I already mentioned the festival Age of Wonder last week in my notes from Nick Bostrom's talk about (human and artificial) Super Intelligence. The festival attempted to reflect on the challenging but ultimately exciting techno-mediated times we are living with a series of performances, keynotes and art installations. BioArt Laboratories illustrated the essence of the festival with Tree Antenna, an installation and workshop that engaged with alternative wireless communication, ecology, DIY culture and historical knowledge.
The Eindhoven-based multidisciplinary art&design group recreated an early 20th Century experiment in which live trees are used as antennas for radio communication.
General George Owen Squier, the Chief Signal Officer at the U.S. army not only coined the word "muzak", in 1904 he also invented in 1904 a system that used living vegetable organisms such as trees to make radio contact across the Atlantic. The invention never really took off as the advent of more sophisticated means of communication made tree communication quickly look anachronistic.
Tree communication was briefly back in favour during the Vietnam War when U.S. troupes found themselves in the jungle and in need of a reliable and easy to transport system of communication but after that, only a few groups of hobbyists used tree antennas for wireless communication.
During the last afternoon of Age of Wonder, BioArt Laboratories invited members of the public of all ages and background to join them and bring back tree antennas to our attention. Participants of the workshop could craft simple and affordable devices that would allow anyone to use the tree in their backyard as a radio receiver (it is also possible to broadcast from your tree but the technology is slightly more expensive and it requires permits.)
Squier drove a nail into the tree, hung a wire, and connected it to the receiver. The BioArt Laboratory team used flexible metal spring that wrapped around the trunk as planting a nail into the tree would have damaged it. Their system definitely works as the team managed to communicate with amateurs radios from countries as distant as Italy and Ukraine.
Right now there are only a few amateurs using tree and other high plants for wireless communication but the BioArt Laboratory's objective is to spread the word about this simple and affordable technology and gradually build up a world-wide forest of antennas.
Obviously, in this experiment the tree is part and parcel of the functionality of the antenna. We're thus not speaking of questionable antennas disguised as tree.
The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on Resonance104.4fm, London's favourite radio art station, is aired tomorrow Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.
This week I'm going to be talking with Antony Hall. I interviewed Antony many many years ago and his work is as interesting as ever. Antony creates kinetic artworks; sculptures and installations, often using sonic, mechanical, fluidic, electronic or biological elements. But in the show we will focus on Owl Project, the artist collective that Antony forms together with Simon Blackmore and Steve Symons.
Owl Project works with wood and electronics to create musical and sculptural instruments that question human interaction with computer interfaces and our increasing appetite for new and often disposable technologies.
The work of Owl Project goes from simple ironic devices such as the iLog which is a log that thinks it is a music player to large scale installations such as ~Flow, a floating tidal waterwheel powered electro acoustic musical instrument responding to the river Tyne in Newcastle. Owl Project has also toured festivals and events with their rather ingenious Sound Lathe, a musical instrument based on a traditional green wood turning pole lathe that explores the relationship between the crafting of physical objects and the shaping of sound.
This week, Resonance 104.4FM is holding its Annual Fund-Raiser, with a series of live events, an on-line auction and special broadcasts. The reason why i'm mentioning it this year is that the radio needs your help even more than in the past : we need to secure £50,000 reserves in order to bolster our next funding application to Arts Council England, who have generously supported us for the last 11 years. The exciting bit: our programme makers and many friends have organised a variety of amazing entertainments for you - all proceeds going to Resonance. With your help we can keep our unique and exceptional broadcast service on air and advert-free!
The whole list of events is over here: Resonance104.4fm's Annual Fund-Raising Drive. I'd like to point you to a couple of evenings you might enjoy:
There are tons of music events. I know zilch about music but i do know that on Thursday 13 February, Resonance104.4fm has lined-up an impressive series of sound-art performances at Cafe Oto. There will be Janek Schaefer + Rie Nakajima + Yuri Suzuki + post-electronic research group Oscillatorial Binnage. I've no idea who curated this event but it's hard to imagine a more exciting selection. And all that for a very reasonable £8.
Also very tempting is High Tea with Max and Stacy. "Financial war reporter" Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert of The Truth About Markets will be at The Roxy for a high finance Q&A. That's on Sunday 16 February 4pm. Tickets are £15.
So please do come to any or all of these events. Do grab something in the online auction (i'll link to the page as soon as i have it) or make a donation. Today. Because we really need your help at Resonance104.4fm.
