2013 Through My Eyes

Posted in Documentation on December 19th, 2013 by admin

This interview was featured in Sante Sangre magazine this week…

How would you summarize this past year on artistic and personal level?

This last year held huge changes for me in terms of direction and outlook. I still get a lot out of performing on a personal level, but I have always struggled with the avant-garde elitism I find throughout the entire experimental and new music scenes. My disgust with this elitism–coupled with the very realistic awareness that I will likely never make a living playing noise concerts–led me at first towards teaching people to build their own instruments in a variety of workshops over the years. But in 2013, I began producing and selling my own hand made electronic sound instruments in earnest, and the response has been fantastic!

I see most modern music technology (software or hardware) as being only partly “instruments” in the classical sense, and more like interactive compositions, where the designer has purposefully included or left out elements which shape the sound in very predetermined ways. By sharing some of the tools I use to make my own performances, I invite other artists (professional, amateur or otherwise) to collaborate with me in new ways and break down this tired, Romantic idea of the genius artist inventing themselves in complete isolation…

What album you listened to most often this year (not necessarily released in 2013)?

Swans – We Rose From Your Bed With the Sun In Our Head [2012 Young God]

What was the best cultural experience not related to music?

My cultural life seems inextricably tied to music somehow, so here I will mention living like a reptile on the high plains of Southwest Texas, experiencing a smoke sauna in the Estonian countryside, watching the leaves turn color in the north of Sweden and reading some of the biographies and journals of the great explorers of the 19th and 20th centuries.

And best trip? Most beautiful or magic place you visited this year?

I was lucky enough to get an invitation to play at the Tsonami Festival in Valparaiso, Chile this year. The invitation came early enough that I could book a whole month of workshops, concerts and residencies in Chile, and spent time in Punta Arenas (Patagonia), Santiago, Valparaiso and the experimental architecture community of Ciudad Abierta, in Ritoque just north of Concón. Patagonia and Ritoque in particular struck me. In both places, the nature was both incredibly beautiful and unforgiving.

What was your greatest disappointment of 2013?

Near the end of my trip to Chile, I was informed that my father was in the hospital with cancer. We have always been very close, and I am certain this wandering, mongrel-dog artist lifestyle I lead is due to his example. Realizing that someone I have respected so much my entire life is still a mere mortal came as a deep shock.

Did you learn anything particular this year?

After turning 40 in 2012, I have been thinking a lot about how one can remain an independent artist in the long term, and in a sustainable way. When you are 27, all you care about is enough money to pay the rent, buy a few new toys and keep yourself in beers. But working outside institutional structures becomes more and more challenging after a while, when you aren’t willing to sacrifice your time, your personal relationships, your health or your future to play a few more door-money gigs in some stinking basement in Neukölln.

A sustainable way of working gives you a stable platform in the long term, rather than twenty bucks, a beer and a kebab in the short term. It’s there for those times when you are sick and have no inspiration, or when you have a huge idea that just won’t wait, or when you fall in love and want to build a cabin in the mountains together, or any other damned thing that isn’t the unrelenting grind of produce-produce-produce, book-book-book and tour-tour-tour to keep the bill collectors off your back.

Plans, hopes, expectations for 2014?

I will fly in some planes, see some new cities, play some gigs, build some new instruments and meet scores of new people. Like most years. And for this I remain thankful. Besides that, I hope to expand this instrument-building business into something which can better support me, without turning into one of the caricature trust-fund hipster start-up types who have overrun Berlin in the last 6 years. But more than anything, I hope to be able to wander the desert like a mad fool with my father again when he is well.

Photo by Terje Toomistu

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Marfa Public Radio interview

Posted in Announcement on January 8th, 2013 by admin

This morning I sat in the Marfa Public Radio studio with Rachel Lindley and talked about my Learning to Listen workshop. Rachel was fantastic, she really has The Voice and from the one-paragraph press release, she asked the most intelligent questions that just about any journalist has ever asked me. I really feel like this interview gives a comprehensive overview of how I present the concept of the soundscape in a workshop situation.

You can listen to the whole interview (approx 30 min) at:

http://marfapublicradio.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/130107-Derek-Holzer-LONG.mp3

The workshop itself at the Marfa Book Company went extremely well, with at least 25 folks both nights. In the usual style, I played several field recordings from various corners of the globe, and together we figured out what kind of of information–both subjective and objective–we can learn from a recorded or composed soundscape. Thanks especially to Tim Johnson for hosting this experience.

I will play a set for modular synthesizer, locally found objects and SoundBox, at the Michael Strogoff gallery, 124 E. El Paso St, Marfa, Texas at 8PM on Wednesday 09 Jan. Y’alls are welcome!

