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Synthetic Dreams of Lorem

It is my great pleasure to present my interview with Francesco D’Abbraccio. An Italian musician and visual artist who goes by the moniker Lorem. He is one of the more prolific authors who work within the framework of synthetic media and experiment with relatively young technology pushing the format of new media to the places we have not experienced yet. So without further ado, Lorem.

Can you tell a little bit about your background? How long have you been involved in music and why did you decide to start Lorem?

I’ve been involved with music for many years. I come from a noise/underground live scene and I spent a lot of time touring across Europe with my band. On the other hand, I am focusing on the politics of the media and on the transmedial projects at Krisis Publishing for a few years now. I started wondering how to combine those interests within a common device.

Lorem was born from the need to find a connection between those various tensions, that seemed to converge in a common ground through technology. With Lorem I try to express my work through multidisciplinary projects. I am very fascinated by the way AI approaches data, allowing us to work across different media with the same perspective.
Intelligent devices are interesting tools to melt languages. And at the very same time AI emergency discloses political questions we try to face at KP.

Adversarial Feelings is published in the format of a solid-state memory card and a book. Compositions were created using a specially designed AI. Can you elaborate on that specific form of expression?

Neural Networks are widely used to detect, classify, and reconstruct emotions, to map users’ behaviors, and to affect them. I was fascinated by the idea to revert this process and to ask AI systems to express autonomous behaviors by performing human feelings.
What can a machine understand from my inner landscape? And how can it learn how to express that intricate pattern of emotions, wills, worries in an (in)coherent way? AI is very useful to observe subjective dimension from the outside, to speak about contemporary humans and feelings. Is shows how un-human is our behavior sometimes.

And at the same time I was blown away by the way machines represent irrational human behaviors, in their inadequacy to comprehend us and in their specific way to be non-human, in some ways.

Human and machine interaction is a forced coexistence, and we still have master and slave (hardware terms) relationship. Is it an inevitable process that eventually all digital arts will come to?

I think Human-Computer Interaction narration is often really too stereotyped. Borders and distinctions between actors and their influence are sometimes blurred and difficult to reconstruct.

Is our own subjectivity a human, natural, independent device dealing with a programmable, non-human tool depending on us? There is a broad amount of situations where it’s even a difficult distinction between human and non-human players in the growing complexity of the H-C ecosystem.

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Lorem — Adversarial Feelings 2019
AV film + book and music tracks, Krisis Publishing, 2019

Available at www.krisispublishing.com
Courtesy: Lorem / Krisis Publishing

The narrative and the language of the medium quiet evolved during the past decades. For lots of artists “performer” is a common term to use. Where is the line where technology transforms into art and how can you describe your art?

For sure AV live performances are a big part of my work. Live sets are deep and emotional moments of exchange with the crowd and the listeners. I am also more and more focusing on visual storytelling, both through immersive installations and experimental short films.
More in general, I think AI can be an aesthetic tool to explore the transpersonal  unconscious and to find unpredictable links between different languages. The story behind “A thousand Steps”, is a good example of that.

Almost one year ago I started collaborative with Italian percussionist Daniele de Santis (GRÜN) and Indonesian vocalist/singer Rully Shabara (from Senyawa/Zoo). It was a very inspiring encounter, and I realized an AI rework of a track from their recent project De Santis Shabara. I started working on a short AI film as well, A Thousand Steps, using the sound as an OST. It was very natural, at that moment, to involve my friend Mirek Hardiker in the realization of the original plot.

We employed a neural network to write the whole text according to a dataset composed of original transcriptions of Mirek’s dreams. When he was a researcher at SRU (Stanford) during the ’80s, he started building a huge dataset of daily transcriptions, covering a time span of about 21 years. His project was resonating in my mind with the work of  psychonauts De Santis and Shabara, and at one point in the process, I realized I was trying to produce what I feel is kind of a very realistic synthetic, transpersonal dream.

What is the origin story of Lorem? Any backstory?

Not really, to be honest. It sounds like a female name to me, and of course it reminds the Lorem Ipsum placeholder text. I like the fact that lorem ipsum is a misspelling of the original Latin text by Cicero. The world Lorem itself, in the original text, was a deformation of “dolorem”, which means “pain/sorrow”. They probably cut the word because it sounded too sad for typographic catalogs.

I can refer to Lorem disregarding gender, which is useful, as when I generate plots from the text dataset, I automatically replace the main character names with lorem, to have a coherence within the “story”. That’s really how I started using it.

Let’s rewind a little back to your early days as an artist? Who were your role models and what did inspire you artistically?

I played for many years in a noise/math underground band influenced by electronics and club music called Aucan. It’s a live band, mainly, and we played more than 300 gigs, mainly across Europe. For sure Aucan, and Jo+Dario, the other band members, forged my approach to living sets and performances.

On the other hand, during the same period, I co-founded the collective Krisis, which soon became the editorial/sonic platform Krisis Publishing I still codirect. With Krisis we focus on the impact of visual and media culture on societies, and on the interference of technology with human behaviors and relationships. My attitude to artistic practices and research is clearly influenced by my work at Krisis.  There are many artists, researchers, and musicians that influenced me, probably, but I think those experiences are the main influences for Lorem.

Lorem — Live at Saturnalia, 2019
Courtesy: URSSS

New forms of narratives require new venues/platforms and audiences. How would you describe this new developing media scene  and the reception from the audience?

I think immersive situations will have a huge impact on the way we experience live music and art in general. And this shift is really happening now. I had the opportunity to collaborate with a new museum in Amsterdam, Nxt museum, and they intercept perfectly this direction. I think new media need to find a way to reach a larger, curious, and increasingly aware audience.

