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Tarik Barri and visual music

Eclecticism, magical software and working with Thom Yorke

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Published: 16 Jan 2020
Encapsulating what Tarik Barri does in one word is not simple. One possible definition is: multidisciplinary artist. In a Q&A on Reddit, he himself says: “I do a bunch of things, like programming, making electronic music, and making visual music. Yes, visual music is a thing”. From programming to composing electronic music, what Barri mainly creates, then, is visual music. His work is similar to that of a DJ who mixes not tracks, but the visual part of a live music show. In his work, sight and sound intersect and are mutually empowered. The results he obtains are larger and more intense than the simple sum of sound + lights, as in Barri’s work, two plus two equals five. When composing he finds inspiration in natural events, like sunrises, water, shadows and the changing movements of clouds as well as the emotions and sensations he feels when listening to music.

Fragments from City Rats

During the Anima tour, Barri accompanied Thom Yorke. The two had worked together on City Rats, an installation presented at the Institute for Sound and Music in Berlin and performed in the Hexadome, a structure in which the public is surrounded by 54 loudspeakers and 6 screens in an immersive experience. During the Anima tour, Barri was an actual member of the band. So, just as Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich composed the music, Barri composed the visual compositions, creating them in synchrony with the sounds produced by the Yorke-Godrich duo. The abstract and psychedelic imagery Barri obtained was similar to painting: a work in continuous evolution that did not imitate or follow the sounds, but made them palpable and three-dimensional. So, Barri’s creations are literally made of lights that emerge from the darkness of his software and then become the only things to illuminate the live performance by focusing on the stage, the musicians and then extending over the audience with their reflections that are sometimes acid, sometimes warm, sometimes cold, and always tuned into the same emotional frequency as the music.

One of the Anima concerts

So, Barri’s creations are literally made of lights that emerge from the darkness of his software
Tarik Barri’s career as a visual music artist began about ten years ago when he developed Versum, the software he initially used to create music in 3D, a sort of virtual space full of sounds that could be seen as well as heard: «when I then fly through this space with a joystick, we hear all the sounds I fly towards, which in effect means that my path through 3D space determines the melodies and rhythms we hear. Literally all that is seen can be heard and vice versa. The creation of this concept and my performances with this tool placed me right in the middle between audio, visuals and software development.»

From being a software for creating 3D music, he then developed Versum into a purely visual tool to accompany Monolake (aka Robert Henke). This led to the discovery that, with light, he could obtain something very similar to music, but without producing any sound.

Today, the technique he uses is a development of those initial experiments. It is as if he plays a musical instrument that is both audible and visual.

The artist’s biggest challenge is «making live adjustments in a way that is both spontaneous and emotionally meaningful. So to not just increase brightness or saturation... but make changes which more fundamentally alter the nature of what you see. I overcame it by programming my software so that the sliders on my MIDI controller each have a kind of "emotional state" attached to them.»

The perception of sounds and images is more closely connected than what you would normally think. And what Tarik Barri does is to bring them together to create a different kind of experience. The music remains central, but experiencing it goes beyond the simple dominion of hearing. This means that concerts are no longer just music played live, but shows in which music becomes “visual” too. In other words, real synesthetic experiences.