Now Playing

kevin drumm-relief[2012 emego]
mika vainio, kevin drumm, axel dorner, lucio capece-venexia[2012 pan]
tim hecker & daniel lopatin-instrumental tourist[2012 sstudios]

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Interview for Groove TV + updates

Posted in Documentation on May 24th, 2012 by admin

I was interviewed by filmmaker Maren Sextro a few weeks ago about my DIY electronic instruments, you can see the results here. In the 60 seconds of film trailer that plays before the interview, I recommend you go to the kitchen for a glass of cold milk. The video itself is very well done, on the other hand, and I thank Maren warmly for her work on this.

Still places left for the workshop this weekend, or drop by O’Tannenbaum on Sunday night for the presentation and their fine selection of Belgian ales. They have one that tastes just like vinegar that I’m not so sure about, though…

And finally, Machine Deva premiered to rave reviews at Cine-Marfa last weekend. Steve and I are still picking ourselves back up off the floor after the amount of work that went into finalizing the soundtrack and getting it to the festival. I will have some CDRs to sell of this later on, watch this space.

Students of the Sonic College (Haderslev, Denmark) and the the SoundBoxes they built with me yesterday at NK in Berlin.

Now Playing

birchville cat motel-beautiful speck triumph[2004 last visible dog]
douglas leedy-entropical paradise[1968 seraphim]
swans-we rose from your bed with the sun in our head[2012 young god]

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Bent Fest Interview II + update(!!!)

Posted in Text on April 30th, 2010 by admin

1. Can you explain the process of putting together your live performance? How exactly are you making the different forms/colors of light affect the audio output?

The TONEWHEELS performance uses the same technology found in film projectors which use optical motion picture soundtracks. The amount of light which falls on a photodetector modulates an electrical current, which can then be connected to a speaker to make audio. The sounds are created by printing the waveforms I want to play on transparent spinning discs, and placing these discs on motors with a variable speed control. This process was also used for the famous Optigan organ made by Mattel in the 1970′s, as well as by a number of avante-garde composers, filmmakers and instrument inventors such as Daphne Oram, Jacques Dudon, Evgeny Murzin, Norman McLaren and Evgeny Scholpo.

2. What aspect(s) of circuitbending motivate you the most?

I’ve mentioned at other times that I don’t really consider myself a “circuit bender”, since I rarely take commercially available devices or toys and hack them. But the meme of circuit bending is interesting to me–the idea that people can re-purpose things which are normally considered “black boxes” in our electronic culture, that they can break them down into simpler things and reassemble them in new, fantastic ways. I find this idea very challenging to the consumer-industrial status quo of selling us new stupid gadgets every year, forcing us to discard the old ones without every considering how we could transform them into something else–or even build our own new things from scratch. I’d be much more interested in constructing some DIY caveman communications device myself instead of running out to buy the latest iPhone…

Tristan Perich of Loud Objects takes his self-made mobile phone everywhere. No camera, no games, no texting, no BS.

3. Some of the performances at Bent could be described as ‘music,’ while others are better described as noise/sound art. Your work seems to lean toward the latter, but which category do you feel you fall into, if any?

In every kind of music, the art form is in some way determined by the technology. But no where is this more apparent than in electronic music, which is full of gear and software which makes it easier and easier to make music–so long as it fits into a very highly predetermined genre or style. I don’t think of what I do as any less “musical” than europop, trance techno, dubstep or whatever other trend the kids are into these days. The difference is that my work is determined by very different technological choices and processes. As well as by a huge collection of heavy metal and hardcore records!

4. Do you feel like there is a division among circuitbenders who use these different approaches?

I can’t really answer that question except to say that I appreciate it much more when artists try to step outside the box and create something that is unique and personal to them instead of simply playing the kind of sounds they think other people will dance to.

5. What do you hope that someone new to circuitbending will take away from going to an event like Bent Fest?

I would hope that someone coming to Bent for the first time would recognize that there as many ways to do electronics and sound with electronics as there are artists who do those things, and that they might get some inspiration to move beyond being passive consumers of music/technology and become active creators on their own.

Bent Fest Highlights

Bodytronix‘s insane metropolis of self-made gear, :::vtol:::‘s lovely little boxes and warm personality, Peter Edwards/casperelectronics‘ beautifully abstract set (even after some douchebag ripped off one of his $300 creations from the merch table!!!!), KBD‘s weird post-everything space out session, Phillip Stearn‘s incredible neural network of lights as well as his festival photos, Daniel Fishkin of LÖWENZAHN’s magick-bent electronic folk, hearing a few minutes of Todd Bailey‘s Analog Video Synthesis and Bending lecture (although it sucked to have to miss most of it!) and finally figuring out WTF a Brass Monkey is late Saturday night (although I regretted it the next day)… Thanks again to Brendan and Suzanne and all the volunteers for pulling this thing off!

