Tag Archives: music

Biohacker meets Willy Wonka: Lucy McRae on the making of the incredible edible music video for Architecture in Helsinki

TED Fellow Lucy McRae (watch her TED Talk) is a body architect — an artist who explores how technology and the body may someday meet and merge. Her latest project is a fantastical and frothy music video for “Dream a Little Crazy” by Australian band Architecture in Helsinki. Watch the mouth-watering video above, and then read all about how McRae and her collaborators wove futuristic ideas about synthetic biology, food-as-sculpture and 3D printing technology into a mad lab full of flying gloop and powder.

How do you describe to people what you do?

I do speculative story-telling. I create parallel, alternate worlds — underpinned by science fiction. The idea is to render possibilities to how technology will change, thinking about how people will embody the future in technology. But I do it in playful ways. In a way, I’m designing the connective tissue between science and imagination. I’m not a technologist, I’m not a scientist. I’m an artist inspired by scientific thinking, and I use that to steer the narratives of my films and concepts.

How did you come to collaborate on the video with Architecture in Helsinki?

A lot of my projects begin with serendipitous encounters, and this project was no different. I got an email from the band at a completely random time when I was at the LimeWharf, a cultural innovation hub in London where I’m now doing a residency. I’d been a Architecture in Helsinki fan for years, while the band’s lead singer, Cameron Bird, had seen my work, but had no idea who was making it. Then he investigated and saw that I was Australian, too, and was like, “Huh? Why haven’t we ever contacted her before?”

So he wrote to me and said I’d love for you to interpret the song. They had no brief, except that they wanted a surreal, infectious, absurd clip, and to have a strong synergy between the album artwork, made by this Finnish illustrator Santtu Mustonen, who hand-crafts analog, globby, dripping illustrations over sharp 3D geometries.

How did this lead to the concept of the biological bakery?

Our concept was to explore how synthetic biology might enter the home, but in a humorous way — using music as a superhighway to illustrate quite a complex idea. My collaborator Rachel Wingfield and I were interested in synthetic biology and the way food is industrially mass-produced, the way balloons or candies are made. We looked at how we could merge these industrial machines with the representation of the body. We started experimenting with the concept of printing the band’s faces with multicolored bacterial strands — using different-colored edible liquids composed of flour and water to symbolize this.

Everything in the film was edible. The band were scanned in Australia with a medical-grade 3D scanner, all the files were sent over to us in London, 3D printed and made into miniature versions in pop-confectionery.

There’s a scene where Cameron’s face-planting the band’s faces into corn flour. This is the way that candies are molded in factories: they create huge, big trays of corn flour, and they emboss, for example, Haribo shapes into the corn flour, and then the liquid is poured in. We piggybacked some of these confectionary techniques and made them for an installation gallery setting.

Two days after the music video, we re-created and built the whole set for a live event. We invited the audience to enter into this world, and we performed the scenes from the music video, exploding the liquid and painting this sort of fantastical tattoo skin over the body. In the end we were merging film and experiential art into the gallery setting.

Did the audience actually get to eat the props from the film? What were they made of?

Yeah, we worked with a chef at the LimeWharf and used the 3D-printed molds to make edible faces with a Prosecco, pear and thyme jelly. The audience members were eating the band. We made chocolate versions of the band as well. Everyone was asked to wear white, so it was kind of like this Willy Wonka–esque experience. Cameron was playing music, it was sort of like this chamber where this liquid was overflowing and spilling everywhere, and people were eating the props.

Now, back in Australia, the band has collaborated with a confectionery company, so the molds we made are being turned into lollipops, which they’re launching as part of their album release. It’s interesting how the evolution of this project started as a conversation, became a music video, then an experiential installation, and now a real-life biological bakery!

I’m interested in transforming materials, and food is a great material to sculpt. By representing the anatomy through food, it’s a way of experiencing sculpture in a different way. You can touch it — eat the contents of a gallery — breaking down the barrier of just being a viewer.

And you’re ingesting into your anatomy the anatomy that was represented by the food.

Exactly. And this points to the bigger picture of whether, in the future, we actually will clone ourselves, or eat ourselves in order to enhance our senses. So it’s kind of tapping into those different areas of research, but in a playful way.

[Cross-posted from the TED Blog.]

Celebrating the cultural in-between: Fellows Friday with musician Meklit Hadero

Meklit Hadero’s voice is earthy and soulful, sinuous and untethered, and she’s about to unleash a new album on the world. She has just launched  a crowdfunding campaign for her second solo recording, We Are Alive, and is currently touring the East Coast of the United States.We caught up with her between shows to ask about her musical vision and her latest news, including an exciting new initiative promoting food sustainability in the Nile basin.

You’re often billed as Ethiopian-American singer. Did you grow up in Ethiopia? Tell us about your journey to becoming a singer-songwriter.

I grew up all over the place. I was born in Ethiopia, and left when I was about 2. We went to Germany briefly and from there to DC, Iowa, Brooklyn, Florida, Seattle, now ten years in San Francisco! I like to say that my upbringing was a good training for life as a touring musician.

I studied political science at Yale, but I always thought of a liberal arts education as developing a relationship to language, writing, and complexity, learning to take streams of thought from multiple disciplines and develop your own opinions about the world, to engage with information and culture in a present-time way. Even though I’m no longer in the field of political science, those meta-ideas are ones I put into play every day.

After college, and after a few years in Seattle, I moved to San Francisco and found the Red Poppy Art House. That tiny little arts and culture hub was my introduction to artists and musicians from around the world who were thinking big and making work with substance. I started organizing there, and ended up co-directing the space for two and a half years. The community around me really supported me in making the transition to being a full-time artist.

Do you identify strongly as both African and American? 

Yes, absolutely — I feel deeply African and deeply American. I was born in Ethiopia, my parents are Ethiopian, so I grew up in many ways steeped in that culture. At the same time, I was raised in Brooklyn, equally surrounded by early hip-hop, street-level jazz, and Ethiopian classics. I like to say I walk the road of hyphens. That’s actually where I’m most comfortable, in between and celebrating it. I grew up always wondering where home was, especially because we moved so much. It became a wonderful driving question in my music, especially early on.

I remember the first time I went to Ethiopia as an adult. It was me and my mother. Growing up, she always referred to Ethiopia as “back home.” Then when we were in Addis Ababa together that first trip, she kept referring to the States as “back home.” It was then that I realized just how fluid that phrase and idea were. It didn’t mean a place — it meant a state of being. And that freed me in a way to both accept the searching, and let go of it too. Culture is funny – there are no firm lines, only fine ones.

Above: Watch “Leaving Soon” — a music video from Meklit Hadero’s first album, On A Day Like This.

You’ve just launched a Pledge campaign for your new album. What is it about, and how is it different from your previous work?

We recorded in November and the new album, titled “We Are Alive,” will be out March 18. The PledgeMusic campaign just launched earlier this week. We really had fun creating the campaign and got as creative as we could with the perks, including visual art, homemade covers, songs written just for you, all sorts of stuff!

The concept that ties the whole thing together is simple. As hard as life gets, and as sweet as it gets, we are alive. It is the through line in all our experiences. It’s an anthem that celebrates the ups and the downs as equal parts. Sugar and salt. Rock, paper, scissors. After my first solo album, On A Day Like This, I spent a lot of time on side projects. You see, every artist has their whole life to write their first solo record, and they usually have a year and a half to write their second one. I didn’t want to fall into that trap. I wanted to take a few years to explore and experiment. We Are Alive brings all that time of experimentation together into one cohesive sound. I’m really proud of how this turned out. It feels really good.

To read the full interview, visit the TED Blog >>>