6.10.16

Physics

One key aspect of the work I do for a living is Motion Graphic Design. Since the recent wave of procedural animation in apps my clients have wanted to see more of this kind of kinetic and interlocking animation movement in the work I deliver. These animation techniques have always been around but clients have become better versed in its language. When it comes to animation they've actually become more demanding. That's not to say that people really grasp the technique or the technical language. I'm afraid I inwardly groan when I'm asked to put "more easing" into a sequence of movements. "Easing" is a more fundamental technique whereby movements slow in or slow out. But in fairness the point is that people know much better what they want to see - and equally when what they want is not there. Using the language around the procedural animation of apps (that's movement which is calculated by equations) I coined the word "Physics" to describe to clients exactly what it is they want. I'll say - "You want to see more Physics."

The effect is only rarely achieved by using scripts and expressions. If you want to make it work really well you have to animate it by hand. This thing drops. It's counterpart explodes upwards before slowing to an imperceptibly slow speed as though almost static. It knocks something else which swings around and triggers thirty things which happen simultaneously. The most endlessly referred to example of this style of animation is the Designed by Apple in California animation. I get handed this as a reference about once a month. And of course, not really meaning to sound jaded, I understand its appeal.

Thinking about "Physics" as a phenomenon of interlocking rhythm got me to reflect that this kind of very beautiful and satisfying symphony of motions is one of the key and very under-appreciated aspects of music. Of course musicians themselves, especially ensemble players in bands and orchestras where figures are passed around a group of people understand exactly what it is. But critics have rarely commented on it. Indeed I can't think of a single example - though of course that might just be my ignorance. And it's fair to say it's not necessarily a very interesting thing to break down in writing either...

The best place to hear "Physics" in music is Jungle. In fact there was a dialogue at the time about just that that deepened around Drum and Bass. Truthfully the physics got worse. It became progressively less entertaining to listen to it ricochet around itself as the discourse around it got stronger. The best physics you can hear in Jungle are on the best tracks. Because that's what defined the music at its strongest.

One apposite example is Firefox's "Warning" (Roni Size Mix): how the differently-textured snares interweave like hocket; how the bass-line sneaks into the track like tiptoeing villain, that goose bump-inducing double-time pairing of the bass-line and skittering drums; the way the bass line suddenly girds its loins and makes nimble jumps; how vocal samples at once float over the maelstrom (Junior Tucker), burst forth like hiccups (Snaggapuss) or suddenly, like Tarzan, swing into the carriage of the riddim's high-speed train and swagger in time before swinging out again (Shabba Ranks). Other good places to hear physics in music are Music Concrete and Dub.

For me "Physics" in music is all about the essence of what it means to be a flesh and blood manifestation, to understand what it is to be a  life-form under gravity. You bring to the experience of watching or listening to "Physics" what it is to be alive. And equally a sense of the very boundaries of physical possibilities. It's like gymnastics for the soul.