Update!!!!

The Sommerville show at the Starlab next Saturday has been relocated due to flooding! The new location is in Cambridge, MA at MIT Building N52, 265 Massachusetts Ave. Get there before 9pm or you will have to phone a number posted on the door to come inside. The door will look like this:

Now Playing

frank popper-origins and development of kinetic art book[1968 new york graphic society]
guy brett-kinetic art: the language of movement book[1968 studio vista]
joe colley and jason lescalleet-annihilate this week[2006 korm plastics]
kevin drumm-second reissue[1999/2010 perdition plastics]
mudboy-impossible duets lp[2010 hundebiss](thx raphael!!!)

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[video] Nu Fest Padova interview

Posted in Documentation on March 19th, 2010 by admin


Nu Fest 2010 – Derek Holzer interview for RadioBlue.it

A somewhat silly interview with the Padova student internet radio and television at Nu Fest, 19.02.10.

Now Playing

boris morgana-muuan sali cs[2010 self release][kiitos juuso!]
opec/jazzkammer-monilinien/we forgive you lp[2005/2009 posh isolation][tak jonas!]
roberta settels-isolation! (meinhof in memorium) lp[1985 music in conflict/2007 BIN records][tak jonas!]
silvester anfang ii-commune cassette[2010 blackest rainbow]

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Interview for Bent Fest, NYC

Posted in Text on March 1st, 2010 by admin

The following is an interview I completed this evening for the Bent Festival in New York City, where I’ve been invited to perform TONEWHEELS and give a workshop over the weekend of 23-25 April 2010.

> *Bent:* /Before you got into electronics, what type of music or art were you into?/

I’ve been involved in electronic, media and net art for the past 10 years, and although I make “electronic music”, I don’t listen to any contemporary dance or pop artists at all. A look through my record collection might turn up electro-acoustic composers from the 1960′s, old African funk 45′s from the 1970s, hair metal from the 1980′s or hardcore from the 1990′s, plus folk music from any number of East European, Middle Eastern or Asian cultures. Just no techno.

Right now, some elements of the noise scene like Daniel Menche or Kevin Drumm remain pretty exciting, as well as more conceptual people like John Wiese or Florian Hecker. On the historical side, composers like Eliane Radigue, Maryanne Amacher, Iannis Xenakis, Bernard Parmegiani and David Tudor have been big inspirations to me. I also listen to shit-load of drone, doom, death and black metal.

It’s good to remind yourself that nothing is really ever new or original, you can find the roots of anything if you look deep enough into the past.

> Bent:* /How did you get into electronics?/

Long ago, in a previous lifetime, I was studying writing in the university. Some things in my life changed dramatically as a result of my first stint living abroad, and when I returned to the States my new path was clear: doing sound, and in a place where there is genuine support for the arts (i.e. Europe)!

Instead of completing my thesis, I attempted to build my first synthesizer from an SN76477 chip, probably liberated from a pinball machine somewhere. It was a failure, and I spent the next several years doing digital audio instead. I finally came back to electronics about four years ago, when I was so sick of laptop “performances” I couldn’t stand it anymore, and soon after began the process of building my own modular synthesizer as well as designing the TONEWHEELS optoelectronic synthesizer.

> Bent:* /Where do you find inspiration for your work?/

The TONEWHEELS project was inspired by some of the pioneering 20th Century electronic music inventions, such as the ANS Synthesizer (Murzin USSR 1937-57), the Variophone (Sholpo USSR 1930) and the Oramics system (Oram UK 1957). With the help of Andrei Smirnov of the Theremin Center in Moscow, I did an incredible amount of research into the history of drawn sound and optical synthesis while I was designing the TONEWHEELS synthesizer. The experiments made with “painted soundtracks” in the Soviet Union during the 1930′s in particular are mind-blowing, and without the work of Mr Smirnov they would be unknown to the rest of the world.

I also spent several days at the Daphne Oram archives at Goldsmiths University in London, reading the letters between her and the engineer who helped her build the Oramics machine. It was fascinating! The same concerns she had, and the same learning process, were the hurdles I had to jump in my own work.

You can see the results of my historical research here:

http://www.umatic.nl/tonewheels_historical.html

> *Bent:* /What is your take on the circuit bending community at large? Where are you in it?/

I’d have to say that I don’t consider myself a “circuit bender” exactly. It’s very rare that I take an existing consumer gadget and try to hack it. My approach tends to be to start with the most basic parts I can understand and work up from there. In the case of the TONEWHEELS project, that part is called a phototransistor, and my first experiment was simply to run 5 volts through it into a mixer channel and start flickering the lights in the room!

