Homebrew Electronics is a series on the Rhizome blog. For these posts, I will be conducting studio visits with artists and inventors who create unique electronic instruments.
Last week, I met with Steven Litt of CrudLabs at his Greenpoint apartment. While a graduate student at NYU’s ITP program, Steve developed a machine known as the CrudBox. Central to his installations and performances, the CrudBox allows users to plug electronic or electromechanic devices into a 16 step, 8 channel step sequencer. While normal sequencers draw from a set bank of sounds, the CrudBox allows one to plug in devices such as turntables or solenoids or power tools, opening up the range of sounds one can sequence.
In his living room, Steve had plugged in seven portable turntables into a CrudBox.
The exterior of this version of the CrudBox was designed by Steve’s friend artist Panayiotis Terzis, who silkscreened all the imagery on the exterior.
The turntables operate off AC voltage, and the CrudBox runs off DC, so Steve had set up a system of high voltage relays so each turntable can be individually activated without any issues. These relay modules allow any wall powered devices to be easily plugged in and sequenced by CrudBox.
In order to control a turntable, the switch at the top left hand side of the CrudBox must be pointed toward the turntable one wants to start.
The sequences are controlled by the bottom row of buttons, and the tempo by the knob. The sequences tell the turntables when ...
This Is My Life (Shirley Bassey) by Conrad Ventur was one of my favorite pieces in PS1's "Greater New York," so I was delighted to come across this short interview with the artist on MoMA/PS1's INSIDE/OUT blog. Burrowed away in a small room in PS1's basement, the work involves a number of projectors looping performances by singer Shirley Bassey sourced from YouTube. Slowly rotating crystals hang over the lens of the projectors, refracting the images and illuminating the room in a soft, hazey light. Ventur discusses his interest in connecting to the past through repurposing old performance footage and the affective quality of his installations.
The above video is a milestone in consumer electronics history: it was the first recording to document the unwrapping of a new gadget that was titled as an unboxing. While individuals have been gleefully ripping open the packaging of their electronics for decades, unboxing is the relatively new practice of recording these moments and uploading them to video sharing services for public display. The 2006 video embedded above features veteran technology blogger Vincent Nguyen as he unpacks a new Nokia E61 smartphone and related accessories. Nguyen removes the device, displays it to the camera while commenting how thin it is, and then dryly lists off the remainder of the objects in the box. On completion he utters "Basically that's it… ummm, for now."
While Nguyen's removal of a smartphone from its original packaging was decidedly drab, unboxing has become a fixture in online consumer electronics coverage. Major players like Endgadget have entire streams of content populated with seasoned technology experts (almost always male) rifling through waybills, wielding box-cutters and carefully extracting shiny new netbooks, gaming consoles and cameras from their packaging. I've watched about three dozen of these videos over the past few days—scanning for signs of intelligent life—and they are remarkably ritualistic: styrofoam is carefully set aside, manuals are flipped through, battery packs are commented on. In doing this field research I've come up with two hypotheses of what unboxing represents:
1. A practice that has emerged as as extension of page view journalism whereby gadget blogs can get traffic without doing any actual 'reporting'.
2. Glib theatre where adults joylessly reenact moments from their childhood when they received and opened gifts.
While both of these readings of unboxing are equally applicable, I prefer the latter, where each of these tiny ceremonies is ...
"Art and social media" -- this topic is all anyone wants to talk about these days. The discussion extends from the staid -- the National Endowment for the Arts released a report titled "Audience 2.0: How Technology Influences Arts Participation" -- to more spicy ruminations on what "social media art" offers as a new category, as in the artist An Xiao’s recent three-part series for Hyperallergic.
On the one hand, this faddish obsession with "social media" is understandable. The Facebook Corp. has begun to wrap its fingers around every other aspect of life, so it is clearly logical to ask what effects social media might have on art-making. But at the same time, I find the chatter somehow sad, as if visual art’s power to inspire passion among a larger audience is so attenuated that it has to throw itself on whatever trendy thing is out there, to win some reflected glory for itself.
