with Station Rose

published: March, 1999

"...the netscene wants to stay ascii..."

STRVideo Schnappschuss 53 1STR Videostill43 1

Station Rose are Elisa Rose and Gary Danner. They are what could be called a multimedia group, mainly doing live performance online and offline. They have been doing this since 1989. In 1999 it was time to ask them a little bit about their motives and ideas after 10 years of engagement in network culture. 

JB: You just published a book about your history. It reads like a mixture of a catalog and a memory piece. Is it your first book, and did it influence the way you see yourselves and your work?

Gary Danner: Yes, it is the first book we did completely on our own. Before that, texts from us were included in various publications, always on a certain topic. And yes, it changed the way we see our work and ourselves. In the first place, it raised our self-esteem. It showed us, that we never went wrong with our visions. But it also showed that we often neglected the commercial/financial side in our work. Quite a few people involved in STR over the years became rich after they had learned from us, and started to do their safe and commercial little version of one aspect of our work. Working on the book and being confronted with our own history reminded us to be a little bit more patient in the future. We have been too fast (and impatient) for most people in the past. Also it taught us that it can be very dangerous to rely on somebody. That´s why we are a tough little unit of 2 persons today, very different to the "old days" in the late eighties, where we operated as a team of at least 8-10 persons.

Elisa Rose: Before this first book we made contributions to various art publications and catalogues, together with exhibitions. There was the ‘red station rose catalogue’ (gallery Gawlik & Schorm, Vienna) in '89, which has become a collector’s item in the meantime. It had the size of a disquette and came in a limited edition (with an actual disquette), with the exhibited neon shop window displays on the cover. And we wrote some articles for books. But basically we did not have that much interest in printed material, cause we more believed in the floating art of CDroms and the Net instead of static, frozen material like books.

When we had to confront ourselves with the 10 years of Station Rose art, the idea of the book was suddenly here. It was a big moment beginning of 98, when we realized that we were the first media-art project/band that had survived. Before us were only Ponton Medialab/Van Gogh TV, but they gave up in the middle of the nineties.

We are still very content with the book. It brought us into a special situation: we were confronted with the history of the nineties, of ourselves and naturally with what had happened in the art-/music/mediascene paralel to our own development. We were forced to timetravel in the nineties the whole year. This is an important point. When you take a look at the musicscene - they do recycle decade for decade. So they did the sixties, the seventies, and have now arrived in the eighties. But the nineties are not touched so far. And concerning the artworld - they are even slower. They were into pop (a forbidden world not long ago), and are now into clubculture meets white cube. They recognized the Net as a place only from '95/'96. They hated the Net before, as well as clubs. On the other hand the current netscene wants to stay ascii, having problems with visuals and icons.

So all in all the book influenced us in a way that the acceptance of all scenes is more given now than it was before. People can read about Station Rose. They can see it as a bilderbuch (picture book) as well. For us personally it meant to free our bio-mainframe : our first decade is in a book now, so we don't have to upload all the details any more. We were tired of repeating: “hey, we did that already years ago...” Now the story is written, is material, it is here. It is important for the younger generation to confront them with this as well, because many of them think, sampling culture started with them, which is wrong.

Q: You are both artists and organizers. What came first and how do the two relate? Don't they 'bite' eachother?

G.D.: Of course the artist came first. But when we finished our studies of art at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, it was simply a necessity to organize, to be able to do your thing. Hypermedia, networking, techno or clubbing were no common terms for the art scene in the late eighties! Then when we lived in Cairo in 1988/89 the local artists/actors/media people, after being confronted with our concepts and art, called us business men, as Station Rose does not act, play in a band, paint or write poetry.

Yes, the artist and the organizer bite each other sometimes, especially when there is too much organizing to be done, and you only get to work on a composition on from 2 a.m. On the other hand, we lost too much time with persons pretending/trying to be managers, so we do it on our own. Certain segments are now handled by professionals outside STR of course, like the distribution of our audio products, or being present at art fairs.