This might be where I part company from Reed Ghazala’s “antitheory” approach, which seems to be very popular among benders. For me, the possibilities come not from blindly sticking my fingers in things, but instead from understanding the materials I am working with and their specific properties. That said, I failed every math class I was ever forced to take and still maintain a rather intuitive relationship with those materials, which is hardly the way a “real” engineer might work!

I’ve always maintained that the only thing that separates artists using technology now from the electronic art pioneers of the 1960s and 1970s–such as Steina & Woody Vasulka, Don Buchla, Serge Tcherepnin, Dan Sandin and David Tudor–is the internet. Whereas they had much more limited channels to find the information they needed, we have an almost limitless supply. Which is of course the other half of the problem–trying to get the signal out of the noise.

> *Bent: *Is there anything you want to accomplish while you are in New York?/

Finding a place to stay during the week I’m there is a good start!!!!!

But seriously…I’m negotiating to do a field recording workshop at Harvestworks as well as a couple talks at the Electronic Music Foundation on the history of optoelectronic synthesis and a project related to sound and architecture I’ve been involved in called Tuned City.

Besides that, I’m trying to look up the current locations of some of the old original audio and video synthesizers produced in the 1960′s and 1970′s, so I can see them up close. Every university I’ve been invited to speak at in the US and the UK all seem to have some analog treasure locked up in a closet somewhere!!!!

> Bent:* /Who are you most excited to see at Bent? Why?/

I’m quite excited to meet Eric Archer, from Austin Texas. He is performing as part of Handmade Music Austin. Eric and I have been writing for a year or two now, and his Light2Sound device is totally awesome, a really nice introduction to optical synthesis for beginners. I have a huge amount of respect for Eric and his creations–maybe because I have a suspicion he aced his math classes and actually had an idea what he would do with it later!

Now Playing

daniel higgs-devotional songs of daniel higgs[2009 open mouth cassette]
david tudor-three works for live electronics[1996 lovely]
godflesh-merciless[1994 earache]
jaques dudon-lumieres audibles[1996 mondes harmoniques](Thanks to Jonas Olesen, who pointed Dudon’s work out to me when I had overlooked it all this time…)
julian jaynes-the origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind[1976 book] (Thanks to Professor Anthony Moore of the KHM who reminded me of the longest title on my mother’s bookshelf when I was a child…and to my mother for digging it up for my birthday!)
nik raicevic-the sixth ear[1972]
ruth white-seven trumps from the tarot cards[1969]
steve birchall-reality gates: electronic meditations by steve birchall[2006 creel pone cdr]
various artists(andrzej dobwolski, bob cobbing & annae lockwood, daphne oram, eric nordgren, frederick charles judd, henri chopin, jean-luis brau, john mcclure, various junior & senior high school students, vladimir ussachevsky)-creelpolation 1 – 7″ singles[2006 creel pone] (Creel Pone, I fucking love you!)
yellow swans-being there[2010 type]

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Digicult Interview #2

Posted in Text on September 25th, 2009 by admin

My second interview for the Italian Digicult magazine has appeared today. This one relates to the idea of “media labs” and the sommercampworkstation event I co-organized last July:

…When I lived in Holland I tried to make a medialab. I find the idea of a medialab connected to a fixed place is a bit archaic, a bit dated. Personally, I don’t want to criticise other forms of practice in medialabs, but I’m very interested in transitory situations. I’m interested in creating multi-use areas that are quick and temporarily autonomous. In creating a transitory situation like “let’s do something quick, in on week”, you must not worry about the problem of being continuously eco-friendly or about long-term issues. For example, in the 80′s there were many initiatives, now they have stopped and they keep sucking up locations, money and oxygen. I’ve seen a lot of situations like these and they bore me, as well as being a complete waste. I believe that to create temporarily autonomous situations is more exciting. It’s a way to use the best elements of existing organisations, to take portions of them, configure them and make the next step…

Derek Holzer, from Sommercamp+Workstation. Temporary autonomous culture
by Valeria Merlini

DIGIMAG  47 / SEPTEMBER 2009
www.digicult.it/digimag_eng/index.asp

Now Playing

coalesce-ox[2009 relapse]
jesu-infinity[2009 avalanche]
jim o’rourke-the visitor[2009 drag city]
john wiese-circle snare[2009 no fun]
keith fullerton whitman-taking away cs[2009 digitalis]
merzbow-hiyodori(13 japanese birds part 9)[2009 important]
philip jeck-spool cs [2009 tapeworm]
rorschach & neanderthal-split 7”[1991 vermiform]
rorschach-needlepack ep[1991 wardance]
social distortion-white light, white heat, white trash[1996 sony]
tiny vipers-live at black box, belfast a few weeks ago
tiny vipers-life on earth[2009 sub pop]

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Binaural Media Interview, 2006

Posted in Text on October 12th, 2008 by admin

The following interview was made by Mark McLaren of Binaural Media in January 2006, when I was very deeply involved with field recording and Pure Data programming. Others interviewed for the series include Chris Watson, Yannick Dauby, Julian Weaver, Francisco López and Marc Behrens. Interestingly enough, many of the same threads I’ve been writing about lately, namely the deterministic nature of technology on art, are present here as well.

