Max Jala’s multi-sensory creative coding projects blur the lines of reality and our senses

The Kuala Lumpur-based artist has only been working with code creatively for a year, but already boasts an impressive portfolio of generative works.

21 February 2020
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3 minute read


It was while working as a mobile app developer that Max Jala first fell in love with the process of coding. “The constant puzzles and headaches presented by code are somehow very therapeutic,” he tells us. He eventually went on to quit his job and now works as a visual artist in Kuala Lumpur, specialising in generative and interactive installation art.

Funnily enough, when Max first quite his job, he had no idea what creative coding even was, he just knew he wanted to pursue something more creative. “I was actually prepared to drop programming entirely,” he recalls. “It was only later in 2018, a few months after leaving my job, that I discovered generative art and realised that code could be an artistic tool. At that point it just seemed like a natural fit so I started messing around making small little animations with code.”

Today he works on a myriad of projects, including creating audiovisuals and VJing for concerts, or designing installations for exhibitions. No matter what the project, however, there is one thing that links all of Max’s works: “my visuals completely depends on interaction or some kind of input.” This could be someone’s movement, or a sound, but without these, there is no visual.

“Working with machines and modern technology, you can really create multi-sensory experiences for people,” Max says, elaborating on why he enjoys this method of working. “With just a simple sensor you can take in one stimuli as a data input, translate it, and output it as another – blurring the lines of reality and our senses.” Additionally, it’s also the sense of collaborating with tools that motivates him in his innovative practice. “The process of creation is exciting in that you truly have to collaborate (often wrestle) with your tool. Unlike other creative tools where you can more or less dictate elements to your will, when using algorithms, you have to contend with how a machine thinks.”

This means, often, Max will have one idea of how a concept will play out, but the final output will offer up something entirely unexpected. It’s a serendipity that makes itself clear when looking at Max’s portfolio, as visuals seems to take on a life and energy of their own.

When it comes to the aesthetics, therefore, Max’s work veers away from having any signature visual language. When he first began working creatively, he was very much inspired by “super clean geometric” generative art, but this soon gave way to noise and distortion. “So far, I think the bulk of my most recent work falls into two very contrasting categories – a lot are in many ways more ambient and textural, while the others are very glitchy and quite jarring,” he adds. “I enjoy making both styles of visuals and sometimes incorporate both elements together. As it stands, after just a year of coding visuals, I still have a lot to learn technically so I’m just trying to experiment as much as I can – I know for a fact there are many visuals and aesthetics I wish I could execute but I simply do not know how to currently.”

A recent project which typifies where Max’s practice currently stands, consists of an audiovisual performance for a show called WeComeInPeace. The performance was part of a “store exchange programme” where Max joined his pals at Transite Mart (a streetwear brand based in KL) to set up a pop-up store at the PeachBeUponYou store in Ipoh. There was an extraterrestrial theme for the pop-up with the event aptly named WeComeInPeace. “In keeping with the theme, the visuals were designed to confuse and baffle audiences,” Max explains. “I used my trusty kinect sensor to get a live 3D model of the performers and rotated the perspective around them. The performers were also made to be audio-reactive – morphing and emitting shapes according to the music.”

With several other works recently completed, Max’s portfolio is an exciting one to be keeping up to date with, especially as someone with just one short year under his belt. As Max puts it, “the first time coding purely for art was a liberating experience for me,” and so, we can’t wait to see how his practice expands from here.

Max Jala: WeComeInPeace

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.

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