Tom Dawe
Score - Philip Brophy
Vocalists - James Cecil, Lachlan Franklin, Gus Franklin, Adam Green, Isobel Knowles, Sianna Lee, Phip Murray, Que Nguyen, Thembi Soddell, Shannon Smiley
Score production & 5-channel mix: Philip Brophy
Production assistance - Sam Page
Thanks - Andrea Kleist, Laura Ogden, Karra Rees, Simon Maidment, Byron Scullin
Signal, Melbourne (extended run)
Catalogue with DVD - published by City of Melbourne
Signal, Melbourne (as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival)
10 Transforming Youths addresses the City of Melbourne commission's remit to deal with aspects of 'youth culture' in some way. The work chooses not to add another skateboarding/MP3/mobile phantasm of youth consumerism to the mediascape of public imagery, but instead tackle the state of a mediascape already saturated with youth imagery. The result is a work that depicts youth as nodes in a network of desire invented and maintained by mass marketers and product branders - many of who might be parents who neurotically want to appear 'hip' by living out regressive fantasies of 'staying young' and inflicting such imagery upon young people. While young people may look at such imagery (for alcohol, technology, fashion lifestyle and leisure pursuits) and identify 'themselves' within its mirages, one wonders what kind of 'mirror' stands in front of their gaze. 10 Transforming Youths provides an inverse mirror, wherein one can see the temporal viscitudes of aging, of living, of being.
The concept of the score for 10 Transforming Youths was to create a chori-like sensurround of voices intoning simple vow ell sounds. Counter to the desperation with which youth marketing attempts to sonically, musically, visually and formally 'brand' youths in order to bind them to the products touted in public advertising, the idea here was to literally say nothing: the youths all make sounds with their mouths, but nothing is decipherable or comprehensible.
In the animation, as each youth opens his/her mouth, a sustained pitch is sounded. Each of the youths have their own pitch. When they are in the background moving right-to-left, a chorus of soft humming is heard; when an individual youth moves left-to-right in close-up opening their mouth as they age, their pitch is heard slightly louder. The resultant choral effect generates a soft ambient lull, continually changing as the various youths change their position in the perspectival plane of the multiple screen.
The score called for 10 vocalists. Each vocalist was assigned a pitch from an ascending whole tone row. The pitch assigned them was based on their own vocal capabilities. A recording was then made of each vocalist singing their base pitch, plus the first 6 notes in the harmonic series (octave, 5th, 4th, major 3rd, minor 3rd, whole tone). Each singer's 7 notes were then mixed in diminishing volume, so that the 7 tracks of their voice simulated the diminution of the harmonic series overlays. The effect is like a single tone being sung, but with a heightening of the timbral grain of the voice. When the 7-track mix of any one voice is juxtaposed against another, the timbral grain is highlighted. The resulting effect is a series of arcing waves of vocal texture which rise and dissolve into the background humming of all 10 voices. When all voices are being sounded, a 70-part choirs is simulated (10 voices each singing 7 tones). All vocal performances were recorded as sustained tones, which were then sampled and looped to create breathless uninterrupted continua.
The mix is in 4-channel in planar configuration - that is, 4 speakers are arrayed left to right to match the movement from left to right across all 4 projector screens. The layering of the mix has been divided into 2 distinct layers. The first relates to the backgrounded line of youths moving from right to left in the distance. Their muted humming slowly spreads from right to left, with each voice following their facial counterpart. Subtle EQ modulation ripples these sustained tones. The second layer deals with the foregrounded 'solo' voices: the close-up faces which actually transform in some manner. Separate recordings were made of the singers holding a sustained base pitch while opening and closing their vocal chamber to create a slowly rising/falling 'wah-wah' effect. This is then timed precisely to the action and screen-positioning of the face on the screens.
Following the recording, all singers were allowed to chooses which animated face they wanted their voice to be matched two. The characters' names are thus now named after the vocalists who breathed life and voice into them.
The design of 10 Transforming Youths is specifically built around not only the 4-screens of the Signal Box, but also the Mondrian-like grid break-up of the 4-screens. This grid format is evident elsewhere in the architectural design of the Signal Box. Thus each of the 4-screens of this work is split into two horizontally (with two distinct hues per screen) and three vertically (via a set of graduating tones from top to bottom). The colour palette is also one derived from the old brickwork: the resulting work eschews bright candy colours for a series of muted yet deep tones.
The movement of the youths from left-to-right also highlights the corner axis of the building. The movement is a key device in both inviting the viewer to consider the ¾ angle, and creating a full experience of the configuration of 4 screens across 2 walls.
The timing of the youths’ movements across the screens – and of the rate of their transformations – is based on time-frames of experiencing the work in-situ. While brevity and precision in timing are crucial to effectively enabling the work to function in a public space, the work’s timings are modulated by variance in the rate, amount and position of each youth’s transformation. The standard timing of each transformation is around 8 seconds. This is fast enough to catch one’s eye in a visually cluttered environment such as Northbank (facing due west toward that corner of the city’s skyscrapers) yet slow enough to suggest a graceful, grounded and elegant floating momentum as each youth is carried across the 4-screens.