Survey on Location and Context Based Media
1
Conducted by Mark Mclaren
January 2006

Many people are currently recording and working with environmental sounds. In recent years with the development of relativity cheap and portable equipment has enabled a wide variety of people to record and make use of the sounds around us.

From the more traditional idea of recording nature, to the ideas of amplifying the inaudible; from sound artists to architectural theorists all are becoming involved with an inter-disciplinary practice that has yet to fully investigated.

Binaural decided to commission a wide set of interviews with the aim of creating a contemporary overview of both the artists and their work. Many of these interviews are ongoing and Binaural though it important to make these texts available as they grow, so that hopefully the interviews link and learn from each other and develop into a variable resource for both those how are simply interesting in finding out more about the artists working in environmental sound, to those who wish to develop and deepen their understanding and practice.

By asking questions we are trying to move away from the untestable world of intuition of unspoken trial and error, to a create a dialogue where both listeners and composers can utilise some of the many techniques for listening that have long been available for written music. This survey hopes to develop into a comprehensive and open-ended meditation on the sounds that surround us and how the individuals that work with these sounds are creating their own rules, grammar and vocabulary.

Mark McLaren (MM): Tell me about the way you perform, specifically about the way you manipulate objects live to create sound?

Derek Holzer (DH): I got into working with sound objects and also with field recording a couple of years ago when I was in a Karosta, Latvia. I spent a very a long, cold month of December to January there. Everything was frozen, but everything was so still you could really pulls sounds out of the environment—sounds of water and ice. And I started to find things, all kinds of things—a lot of bones actually—and other strange objects, shells, chunks of metal. Things that seemed like they had history behind them, because I was in this place that was steeped in history—the history of the Tsarist era, the history of the Second World War, the history of the Soviet occupation and now the history of this handover to the EU and NATO regime. Everything I picked up seemed significant for some reason, so I began to stroke them and move them around and bang them together and see what kind of sounds would come out. And then I started to build up patches in the computer that would build up textures out of these sounds, and I thought these were very interesting sounds and I liked working with them a lot. At the same time, I was working with a group from Riga called Oloolo, and they came out to Karosta one day. We sat down and recorded this massive three hour jam session where I was working only with these objects and delays and filters and the ways of building up textures that I’d been creating, and they were playing some of their own work. They wound up taking the recordings and producing this album “Kosta”, that was released on Nexsound. I kind of forgot about it for a while, and then they wrote me almost a year later saying ‘oh, well we produced this album out of this jam and it’s going to be released’ and so I was really happy about this.

It was really a way of learning how to pick up objects and assess them for their sonic potential. I wound up using a lot of contact microphones, because that is a way to isolate an object from the surrounding acoustics ,but I also use a lot of close up miking, dynamic microphones to pick up the sound of them clinking together or the acoustics introduced inside of an object. If you have a shell or a bottle or something like that, I wanted to pick up how it transforms the sound inside of it. I also do a lot of field recording. I work as many people do, with binaural microphones that I wear in my ears so that I become a walking sound receiver, and I use a lot of those recordings as well.

Sometimes I use a lot more of those recordings than I use objects, it really depends on the circumstances. Setting up to do a live show where you’re really working with sound objects in this time honored electroacoustic manner actually takes a lot of preparation time, and sometimes you get a gig when you’re playing with five other people and they all want their set up time, so you’ve just got to do something very quickly. But given the time to set up, I like to work in this way—just finding objects from that place. I have some objects which I carry with me, some objects from Karosta and quite a few objects that I picked up during some travels in Brazil from the Amazonas regions, parts of fishes and shells and unidentifiable objects which are quite unique in the way that they look and the way that they sound. So they’re my lucky charms, and if I don’t find anything interesting in a place I can always pull these out and get something very interesting out of them.

MM: You mention that objects felt significant. Could you elaborate on this point? I notice a lot of works especially, location recording compositions, rely on this significance to almost create a false strength, to use the context as a crutch to composition.

