Quindar duo takes form where no form has gone before

NORTH ADAMS — Mikael Jorgensen and James Merle Thomas are trying to reach beyond space.

To this point, the work of the multimedia duo known as Quindar has often been linked to NASA, and rightfully so. After all, the group's name stems from the quindar tones used in Apollo missions and its audiovisual presentations have included recordings and film clips from space exploration. Its first album, "Hip Mobility" (2017), incorporates NASA samples in place of lyrics, too.

But sitting down with Jorgensen and Thomas during the second day of their residency at Mass MoCA, which will host a performance by the duo for the fourth time on Saturday night, revealed that they're after something more abstract.

"Quindar tells stories about form," said Thomas, who is also a professor in Temple University's Tyler School of Art, over a cup of joe at Tunnel City Coffee. "And if you think about the way that we've used 16-millimeter archival footage of a super arcane technical test, it becomes less a lesson about what that rocket is doing but more about being able to think about the choice of colors that was used for that: Why was that metal painted in that color in the first place? Why was this thing shaped the way it was? It's almost like [you're] stripping things away so that you can look at an image and think about the relationship of its forms."

In other words, even though there will be some NASA content in their concert this weekend, Thomas and Jorgensen aren't aiming to give a history lesson. Instead, images on a projector screen behind the two musicians will merely seek to enhance an electronic — and experimental — musical experience.

"It is borne out of wanting to show these vintage NASA films, but in the process of putting those shows together, we realized there was so much more richness and depth to what was possible with the software that exists," said Jorgensen, Wilco's longtime keyboardist, of how Quindar has evolved since its first performance in 2013.

Yes, software. Derivative's TouchDesigner platform has been a driving force this week during the duo's stay at Mass MoCA, facilitating the connection between sound and scene. A visit to the room in which Jorgensen and Thomas, along with lighting and visual designer Jeremy Roth and Derivative expert Ivan DelSol, were working on the residency's second day reinforced the importance of technology to the operation. At three event tables, the men leaned over laptops like Silicon Valley coders. Roth and DelSol sat next to each other near a projector at the front of the room, while Jorgensen and Thomas each had their own setup, synths and switches at the ready. As different beats played, the musicians bobbed their heads and snapped their fingers on occasion, raising their gazes to the projector in front of them. The screen was displaying different shapes of varying sizes and colors based on the notes being played. It had a psychedelic feel.

"It's that same kind of countercultural moment in the late '60s, where every medium is kind of being reconsidered and reconfigured. Like, OK, what if we made a film that was just about how the music sounded and is devoid of any narrative content and is just sort of shapes and geometry and abstract colors ... and movement to tell some sort of story to evoke an emotional response?" Jorgensen had said over coffee, perhaps offering a hint of the new material spectators will see on Saturday.

Still, the week was young and getting a feel for the software was one of the week's ultimate objectives, anyhow.

"It feels almost like we're doing an architecture residency. It's almost like we're building a structure this time around that we will be using more and more going forward, but at this point, we're almost building the tools to build the thing," Thomas said.

If it feels a little elusive, it should; the group, which invites comparisons to visual artists, is more Turrell than Rockwell, and neither Jorgensen nor Thomas were sure what the week would ultimately yield. They were, however, both appreciative that Mass MoCA's residency program was giving them a chance to find out.

"It's a remarkable privilege to come here and kind of hunker down and create stuff and struggle and fight those internal creative mental battles to try to create something that either I've never seen before, or we've never seen before, or we've never heard before," Jorgensen said, "and then fold that into this presentation using some software."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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