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Archive by August, 2009

The Aesthetics of Representation in Circuit Bending, by Eduardo Navas

Detail of Szkieve’s circuit bending performance at Montevideo, Uruguay, July 28, 2006.
Image source: http://www.hushush.com

Note: This text was specifically written as a contribution to ReFunct 09‘s Symposium taking place at ISEA 09.

One might wonder what is the concrete definition of “circuit bending.”  In a way, the name does not completely connect with the actual activity of appropriating sound from pre-existing sources, ranging from electronic toys to hacked radios, or even half-broken generators. When I first heard the term, I thought it referred to strict manipulation of electronic signals.  This possible definition hints at a certain purity in sound with specific electronic technology; yet, in 2009 circuit bending is quite the opposite, even if in the beginning it may have had a leaning towards hacking electronic gadgets of all types.  At the moment, it is a hybrid practice that appropriates any type of sound, freshly recorded or pre-recorded; re-recorded or significantly manipulated; even erased or retraced–or captured live from the environment in which a performance is taking place to be bent immediately, on the fly.

My most memorable performance of circuit bending took place in Uruguay, on July 28, 2006.  I attended a soundtoys event organized by Brian Mackern, one of the first net-artists from the southern cone, active since at least the mid-nineties. Mackern more recently has become a major supporter of sound performances of all types.   The performance took place at the French Alliance of Montevideo, where I saw Mackern and a number of other sound artists perform on customized software interfaces.  A couple of performers used Max MSP and Jitter, while Mackern presented a series of visual platforms built in Flash that remixed well-known movie clips from Hitchcock and Tarkovsky.

I saw a connection with the aesthetic of sound manipulation often found in circuit bending in these performances; yet, it was the performance of Szkieve (Dimitri della Faille), a Belgian-Canadian Sociologist that left a lingering impression on me.  He is obsessed with collecting toys that produce noise in any shape or form with the purpose to use them in circuit bending performances.  In fact, that afternoon, before the performance, I was invited by both Mackern and Szkieve to join them on a walk in downtown Montevideo.  At the time I knew that Szkieve performed with toys, but did not know exactly how he developed his sets.

That evening Szkieve used a green plastic fish toy which he had bought from a street vendor during our walk.  He pulled and released a string from the fish, which then emitted an expected fish-like sound that Szkieve slowly distorted into an echoish abstract noise, somewhat reminiscent of dub.  Szkieve then combined the loop with the distorted sample of a toy train that moved on a circular track.  The pitch of the train’s motion was drastically lowered several notes, turning it into a cacophonous massive bass sound that directly contradicted the petiteness of the actual train.  Szkieve also mixed loops from various electronic devices through a mixer.  If the audience had not experienced the visual development of the performance, the sound could easily have been mistaken for just another experimental electronic mix, carefully developed in a music studio–rather than from toys found at any corner store.

Szkieve’s performance is a good example of how the key to creativity is not so much the ability to produce sound from scratch, or have an advanced skill in performance, but actually to be able to conceptualize the potential of material that may already have a function, or holds particular cultural value.  In this sense, circuit bending is a unique link between individuals who believe that all production should be developed and manipulated from scratch, and individuals who are primarily invested in acts of sampling and recombining material, as commonly understood in Remix.  Circuit bending exposes how in the end it is not important if something is performed live or looped, or is a mix of the two, but rather whether or not what is performed challenges the audience’s perception of the source material.  This is true not just for sound and noise performers, but artists in all fields.

I must admit that I often view circuit bending primarily as a performance based medium.  My case in point is  Szkieve’s performance, in which the sound may not be as interesting on its own but in conjunction with its visual development.

However, Circuit bending is becoming more diverse. In 2009 it is closely linked to physical computing and all types of art installations.  What is promising about circuit bending is that it can be a medium, as well as a tool: it can include software and hardware, or exclude either one, as long as its only requisite is met: that perception be bent.  Most importantly, like Remix, circuit bending can also be an aesthetic, to be cited in literary terms:

The snare of a wet red elastic nylon wire licking the bass-line of grey wooden-nails bound with the blind screams of a last name never to be famous and always worth mentioning; the beat of gracefully scratched hair longer than the history of the will, pushing the finger that struggles to penetrate its own castration; the speed of trust on the Internet, showing off its color as it begins to understand its dependence on truth…

The series of workshops and symposium at ReFunct 09, taking place at ISEA, in Ireland, are likely to push circuit bending’s definition, perhaps to the point that people like myself will no longer desire a live performance, but simply aspire to think beyond representation as we know it.

The Public School’s Emerging Model of Education

Image: Last Session of “Chess and Duchamp” a four part class led by Chess Master Mick Bighamian

On August 12 I dropped by Telix Arts Exchange to participate in the Public School‘s class titled “Chess & Duchamp.”  I was not able to attend the previous three classes as I was not in Los Angeles at that time.  However, being a former Chess aficionado, who also developed quite a few art projects around the board game in part influenced by Duchamp, I was almost immediately in tune with the discussion that ensued around one of Duchamp’s better known games against E. H. Smith in the International Tournement Hyeres, in January, 1928.

