John Richards: “Boundaries between theory and practice and the idea of mind and body as separate entities still need to be broken down. “I make, therefore I think” and vice versa”

Jack Featherstone and John Richards

We continue our interviews with people whose ideas inspire us and whose works causing a deep interest and respect.Jack Featherstone and John Richards are creators of Polytik project. It is a serie of miniature tactile synth modules, created as a object of graphic design and modern electronics at the same time.

John Richards (Dirty Electronics) explores the idea of Dirty Electronics that focuses on shared experiences, ritual, gesture, touch and social interaction. In Dirty Electronics, process and performance are inseparably bound. The ‘performance’ begins on the workbench devising instruments and is extended onto the stage through playing and exploring these instruments. He has been commissioned to create performance works and sound objects for various arts organisations and festivals and has produced two hand-held synths for Mute Records.

Jack Featherstone is an artist, designer and moving image maker. He studied at Chelsea College of Arts, London and has created work for Wallpaper*, Volvo and Warp Records. He has produced artwork for numerous albums for the likes of James Holden and Nathan Fake, among others; created limited edition artworks for bleep.com; and has collaborated on audio-visual projects with Simian Mobile Disco.

How do you imagine the future of the material world? Will it be interactive? Please, give us a few examples that prove your point of view.

J. R.: The material world will become ever precious, edifying and, conversely, dangerous. I am drawn to materials. I am of material. I like to play with and mix materials.

J. F.: The boundaries between the material world and the digital world will become ever more blurred, distorting our perception of what is actual material reality and what is simulation. Technology is allowing us to invent new materials thus shifting the definition of materiality.

The Dirty Carter Experimental Sound Generating Instrument

What have you learned about education process while working with Dirty Electronics Ensemble project?

J. R.: I’ve never set out for Dirty Electronics to be educational, but more experiential. If it has been educational, it has been a multi-way process between all those involved, a form of sharing. In workshops, for example, I often feel that it is me who is being educated. Many artists could be considered as educators as their work often asks us to listen or look again at what is in front of us or to confront certain issues within society. Both art and education can be transformative for people. They are part of the same circle. I try not to make distinctions between art and education. I’m often thinking of ways in which performance, electronic music, design or modes of interaction can be explored. There are lots of questions. Perhaps in the process of asking these questions, not only me, but others too will find out something, be educated.

Education within schools and academia is another matter and is tied up in politics. I have huge respect for those ‘givers’ in these institutions and I’m often on the ‘inside’ myself, but my work as Dirty Electronics has taught me that more flexible environments offer many benefits: no divisions between age, gender, novice and expert, geek and artist. Boundaries between theory and practice and the idea of mind and body as separate entities still need to be broken down. “I make, therefore I think” and vice versa.

Polytik synth modules

What have you learned about music while working with visuals and vice versa?

J. R.: The more I work with both sound and visuals there more I come to see them as being part of the same urge to create and explore ideas. Musically fundamentally has a more immediate emotional impact, but working with John has helped me to focus sound mad more of a textural material. Something to be explored and questioned. Another way in which both visuals and sound influence each other is through process. The idea of a signal chain when making electronic music has certainly changed the way I think about processing and manipulating images.

Which skills will be in demand in the future?

J. R.: People skills. Without doubt! I spent a large part of my life formally studying music, whilst at the same time mucking about with stuff and making things; but I’ve had to think hard about communicating ideas to others. The skills I’ve learnt from this have been the most valuable. Not having the ability to read or write a computer language will in the future create a new illiterate with all the trappings.

J. F.: The rise of various forms of AI within the next few decades with radically change what it means to work. Blue collar jobs will suffer the most but so too will white collar jobs. Whole industries will be run by machines and new relationships to the notion of ‘work’ will have to be found. Jobs that require creativity and invention as well as people skills should still be in demand. But who know, perhaps in 300 years a collective of machine artists will invent their own brand of robot synth!

Polytik creators John Richards and Jack Featherstone in conversation

How do you imagine the future of tech industry with all new tools that make music production easier?

J. R.: There will be many new tools to supposedly make music or life easier. I’m not interested in making things easier, but more meaningful. My job as an artist is to make problems or pose difficult questions and not always provide solutions. I work within the realm of critiquing technology. This is true of the technology that I use to make music. Polytik is a critique of sorts by offering up a set of different possibilities for making electronic music or thinking about sound and visuals.

J. F.: It's already been made really easy for people to replicate certain kinds of music that they like, especially electronic music. Like John I’m not interested in the idea of making things easier, to me that means making things less interesting, inviting complacency and blocking the creative impulse that steps from limitations.

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