E.R.: Sure the artist comes first. This is our profession. To be an organiser was always a strategy to survive in the electronic jungle. We accept it, because it has to be, but we have to be very severe in our time schedule. If we wouldn´t, the two would bite eachother, no question. What we try to stick to is something like that: so and so many hours a day for the organisation, gives so and so many hours for the artproduction in the night. When we started with webcasting in January 1999 on a regular basis, we made that even better: on the two days of our regular webcasts there is very little organisation, and a lot of concentration on art, the other days are sometimes the other way round. All in all we tried a lot of different models during the years, had different assistants as well as managers, but nothing really worked. So we came back to STR- the duo as the tough little unit that cooperates with different partners, like the distributors of our CDs, like galleries...

One main problem in the media world today is that there is a lot of talk about art meets music and so on, but basically the scenes didn't connect at all during the nineties. They are still very seperate. Which means if there is a DJ at an opening of an exhibition, the scenes don't merge only because of that. The DJ is only a party attribute you can book. The gallerist doesn't have to deal with that person, this is not part of that business. The same goes for the music scene: a video is good for a band/electronic music project- which again can be ordered, but the video artist mustn't be sold, the music is sold.

So when we looked for a manager for Station Rose, we very soon found out that this person always gets problems on a social level, because he either speaks the language of the music or the artscene. So he only was accepted in one scene at a time; instead of being supported by that person, Gary and me had less time than before. Making a simultanous translation between the different codes of two scenes was too much. We were not interested, stopped that sort of thing. These days we talk to both scenes ourselves, and later try to delegate. We always have to keep enough time for art.

Q: What do you want to reach, do you have a goal?

E.R.: We want to always have enough time to produce art, which is so deep and intense. When we dive into a session, we then see how much concentration it demands. We have to sell more and more Station Rose art, we produce a lot. We still believe 100% in the value of art. If there wouldn’t be art, life would be a horror scenario - a world out of washing powder sold by slick advertisers. A big shopping mall as Bruce Sterling said in 1990. The importance of art is higher than ever before. Art plays a key role. There is nothing that could be instead of art. Art is the most important thing. Theory, criticism, politics - it all comes after.

We try to live multimedia art as a next language created out of sounds & visuals. We want to be one of the biggest avantgarde webcast stations as well as keeping making CDs, vinyls, CDroms, exhibitions, performances, tours, being on the road playing live as well as @home. The aspect of performing inside media-art is important. These realtime-moments are in between material-immaterial. It takes hours to build virtual rooms, to bring them to life and they are gone and will never come back the same way as soon as the (analogue) lights are switched on.

Q: Are audio and video your favorit media? Connected to this: could you tell me who and what have been influences in your audio and video work?

G.D.: We have very strict rules in creating our art: Lisa is responsible for everything visible, and I am responsible for everything audible. We *never* cross over the other´s territory. As our workstations are connected (over MIDI), and we produce in the same room just one meter away from each other, we interact all the time. Speaking is forbidden while creating, because words are prone to mess up the flow. During composing, or after the piece is finished, the concept can be put to paper, but never before.

Audio is one of my favorite media, also because it is possible to make money by selling CDs and vinyls, but there is also webcasting. Webcasting is like an ongoing training for performing live, twice a week. Influences in my music have been punk, when I started to become something like a professional musician, and after that Throbbing Gristle, Chris & Cosey, Acid House in the late eighties, and the facets of electronic music that emerged from that.

E.R.: Audio and video together are our favourite media. They come in so many different ways, which is important. Composing live together in what we call ‘multimedia jam sessions’ is the key here. We play together, very often connected over MIDI, which makes us sync’d 100%, create a new piece, later record it digitally on DV-tapes. This can become a vinyl as well as a CDrom or a video or an installation or a webcast or whatever we will need for a certain project. Recently we composed very often in realtime during a webcast. So we either record it on the fly, or do it later the same evening. Composing in cyberspace in realtime is extreme. I love that. Because it is all digital, we recently bring in analog stuff as well, as an oppostion, to make it more gunafa (like Gary plays bass & guitar and samples that and me bringing in vocals/lyrics.) This new tendency is not calculation, it just happened during the summer webcasts.