DH: Hmmmm…. that’s a loaded question if I ever heard one! To start with, I don’t think that referencing signifiers which lay outside the “composition” proper is anything of a crutch. Follow that line of thinking for a while and you end up at the place where people say, “well, who cares as long as it sounds cool”. And I’ve never been comfortable conversing like that. From my first exposures to “experimental music”, I was always fascinated with the process of how sounds were arrived at, the kind of thought processes and backgrounds that a work had even if it were not obviously apparent in the composition, and especially what kind of “non-musical” objects were used and how they were treated. In short, I read liner notes like they were poems. This predates any aspirations of actually *making* sound myself in anything more than a self-satisfying, amateur, bedroom sort of way, so I wouldn’t even chalk it up to trying to bite anyone’s style.

On the other hand, this game of extra-compositional signifiers is exactly that… a game. By this I mean that it’s a situation that the listener enters into consensually with the artist. The listener agrees to accept certain elements which aren’t coming out of the speakers—textual cues, album art and other packaging or even fragments of the artist’s biography—as part of their whole experience of the work. I think this way of listening has deep precedents in the “serious music” world. Listen to classical radio, or open up any established composer’s CD notes, and then tell me that the contextual information about each composer provided doesn’t frame the listening experience. However, because it’s a game, you have to be careful not to strain your credibility, or else the whole suspension of disbelief you have built up in the listener will crash. The Acousmatician would argue that the sounds should stand up by themselves divorced of any reality or source-referent, or even any performative referent in the case of Lopez and co. But even in this case, you are asked to play the suspension game, and accept that the sounds exist as concrete objects disconnected from the world. And once again, you are back to extra-compositional cues which instruct your listening experience.

MM: Do you mean the significance helped you concentrate on playing with the object, or do you feel that there is some way that the historical significance of a place can be transferred to a listener purely by its sound?

DH: In the first place, I draw inspiration from the objects I find, and imagine small stories and sounds hidden inside them, and that, like little tape recorders, these objects have stored up the resonances of their various environments down to the subatomic level. My job then is to coax these resonances out and to make them audible. At times it is a very sonically-motivated approach, but there are times when it is a very historically-motivated one. For the Karosta recordings, I only used sounds and objects from a very specific location, and so I do think that the historical significance can be transferred to an aware listener. Mark Teppo, of Igloo magazine, wrote of the Oloolo collaboration “Kosta”: This is glitch theory being applied to the sound of history, the winds of old battlefields and abandoned cities being cut, spliced, and flung — scattershot — into the air.

MM: You say that you ‘build up textures in the computer’ is this in relation to a live manipulation or an off-line composition method? Please explain a little about the different approaches you have to improvising and to composing and ‘finishing’ pieces?

DH: My compositional process begins before I have picked up a single object or even turned on the microphone. I would say that the bulk of my time in the studio is spent building sound-processing tools in Pure Data. I simply don’t trust common, commercially available plug-ins simply because I feel like I’m working in someone else’s room. They’ve given me a table to sit at, but I can’t move it, and a window to look out, but I can’t open it, and a door to walk through, but only in the manner which they prescribe. I would prefer to build up my own tools, and know inside out how they work, rather than diddle with other people’s knobs and try out their presets. So the tools I build up create a set of improvisational and compositional possibilities that I can explore once I have brought objects or recordings to the situation.

A great many of these tools involve using delays or buffers to build up layers of sound, often from a microphone input or a recording on disk. I am much more interested in texture than strict rhythm or melody, and so I use my tools as a sonic microscope to isolate small sound particles of and magnify them. I took to an improvisational approach because otherwise I am too much of a perfectionist, and doing studio tracks usually takes much longer than I think it should, especially considering the time I’ve already spent programming. So I try to document the possibilities I’ve programmed into my tools, which is where I feel the real compositional work is for me, and then later on I can try to arrange them in a multi-tracker and get all anal-retentive “mastering” them out to highlight the best parts of the sounds I created.

MM: The way you collect sounds interests me. You say you ‘bang objects’ to bring sounds out of them, you make in-ear binaural recordings. These methods do not seems as neutral as say the classic ‘non interventional’ field recording style where the microphone is placed and left to record and then edited later. Your style seems more associated with editing and composition whilst you are collecting source material. How do you think your personal intervention into a space or an object effects both the composition and the way the space/ object is represented by your work?

DH: I think most people are aware of the well-known axiom from physics which states that no matter how you observe a phenomenon, your observation has changed it according to the method which you use. We live here in the world, not floating in some academic reverie above it, and I don’t believe any approach to recording sounds is “non-interventional”. I do quite a bit of “set and hide” recording work as well, but by virtue of the fact that I have chosen the direction to point the mike and when to turn it on, I have already engaged in a compositional decision. Hunting for sounds can be very frustrating exactly because we are looking for something specific in all the noisy chaos.