The analysis of the game was led by Chess Master Mick Bighamian, founder and director of the Los Angeles Chess Club.  It was quite a treat to have a game analyzed in detail.  Bighamian explained every possible option for each move on both sides of the board and theorized on how and why Duchamp won.

While I was at the Public School, I had the opportunity to catch up with its founder, Sean Dockray, who explained to me how activities at Telic have taken a life of their own.  What I found most fascinating was that the Public School is becoming a true resource with an unconventional spin on the education, at a time when more and more commercial educational institutions are being launched.  The Public School is a true antidote to both traditional university education as well as for-profit private universities.  Sean mentioned that The Public School now has landed a series of workshops with a few institutions, including UCLA’s graduate program as a way to teach practical skills, such as Adruino and Processing programming to students who would not have access to this type of instruction in their own institutions.  “It’s more like a form of outsourcing certain areas of education, to us” Sean commented.  This activity is actually presented and contextualized by Telic as a form of performance, a work of public art that takes place as exchange of knowledge and information.

The model has sparked such interest that now the Public School is developing satellite activities in Chicago, New York, Paris and Philadelphia. I asked Sean if The Public School had some form of manifesto, or mission, and he responded “no.” And he explained that the basic drive to share information was at The Public School’s core, as simple as that sounds.

By not having a specific mission, except to have an open platform to share information based on proposals by the community that supports Telic Arts Exchange, The Public School so far has avoided the usual conflicts that modest collaborative projects experience as they turn into a full on institution, such as how much to charge (the public school figures out a fair fee for each class from the very beginning).  It has been over a year at this point since the Public School started, and so far it appears to work as an organic set of activities, where people with diverse interests are encouraged to come up with subjects for classes. All they have to do is propose a class and if the proposer cannot teach the subject, then a search for a teacher takes place (this was the case with Chess and Duchamp); then, people can sign up and upon the discretion of Telic’s directors, the class is scheduled.

The Public School takes much further gestures and strategies explored in the past by artists such as Tom Marioni and his Bar, where beer was served while people socialized, which he went on to call “art.”  However, The Public School does not even need to be called “public art” or even “art.”  Yet, anyone invested in public practice would do a disservice to themselves if they did not look into the evergrowing series of events taking shape at The Public School; a project that I’m more than certain will become an important part of the history of public art.

944 Nightlife Issue, KCRW DJ’s Featured, by Eduardo Navas

Image: 944.com

I’m currently in Los Angeles.  Just picked up a copy of 944, a magazine about fashion, entertainment and lifestyle.  The August issue features “the nightlife.”  Like most lifestyle magazines these days, it consists of short snippets about trendsetters or “pioneers.”  One cannot help but notice a quote stating that DJ’s can make as much as 35,000 for a three hour set.  The magazine truly hypes up the life on the ones and twos.

Regardless of such statements, as I  grew up in Los Angeles, I was quite happy to see that 944 acknowledged real talent.  Above are some of the DJ’s that have shaped my views on music beyond the mainstream.  Trinidad’s Chocolate City may well be a historical gem of a radio show, which any music historian specialized in radio would have to note; he has a vast knowledge of R & B and Soul and has taken great care to bring back B-sides that even serious record diggers have missed.  The same for Jason Bentley, who was around even before Garth with his radio show, Metropolis.  Bentley was one of the first DJ’s to mix electronic music live on the radio.

The entire magazine can be browsed in a well designed flash interface: http://proofcenter.944.com/flipbook/?locale=4

Convergence Aesthetics: Design for Mobile Attention, by Eduardo Navas

Image source: paidcontent.org

The pervasiveness of the screen in mobile media is pushing convergence development in two particular ways worth noting.  The first, how image and text are increasingly treated the same by users, is actually a stepping stone to the second, which is how the convergence (combination) of all media is designed not only to provide the greatest access to as much information as possible, but also to negotiate which material is likely to be noticed first.

In relation to this, NPR recently released an iPhone widget that enables users to download a podcast or listen to live streaming.  This particular widget is designed to complement multitasking, as NPR’s Digital SVP & GM Kinsey Wilson explains to Paid Content:

This is the first app that is both for reading and for listening; our feeling is that people want to do one or another. There are times when reading a story is simply the quickest and most efficient way to get the news you want. There are other times, particularly when you’re engaged in other activities, that listening makes more sense. Where we have both, we’ll certainly present both.

The small television in the kitchen comes to mind when reading Wilson’s explanation: people for the most part listen to the news while getting ready to leave for work in the early morning, or in the evening while preparing dinner.   From time to time, when something of interest comes up, people are likely to look up and pay attention to the screen.  In this case, the television is used as a radio with visual options.  However, as it is obvious, the Television was not initially designed for this function.


Reblog: RockMelt, Netscape’s Andreessen Backing Stealth Facebook Browser

Image and text source: ReadWriteWeb

Netscape founder Marc Andreessen is backing a new browser dedicated to browsing Facebook, called RockMelt, according to rumors we’ve heard from reputable sources. A semi-independent desktop client for Facebook? Doesn’t seem far fetched at all.

