Versa is quite literally, a band to watch. Combining heavy post-rock riffs, a saxophone and live painting, they were clad in white like the scientists of sound and light that they are. Their set involved things that I didn’t know you could do with a bass.
I asked them about their performance style and how they interact while on stage.
Creator’s Commune: You’re described as a post-rock band with live painting. Where does the painting interact with your music?
Monika Hauck (Painting): I should probably take this one. I’m responsible for all of the visual aspects of our performance and printmaking project. So basically its an instrumental project and Alex [Ricci, Bass Guitar] does the looped bass compositions. The audience hears it but a signal also gets sent to me in my visual booth and basically the bass goes to a set of speakers that rumbles through a basin of liquid and the liquid picks up the cymatic effect from the bass frequencies and then I’m dropping ink into that liquid and that liquid also has two cameras pointed at it. And that’s getting projected to the audience. So basically the audience is getting to see sound and its illustrated through paint drops disrupted and moved around by the cymatic frequencies that are moving through it. And then the final aspect is that I drop paper onto the surface of the water and I make a monograph print of that. So you can get a one of a kind print of something that you saw and heard as an audience member.
CC: That sounds wicked.
Alex: Yeah, its not painting in a traditional sense but it’s paint being dropped into liquid and compositions being created by the music that we’re playing.
Monika: We say live painting and printmaking because it’s a lot easier to encapsulate it. It takes me a few minutes to explain it; we’re still working on our elevator pitch.
CC: So does the music feed back from what you’re seeing on the screen?
Alex: This is sort of where our name came from. It’s sort of the music causes what you see on the screen but also the need to produce an effect on the screen determines how we write the music. That’s why we called ourselves Versa; the effect happens this way and vice-versa, the need for the effect determines how we compose the music.
CC: So I guess… I don’t want to use the word ‘improvised’ but you make it up as you go with feedback from each other.
Alex: Somewhat improvised is a great way to put it because we actually practice our songs in a way that is sort of the same every time but then part and cues sort of happen spontaneously on stage. So we know what’s coming next but we just don’t always know when its going to come. And then as far as visuals go…
Monika: The one thing that I didn’t describe was how everything is being output to the projector and fed through this really old school video mixer, so I have a number of options and effects that I can use to manipulate the image. So I can use things like pixilation or adding a strobe effect or a number of options that I have so that when a part is going a little longer than usual I have a number of functions at my disposal so I can respond. Like if a certain beat picks up I can do something that looks a bit more sporadic on the screen. Or I can add more motion of fade things out if things get quieter. I have just a…
Alex: An arsenal of improvisational tools is what I would call it.
Monika: That’s a good way of describing it.
CC: So are you involved with the music as well or are you purely a visual artist?
Monika: I’m not a musician by trade but I’ve been working closely with Alex on a number of his projects in terms of being a spectator. But in terms of this project I feel that I have a lot of input to give because how the music is made is determined by, like certain notes are more effective than others and I have input in the creation period I can say that ‘there isn’t a lot happening during this period of time so like can we adjust it or transpose it or introduce a different note in order to make the effect happen in a way that isn’t forcing it. So I do have input in that regard. And I do have input during the creation of the music as well. So I like to insert myself whenever I can, because ultimately I am responding to it intuitively so if there is an idea that I have or if there is something that I see might fit better then I’m very vocal about that.
CC: So who are you listening to right now and who are your inspirations for your project?
Alex: That’s a good question. The project is about a year old and I compose most of the music a year ago, not counting a couple of new songs that we’re working on. Do Make Say Think was a big one for me, it’s a Toronto post-rock band. And although we don’t necessarily sound like them the way that they approach music is the way that I chose to approach composition. Viet Cong is an interesting band that we both listen to right now. They’re about to change their name so maybe when this interview comes out they’ll be called something else. Tonally they’ve got something that we’re trying to include in our sound as well.
Monika: I suppose inspirationally, it’s been mentioned that I’m not really a musician but in terms of the project, Godspeed! You Black Emperor was a big thing for me, things that A Silver Mt. Zion did and especially in terms of their packaging and how they always present their music as more than just the music.
Alex: They always do the video projection as well. So maybe that band would be a good example of opening up the possibility of what you can do with a live music show and it doesn’t have to just be music, it can be the full multimedia presentation thing.