A graduate of Macquarie University, NSW, Mary Mainsbridge is a new media artist whose work encompasses composition, video art and painting. She has performed in a range of bands, and has toured extensively throughout Europe as an electronic musician. Mary is the keyboardist, vocalist and main songwriter of live audio-visual act, Deprogram. Currently she is undertaking a Ph.D. at the University of Technology, Sydney, that examines the use of movement-based systems in audio-visual performance and composition. More recently, she is a finalist in the 2012 International Spacetime Concerto Competition for her submission Code-Centric Motion – a gesturally controlled digital instrument and orchestra for voice.
How would you describe Mary Mainsbridge in just three words?
Impulsive, instinctive, searching.
What initially drew you to enter the International Space Time Concerto competition?
The chance to test out my current musical experiments in a whole new context and work with an orchestra.
Walk us through your competition submission Code-centric Motion?
Concentric Motion is a concerto written especially for the event, combining orchestral instrumentation with electronic processing. As the soloist, I’ll be controlling audio-visual effects with my body movements, manipulating the sounds of the orchestra and my own vocals and piano performance.
How would you define new media art?
This is a shifty term. Given that art created made with digital media is relatively entrenched now in our technology-focused culture, I don’t know if ‘new’ is the right word, but for me it describes hybrid technical art forms that inform and influence each other. It’s an ideal test bed for themes such as interactivity and open source collaboration.
Is this the first gesturally controlled digital instrument you have created?
I previously performed with a glove-based sensor interface at the Underbelly Festival 2008 using Reactivision and then branched into computer vision this year using the Kinect depth camera.
You are currently pursuing a PHD at UTS that explores the use of movement-based systems in audio-visual performance and composition. How has your academic knowledge informed and expanded your creative processes?
Approaching my creativity from a research perspective has helped me connect with a whole new community of experimental artists and programmers who are using vision based tracking techniques to further musical expression. I’ve been able to research state-of the-art technologies in depth and apply them to my work, drawing on the expertise of other artists and programmers working in the area. I’ve also been working on developing a language for what I do by reflecting on the creative process, which has been incredibly helpful for helping me understand my own creative process and how it keeps evolving.
Tell us about your live audio-visual act Deprogram?
Deprogram was initially a solo electronic music act I started in 1998 and has grown into a collaboration between sound engineers, musicians, video artists and programmers. On stage we improvise with electronic drums, vocals, laptop and keyboards, layering improvised soundscapes with intricate, syncopated rhythms.
It seems that more and more artists are incorporating audio visual techniques into live performances. How do audio visual elements enhance a live show?
Audio visual elements create a dynamic and immersive backdrop that reinforces the music and feelings behind it. It allows multiple levels of expression and also reinforces messages contained in lyrics. I’m trying to use visuals as a way of getting finer control by receiving additional feedback on how my open air movements translate to controller messages. It’s also a way of promoting audience engagement and understanding by amplifying the gestures visually.
You have toured extensively throughout Europe as an electronic musician. How have you found the electronic scene in Europe in comparison to Australia?
It’s a lot more diverse, so there are more pockets to fit into. To survive commercially as an electronic musician in Australia, the style has to be pretty mainstream and dance-oriented. In Germany electronic music is a long-standing tradition, and audiences have a deep understanding and appreciation for that type of music. Playing with Deprogram and other bands, we’ve had enthusiastic responses there, as well as in Eastern Europe.
What is on the horizon for you creatively in the 2013?
I would like to integrate the motion-based controller more into my electronic shows, refining it through the process. I also have some live performance collaborations coming up with Scott Simon, a guitarist also at UTS, and Ion Pierce, a local composer, gamelan musician and percussionist.