I have to emphasize the importance of the live moment. Playing live is the most intense thing. So the only decision before starting is, whether we want to record the session, or just play it once and never see/hear it again. With already over 70 webacsts it would be too much material to keep. We are not the ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Company) to archive that way, because then we again we would need a person to do that job. Influences are diverse visual artists, club culture early nineties, video art, very little TV.

Q: As you are one of the few and rare longtime experimenters, can you tell me what it is like to live through the different developments, to deal with both newcomers and technology 'updates'?

E.R.: We -are- longtime experimenters. To deal with newcomers is always a weird situation, sometimes boring. But we try to stay nice. Basically if we told people (who weren´t online) about our online experience and projects in the early nineties, they just didn't understand what we were talking about. So a converstation was not possible on that topic. When later the same people finally went online, they were so excited about it that they weren't in the mode for communication either. So for us it was much more effective to be with people online that were early cyberspace settlers as well.

But sure this is not possible that often. When we went online in 1991 it was almost exclusively the WELL people we had contact to. The reason was: besides two or three Europeans there were no others from this continent. It was really so much more a californian movement. When we talked to ‘onliners’ that came in in '95 and they were in an exstatic mood about their new situation, we had already a daily online contact with the WELL community going for 5 years. Sometimes I get the impression that the European art (net criticism) scene is anti-California, because they are jealous and know they missed the early years. I can understand that. It would drive me mad, if I had missed those years. I was the driving force inside STR to go online, couldn´t wait any longer. What a strange technical situation- an amiga 500 plus a 2400 baud modem. We stayed online since then. We will do so in the future.

I try to do as much as I can in the Net- I really do not want to deal with a situation like that in a few years : we could have done something in 1999 not to make it a pure shopping mall... I feel a responsibility here. I was trained by the first ‘onliners’ from the WELL. They have a strong feeling for community. They taught me to have that, too. I am basically not a good follower, try to think about things myself, but I know the roots. The good thing about the Net now is that so many people are here in the meantime that we deal and communicate with, that they can be reached fast and they can reach us fast.

A project like webcasting today is already working as good as making a homepage in 1995, which is great. We can do all the technical stuff, programming and sending from home. Technology updates mean spending much time updating. No way around that.

Q: You appear to have a style and way of working that has a positivism that seems almost inappropriate, and which seems to be on the edge of Californian dreaming ("Cyberspace is our land"). Are you serious?

E.R.: Some of the answers have already been answered before. "Cyberspace is our land" is meant seriously. We are talking here as Austrians living in exile, as Europeans living in the middle of Europe, and as artists who found their ‘new home’ online. Concerning positivism: I think being ‘critical’ today is often too easy. It is much easier to criticize than to say ‘I believe in this’, because then you have to fight for it.

STR-positivism has been developed over years; it is hard training on a daily basis. The californian dreaming is all explained above. It has these sixties roots with community consciousness that spread into cyberspace. Europe shouldn´t be too jealous, just accept the facts. And do you know what turbo-capitalism made out of Californian dreaming? SF is like Frankfurt in the meantime, only money counts. Money, money, money, make more, faster, have more employees, a bigger car, house, office. California is really beta testing extreme capitalism now. They had the community movement throughout the nineties, and now have to deal with the opposite.

G.D.: Of course we are serious! Positivism/California Dreaming is such a powerful weapon in the entertainment and art business. This for the first time came to my mind in the Punk times when I realized in the late seventies that it was more shocking to say "I dig Paul McCartney" than saying "I want to have sexual intercourse with an animal". When it is so easy to cause trouble, why not stick to being positive? Besides that, I really dig the Beatles.