Jackie Levitt, aka Jax A Muse, is a multimedia artist and performer who mixes and projects abstract, textural, and narrative video creations onto three dimensional installations. She specializes in animating raw and unconventional spaces with light and colour, augmenting sonic experiences with live visual experiences. This weekend she’ll be sharing her unique visuals with partygoers at Electric Circuits in Kingston, and EC caught up with her a few days before to chat about her art, influences, and why art and music scenes outside of huge cities need supporting.
jonah K & jaxamuse at Function Keys, Hamilton, CA
Is this your first Electric Circuits? Have you visited Kingston before?
This is my first Electric Circuits! I’ve heard great things about this festival from past performers and attendees, I’m really excited to be a part of this event. I’ve visited Kingston before, but I have not had a chance to spend very much time here.
With established music and art scenes in Toronto and Montreal, why do you think smaller festivals like EC are important in places like Kingston? What role do you think they play?
This is an important question, and it’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about. My personal experience is with Toronto, not Montreal, so I will speak from that perspective. I recently relocated to a smaller city (Hamilton) because of the pushes associated with gentrification. I think the music scene in smaller communities plays a very significant role in creating vibrant culture. Smaller festivals energize and showcase Canadian talent in ways that are becoming exceedingly more difficult in larger cities, due to financial pressures, and lack of physical space, and noise issues with dense urban living.
Smaller municipalities can support the music and art community by including supportive zoning policies for affordable music venues, by having affordable housing and studio space for artists (and citizens alike!), and by continuing to fund and prioritize cultural events like these festivals. It’s a great relationship – artists bring so much rich culture to communities and smaller festivals help share great local talent. Win Win!
How did you get into doing visuals for parties? Were you into electronic music before you got involved in doing visuals?
I grew up as a teenager in the late 1990’s, so classic electronic “rave” music was everywhere in my life. As for event visuals – while at OCAD, I was lucky enough to meet a neat community of people who were making parties, and was asked to contribute to a stage design. For a long time after that, I depended on physical painting and building physical objects for the stage design. I found it to be laborious to install, expensive, and time consuming. And, because of modest budgets, everything I built looked very small and not that impressive once it was up!
I had artist friends – namely Steve Richman, Aspa Tzaras, and Peter Mettler – who were working with light and projectors, and I was really impressed with what they could accomplish. They were generous collaborators, taught me a lot, and I switched my paths and to working digitally.
I still depend a lot on collaborations! Stages are still a big project to create and install – I couldn’t do it without info-sharing, design support, and installation labour and advice from the people around me. I’m grateful.
How would you describe your visual style?
My installations are temporary magical portals! They help to transport us out of the pressures of our daily lives and into a space we can dance and flow and be. My visual style is based on a contrast of simple, elegant screen designs mixed with natural textures and physical light phenomena (like filming shadows through leaves, or light refracting off a lake surface). I’m also inspired by beautiful decay, and obviously I’m inspired by the style of sounds I’m working with for the performance. And for giggles I like to mix in the odd vintage clip of people having fun and being silly. There’s something powerful about intergenerational play, of seeing remixed footage of our ancestors and elders having fun.
Who would you list amongst the biggest influences on your work, and why?
Visuals that are elegant, and use space, screen materials & software thoughtfully really appeal to me. I’m quite inspired by projects created by the Derivative & TouchDesigner team & their collaborators – Greg Hermanovic, Isabelle Rousset, Marcus Henkman.
I also like the work of creative director Catherine Turp & her team at MomentFactory in Montreal, especially their experimentation lab, and I love the work Can Buyukberber created for TOOL (and his visuals projects in general).
In what ways are visuals for events like this different to the other media and art projects you work in?
The biggest difference is that event visuals are extremely temporary – they often are installed and performed and removed again in less than 24 hours! It makes for long days, and a short time to actually document what was created.
Can you tell us a little about your set-up? What hardware and software will you be using for your performance?
For performance, I use two pieces of live software: Modul8 and MadMapper; and for hardware, I have a laptop, a Livid Instruments CNTRL:R midi controller, and a projector. And I’ll be setting up a geometric screen made out of a variety of rigid white materials.
How much preparation goes into putting together your set or performance before hand?
I create most of my own video content using a variety of filming tools and editing and effects based software. This is an ongoing practice for me, I’m often experimenting in the studio and making loops to use in my performances. But, leading up to a show, I’m thinking about what kind of story we want to tell, what kinds of moods we want to create, what kinds of sounds will be there. Many hours are spent organizing and sourcing material to suit each performance.
I also spend a fair amount of time thinking about how to use the performance space in an interesting way, so that involves a lot of sketching, doodling, and imagining what would look neat and work well. I often have to do site visits (or work from photos of the space if I’m working remotely). I spend a lot of time researching and planning how to rig and hang materials. And there are hours in the studio actually building and making the projection-mapped screen.
Which other artists playing at EC this year are you excited to see?
Both nights are loaded with artists that I’m excited to see! Orphx is a personal favourite – I love losing myself in their sounds. I’m intrigued to see Silla and Rise and experience their neo-traditional throat singing combined with electronic music. I’ve been wanting to hear Classic Roots dj for a while, so I’m looking forward to that. Pursuit Grooves is a Toronto-producer who is really fun to watch & dance to. I love Spooloops’ beautiful fun bouncy techno. My partner Jonah K is playing live – dark crunchy deep bass music. I’m biased, but their music is fantastic. And I’m interested to see what Elysha Poirier creates for the visuals on night one – her work is elegant and thoughtful and deep. I’m genuinely looking forward to the entire line-up!