The software isn’t publicly available or being discussed yet, but we’ve gotten our hands on an early build and had a look at the front door after download. Robert John Churchill, who was the principal engineer for Netscape Navigator, is the principle engineer for RockMelt as well.

Read the entire article: ReadWriteWeb

Reblog: Kurt Andersen and Douglas Rushkoff: Part I, and II

Image and text source: Design Observer

Note: Interesting discussion published at Design Observer.  There is also a Part Two:

I’m also enjoying the new DO design.  They’re starting to look more like a design portal, proper.

Long before the global economy seized up, Kurt Andersen and Douglas Rushkoff were contemplating the links between society and capital—which makes their views on the recent recession timely, if notably different from one another’s. In June, Rushkoff, the media critic and documentary filmmaker, published Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back. In this book, he interprets the recession as the outcome of a centuries-old ethos prizing speculation over value and profit over human connection. Andersen, essayist, novelist, and host of public radio’s Studio 360 arts program, for his part, has just come out with Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America. As the title suggests, it’s a study in optimism.

Change Observer’s Julie Lasky invited both men to discuss how we landed in this stew and what the future portends. The conversation took place via email July 6–10, 2009.

Read the entire discussion at Design Observer.

Reblog: 26 Places to Find Free Multimedia for Your Blog, by Barb Dybwab

Image and text source: Mashable

Note: Here is an interesting list of resources for remixing already produced material for personal blogs and websites.

Nothing makes a blog post more eye-catching than a great header image, but not all publishers have artistic talent. And even accomplished digital creatives often crave some found material to start from or work with in a project. Luckily for all of the above, sources abound for finding a compelling photo to grab your readers’ eyes and draw them in, or to locate fresh multimedia to remix.

Read the entire list at Mashable.

Networked: a (networked_book) about (networked_art) is LIVE!

Note: Here is the official launch of a collaborative project I have been part of for about two years and finally sees the light of day.  Official release follows:


WE INVITE YOU TO PARTICIPATE . comment, revise, translate, submit a chapter

Two years in the making, Networked: a (networked_book) about (networked_art) is now open for comments, revisions, and translations. You may also submit a chapter for consideration.

Please register and then Read | Write:

Kazys Varnelis

Anne Helmond

Jason Freeman

Anna Munster

Patrick Lichty

TAGS: active, aethetics, aggregators, authenticity, authorship, BEN FRY, BEN RUBIN, BURAK ARIKAN, collaborative, communication, data, data mining, digital traces, distributed, DIY, EDUARDO NAVAS, everyday life, flow, GOLAN LEVIN, identity, improvisation, Internet, JANET CARDIFF, JASON FREEMAN, JODI.ORG, JONATHAN HARRIS, latency, lifelogging, lifetracing, MANIK, mapping, MARK HANSEN, MARTIN WATTENBERG, MAX NEUHAUS, Mechanical Turk, mediation, memory, music, narrative, NastyNets, NATHANIEL STERN, net art, network, NICK KNOUF, nonlinear, OLIVER LARIC, participation, performative, persistance, PETER TRAUB, platform, postmodernism, presentational, privacy, prosumer, prosurfer, ranking, realism, reality, real-time, relational, remix, representation, research, RYBN, SCARLET ELECTRIC, SCOTT KILDALL, search engine, self, self-exposure, SHIFTSPACE.ORG, social networks, software, sousveillance, STEVE LAMBERT, storage, surveillance, tactical media, telepresence, THE HUB, THEY RULE, TrackMeNot, transmission, TV, user-generated, visualization, web 2.0, webcam, widget, Wikipedia Art, YES MEN


“Networked” proposes that a history or critique of interactive and/or participatory art must itself be interactive and/or participatory; that the technologies used to create a work suggest new forms a “book” might take.

In 2008, Turbulence.org and its project partners — NewMediaFix, Telic Arts Exchange, and Freewaves – issued an international, open call for chapter proposals. We invited contributions that critically and creatively rethink how networked art is categorized, analyzed, legitimized — and by whom — as norms of authority, trust, authenticity and legitimacy evolve.

Our international committee consisted of: Steve Dietz (Northern Lights, MN) :: Martha Gabriel (net artist, Brazil) :: Geert Lovink (Institute for Network Cultures, The Netherlands) :: Nick Montfort (Massachusetts Institute for Technology, MA) :: Anne Bray (LA Freewaves, LA) :: Sean Dockray (Telic Arts Exchange, LA) :: Jo-Anne Green (NRPA, MA) :: Eduardo Navas (newmediaFIX) :: Helen Thorington (NRPA, NY)

Built by Matthew Belanger (our hero!), http://networkedbook.org is powered by WordPress, CommentPress and BuddyPress.

Networked was made possible with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts (United States). Thank you.

We are deeply grateful to Eduardo Navas for his commitment to both this project and past collaborations with Turbulence.org.

Jo-Anne Green and Helen Thorington
jo at turbulence dot org
newradio at turbulence dot org

Current Projects






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