A case in point: I spent a summer in Brazil, with the intention of collecting “nature sounds”. But just about any place a human being can travel in Brazil is filled up with human noises: diesel engines, airplanes, car stereos, chickens, dogs, children… I got really frustrated with this, and only later realized that it was my discriminating mind which caused this frustration—my own value judgments of what a “good” or “bad” sound was, and my attempts to separate the two. I started to think what some ways out of that trap would be, and came up with the idea of an algorithmic portable recorder. I’ll be working on that at STEIM in Amsterdam this spring. It’s called PANdev, and is based on a handheld computer which will essentially make the decisions of when to record. All the user need do is just walk around. (Note: this project never really got off the ground unfortunately…DH)

But when I do record, yes, I am both very active and very specific about what is recorded. My mike techniques are an extension of my improv techniques, and I hope to extract small, unnoticed resonances from locations and objects. I’m reminded of the soundwalks of Dallas Simpson, where he seems to be taking this “objective” recording stance by just letting the tape run, but in fact he’s actively investigating everything he comes across, “interfering” with it to check out its sonic potential.

To me, that’s honest. I don’t want to carry around any academic pretenses of simply “capturing” the acoustic ecology that is out there in some “pure”, raw or unadulterated form. This works for other people who have their own reasons for doing it, but I simply don’t believe that any sonic environment is unchanged by my stepping into it. So what I try to establish is my own personal relationship to that place based .., history, and my own perceptions. If anyone else is ready to take that ride with me through my recordings, my hope is that some of that relationship gets through.

MM: Can you explain a bit more about Pure Data and how it differs from other commercial software?

DH: I used a lot of cracked commercial software for a lot of years when doing sound, and I always got a couple of feelings out of it. One feeling was that you get these fancy programs with these fancy user interfaces, but at the end the more they have created this environment that’s very easy for you to use, the more they’re actually determined the kind of work you can make with it. If you look at a program like Ableton Live, which is used by probably about eighty percent of people making sound and performing out live these days it seems like. It’s good for a very few things—it’s good for working with loops, putting effects on these loops and sequencing them. But it pushes you in one creative direction, it pushes you into making a certain kind of music. Really it pushes you towards German techno more than anything else! So I always felt that the more fancy the software looked, the less choices I had. And the second thing that I felt was that when I was using some kind of cracked software, then I was giving away my rights as a user. Because if there was something wrong with the software or a wanted something to be different about it, I had nobody to turn to. Of course, you can’t turn to the person who cracked the software because they’re invisible, and you can’t turn to the company that manufactured the software because, well, you didn’t pay for it, so you’re really a citizen without rights—a non-entity in the whole thing.

So I started looking for ways around that problem, and I found Pure Data to be a very interesting way of working because when you start up the program, it gives you this big white nothing. It’s sort of like Hemingway’s white elephant, that white page in the typewriter that confronts you with yourself. You have to bring your own knowledge, your own ideas, what you want and want you think you can do to this software, and then it works for you. It’s a bit like learning a language. You start with some vocabulary, you start with some grammar, and maybe the first year you can order beers and say hello to pretty waitresses, the next year you might be speaking like a small school child, and the year after that maybe you’ve writing poetry. Who knows? It’s this kind of way of working that’s building up on a language of metaphor, the same way that a tradition musician would start off by playing “do-re-mi”, and eventually would be writing sonatas or whatever. So I like this approach very much, it’s building up from nothing that is predetermined. Free software in general attracts me, because I teach and I share a lot, and I don’t want any barriers between what I have to say, what I have to show, what I have to share and the people that I want to share all these things with. So the only way I’ve found to do that properly is by using things like free software that have open licenses where, not only the content is free to share, but the means of producing the content is also free and easily shareable.

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Tuned City interview for Digicult.it

Posted in Text on July 26th, 2008 by admin

So, next week more than a year of planning finally come together in the Tuned City event, which runs from 1-5 July in Berlin. I helped organize a large chunk of the performance program, along with Carsten Stabenow and Gesine Pagels from the Garage Festival and Carsten Seiffarth, of Tesla Berlin and the Singuhr sound art gallery. Also on board are Anne Kockelkorn of Achplus Magazine and Anke Eckardt as our tireless production director.

The program is simply massive, and covers all sorts of ground between the fields of sound art, acoustics, urban planning and architecture. To see more, please visit the website:

http://www.tunedcity.de

Digicult.it magazine will send Bertram Niessen to cover the event, and he sent a few questions ahead of his visit to help set the stage for his writing.

Bertram Niessen: Can you tell us more about the artists that you have invited? How have you selected the artists that will take part in the events?

