Martyn Stonehouse is an Audio Designer and Interactive Artist based in Derbyshire, UK. His work ranges from 80s inspired synth-pop to dark brutalist first-person games environments and retro-futuristic soundscapes.
At LEVEL, Martyn has also worked as an Audio Visual Performer, Devisor and Creator for the SENSE II project.
In preparation for Martyn’s latest work, Degradation, opening at LEVEL Arts Centre 7th September, we grabbed a socially distanced coffee to further discuss his work and practice.
What is your background?
As an artist I’ve been creating my own work for over 10 years and studied music production and interactive audio, however I was also a qualified Youth Arts Worker up until 2016 working as part of a creative team on a wide range of arts, media and music projects. My background in interactive work has until recently been within more conventional games environments such as first-person narrative experiences and point & click adventure titles, working with smaller independent game developers and studios both in the UK and internationally. Alongside my audio design and interactive projects I also compose music for a number of games, carry out additional production and writing on artist’s albums and undertake a number of research and development projects.
What are you trying to say with your work?
I tend to gravitate towards the issues surrounding digital obsolescence and obsolete technology, with ‘Degradation’ being entirely focussed on this concept. I have a keen interest in these areas, and I’d like others to find out more about them through my work, and how these issues affect them too. Ultimately I think I’d like people to consider that digital information has a finite lifespan, and it’s their responsibility to manage the creation, storage and organisation of their own digital footprint.
Do you think there are barriers in the Art world? If so, what do you think these are? Can you think of examples from your career?
From my experience many of the barriers within the arts centre around opportunity, being given the chance to engage in different artistic mediums, or even gain an understanding of these mediums in the first place. So much of the arts in education focuses on traditional concepts that many find prohibitive and uninspiring, when there are so many more exciting areas that might help inspire future artists and generations.
What prominence should accessibility have in the arts? (Social, economical, physical and cognitive)
Personally I feel accessibility should be at the forefront of artistic endeavour, whether this is from a practical standpoint or more conceptual, everyone should have the opportunity to appreciate art if at all possible on any number of different levels. I appreciate that these levels can not always be simultaneously achieved, but I think this limitation is something to consider and be a part of the creative process. One of the exciting things about creating art is seeing how others experience it, and this is a constant source of inspiration.
How accessible do you think your work is?
Physically, ‘Degradation’ has been designed to be as accessible as possible, requiring only the presence of a participant in the installation space itself, however additional control is possible for those with increased mobility using their arms and legs. I’ve tried to make the work as interactive as possible within these bounds, though there are limitations to those with profound hearing or sight loss. I hope that the concept behind ‘Degradation’ is something people can continue to consider after experiencing the piece, and whilst it might not be an area that all participants will fully understand, it’s certainly an issue that affects us all.
How does your work comment on current social or political issues?
In terms of ‘Degradation’ my research for the piece has brought to light some interesting comparisons between the current digital preservation of available government data and the events in George Orwell’s ‘1984’ in which articles are re-written to accommodate the latest viewpoint or agenda of those in power. From a social standpoint I think my work comes from a place where we as a wider whole are responsible for our digital history and it’s long term preservation.
Do you embrace technology within your practice? Does your practice feel threatened or improved by technology?
Technology is crucial to my work, as it is both the concept that I develop my ideas around and the means by which I achieve them. Whilst this helps to improve my practice as new technologies emerge, there is the converse effect that future technology leaves it’s predecessor obsolete and hard to maintain. My practice is therefore both improved and threatened at the same time, and it is by no means alone in this situation. Many areas of our lives are constantly changing because of advancements in technology, but I believe we should be focussing on more sustainable standardised systems to help futureproof technology and the processes we so desperately rely on. Ironically the system I’m building ‘Degradation’ on will almost be obsolete by the time people experience it, and it’s this rapid obsolescence that I’m hoping people will begin to consider.
How have you developed your career?
Over the course of my career much of my development has been through research and study that accompanied many of the projects I’ve been involved in, I tend to find that no matter what I’m working on I’ll always be learning something new and this helps to drive my work and my own development further. When I completed my degree in music production back in 2017, I found that my major project had evolved from a simple concept EP, to a fully fledged first-person environment and build, which involved learning countless new skills and techniques that I am still developing today. This project, ‘Digital Dark Age’, is in many ways the predecessor to ‘Degradation’ and I’m still working on it at the moment, as I continue to develop myself as an artist and learn new ways of communicating these ideas to my audience.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
To produce more than you consume. I think this ideology is something that drives forward many of the projects I work on, and maintaining this balance is important for me both personally and professionally. Never before has there been access to so much artistic content, and this can be both inspirational and sometimes overwhelming, seemingly dwarfing your own creative output. For me, finding a way to feel inspired but also proactively creative and passionate is key to maintaining my output as an artist.
How do you navigate the art world?
I think the arts can be a difficult area to navigate sometimes, when there is a seemingly never ending stream of creativity and expression through a variety of powerful mediums right at our fingertips. I try to maintain a balance in the way I experience the arts, especially when I’m working on my own projects intensively. For me one of the most exciting things about the arts world is discovering something you resonate with, that inspires you, awakens your senses and gets you thinking. I try to both seek out and create this kind of work, and immerse myself in these concepts and ideas.