Layer 3 from the Reichenstein/Muller Match.

Layer Tennis How It All Went Down

Backstage with Oliver Reichenstein

by Andrew Huff

Again with the film references. We saw a lot of them in the Taylor-Risk match a couple weeks ago, and in the most recent match we find Oliver Reichenstein and Tom Muller batting Stanley Kubrick references back and forth. Was it a bald attempt to curry favor with Commissioner Jim Coudal, or was something else at root? I spoke with Oliver after the match, hoping to catch him before he collapsed from sleep deprivation. Surprisingly, he was chipper and loquacious -- and I soon learned why.

Thanks for taking some time before heading to bed, Oliver. How do you think it went?

Strong start. Weak middle part, flying fast finish.

It must have been pretty tough playing in the wee hours of the morning. Did the time factor into your level of play at all?

Not just the time factor, but also knowing how good Muller is and that I had to get up again at 8 -- that is, two hours after the match -- for the first sports day of my son.

What sort of prep did you do for the match? What weapons did you have ready in the arsenal?

I am more of a Fireworks guy, so I looked at how to import export Fireworks files into Photoshop. Which is quite easy. But I didn't have a lot of time to prepare. All I knew: that I'd make a joke about hello Newman, to tickle @Hellomuller and put him on an ironic defense. I planned to use Muller instead of Newman in a "Seinfeld" collage as my starting point, but after I came home planning to prepare that collage, my wife told me that I had to be at my son's sports day the next morning... So I decided to sleep two hours ahead of the match, skipping long preparations. I felt that with the jetlag, without Photoshop, knowing that I wouldn't get a break after the match, I would only have a chance against Muller if I drag him into my state of mind... Tried anting madness. So that explains my first layer. That and the shameless Writer product placement. I'm not skipping a single opportunity to promote Writer. (Here he goes again).

...And some strong coffee, I imagine.

Coffee doesn't affect me other than tasting good and making me (more) nervous. So I rather keep my hands off it in situations like these. But since our son is only 2 years old, I've had some training staying awake without sleep.

Let's delve into Layer 3, which seemed to be a fan favorite. Can you break down for the audience back home what we're seeing here?

It's a shot I took at an art exhibition at the French embassy in Tokyo. Some artist put a TV behind trees in a room. For some reason Tom's pod helmet shape reminded me of the thing I remembered from that shot. In the original picture there is half a skull shape in the still on the TV that looks quite similar. It's those things that come into your mind when you're really tired, I guess.

Since Muller "zoomed" back, I thought, that I'd continue that movement (zooming back), and use the old HelloMuller/hello Newman idea. Hello Madness, Hello Kubrick, Hello Newman. I was kind of hoping for a continuation of that zoom movement.

Are you a big fan of "Seinfeld"?

Yes, but "big" is a euphemism.

OK, so from there, we got a rainbow from Tom, into which you inserted Jack from The Shining. Were you following Tom Muller's lead on the Kubrick theme, picking up on his 2001 reference in Layer 2, or did you have that up your sleeve already?

I had The Shining in my head, since Newman in the door is sort of a voluntary or involuntary reference to The Shining, and because Muller didn't zoom further back, I wanted to push the madness meme through the wall. Of course Muller's reference to pods was a great bridge to my first layer and 2001 was a great invitation to all kinds of stylish irrationality.

But The Shining layer didn't come out quite as planned. I felt that I had kept a slight lead due to my head start and the lucky coincidences that lead to #3. Also I wanted too much. At once it was Newman as Nicholson breaking through Muller's Predator stuff, and at the same time I wanted it to have some sort of crappy Indian poster aesthetic. The Indian poster aesthetic came from Muller picking up on the hue irregularity on the branches in #3, using it to color the whole picture -- which I thought was a great move, BTW.

I wanted to bring in more bricolage into #5 and see where it takes Muller, that is where Muller takes it. But it was at once too much (aggression) and not enough (complexity). He put a noise filter on top of it and pointed back to the 2001 reference with his subtitle. Under the line, I felt that his #6 was as weak as my#5; the energy seemed to fade and having Nicholson twice there would take the edge of both Nicholson and the match, if there was not something dramatic.

What happened in Layer 7? I was left wondering if this was a reference back to "Seinfeld" or an allusion to the transformation of Jack underwent in the film.

When I saw Jack again, I thought, "No, we need a new man." And then I remembered that great logo from the '80s that you could turn upside down, brought back Nitty, the font I used in Layer 1 (which is the font of Writer), Replaced the W with Ms, so it'd rotate better. All I left from Nicholson were two squares. The layer said, Let's bring in a new man, no? And Muller agreed, graphically, with many new men.

I thought "new man" might also have foreshadowed the forced transformation Alex undergoes in A Clockwork Orange, which you slyly reference in Layer 9.

At the time I had no idea where this was going at all. In the end I brought in A Clockwork Orange, because they are "new men" and the morning breaking into my window made me think of milk. On the last layer I had the morning ants crawling over my brain. They made the last layer that said, "New mornings make new men. I can hardly see out of my head anymore. Blind us with one last shiny layer, Muller." And he did. His layer had a 2010 reference. A nice final touch.

I agree. So, now that it's done, any thoughts on the process?

I shouldn't have used all my time on layer 5 and made it more complex. Complex layers give the opponent more angles to react. It's not design, it's painting, and, always being focused on making things simpler, trying to go into the other direction was certainly a lot of fun. I had the same problems when Muller reacted with a more designed and less painted layer.

Any final thoughts you'd like to share? Maybe some words of advice to future players?

Don't look at the Twitter stream, focus on what you see; try to read your opponent as you do in a chess game. Look at it as a challenge, but mainly have fun together with your opponent. And we certainly did Next time, I'd prepare one or two things through.

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