The space between my ears

Perceptual meltdown after Granular Synthesis retrospective at the STRP festival in Eindhoven, in the old Philips facilities in the Strijp area.

The festival´s focus this year was a retrospective on maximalists austrian media art group Granular Synthesis. It was a unique opportunity to see a lot of the group´s work as well as newer work by the two members Ulf Langheinrich and Kurt Hentschläger. If you have ever seen any of their work before you would guess that this would be an overkill event, and you are right. The works are intense audiovisual bombardements, they physically attack your senses and that does something with your body and mind.
The Granular Synthesis performance installations POL and modell 5 are large scale multiple projections with a corresponding large sound system, which worked well in their monumental way in the factory space.
The solo works are not that large-scale, but more intense. Ulf Langheinrich showed Hemisphere (which I mentioned earlier from the exhibition “from spark to pixel”) and Drifter. Kurt Hentschläger showed Cluster and Zee, which could be seen as offsprings from his ARS electronica performance Feed in 2007. Zee is basically a room filled with smoke, with stroboscopic images projected into the smoke. You loose all reference to the physical space and experience psychedelic visions.

All their works relate to perception, and it was an interesting coincidence that I was reading The Space between our Ears while I was at the festival.

It was a bit strange to experience Granular Synthesis at STRP, since the audience is mainly a quite young techno crowd, and the difference between a trippy techno party and an installation like Zee is pretty vague.

Apart from the retro media artists there wasn´t so much of interest at the festival, the exhibition was a mix of two trends in the media art scene: The commodification of media art on the one side: beautiful objects in perfect collector size, and the technology fascination on the other side.

The Strijp area contains more than the festival. It is the site of the former Philips research lab Natlab, in the art world probably best known for the creation of le poéme electronique, a collaboration between LeCorbusier, Varese and Xenakis for the World Expo in Brussels in 1958 (I will probably write a bit more about this in a separate post).

The old Natlab is now dead, but last fall Baltan laboratories emerged in another part of the Strijp complex, a media lab with a fantastic space and with interesting artists like Telcosystems and Geert Muul involved. I will give a presentation there in the end of may as part of their monthly public Natlab sessions.

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Composing motion

I have known New Zealand artist Len Lye´s films for a long time, but was unaware of his kinetic sculptures until recently. I found the Universe sculpture from 1976 especially interesting. The Len Lye foundation did a remake of it in 1998, completely silent except for the sound made by the steel.

City of Sound did a nice post on Lye some years ago, and I will requote their Lye quote: “One of my art teachers put me onto trying to find my own art theory. After many morning walks an idea hit me that seemed like a complete revelation. It was to compose motion, just as musicians compose sound. [The idea] was to lead me far, far away from wanting to excel in traditional art.”

You can find several of Lye´s films by doing a search on youtube (although the quality isn´t very good), Free Radicals and Swinging the Lambeth Walk are two good examples of his work. What makes them really stand out today is the combination of the experimental nature of the visual side with the soundtracks of african drums and happy jazz.

There are two documentaries made on Lye, Doodlin´: Impressions of Len Lye, and A Flip and Two Twisters.

Addendum: There is also a third documentary about Lye (thanks Pip Chodorov)

Here is a an excerpt from the first one where you can see the Universe sculpture in action:

Roger Horrocks has written a biography on Lye, but it seems to be available only as a collector´s item at the moment. Horrocks has written a new book, Len Lye – ART THAT MOVES – which will be published by Auckland University Press in November 2009.

Here is a website which gives a good overview of the work of Lye.

Re-voir has a collection of Lye´s films on VHS (thanks again to Pip Chodorov).

And check out my quite extensive post on kinetic art.

Machine Music

Currently at Lydgalleriet in Bergen there is an exhibition by young british artist Felix Thorn.

Felix´s machines are music making sculptures, creating acoustic counterparts to electronic music. Check out the interview made in relation to his exhibition at Gasworks.

The installation of instruments reminded me of some very different projects, but the connection is the use of digital control systems to control mechanical instruments, so in principle they could be played with the same sequencer but producing very different results:

In 1998 I saw Matt Heckert´s Mechanical Sound Orchestra at the Ultima festival in Oslo. Heckert has background from Survival Research Laboratories and later moved to making music. In a statement about the Mechanical Sound Orchestra he writes about Machine sound: build machines that are playable, being remote controlled via a computer interface, and the performances consist only of sounds produced by the the machines in real time.

In contrast to Felix´s machines which takes up the corner of a room, Heckert´s gigantic instruments filled up a whole factory space. Here is a documentation I made from the performance in Oslo, called Flying at Sound.

David Byrne Play the Building is another type of machine orchestra, where the machines play the building:

“a sound installation in which the infrastructure, the physical plant of the building, is converted into a giant musical instrument. Devices are attached to the building structure — to the metal beams and pillars, the heating pipes, the water pipes — and are used to make these things produce sound. The activations are of three types: wind, vibration, striking. The devices do not produce sound themselves, but they cause the building elements to vibrate, resonate and oscillate so that the building itself becomes a very large musical instrument.”

The devices are controlled by an organ, which made me think of something Charlemagne Palestine said about the organ as instrument in a presentation a few years ago. The organ, with its many pipes, are built specifically for a particular space and stays there for hundreds of years. So playing the organ is a way of playing a building in itself. It also contrasts to the mobility of laptop instruments, an organ is attached to a building.

Finally, I would like to mention Maywa Denki´s Tsukuba series (eventhough they are not controlled digitally as far as I know).  Maywa Denki is a combination of a company that makes gadgets/toys and produces art: Maywa Denki is a art unit produced by Nobumichi Tosa. Each piece of of Maywa Denki´s work is called “a product” and a live performance or exhibition is held as “a product demonstration”.

The Tsukuba series: musical devices played by physical movement of motors and/or electromagnets at 100V: Machine music materially performed by electric powered musical instrument. Here is the “manual” for the tsukuba in typical maywa denki style:

New manual for Videoprojectiontool

I have made a new manual for the Videoprojectiontool, documenting the latest improvements including cornerpin keystoning and OSC support. There is also a slightly modified version of the application, v3.1c, with some bug fixes and increased OSC support.

All available here.

videoprojectiontools v3.1: OSC

projectionlab

I have added rudimentary Open Sound Control (OSC) and MIDI functionality, and provided maxmsp templates for osc/midi for people to develop this further.

This makes it possible to sync several computers, and control the videoprojection tools from other applications that support OSC.

more info and downloads