#handdrawninterview with Stephen Lindsey of General Chaos
drawing by Ehab. words by Tascha
Last Tuesday night Ehab and I sat down with Stephen Lindsey, the visual artist behind General Chaos visuals. Over the past 15 years, Stephen’s analog and quite psychedelic projections have been a regular part of the Wavelength experience- appearing at over 400 of their 600+ shows. With a 15th anniversary of Wavelength Music Fest right around the corner (precluded by a gallery series at Huntclub Studios entitled Past, Present, Future), it seemed like the perfect time to talk process with the prolific artist- as well a to reminisce on Wavelength Past.
greetingsfromtoronto: do you actually do all the Wavelength shows?
Stephen: Yeah, unless I can’t. I started around (show #) 20 or 25. I started off doing the odd show. And then there was the Julie Doiron show. I didn’t really do very much, but they thought it looked really good- and after that I was in. There were whole years when I didn’t miss a single show, (for example when the series moved to) Sneaky Dees.
greetingsfromtoronto: how have you seen the series change since you’ve been involved?
Stephen: At first it was a certain crowd that kept on coming. It grew pretty quick.
greetingsfromtoronto: was there a point when it really started to take off?
Stephen: When Broken Social Scene got the Juno, whenever that was- we were at Sneaky’s by then. That was like~ WHOA! Nobody expected that, because these were just people that we would hang out with. At least to me (they were). It seemed like all of a sudden our little scene got a whole lot more attention based around that. After the 10th (year) that was a big change. We were weekly and we were always at the same place, and all of a sudden became a monthly. I kinda missed it at first- but we’re getting back to doing quite a bit more now.
greetingsfromtoronto: can you describe what you do at the shows?
Stephen: I create the back drop for the shows using projections. Ideally I have some idea of what the band sounds like in advance, because it’s meant to be sympathetic to what the musicians are trying to do. It’s not just about the static image. Each individual projection moves as the gels are mounted on motors, and they overlap each other. I try to blend the speed of the movement with the speed of the music. Then I’ll also try and add dynamics through the light, or shadow. Sometimes I drop liquids onto the gels, which will move around as they heat up. The idea is to enhance the mood being created by the performers.I just add and adjust to what feels right. I try to make it different every time. I think it helps.
greetingsfromtoronto: it does seem to help enhance the mood. it’s one of the things we enjoy about the series and some of the subsequent series which have followed suit, is that there’s a visual arts component to the programming.
Stephen: It’s been something they’ve always done, right from the beginning. I remember being at shows where there was at art show happening down at the end of the stage.
greetingsfromtoronto: how has what you’ve done changed over the past 15 years?
Stephen: The amount of projectors I use has gone up. In the last year or so I’ve gotten 5 or 6 new ones. I have 14 of the moving ones, but the early shows it was a lot more sparse. I didn’t have the moving projectors right in the beginning.
greetingsfromtoronto: have you always worked in analog?
Stephen: It wasn’t really a religious choice. When we started doing this digital projectors were like $10 000, and they were horrible. We got lucky. It was just at that time when corporations were starting to go digital, and we worked right next to a ware house that was getting rid of a bunch of used overhead projectors and slide machines for $10 each! Until that point I had never really thought about it, but I had a friend at the time who was doing visuals. I called them up, and the price was right- so I filled up the car with the projectors.Even film- there was a time when I was using film quite a lot. But those old machines have their drawbacks. They jam quite a lot. I actually do have a digital projector now, which I could use if i wanted to.
greetingsfromtoronto: how do you prepare your slides? is that the right word?
Stephen: (for the moving projector they’re called gels). You can look at them, and see they’re fairly rich. (he pulls out a handful of round projector gels about 6 inches in diameter for us to inspect).
greetingsfromtoronto: wow. they’re more textured than I would have thought.
Stephen: That’s not the paint, because see- here’s a flat one. I find that I use different mediums and experiment a lot. I’ll use silicon gel, or anything that’s transparent to get the texture. Like for example that one (points to the gel I’m inspecting) has got some of my hair in it. You wouldn’t guess it if you saw it up there cause everything is so much bigger, but you can actually see the light shine through the middle of the hair a little bit. It’s very interesting because depending where you focus on the gel, you can actually see different things- see for example if you focus on the ridges. But there are also several other adjustments to be made within that range of focus. A square inch on the gel ends up being 6ft X 6ft on stage, so everything really magnifies. I can do things that have a lot of minute detail, and I do a lot of flicking paint so I get these little droplets- sort of as a stippling technique. It grows on screen until it looks like the valleys on Venus.
greetingsfromtoronto: how long does it take you to make them usually?
Stephen: Some are simpler than others, but they take too long. I have to get in the mood. But they have to dry, and ideally I like to varnish them because they get quite hot and get damaged over time. They only last about 2-4 years. I don’t make just one at a time. I’ll lay a few out and start with 1 colour. Sometimes as a fun game I’ll give them out to people and tell them to do whatever. A lot of it is just using different brush strokes, and you might think of something that I haven’t yet. There’s not a lot here to work with, but it can look quite different up on stage.
greetingsfromtoronto: what does your art practice look like, outside of what you do with General Chaos?
Stephen: (points to a display cabinet full of hundreds of miniature soldiers, no more than an inch or 2 high). Well I like to do these, but art was something I came to later in life. It all really started for me when I found the projectors. I took an art class for my first time in university. I was studying math, and it was compulsory to take one class in the arts- so I started taking this art class and I really enjoyed it. I have a day job, and I like painting to relax- because the miniatures and the gels are quite detailed you see. I kind of got lucky with Wavelength because they let me do whatever I want, and people liked it- they thought it added to the experience. Which in turn encouraged me to keep coming out, and keep doing what I do.
General Chaos will be part of the Wavelength Talk Series on Feb 1st, giving a free talk as part of the Wavelength Pop Up Gallery. The Pop Up Gallery includes a host of shows and free talks, and is running in complement to the upcoming WL15 which runs Feb 13-15 (after which the series will take a brief hiatus before returning in April).
Look for an #Iwanttodrawyourband zine at WL15, featuring drawings of bands made over the past year or so at the Wavelength Music Series.