Robin Fox

Published:  April 19, 2010
Brendan McKnight
Robin Fox

You wouldn’t think it, but Melbourne based sound and visual artist Robin Fox somehow completely missed the rave period and its epic laser displays. He has made up for this however, by constantly developing jaw dropping high-powered, audio controlled laser systems that have traveled the world including recent performances at the October Contemporary Festival (Hong Kong), Salamanca International Festival (Spain), Yokohama Triennial (Japan) and the Mona Fona Festival (Australia).

Fox is the Laser and Sound Artist behind contemporary dance company Chunky Move’s Mortal Engine, a dance-video-laser performance spectacular, which uses movement-responsive video projections to portray an ever-shifting, shimmering world in which the limits of the human body are an illusion. Directly following performances at New York‘s BAM and Melbournes’s Malthouse Theatre, Mortal Engine comes to Sydney for a strictly limited season at the Sydney Theatre.

I caught up with Fox to find out what exactly is involved in working with lasers and how the Chunky Move collaboration came about.

All Images Copyright Chunky Move

All Images Copyright Chunky Move

Hello Robin. Could you please tell me about your first encounter with lasers and what inspired you to make your career out of working with them?
Despite being alive for all of the 90s I totally missed out on the rave culture where laser displays were quite common. So for me the first exposure came when I was performing in a small venue in Carlton some years ago which had a really lame small green laser projector, it was making smiley faces and unicorns etc. At the time I was busy making audio visual films with a Cathode Ray Oscilloscope (essentially a TV tube with just a green beam in it) and saw the potential for making that audio visual work 3-dimensionally. So, I got to work on that and have been working with lasers ever since.

Photo_Andrew Curtis_Performer_Antony Hamilton_ME_6327

What would you say has been the greatest advancement of sound and visual technology over the past five years that has enhanced the work that you do?
Basically, the greatest advance in technology in my area is the increased computing power available on portable machines. It’s ridiculous to think that a laptop these days has the processing power available to NASA at the time of the moon landing in 1969. Other than that, sound is sound and light is light. Both are essentially vibrations that we pick up with our sense organs. Our eyes and ears haven’t changed much in thousands of years.

You are the laser and sound artist for Chunky Move’s Mortal Engine. How did this collaboration come about?
Director and Choreographer, Gideon Obarzanek and Interactive System Designer, Frieder Weiss had collaborated on the work ‘Glow’ which used Frieder’s interactive body tracking system to great effect. Gideon wanted to expand on that work and make a piece where technology and the body became essentially indistinguishable. I think he was drawn to the fact that I was working with sound and light equivalence so that there was no distinction, for me, between sound and light information at the level of electrical signal. This relationship or this unification of the auditory and the ocular senses resonated with what he wanted to achieve.

Photo_Andrew Curtis_Performer_Harriet Ritchie_ME_4768

For someone who has not heard of Mortal Engine, how would you describe it?
Well, it’s a hybrid work. While it is essentially a dance piece it is also more than that. It is movement, sound and light working in consort to create what is essentially an ‘experience’ for want of a better term.

What was the process in creating the sound and light for this performance and what was your involvement?
The creative process for this work was intense. Gideon, Frieder, Composer Ben Frost and myself were ensconced in the studio for months working on getting the relationships between the movement sound and light just right. My involvement focussed mainly on the relationship between sound and image, particularly where the laser was concerned, and also the interactive sound design for certain scenes.

Is it difficult to work with lasers and performers at the same time?
Well, there are certain safety concerns but no real difficulty. This is the only project where I have worked with laser and on-stage performers. One of the great points of satisfaction for me was making the laser light wrap around the performers in real-time (using Frieder’s tracking system). The results are really beautiful.

Photo_Andrew Curtis_Performer_Charmene Yap_ME_6305

What is the biggest challenge when working with sound and light?
For me the biggest challenge is maintaining the purity of the relationship between the sound and light electricities. There are endless options and permutations available for the combination of sound and light, but my work requires that the two phenomena be inextricably linked.

Where do you feel most inspired?

Definitely in my studio. It’s a second home. It’s a disaster area. But it’s my disaster area. I love it. The most inspiring time is the small hours of the morning, when all is quiet and the phones are dead.

What are you working on at the moment? What is next for Robin?

At the moment I am working on new suites of audio-visual works for both the oscilloscope and a new device called the ‘synchronator’, which converts three chanels of audio into RGB video signal. I am also working on a series of photographs called ‘Proof of Concept’ to be exhibited later this year at the Centre for Contemporary Photography here in Melbourne and I am planning to take the laser work into full colour land at some point this year as well. There are other projects of course, but they are top-secret.

Mortal Engine at the Sydney Theatre runs 5-15 May. For bookings see

7 Responses

  1. shanE

    This looks incredible

  2. cat

    *runs to buy tickets!*. my friend saw this is edinburgh. i’m excited that it’s back in oz!

  3. Amazing!!! this is going to be such a spectacle!!

  4. hands

    i <3 lasers

  5. cut and paste

    I’m going Thursday night!

  6. graz

    yay it’s coming to sydney, awesome.

  7. Pingback: What is the impact of the cathode ray oscilloscope on our understanding of the physics of waves? | All Oscilloscope

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *