So, Muriel, this is a great piece about New York and I know that when
we spoke before, you were talking about how this had been a piece that was
really reminiscent of your childhood. So maybe to start off with you can
recount how this piece relates to times as a child when you were having to
struggle with the subway.
Well, I grew up in New York. My family is from New York and we go way
back as New Yorkers. I actually spent all my time until I was about 20
years old in New York. So my whole early life was in New York. And I
did travel to school on the subway throughout because I went to Hunter
elementary school and I went to Hunter High School, and both of those were
subway trips away from my home on 11th Street and Second Avenue. And so I
used to get up, get on at my station at 14th Street and I used to go to
Grand Central and all the way up to Hunter. And so I was there
every day and then after that I went to Queens College and that was a big
subway ride away too. And I always used the subway as a place to sort of
think and get my system together as the subway system seemed to unfold
itself. So I was very aware of the subway as a place, as a site, as an
institution in my life, so to speak.
And being interested in art even as a kid, I was always very fond
of the mosaics and all the art that I saw in the subway. I was very
observant of all the details, so it just sort of went into my consciousness.
I never really did an art piece about it until right now. And I think the reason that I did is because I was given the opportunity to work with a collaborator who is a composer/percussionist named Michael Udow -- who is from the University of Michigan, by the way. When we got together, we talked about our mutual
experiences, because we really didn't know each other. And to get
the ball rolling on what we would do, given the fact that I was a visual
person and he was a sound person, we began to explore our media, and we also talked about our lives and what was important [to us], and so forth. And, by some fluke, we found out that we each took the subway every day. He was in
Philadelphia. I was in New York. So it was a mutual way of
identifying. And being a percussionist as well as a composer, the sound
and the sound aspect seemed to be a natural. So we kind of went from
there. And in terms of the visual aspect, I built upon my experience and
then he was building upon his, and we periodically met and sort of meshed
TOKEN CITY really sweeps you along in a way that's sort of overwhelming at points, visually. And I'm just wondering if that was also related to your sense as a kid or your sense as an adult?
Okay, that comes from a different source. It comes from my use of the
computer animation medium. I wanted to do a piece that involved that
medium in dealing with both the past, the present and the future aspects of
the subway, and also bring out the medium itself. So I decided that because
I was working in a medium that dealt with the future, shall we say, I
wanted to express that along with the old mosaics, the old rivets, and all
those things that I put in as visual details. So I said that I was going
to work with the computer camera that's built in to the animation program
in a way that was different than a video camera. In other words, why does
this piece exist if it's not in video, if I can't do something different
with it through the 3D animation process? So, I purposely animated from
angles and speeds that a video camera couldn't possibly do. That's why you
shoot through a train and you're going from aerial views that are totally
impossible for any other kind of camera to negotiate.
And I also felt that that aspect of it would talk to the future and
sort of suggest that this system, the subway, involved the past. I thought
the people that I put in, in my mind anyway, were the present. And also,
using the silver trains and some of the things that we use now
involved the "here." And then I wanted to get into the cyber-world. And
part of getting into the cyber-world was the velocity of it.
It's interesting that you're working with the 3D animation
and that medium, but using as your subject matter the train which is such
an old form of transportation that's been around since the beginning of the century. So it's an interesting sort of vehicle to go from past and present to future, I think. At the end, you go back to real time, real life imagery. You said
that that was a reference to the present, but it also has an interesting
effect in terms of slowing down everything.
Well, I felt like I had to come to a way to make myself and the piece
and the viewer comfortable, you know. You just can't go at the velocity
and work without balance of that tension.
So do you want to speak a little bit more about some of the technical aspects of how in this piece was created?
Oh, yes. Well, first of all, it was done on a Silicon Graphics system.
And I used Alias Wavefront software. And the piece was really built from
scratch. All of the architectural forms of the subway -- the columns, the
rails, the staircase, and so forth were actually built geometrically. And
what I did was I took hundreds and hundreds of photographs of the subway, of
every detail. And there was picture after picture, and I just laid them out
in front of me. So I had my staircase series. I had my rail series.
