The cheque's in the post

How Bafta-winning multimedia company AudioRom stole the show with virtually no capital to their name.
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The Independent Culture
Thursday 29 October - the day of the first-ever British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) awards for Interactive Entertainment - began inauspiciously for the Bafta finalists AudioRom. The multimedia collective, which was to win a Bafta for design later in the day, needed to take care of last-minute preparations for the performance they had been commissioned to give at the awards ceremony. But when they arrived at their studios that morning, they were met by security guards. The locks on the doors had been changed, and they were under orders to vacate the building by the end of the day.

AudioRom are based in Winchester Wharf, on Clink Street, near London's Southwark Cathedral. Known as "Silicon Wharf", the building - the only remaining original warehouse along the Thames at Southwark - rents to new technology companies, multimedia artists and recording studios at sub-commercial rates. But this autumn its owner, Borough Market, decided to take advantage of a lease clause allowing it to redevelop the prime Thames-front property. Tenants were given four weeks' notice to vacate on 29 October.

"It was rather a worry," says Andre Ktori, a founding member of AudioRom. "People were in the middle of big jobs. We had the Bafta performance coming up. There was no way anyone could shift."

Like the other tenants in Winchester Wharf, AudioRom operates on a slender budget - or no budget at all. The studio (where it has been allowed to stay while negotiations with Borough Market are under way) is devoid of hi-tech glitz. Papers, props, antiquated computers and ashtrays litter the cavernous room. There's a sink and a kettle behind a curtain at one end, and a couple of second-hand couches at the other.

Ktori explains that, while AudioRom occasionally do commercial work (they've done music-based work for Radio 1, BBC 2 and the Virgin label), their main sources of income are commissions and grants that support their performances, installations and titles. ShiftControl - the interactive CD-rom that won the Design Bafta, beating best-selling titles such as Riven (by Cyan and the mega-rich Miller Brothers) was made on a zero budget.

"This came together out of the commitment and common goals of a number of very disparate practitioners," says Ktori.

ShiftControl is an enhanced CD-rom that can be played like a CD, or used interactively. The interactive function is designed to give people who aren't expert composers or programmers access to the experience of making and mixing music, text and sound. By clicking on shifting icons, users access one of 14 different "graphic playscapes", such as a "text toy", in which letters are paired up with short riffs. Users build up music by typing in letters and words.

"It puts writing music into a word-processing context, which doesn't seem so frightening as dots on a stave," explains Ktori. "It uses a form we recognise - but the process isn't so different from the process of writing music."

ShiftControl began two years ago as an academic project at the University of Westminster, where Ktori was completing a master's degree in Design and Media Arts. He says it was a reaction against interactive music titles that were available at the time.

"I was very disappointed in them because they felt like a cross between an encyclopedia and an advert. You know - click here and you can buy my new album or look around my recording studio."

Ktori felt that interactive titles had much more potential to help people engage with music. The idea behind ShiftControl was to "give people access to music using design and visual representations".

AudioRom has also explored the relationship between sound and visuals in installations and performances. In Trigger-Happy, an installation commissioned for the opening of the ICA's New Media Centre earlier this year, hands moving over light sensors on a circular table trigger sound and moving images on the table. For a public artwork, commissioned by the Arts Council for the International Symposium of Electronic Arts (ISEA), AudioRom drew connections between the industrial and digital revolutions through a network that linked two stations in Liverpool and Manchester, and recorded found sounds and images. In the Bafta performance, sounds produced by four drummers affected lighting, and triggered video images on screens behind the drummers.

The 10 members of AudioRom come from a variety of backgrounds. Ktori has worked in music performance and composition (he was signed to Atlantic and Warner as a solo artist in the Eighties). Other members are designers, programmers, technicians and visual artists. Their work doesn't fit easily into any one category. They have performed at high-art venues such as the ICA as well as clubs in Berlin and Rotterdam. Their titles are described as albums, software, art and games.

"ShiftControl is outside of those present genres of games, software, edutainment etc," says Ktori "It floats a little bit as a title." He says he would like to see the title sold through music shops, and prefers to describe AudioRom as a new media band. "None of us gets paid here. We do work outside of AudioRom, or we're on the dole. We gig, and our performances bind us together and help promote the titles."

Forthcoming projects include releasing the ISEA work as a CD (Soundtrax), producing a single off ShiftControl, and finding a publisher and distributor. AudioRom are now self-distributing free copies of a work in progress, V-SEQ (the Arts Council funded the pressing of 3,000 CDs), which they hope to develop into a work similar to ShiftControl.

How long AudioRom will stay in their Clink Street quarters is uncertain: what they do know is they can't afford commercial space rates. The Bafta award may have raised AudioRom's profile, but it isn't, unfortunately, a financial award - "or, at least, no one's sent us a cheque yet," laughs Ktori, "which is par for the course for us."

`ShiftControl' is available for pounds 16.99 at AudioRom's website (http://www.