Paris Treantafeles travels much. He has to meet many shows, where he works as a visualist. Many mails from him arrived me from airports or after satisfying shows he played. Paris Treantafeles is better known as Paris Graphics or Voltage Controlled. His unique specialty is making visuals with self-programmed handheld gaming consoles like the Gameboy Advanced or the Game Park. It is no coincidence that especially the 8-bit scene is requesting him. He seems to be a staff member at the Blipfestival and is supporting the 8-bit scene events with his works. At least his decision to go on gaming hardware originally came from the 8-bit music scene, where he saw that musicians working with those tools in a natural way to produce and perform their music.
Live performance from Hally with visuals from Paris Graphics.
“Why is there no matching point in doing the visuals the same way like the musicians do?”, was one of his main motivations to go on hardware. After years of researching and exploring the possibilities of Pure Data with the graphic extension GEM, as well as trying math-based graphics, he went on to use Gameboy Advanced and Game Park consoles. Originally he has a background as a scientists and most of his inspiration still comes from physics and math. But also pushing boundaries of contemporary hardware, rooted in the deepest sense of the demoscene spirit, is one of his driving forces.
What is the basic design concept of your tools? Are they tools or experiments?
They are tools in the making – so let’s say experimental tools. Or thinking about it in another way, I guess I’m writing visual games – things that can be played.
The story of your visuals is connected to the project Voltage Controlled, but you also work as Paris Graphics. Sometimes this causes confusion. What is what? How is the story going?
Voltage Controlled started when a friend, Robert Martinez, and I began creating audio with voltage controlled electronics. We gathered anything we could get our hands on and produced music using just voltages to make melodies – no keyboards.
From there we got into creating visuals with an oscilloscope and as a feedback loop had voltages creating images which were being manipulated with the oscilloscope, and then voltages coming out of the scope fed back into audio devices. From there we began using function generators with television sets to create patterns, colors, and so on. Somewhere along the way I started doing live sets on my own in New York City, while Robert lives in California. People liked the name Voltage Controlled so I started using it for my purposes as well.
In the process I wanted to create visuals without using a room full of electronics to do so. That led me to using Pure Data to emulate early video synthesizers and some of the things that voltage controlled was doing. Around the same time I started performing at “chiptune” shows. Along the way I moved to coding the GP2X and Gameboy Advanced and continued to do shows using the name, but at some point may change it because it caused confusion.
Why do you use handhelds for making your visuals? Is there any relationship to the hardware object, like having a tangible added value?
Yes, exactly. I like the feel of a handheld gaming system – you have a joystick or directional pad and a bunch of buttons which I program to make them change the visuals. The effect is that you feel like you are playing an instrument or even a game, when you work like this. It’s much more exciting than moving a mouse around. My original motivation for moving to game systems was that most of my live performances have been doing visuals for the chipmusic scene, people that make music with Gameboys, NES’s, etc. I thought that I’d like to do something to match to the way music is made. The more I got into it, the more I liked it for other reasons, including the “feel” as mentioned above, as well as the compactness. Plus, I can fit everything I need into one backpack.
Your graphical style is very reduced, seems near to hardware and very abstract. What way did you go when it comes to graphics?
A few years ago I was using such an old laptop that I started doing graphics out of nothing, but geometric math patterns using lines only. Some people told me those were some of the best things they’ve seen me do. That’s a basic thing to do: you can make interesting art from anything – really. You don’t need thousands of dollars of laptop hardware and software.
I concentrate on creating graphics from scratch. That’s pretty much all I do. Other people like using movie clips and manipulating them, but from my point of view it’s a good exercise to see what you can do when you have to create everything from scratch. It gives you an appreciation to form and color. To illustrate that: you can start with a graphic that is nothing but noise, like the “snow” on TV, and modulate it with waveforms to get really interesting patterns. I’d like to see what other people are doing and then try do something different and explore a little bit.
In what direction your tools will evolve? Will they go public or even be open-source one day?
At this point I need to spend more time on development. I often work on something to the point that it’s useful to me or as “proof of concept” but don’t spend the extra time to polish the results and turn them into something that other people are able to use. I think that once I find something that I really want to spend extra time on I would also go open-source. Especially if I can collaborate with someone who is a better programmer than I am.
What are your next steps with your media or work as VJ?
My next steps are to make some “demo reels”, showing a variety of the things I did. What you see on my YouTube or Vimeo  channel is usually quick “proof of concept” in video-form. I have many, many more applications that I have worked on, but I don’t want to make a video of just that applications, because they just do one thing. I want to make some videos that show a bit of everything I do – even including illustrations. I just did a bunch of illustrations of little “monsters” influenced by Japanese toys, that eventually will show up in the videos, too.
Please note, that there is also this documentary about the chipmusic scene and in particular the Blipfestival 2006 in New York City. They had chip-musicians from all over the world performing and also got featured me, since I was doing visuals along with a few other people on that festival.
I really like the music used in your demonstration-videos. Is the music anywhere available? I would love to download some releases on some day.
Oh, thank you. The funny thing is that I throw together those soundtracks rather quickly and without spending much time in developing them into much beyond a few repeating loops. This happens because I want to put a video together and want some music to use and with many of the musicians there’s a concern that if I use their music as a soundtrack for an experiment. People will see the video and think that it’s the “official music video” for their song. I understand this and would like to do some “official music videos” for people at some point – but for now, when I need a soundtrack, I just put something together myself. For the most part I think they are all on my audio page at parisgraphics and are free to download.
Paris at the Blipfestival (modified picture, originally by Dan Winckler).
Thanks, Paris, for this interview!
Text and Interview: Martin Wisniowski, March 2008
- Paris Graphics Website
- Performances at Blipfestival
- Reformat the Planet – Documentary about the Blipfestival
- Speaker at Piksel 2006 – Emulating Early Video Synthesizers with Pure Data and GEM