Photo on the homepage: Oscillatorial Binnage at the Merge festival.
On Saturday i went all the way to the Stanley Picker Gallery , that's in Kingston and Kingston is in zone 6! I had never ventured beyond zone 3 before. Apart from the endless Piccadilly line trips from Finsbury Park to Heathrow airport and back, of course. But i'd travel the globe for a good show about sound art. And Sound Matters: Exploring Sound Through Forms is not only very good: it is impeccably curated (there isn't one weak work and each piece is acoustically insulated from the neighbouring ones), seducing and has a clear and simple concept as it explores the physicality of sound by looking at the connections between contemporary craft practice and sound art.
The added bonus for me are that i've discovered a couple of interesting artists and designers.
Performance ceramicist (surely this term exists, right?) Keith Harrison noticed that potter Lucie Rie had the same Roberts radio in her studio as he uses in his own studio. His other sources of inspiration were her potter's wheel and her use of manganese slip. Lucie Rie vs Grindcore are two potter's wheels customized to become a set of turntables which Harrison then connected to two transistor radios. A grindcore metal record is played on one deck, a raw clay one covered with a layer of manganese is played on the other deck.
The resulting sound might or might not be to everybody's taste but visually, the installation and performance (at least the one i saw in the video) are stunning.
Textile designer Ismini Samanidou collaborated with sound artist Scanner to explore a shared interest in mapping, the physicality of code as well as in the visual and technical similarities between the softwares they both use. The larger of the two Weave Waves textiles they created visualize the artists' own breath. The recording of their breathing was processed through a software and the data was then translated it into a digital jacquard weave design. The other, smaller piece used a software to map the loudest areas of London and Manchester. The details of the fabric structure and the interpretations of the cities can be explored through magnifying devices. Meanwhile, the soundscapes, recorded on the locations, also become audible.
The wooden horn uses the geometry of the hendecahedral (that's 11 sides) horn shape to naturally and spectacularly amplify sound. The shape of the horn is designed using vector maths and Owl Project's bespoke software, Bevelator78.4˚, to calculate the cutting angle between horn planes.
Owl Project had another work in the show: the rather ingenious Sound Lathe, an instrument based on a traditional green wood turning pole lathe that explores the relationship between the crafting of physical objects and the shaping of sound. During the performances, the movements are turned into electronic music. 8 sensors rest on the turning spindles and translate its changing profile shape into data which is then converted into sounds. At the end of each live demonstration, a unique wooden object is produced that will preserve a memory of the performance.
Studio Weave's Polyphony functions as a large compound ear that separates, abstracts and re-organizes the sounds coming from multiple directions through listening horns. I was alone in the very quiet gallery so i didn't really get a good feel of the installation. However, i'm glad the exhibition gave me the opportunity to discover the works of Studio Weave. Do check out their portfolio, it's an impressive one.
Sounds of Making in East London is a 10″ vinyl record that celebrates the work of the 21 of the many skilled makers who live and work in East London. The record captures sounds as diverse as the clatter of lyric poet John Hegley's typewriter, the chopping of garlic in a Michelin star restaurant, the tap of rock 'n' roll cobbler Terry de Havilland's hammer and the sound of a bell being tuned in Britains oldest manufacturer.
Wilcox later asked Yuri Suzuki to create a new sound work inspired by Sounds of Making in East London. The young artist selected a few tracks and mixed them. The resulting record was pressed with loop grooves (the tracks continuously repeat) which allows various points of the record to be played simultaneously on Suzuki's Prepared Turntable, a device that allows music to be played by 5 tone arms with individual controls. The ensemble creates an overall soundscape that further interprets the energy of East London's makers.
The voices and sounds in Tweed were recorded in the Outer Hebrides, remote islands off the North west coast of Scotland. The first voice, of weaver Catherine Campbell, was recorded in her weaving shed and shop in Plocrapool, on the east coast of Harris. The next voice was recorded in a weaving shed near Callinish on Lewis in 1998 as the weaver was demonstrating how to work on the Hattersley loom (used to produce Harris Tweed since 1919.) In the background are voices and mechanical sounds from a mill at Shawbost as it was about to be sold.
Max Eastley's steel and canvas sculpture is covered in tiny metal fragments animated by a motor fitted with magnets. The ongoing movement generates a subtle, quiet sound. Landscape was originally created to be installed within a Georgian fireplace, as an echo to the 18th century practice of placing a landscape-painted screen in the fireplace during Summer.
