tooling the art of electronics

somaya langley: people doing strange things with electricity, dorkbot-syd

Curated by Dorkbot Sydney’s “Overlord” Pia van Gelder, the dorkbot-syd group show was a small, well-balanced exhibition presenting the recent experiments of Sydney’s creative tinkerers. I missed the crammed opening, instead opting for the artist talk several days later.

Reminiscent of a shrine, Samuel Bruce’s installation, Art is great to waste time before dying, was situated by the pillar in the centre of the room. The hand-constructed speaker box and cattle skull with embedded red LED flashed away, accompanied by a cloud of chaotic noise, an offering from the artist as a memento mori, a reminder that one day we all must die.

Warren Armstrong’s software application, Twitterphonicon, as the title suggests, drew on a range of Twitter tweets, identified by selected hashtags. Sonifications of phrases, created by mapping words to various general midi instruments, produced short monophonic melodies. The mapping—always a challenge when using streams of data—was far too simplistic, and I was left desiring more. However, the work became more promising during the artist’s talk when Armstrong read aloud a tweet, spoken in synchrony with the sonification. All the audience agreed: Twitterphonicon was destined for a performance poetry future.
Light Speed Sound #2, Melissa Hunt

Light Speed Sound #2, Melissa Hunt

Light Speed Sound #2, Melissa Hunt

Light Speed Sound #2, by Melissa Hunt was immediately accessible with little instruction. It utilised light dependent resistors hooked up directly to the motor of a toy turntable plus some circuit bending skills and assistance from Nick Wishart. Hunt has no-doubt created what numerous teenage bedroom DJs dream of at night—the ultimate air-turntable interface. Hours of fun for those who like to wave their hands in the air while manipulating sound.

Lukasz Karluk, with collaborator Gentleforce, created the most striking work of the exhibition. Partly due to its size and also to an inviting interface, tr-IO earned this accolade with its video projection of triangular patterns spanning one entire wall of the space. Constructed from three polypropylene pyramids, Reactivision symbols pasted on the bases, and complete with pulsing LED colours, no child or adult could resist picking up these objects. Reposition the pyramids on the plinth and the projected image (think Tetris crossbred with patterned doona cover design) altered colour spaces, pattern sizes and perceptions of direction and speed of movement. Hitting the nail on the head in terms of mapping, the work wasn’t so complex such that you’d wonder whether it was interactive at all. Neither was it too obvious: shifting an object just once wouldn’t entirely demystify the process.

Programmable Light Metronome is exactly what it purports to be. Composer Amanda Cole developed this system out of her need for a device that did not exist. Utilising fairy lights, an Ardiuno microcontroller and MaxMSP, the Programmable Light Metronome was essentially created to provide a visual cue for musicians who perform her compositions (which often consist of dual time signatures and resultant cross rhythms). As an artwork it appeared purely decorative; as part of a larger work it holds the potential to be more.
Niche, Tega Brain

Niche, Tega Brain

Niche, Tega Brain

Occupying the back corner, Tega Brain’s Niche effected the most engaging user interaction with a projection of imaginary plant life, allowing users to tread on it, watch it die and regenerate. The work teased out intrinsic behaviours in audience members: some stood back to watch the plants grow, others stamped their feet to kill them off as rapidly as possible. Listening to Brain speak about Niche was rewarding. Knowledgeable and technically adept, the artist expressed her wish to expand the work to incorporate rewarding various forms of audience behaviour. This work was unfortunately let down by the exhibition space. The marked floor masked the detail of the plants, while the projection shook as occupants of the venue moved about upstairs.

Having exhibited their works, I suspect the artists have lists of modifications and possible enhancements that they’d like to implement if they ever get the chance. As is frequently the case when discussing experimental electronic works suggestions for improvement are always proffered. The artist talk illustrated the fact that so often such works are proof of concept, and with access to better resources the quality and professionalism of the works would increase a thousand fold.

The risk in developing these kinds of experimental electronic works is that the creative focus becomes the making of the tool. As I walked away from the exhibition space, I was accompanied by the question, “When is the moment the instrument slips away and the art emerges”?

Dorkbot-Syd Group Show: People doing strange things with electricity, curator Pia van Gelder, artists Warren Armstrong, Tega Brain, Samuel Bruce, Amanda Cole, Melissa Hunt, Lukasz Karluk + Gentleforce and Gavin Smith. Serial Space, Sydney, Feb 10-13, http://dorkbotsyd.boztek.net/

RealTime issue #95 Feb-March 2010 pg.

© Somaya Langley; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 March 2010