So, the question for me is this: Is there any more interesting way to think about the topic than the loose and impressionistic manner that it is currently framed? Maybe it’s worth noting that, of all the buzzwords of the present-day lexicon, "social media" is perhaps the only one that is more vaguely defined than "art." Let’s begin, then, by clarifying terms to see if we can get to a more interesting place.
Chris Salter's Entangled is a massive undertaking and a book long overdue. In this ambitious project, Salter sets out to provide a historical overview of the intersections between technology and artistic performance in order to demonstrate the profound entanglement in the historical trajectories of both sets of practices and developments. Entangled seeks to address how technological developments have altered our making and perception of artistic performance and the socio-political, cultural and economic contexts of such developments (p. xiii). Furthermore, Salter understands the histories of new media arts, theater, and other stage-based artforms as divided in a tension between the technophilic and technophobic, and his investigation is an attempt to fill this gap.
Peter Sellars describes, in his Foreword to the book, Salter's approach as radically inclusive. Indeed, Salter sets out to frame an impressively diverse range of practices as performance. Those practices include, but are not limited to, theatre, opera, scenography, architecture, video art, installations, environments, sonic arts, robotics, media arts, live and body art, expressions of popular culture such as music gigs, and more. Entangled consists of eight chapters, each focusing on a different form. This distinction is not designed to separate disciplinary trajectories though; instead, it challenges disciplinary boundaries through its fluid narrative that consistently foregrounds intersections, crossovers and common histories.
The FM Ferry Experiment, a project conceived and programmed by neuroTransmitter, was an eight-day mobile radio project held on the Staten Island Ferry during the Fall of 2007. With the collaboration of the New York City Department of Transportation and the FM signal of WSIA-FM, this project transformed the S.i. Ferry into a floating radio station, continually traveling between Lower Manhattan and Staten Island, and transmitting out to the NYC region.
Through the media of radio and live broadcast performance we were interested in spatially and sonically activating the space in and around the Staten Island Ferry, considering it's architecture, mode of transport, use of public space, and the geographical contours of the ferry's immediate environment as it moved through Upper New York Bay.
Live sound performances, experimental sound works, interviews, and lectures took place on the ferry and transmitted (along with pre-recorded programming) to New York City listeners via WSIA-FM. Each program ran approximately 25 minutes - the time it takes the ferry to complete the commute from shore to shore.
Shared Frequencies is a portable sound installation and performance environment that relies on multiplex radio communications events as its primary performance material. An array of radio scanners is paired with a set of analog synthesizer modules, and assembled on a set of small, modest folding tables. The scanners pick up a wide variety of speech, encoded data streams, and noise that are converted into (more) synthetic sound. The results of these electroacoustic interactions are projected into the air, and the sounds heard are physically modified by the shape and volume of the installation's site.
Homebrew Electronics is a new series on the Rhizome blog. For these posts, I will be conducting studio visits with artists and inventors who create unique electronic instruments.
Last week, I met up with Jeff Donaldson, aka noteNdo, on a particularly sweltering summer day in his studio in Bushwick. For close to a decade, Jeff has been modifying video game consoles to produce glitchy audio and visual material. These machines form the backbone of his practice, which began primarily in a live performance context, and has expanded from there. In the past few years, Jeff has begun to apply the patterns created from his consoles into material form by making scarves and prints, and more recently, he’s moved into fully immersive, interactive installations. For this studio visit, he walked me through a number of his consoles.
Meet Leo. Named after Leon Theremin, this Nintendo NES from 1985 was one of Jeff’s first projects and has become a staple in his work. He got the idea to make animation after a vivid dream - and set out on his Nintendo NES, the only tool he had at the time.
This is the patch bay for Leo. Patching the jacks offsets a short circuit that creates a visual effect, which Jeff discovered through trial and error. The patches allow him to revisit these effects - which are essentially bad reads by the system. Leo allows you to swap in and out different games - exposing the cartridges to the visual effects produced by Jeff’s modifications. Jeff described Leo as essentially an “auto-collage system” allowing a reworking of the original material through the settings he has determined.