Meet Sonarpilot

TNG:  What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?

S: I get up early, have a big pot of tea, and head to the studio. I love this time of the day when my mind is fresh and it is still quiet outside. I can focus really well and things flow easily. 

As a digital artist, I do all my work on computers. My studio is simple, there are no big, dramatic canvasses on the floor, no paint-splattered clothes. I do have a good audio setup with professional monitors, although I do a lot of audio work with headphones. So, if you see me in the studio I usually sit in front of screens with my headphones on. 

After a couple of hours, my concentration starts to waver, so I take a break to do a quick workout, go for a bike ride, or spend some time in the garden to clear my mind before diving into another session. I cook my lunch – good, healthy food is very important to me – and have a siesta, or listen to a podcast, giving my body and mind a chance to rest. In the afternoon, I continue my work until early evening. I do my daily meditation and cook dinner for myself and my wife. 

I lead a quiet life, with a lot of time for contemplation. I love my uncomplicated routines. This simple, almost boring framework gives me the freedom to go anywhere I want in my creative work. 

TNG: What is your creative process for starting a new body of work or exhibition?

S: The start is always easy and I have a constant stream of ideas that I’m working and I never really suffer from “writer's block” Being an electronic musician and a visual artist, those two fields always cross-pollinate each other and the key for me is to keep working continuously and let things evolve naturally. That’s the joy of the creative process: starting with a few elements and witnessing their growth and transformation. 

When I embark on a new project, I seldom have a clear vision of the end product. I let the work take its own direction, acting as a facilitator rather than a rigid planner. As the project progresses, I gain a deeper understanding of its trajectory and can focus on its core, eliminating any unnecessary elements. Finally, I refine and polish the work, tying up loose ends to present it to an audience.    

Over time, I've learned to trust this process and allow it to unfold naturally. Ideas will always come and it’s a bottomless well.

TNG: What artists or artworks have inspired you the most in your career?

S: That’s a difficult question. It's challenging to pinpoint specific artists or artworks. I’ve been going to museums, art shows and galleries since I was a kid and there are so many works that impressed, amused or amazed me. I cannot imagine a life devoid of art.

But abstract expressionism has always captivated me, the large formats by Motherwell or Kline. I am drawn to art that possesses a meditative quality, such as the massive sculptures of Richard Serra, or the enigmatic silence conveyed by Mondrian or James Turrell. I admire Cy Twombly and Antoni Tàpies. I always felt at home with Paul Klee. And there are of course great younger contemporary artists. Olafur Eliasson or the Turkish digital wizard Refik Anadol come to mind. But I’m also happy visiting The National Gallery, traversing centuries, appreciating one of Giovanni Bellini’s enigmatic, Renaissance portraits. 

Music, of course, is the other significant source of inspiration for me, ranging from the timeless compositions of Bach, Purcell, Miles Davis and Bill Evans, all the way through to the pioneering work of Brian Eno and many contemporary electronic musicians.

TNG: As an artist working with digital media in the Web3 world, how important do you think it is that your work gets exhibited in a physical gallery space?

S:  Great question! Of course, there’s a certain irony… The Blockchain and Web3 are all about cutting out the ‘middle man’ such as a bank or gallery. But the art crowd is often pretty conservative. People are used to seeing art in a museum or a gallery. That’s reassuring, a communication channel they feel comfortable with.

I have spent a big part of my career as an electronic musician and it’s interesting to compare the music industry to the art world. The equivalent of galleries I guess would be the music labels that used to play a key role as a middleman between artists and the audience. With the distribution of music over the internet, the need for labels has almost disappeared. But it is of course much easier to separate music from a physical distribution medium, such as a vinyl record, or a compact disc. 

In the art world, almost all works still have a physical form, a tiny minority of the market is digital. Therefore, the vast majority of the audience, of buyers and collectors, are hard-wired to go to a physical space to experience art. For this community, it is great to have a space like the NFT Gallery that makes digital art accessible to the more traditional consumer. It is also great to have galleries that can act as tastemakers and curators, to validate digital art. 

TNG: How do you start working on a project? What comes first—the concept or exploring a new technology?

S: When I work on a piece of music I usually start with a vague idea where the track might go. I may have a snippet of music or just a sound that acts like a kernel, a seed that I work with to see what might be hidden inside, what might grow out of it. 

I usually let it guide me, trying not to force things, be open, and see where the tracks go. At some stage though, the shape becomes clearer and I begin to tighten it up, make it clearer and bring out its structure. 

The creative process for the visual work, the videos and the NFTs, is similar. I might have a few more bits and pieces to start with, but it’s the same two main phases: the exploration and the then focus.   

TNG: You are working as an electronic musician as well as a visual artist. How do you experience the difference between these two disciplines?

