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Connect Sessions — Strange Bedfellows

How trepidation turned into collaboration for Com Truise and CandyStations

Sometimes, the eyes give it away. Watching Seth Haley, the electronic musician better known as Com Truise, and Deborah Johnson, who under the name CandyStations has become one of America’s foremost concert-visuals designers, discuss their Connect Sessions powered by Microsoft collaboration, you notice them pause, grin and get contemplative, eyes cast downward in quiet, knowing confidence. What was set up as a creative blind date — they’ve both described it as such — has blossomed into fertile creative partnership. And maybe, based on their previous work, we should have seen it coming.

As he was cruising for collaborators, Com Truise, whose beat-driven soundscapes are progeny of science fiction, drum’n’bass and the 1980s, saw the CandyStations piece “God’s Eye,” which had made its debut the DUMBO Arts Festival in Brooklyn in September 2014. Curiosity struck. CandyStations, too, was interested, having never worked with electronic musicians yet cementing a great reputation designing shows for the likes of Wilco, St. Vincent, and Nico Muhly. What follows is an edited conversation the two artists had with SPIN about that moment where two creative people bring their best ideas, and what happened to Haley and Johnson when they got there.

Deborah, talk a little about what’s important for you at the beginning of collaborations. How do you like to work and what do you think you’re there to do?
Candystations: Usually, first I need to listen to the music. And then I need to meet [my collaborator]. That’s the most important thing for me: to talk to the person or to get a sense of who they are, often that will happen through their music. I never worked with an electronic musician before – I work with singer-songwriters – so that was interesting. But really I think my job is to first take what’s there, the music, the arc, what they feel comfortable doing, and then making sure my visuals not only define each song well, but that the whole set is really like traveling.

But, in this case, there was no opportunity to meet beforehand. So can you tell me how your ability to successfully work together unfolded?
Com Truise: It was funny that we didn’t really get a chance to really meet or talk — we had a conference call. There was a bunch of people on the phone and Deborah and I spoke a little bit, discussed what she had in mind and what I was thinking. I just knew from talking to her that it was going to work. Then she sent over the samples of what she had been working on [including the “God’s Eye” piece]. It’s one thing to see that kind of stuff static, but once I actually saw it in person, I was like, this is perfect.  It runs right alongside what I’m trying to do, very geometric graphics, nice bright neon-ish colors. So then we met in New York… 

Candystations: I was doing my classic very OCD/ sort of alpha-female role, running around the room, making sure everything was perfect. And he came in and he’s this really tall, broad-shouldered guy, kind of intimidating physically. But he was just so sweet and quiet and shy. So I was trying to make conversation, and I was getting nervous. Like I said, it’s important for me when I’m working collaboratively with someone that we need to immediately start kind of talking and connecting and sharing.

Com Truise: She had gotten there before me, so her stuff was set up. I set up my gear. We sat down and we just kind of clicked. She was doing the projection stuff and setting some things up on different monitors. And I set my stuff up. And we basically kind of played a loose live set. And I just did what I was planning on basically doing, and then she just did what she did, and took an audio feed and manipulated the picture based on that, use her controller to adjust different parameters and really make it something very free-form and organic.

Candystations: As soon as he plugged in his synths and started playing — and my audio analyzer picked it up — my visuals started to respond to it and my visual instruments started to pulse and shift and do all the things that they’re supposed to do, my face just lit up and I just started smiling. It was just so fun; it sounded so good. It looked like these two things were supposed to work together, the sounds and the vision were matching.

Com Truise: When I sat there with Deborah for the day watching her work in VDMX…I had downloaded that program when I wanted to start doing my own visuals, and I couldn’t figure it out; I gave up instantly and switched to something else much easier. So I had no idea what’s going on her screen at all, the crazy windows and all these algorithms moving around and stuff. But I saw her working in VDMX and I was like, “All right.” So I just instantly knew that she was the one for the job and that it couldn’t have worked out better.

Candystations: And then we were just jamming for like an hour. We still weren’t really talking, but there was no need. We were communicating through light and sound. It was like that Plato quote, that you can learn more from somebody through an hour of play than from a year of conversation. Then we just stopped and we were just looking at each other like, “Yeah, man.” And then it was easy to start talking, it just felt like we were friends. And since, it’s been really easy to not stress about it. Now I’m just excited.

Com Truise: Somehow the universe just said, these two people need to work together. I get very lucky working with people that know exactly what they’re doing; I have just instant full confidence in them. As soon as you see the result, you’re like, “Oh yeah.” No doubts.

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