L’Rain on Collaborating with Reese Donohue for New Museum’s XR Showcase

As part of the Tribeca Film Festival, ONX Studio showcases immersive works

On now as part of the Tribeca Film Festival, ONX Studio—part accelerator, part workspace and part gallery, powered by NEW INC and Onassis USA—presents its inaugural showcase at the New Museum, where visitors can experience extended reality works by some of NYC’s most talented artists working in the XR realm. The museum’s deputy director and co-founder of NEW INC, Karen Wong explains, “ONX Studio is a space to support the artistic development and exhibition of new XR, immersive experiments. It’s neither a museum nor theater experience, something in between that is taking hold. We are thrilled to partner with a growing number of XR communities like the Tribeca Festival.”

Every day the presentation changes, with different projects on display and existing works transforming. One such piece is by Reese Donohue (founder of Brooklyn-based Tempo), who shows two new multi-channel video and sound works created in collaboration with musicians L’Rain (aka Taja Cheek) and Eartheater. The work with Cheek exists as an immersive extension of the music video for “Two Face.” We spoke with Cheek about collaborating with Donohue and working within a new discipline.

Can you tell us a little about the origin of the video—was it a concept before you and Donohue decided to collaborate, or something you came up with together?

We came up with this concept together, with Reese leading the way. I started to feel a bit stuck last year because I’d had quite a few ideas for music videos that had suddenly become entirely infeasible due to the pandemic. I’d always wanted to work on something with Reese, and the conditions of this moment seemed like they would lend themselves well to this sort of project. We assembled a small but mighty team including the two of us with Rad Mora and Steven Reneau and the pieces started coming together very quickly and organically. Quite easily the smoothest collaborative project I’ve ever experienced.

Was there a specific mood you wanted to convey through the visuals, since the song itself is already very moving?

The song has a dual nature—what I call the “spooky” parts and the “beachy” parts—and we hoped to convey those sections visually as well as conveying an overall sense of magic and mystery. There are a lot of close-ups of the altar—plants, fabrics, candles, shells, skulls—that abstract the components a bit, and I hope that inspires a certain slowness and curiosity. With my music I hope to instigate a sense of wonder and I think we all were hoping for something similar with the video.

It’s a multi-channel, expanded version of the music video, which must change the experience dramatically—can you tell us about your initial response to it?

I love that the virtual space naturally lends itself to being super-iterative. I think of the YouTube experience and the IRL experience as complements to one another: different ways of entering the world surrounding the song. The multi-channel version is definitely more immersive, and the audio was re-mixed to respond to the space. I used to dance pretty seriously when I was younger, so an opportunity to think spatially, not only about my music but to create an entire world around it, is really special to me.

Has it changed your understanding or appreciation for the creative tech behind a project like this?

Absolutely! I knew nothing about volumetric video technology, let alone any kind of video making, and Reese, Rad and Steven were extremely patient with me, teaching me along the way. Most of our conversations were rooted in ideas, not tech jargon—mood, color, movement—and that made it a lot easier for me to understand how to make the most of the tools we were using. But, it’s a bit of a chicken or egg situation; do you start out learning what the tech does or do you start with ideas and a sketch of what you want to create? We ended up mostly moving on all cylinders simultaneously. All at the same time, we were each learning about the software, the hardware, new organization tools, and about our own individual collaboration styles. There was a lot at play, but we had a team of thoughtful collaborators that made the process shockingly simple.

To have an opportunity to connect with people in physical space fills me with so much gratitude, especially after this intense period of isolation

Is there something specific you hope people take away from the experience?

Through my music, because it’s a bit spiritually manic, I’ve found that I have connected with people in their darkest moments, and also in the most jubilant moments of their lives. The visual realm adds so many more opportunities for connection. And then, on top of that, to have an opportunity to connect with people in physical space fills me with so much gratitude, especially after this intense period of isolation. At the root of it, that’s all I can hope for: connection.

Images courtesy of Reese Donohue and L’Rain