Tom Kuntz Bugs Out

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MJZ director Tom Kuntz, best known for his comedic commercials efforts like the multi-awarded Old Spice "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like," is focusing less on body wash and more on "a group of giant, creepy bugs," as he puts it. Last Friday at the Sydney Opera House, Kuntz debuted an art piece, the untitled "Bug" installation, part of Vivid Sydney, an annual "festival of lights, music and ideas" featuring a range of creative collaborations and presentations from influential creatives around the globe.

Kunt'z exhibit, which runs until June 5, consists of multiple 65-inch flat screen monitors projecting images of large insects generating sound, through instruments or their own body parts, all of which surrounds the viewer in a hexagon-shaped formation. While the insects are the apparent source of the music, Kuntz tapped L.A. band Lucky Dragons to create the soundscape for the piece.

"It was a really fun departure. If for no reason other than it was simply different muscle to flex and a different medium," says Kuntz. "It was an idea that felt captivating and exciting to me in my head, and simply wanted to materialize it without over thinking it any more than that." Alongside Kuntz, other exhibits at Vivid include performances by the cast of "Yo Gabba Gabba," the popular children's show, and Chris Cunningham Live, an edited collection of film and music being broadcast across three screens by the cult filmmaker, photographer and musician.

Creativity checked in with Kuntz about what went into making the art project.

What inspired this art piece?
The idea itself had been bouncing around in my head for a little while, but the idea to actually make it came when Pav [Stephen Pavlovic, Vivid Curator] rang me and asked if I'd contribute something to this event he was curating at the Opera House.

How long did it take to put together?
A few months approximately. Lots of waking up at 5 a.m. to chip away at it before my "real day" would start.

What was the biggest challenge in doing this?
There were numerous challenges. Even though the piece has a very simplistic nature to it, it was a lot of work: creating each insect, creating the sound track for each insect, and then creating the animation for each insect. For the sound, I was working with a fantastic sound editor named William Flynn. The two of us would comb through the music the Lucky Dragons gave me to use, searching for the right sounding bites and bobs. After we found them, William would cut it all up and drop the samples into long sequences in the same time signature so that all 6 bugs were performing in unison. Once we created the audio for each bug, I needed to create visual representation for each instrument or sound the viewer hears, and then once this was done, the mill would animate each insect based on a detailed performance log I would provide them.

Why/How did you choose the Lucky Dragons as the music behind the bugs?
When I began the process of materializing the piece, I knew I wanted to collaborate with an existing musical artist, but I wasn't sure who yet. I was talking with my friend about possible ideas and he mentioned Lucky Dragons, and in my head it just totally clicked. I had been a huge fan of theirs, and I realized they were exactly who I had always been thinking, without realizing it. I emailed them and they were extremely gracious and they gave me access to their archives to use. I can't thank them enough.

Are you taking the piece elsewhere?
No official plans yet, but yes, I would really like to.

How did doing this differ from your other projects, directing spots?
There was something sort of bizarre and awesome about answering to no one on it. Even the Opera House never saw one second of it before it was loudly buzzing away in their building.

How has the reception been so far?
I am back in L.A. now but what I witnessed for the last five days was beyond my expectations. I spent a lot of time anonymously hanging around the exhibit, observing people experiencing the piece. What I found most inspiring was the variety of ages that responded to the piece; I saw little kids in there, jumping up and down, loving it. I saw club kids bugging out in there with huge grins on their faces. I saw senior citizens laughing and pointing and giggling with their friends. To see the thing connect with such a wide cross section of people really made me happier than I could have ever imagined.

If you were to do again, how would you do differently?
Hmmm. Well. When I first fired the piece up, I wondered if I should have been more diligent about having all the bug "performances" work together musically (i.e. at times the music in the room can be quite chaotic). But the more I lived with the piece, the more I found myself not wanting to touch it, the more I found it's manic energy perfect for a group of giant, creepy bugs.

Also, if I put the piece on again, I may explore different ways to construct the environment, but this is more a by product of just wanting to explore other ways to do it.

Lastly, I am toying with the idea of bugs procreating, so that if the piece goes up again, there will be more bugs. And if it goes up again, even more bugs, and so on, and so on. We'll see…

What do you want the audience to take away after experiencing this piece?
I did not approach this as anything deeper than a fun, experimental piece.

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