The gallery guide is online.
Near Now's mission is to work closely with designers and artists to develop and produce innovative works that explores creativity and technology in a playful, yet critical, way. Ototo is one of their first commissions and it was designed by Yuri Suzuki and Mark McKeague from Dentaku. (In case you were wondering, the name of this design and invention studio comes from the Japanese version of Kraftwerk's song "Taschenrechner" / "Pocket Calculator".)
Unsurprisingly (because we all know that these two never do anything remotely dull), the designers came up with a brilliant work: an experimental PCB based synthesiser that allows you to combine sensors, inputs and touchpads and easily create your own electronic musical instrument. You can make a drum kit out of some saucepans or an origami that sings when touched. Ototo is designed to let anyone unpack a kit and interact with sound however they want to, no soldering or coding required.
Ototo means "Little Brother" in japanese and indeed little brotherly characters are appearing all over the synthetizer, indicating the role of sensor inputs, speakers, headphone outputs, buttons, holes and other functional elements.
Ottoto is a small kit easy to customise. In fact, it was designed for children and for anyone who's afraid of touching electronics. You don't need to code, just to plug and you're good to go and experiment with physical computing without even realizing it.
After the presentation, we got to play with the Ototo instruments created a few days before during a workshop organized by Near Now. The instruments used oranges, plastic cups half filled with water, old knives, computer fan, paper coffee cups, pans and bits of cardboard of all sizes.
The plan is to release Ototo before Christmas. At a very affordable price.
*Near Now is currently offering "artists, designers, writers, ecologists, technologists, policy specialists, architects, cultural geographers and food scientists" the opportunity to do Internet of Growing Things, to develop new work focused on food and future agri-cultures.
The photo above lured me to take the train to Peckham Rye and visit the South London Gallery. The image is the one relentlessly featured in the online mags announcing At the Moment of Being Heard, a show of works and performances that reflect on sound and modes of listening.
Sadly, Aquaphone Cornemuse Opus 143 is not presented in the exhibition. But in case you were still curious about it, the Aquaphone is part of a series of 'instruments d'écoute' (instruments for listening) made with glass objects used by chemists. The Aquaphone works in closed circuit to amplify tiny sound phenomenons. The glass element is partly filled with water and with air that acts as sound transmitter.
Even if the Aquaphone Cornemuse Opus 143 is not part of the exhibition, it still embodies accurately the tone and character of the show. At the Moment of Being Heard is the quietest exhibition about sound i've ever visited. You hear salt being slowly poured, speakers quietly growling, piano strings being struck, shutters falling down echoing inside your head only. At times, you might even hear silence as well.
Tuned piano wires stretches all over to the ceiling in criss-cross patterns. The wires of Eli Keszler's installation are periodically struck and scraped by mechanical beaters to deliver deep and resonating sounds that reverberate through the main gallery. The result being quieter and much more harmonious than my description would have you believe.
crys cole's sound sculpture lays nearby and unassumingly within the gallery floor's vents. One part of the work is a small heap of salt that fills the vent in the left corner of the room. Its counterpart is located in the vent at the other side of the space, but this time there is nothing to see, if you bend down slightly you can hear the sound of the slow action (it took 108 minutes) of filling the first space with salt.
Filling a Space with Salt (in two parts) nicely echoes a photo by Reiner Ruthenbeck showing a lady closing the shutters outside a gallery. The black and white photo elicits the loud clang of the shutters inside you head, even if nothing in the room is actually making that sound.
Singing, by Rolf Julius, is made of seven suspended speakers which emanate a low, resonant hum. The vibrations in the cones cause sieved black pigment on the membranes to shift in sync with the quiet composition.
At the Moment of Being Heard is a nice, subtle, almost meditative show where i spent more time than expected. It reminded me that i love sound art as much as i dislike writing about it. Speaking of which.... I've only blogged about the pieces in the main gallery but there's more works upstairs: Baudouin Oosterlynck's score-drawings made over journeys in Europe in search of silence, Rolf Julius' curious videos of upturned speaker cones submerged in ash and a lonely and almost undetectable speaker playing an outdoor rural Summer soundscape.
At the Moment of Being Heard doesn't stop there. Live performances and special events run until September at the SLG and also at nearby off-site venues. This one looked good, i'm sorry i missed it:
At the Moment of Being Heard is on view at the South London Gallery until 8 September.