What are your thoughts about rapidly developing technologies in the AI sector? They become more present in our everyday life and in some cases are very controversial (deep fakes, etc)?

AI is no more regarding our future, as it already shapes the way we experience the world. Neural Networks are widely used to detect, classify, and reconstruct our emotions, to map our behavior, and to affect us in effective ways. They work as “invisible curators”, prescribing what we should see, listen, read and buy, they surveil on us, and they shape our understanding of reality, contributing to building the framework of our subjectivity.
I am fascinated by the idea to employ such a pervasive tool to produce aesthetic discourses.

I have the feeling that the whole idea of truth, due to AI and to many other agencies, is nowadays more and more reduced to an operational concept… Or at least to a linguistic issue. We can now use AI and CGI to literally build image-based forensic evidence, to literally perform truth, somehow. This creative and performative notion of truth deeply influences my practice. I am particularly interested in the work, in this sense, of Mirek “Amendment” Hardiker, the author of ”Zaum Gadget”, who became a friend thanks to the connection with Brazilian artist Bruno 9li. Mirek basically states that Nature doesn’t exist at all.

The idea of Nature is an Artificial representation made by cultural devices with the intention to maintain a status quo. I think AI calls us a tool to denaturalize reality, and to see the world as a battlefield (as it’s probably always been), where myriads of agencies constantly fight to set new systems of interdependencies.

How you get involved in AI art do you have a background in coding?

Well, not really, I am a pretty bad programmer. I studied philosophy and then design & arts. I learned to code what I need by myself and with the help of friends who are programmers and data scientists. Also, the AI community is really collaborative, and it was super useful especially in my early attempts. At that time, in 2015/2016 there were not so many Ui tools to deal with NN. I mainly use python.

Then it depends also on the models I combine during the workflow. There are many things I planned to learn to code that I never had the time to dig. I always feel I am completely lacking knowledge on a technical level. And it’s mostly true!

Speaking of philosophy, are there any philosophers, researchers that are reflecting on AI and digitalization of our lives, that you are fond of?

When I was a student I read Walter Benjamin, and it really shaped my way to approach aesthetics, arts, history, and politics. I approached, through him, Scholem, Aby Warburg, and Russian transmentalists. I was also fascinated by classic XX century authors such as Michel Foucault, Vilem Flusser, Umberto Eco, Guy Débord, and especially by the work of situationists. It is from that perspective that I enthusiastically discovered the work of Luther Blisset, Stewart Home, and post-situationists underground artists that were stressing the concepts of identity and authorship through plagiarism, multiple names, and dissemination of fake news. I was also very interested in transpersonal psychology and in the study of states of consciousness and psychedelics.

I then had the opportunity to study with Wolfgang Scheppe and Giorgio Agamben, and their work is still very important for my practice. It was at that moment that I started investigating arts and design through the language of contemporary aesthetics and politics of representation. They also deeply influenced our work for Krisis Publishing.
In the same period, I started approaching contemporary theorists and artists more directly related to the idea of digital humanity and its impact on late capitalism (i.e. Lev Manovich, Bifo, Antonio Caronia, Mark Fischer, Norbert Wiener, Timothy Morton, Donna Haraway, Metahaven, Reza Negarestani).

Speaking about AI and H-C interaction, many artists and theorists are points of reference for my research… Carl Di Salvo, Jussi Parikka, Salvatore Iaconesi, and Oriana Persico, Matteo Pasquinelli, Ramia Mazé, James Bridle, Trevor Paglen, Finn Brunton, Benjamin Bratton, Hito Steyerl, Eyal Weizman.

Lorem (x De Santis Shabara) — A Thousand Steps
AI short film + 12″ vinyl, Communion, 2020
Available at: https://comunioneuniversale.bandcamp.com/album/a-thousand-steps
Courtesy: Lorem / Communion

What are your thoughts on AI implementation in fake narratives? Synthetic media manipulations with deepfakes, voice, etc?

It is a very intriguing topic. I think those practices, which Tobias Revell refers to as “rendering the Truth”, highlight some intrinsic issues in the image domain. Especially when employed as forensic evidence, images have always been problematic. A very famous example is the famous picture from the Spanish Civil War by Robert Capa, which has been proven to be a fake reportage shot. I think deep fakes and artificial images can push us to rediscuss the neutral role of images and to denaturalize the “catachresis” effect of images, which has been widely questioned by Wolfgang Scheppe.

Virtual reality and virtuality are parts of our lives. The world after recent global pandemic won’t be the same. How did it impact you as an artist?

Well, on a broad level, 2020 really changed my life, I think it’s the same for many of us. It was the occasion to rediscuss a lot of my habits and it made some political and economic issues even more urgent. To be honest, it’s still hard for me to state on this topic, Many new consequences and still emerging, and having a coherent opinion requires me a lot of time and digging.

For sure the effects of the pandemic and the consequent global lockdown produced an instant shift on the way we experience music, arts, and culture. Online events have been more and more relevant, and even now that’s possible (at the moment) to do some new experiences, social distances and protection measurements deeply limit the freedom of participants. The progressive virtualization of cultural processes, accelerated by the virus, results in a more private, individualistic aesthetic experience.

This influenced the way I approach especially live sets. The narrative dimension of my work, mainly expressed through AI-generated text, became a very important part of the game, and live performances often resemble live short films. My attempt is to build shared and collective experiences through transpersonal narrations often generated from datasets of dream transcriptions. I like the idea to transpose the collective dimension on a symbolic plane, related somehow to our collective unconscious.

Follow the artist:

www.lorem.parts

www.krisispublishing.com

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