I had just about the ceiling, the girders, everything. And I just took a
little from this and a little from that, of course, with a lot of artistic
license. Because I wasn't just building a particular station or platform, I
was going from my concept of one as an artist.
And so first the geometric part was built. And then we use what we
call wire frames and I let some of those show through in the finished
product. So, all the wire frames were made and then I texture-mapped on
all of the surfaces and I created a lot of those in the STI, but there was
some that I made in Photoshop, like the mosaics and some of the more
detailed things. And I fetched over to the Silicon Graphics system as TIFF
files and added them in that way.
And then came the animation process and there you have lighting;
you have your camera that you can fly around; you have your sort of stage
set, your movement. I worked with each scene and I thought about how I
wanted to make it move. I also felt that I wanted to have real people. I
did not want to have animated people. And so I called ABC News archive and
WWOR TV -- they provide, you can buy, archival news footage which is
copyright free. So I got archival news footage from them and then through
editing, video editing, I took the different sections of the animation and
the video footage and merged them together the way you would edit a video
piece. That's exactly what I did. The animation, when it was completed
and rendered -- you know, after you animate you render -- that is the beauty
of the Silicon Graphics System and I had two of them going by the way,
cooking that thing full time. My output was to laser disc. So I had
really nice clean footage. And I had people on Beta. So I then just went
into an editing suite and edited in the normal way that you would expect
video editing to take place. My animation was in chunks; it wasn't in a straight line. I just did each scene and chunked it, because I
knew I was going to want to edit, because that's how I like to edit
animation. I think I can get a lot more out of it then making a snap
decision when I create the thing as to what it's going to be. It allows me
a lot more thinking time and a lot more time to push the footage where I
want it to go.
You said that you and Michael were meeting throughout and talking about
decisions that you were both making about the images and then about the
sound composition. How did that finally come together, and at what point
did you hand him the piece to work with?
The piece -- this is very important -- the piece was
created at the Institute for Studies in the Arts at Arizona State
University, which is a very special creative research location where artists
from all over the world come to work. And some people are resident
artists. I am a resident artist there. But artists from all of the arts
write proposals to come and work there. And he was one of the people that
wrote a proposal in the sound area. So we got together that way and
through his grant he came to the Institute and that's how we spoke
initially. And then he was thinking about it and through telephone
conversations, he developed some ideas, some sound ideas, and
he came back to the Institute. We worked together for a week and I
listened to his pieces, his initial pieces, his drafts, and he looked at the
visuals that I had initially developed. We spoke and critiqued
each other and began to sort out what we thought would work in terms of his
concept of the piece and my concept of the piece.
And then he came back another time and made a really full
presentation to all the artists that happened to have been at the Institute
for Studies in the Arts at that moment in time. But he had lots of music
and sounds and just everything that you could imagine built around this
idea because it really inspired him. So from that we picked out what we
really wanted to use because that was pretty close to the time we were
going to edit. And so he was able to select also with me from my work what
we thought could work with what he had done. Anyway, that's how that
And then the final thing was for the two of us to edit the piece together. He actually brought a lot of equipment with him and he set up right in the editing bay. And we edited together. He did digital editing using a sound program. It was actually over the Christmas break, the winter holiday, that we did it. We
did it in very early January. This is a rather new piece. That's the story
really, and how it came about in terms of the collaboration.
So has [Michael Udow] been to New York a lot and seen the subways here as well?
Oh, yeah. He has traveled all over the world with his concerts and so
forth, and so he's seen that. And we talked a lot. Yes, as a matter of
fact, he recorded some of the sounds in the subway.
I thought they sounded pretty authentic.
Oh, yeah. Those sounds were recorded with a DAT tape recorder in the subway.
Can you think of anything that you would like to add about the process or the piece itself?
Well, I really want to say one thing and that is that I created this
piece in the way I would create any piece from my point of view. It was
just going from my personal experience, which is where I usually find my
sources. The added excitement, I think, was the medium of 3D computer
animation, because I could use all of my skills as a sculptor, a painter, a
videographer, and a person that is very interested in theater, sets,
costumes, and so forth in this one box. And I find a lot of excitement in
that, and I expect to continue for a while exploring this area.
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