S: Music has a more linear structure and time is very important. You take your audience on a journey, building expectations and telling a story. In contrast, visual art often has more of an immediate impact. You look at a painting and it’s like hitting a large bell: There’s an immediate initial impression. Of course, though, visual art does also have that component of time. There are some paintings that I lived with for many years that still seem to keep changing.

In my work as a visual artist, I often work with video or animations. This is a combination between the linear structure of music and the more static nature of traditional visual art that suits me well. My fundamental creative process however is very similar, I start with free exploration and then focus on the essence of what is emerging. 

TNG: What do you want to convey to your audience?

S: There’s a lovely quote by Albert Einstein: “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” I hope that my work might make the audience stop for just a moment and feel that sense of wonder, step out of their everyday reality, even if it’s just for a few minutes. And when they return, I hope they do so with refreshed and open eyes, seeing their surroundings in a slightly different light. 

TNG: What fascinates you about nature?

S: Nature is simply one giant miracle. Just taking a moment to contemplate the vastness of the universe is mind-boggling. We are hurtling through a galaxy with billions of stars, and there are billions of galaxies in the observable universe. Beneath the surface, in the subatomic realm, particles behave in inexplicable ways, constantly dancing in and out of existence. 

Every piece of matter around us has gone through a journey of around 1,000 supernovae, exploding stars, to form the elements that makeup everything we see. Our bodies consist of trillions of cells, each quietly contributing to our shape, mind, and consciousness. Surrounding us is a perfectly orchestrated machinery of evolution, constantly evolving unless we interfere with it. I mean, if this is not totally fascinating…

TNG: For the last few years, you’ve been working on an ambitious series, called ‘The Mirage Project’. Can you tell us more about this body of work?

S: The Mirage Project is a series of videos that take the audience on trips into the Mirage cosmos, a semi-fictional universe. 

Each journey has two layers: The immediate visual and acoustic experience and a deeper underlying theme with more fundamental questions: Where is our place in the cosmos? What is the nature of reality? What is the future trajectory of science and technology? 

The visuals in this series are heavily edited computer-generated, fractal animations, creating different worlds within the Mirage cosmos. I employ a somewhat unconventional stack of technologies to generate these visuals, and the production process is time-consuming and exploratory. I never really know what the machines will produce, making the entire journey one of constant exploration. 

TNG: What inspired you to explore the intersection between nature and the digital realm in your creations?

S: For me, the intersection between nature and the digital realm represents the fundamental interaction between humans and nature. It's reminiscent of the story of Adam and Eve, who ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and were subsequently exiled from Eden. As humans, our intellect and curiosity drive us to explore the world around us. The digital realm serves as an extension of our intellect, our mind. We observe the world, striving to understand it and make sense of our place in this immense universe.  

We exist somewhere between the awe-inspiring skies swirling with more stars than grains of sand on all the world's beaches and the enigmatic subatomic soup beneath us. This intersection reflects our essence as conscious beings, and that’s why it is worth exploring. 

TNG: Can you discuss any challenges or considerations you encountered while translating natural elements into a digital format?

S: I use two approaches that at first might look like opposites, but are ultimately working towards the same goal: On the one hand, I start with visuals that are totally synthetic, generated by machines. I tweak them to make them look and feel more natural. On the other hand, there are the pieces where I start with photos or videos of natural shapes, flowers, water, or the sky and I manipulate them until it is no longer sure if they are synthetic or ‘real’.

I find this tension, this ‘uncanny valley’ where it becomes difficult to distinguish between real natural shapes and computer-generated ones, most intriguing. The goal is to find that balance where nature and technology morph and merge, resulting in something new and thought-provoking. 


TNG: How do you envision the future of digital art and its potential impact on our perception of nature and the environment?

S: Digital art still exists in a niche corner. The broader audience doesn't really pay significant attention to it, beyond a few headlines about record auctions or AI-generated works that might win a contest somewhere. 

I believe this is going to change rapidly though... Artificial Intelligence (AI) is on the verge of transforming various sectors of our society, including the creative realm and the art world. In many ways, we are at a stage similar to the early days of the Internet. In the early 90s, nobody could predict the profound impact the net would have on every aspect of our lives. It's hard to imagine a world without the web, Google, or cell phones today. However, that development took around 30 years, a full generation. 

The penetration of AI into our society will be much faster. While accurate predictions are impossible, we know the changes will profoundly and fundamentally impact our society. I am confident that painters will still exist 20 years from now, but there will also be a vibrant segment of artists working with AI in some capacity. The line between artist and tool will blur and eventually disappear. In some cases, the artist may vanish, replaced by an AI identity gaining fame. 

It’s going to be very interesting… and quite scary!