Derek Holzer: There are more than 50 artists involved in the Tuned City program, either in creating installations or giving performances, presentations or workshops. It would be very difficult to describe each one, and the process by which we arrived at the decision to invite them! But since I’m responsible for most of the performance program, I can speak about that area the best.

When we started considering works being made relating sound and architecture together, and especially once we started to receive submissions of works from artists, we started to notice that many fit together into certain groups–certain approaches towards sound and space which were common to many of them. You have the artists that want to play tones or noise into a space and play with the acoustic reflections or reverb of the space. Then you have the ones who want to activate objects or structures in the space to produce sound. The field recording approach is also quite common: to make recordings of one space and play it back in another. And finally you have works in the public sphere… provocations, interventions or subliminal messages placed in city streets, squares or tunnels. So based on our own experiences with the artists whose work we know and those we have worked with personally, as well as some of those who sent proposals to the open call, we started to select outstanding examples from each of these categories.


Infrasound – Scott Arford and Randy Yau

The opening night features Scott Arford and Randy Yau, two Americans who have been working in the field of sound art, performance and noise for a long time. I’m quite excited to have the chance to invite them, since I’ve been hearing about them in certain circles for many years now. Their “Infrasound” work is perhaps one of the most powerful examples of the idea of filling a space with pure sound and making a intense physical effect. I’m personally very interested in sound works which affect the body, and that focus on this physicality, rather than being merely cerebral or “clever”. The Dutch duo BMB con. (Roelf Toxopeus and Justin Bennett) will also stage an improvised action that evening. Their work is consistently unpredictable, and they approach each location and setting they perform in with the same energy and humor.


Antoine Chessex

Thomas Ankersmit and Antoine Chessex are two of my personal favorite artists working currently in Berlin. Both play saxophone in very similar and quite different ways, often using circular breathing techniques which extend their playing into almost endless tones. Often, their live solo performances rely on powerful amplification and electronics, however for Tuned City we asked them to present their recently-formed acoustic duo. This performance will take place at the Funkhaus Nalepastrasse, the old East German radio recording studios, and they will acoustically examine various rooms in the hall, from the small instrumental recording rooms to the massive orchestra hall, and use their saxophone drones to map out the resonances and reflections of the building.


Bucky Media – Farmers Manual

We strongly felt that works which operate in the public sphere were very important, and the day we have scheduled for Alexanderplatz (the central square of old East Berlin) gave an excellent opportunity to explore different ways of working this way. We approached German software musician Antye Greie (better known as AGF) with the idea of performing over the public address system of the new Alexa shopping mall, and she was delighted with the idea! Her electronic music has always been filled with spoken texts, many of which relate to the experience of growing up in the East Germany and the shock of the arrival of Western capitalism. So we couldn’t imagine a more ideal setting. Also on this day, the art-hacker group Farmers Manual will present their “Bucky Media” project: two 8 meter high metal-frame spheres, which respond to the audience’s moving them around. Architects love (or hate!) Buckminster Fuller, and the sight of these massive metal balls getting rolled around a public square and emitting these insane noises should really make a big impression on them! Also on that day, UK “electromystic” Martin Howse will conduct an electronic seance near the former site of the Palais der Republik, a Communist-era building for culture which was recently demolished. He will drill through the pavement and pound long rods into the earth, tapping them with an amplifier and a speaker in an attempt to hear what the architectural ghosts of the Palais might have to say.


BUG – Mark Bain

Another artist with a history of powerful, physical works with sound and space is Mark Bain. We invited him already for the preview event last February at Club Transmediale, and during that week he negotiated with architect Arno Brandlhuber and the firm b&k architects to make a permanent installation in a new building of theirs. This project, BUG, references the old East German Stasi surveillance techniques on an architectural scale. Bain will place geological sensors in the foundations of the building, and provide headphone jacks in each room so that occupants can listen in to the sounds of the building, whether that be footsteps, mechanical noise or the sound of cars passing in the street or the UBahn which runs directly underneath the building. And on a smaller scale, Will Schrimshaw will use his “Little Helpers”, small microprocessor-controlled motors, to resonate objects and structures in the various event locations, acting like a kind of sonic signpost guiding the way to the performances and symposiums taking place.


Storm – Chris Watson & BJ Nilsen

Naturally, the area of field recording is well-represented. We asked Rinus van Alebeek if he would like to organize an edition of his Berlin institution Das Kleine Field Recordings Festival, which he has been running almost monthly with no budget to speak of for three years now. This will take place outdoors, at a disused train station which is being renovated from urban wasteland into a park. And for the closing night, legendary field-recordist, BBC soundman and former Cabaret Voltaire member Chris Watson will give a live performance with BJ Nilsen of their “Storm” project, which takes field recordings of powerful storms from Britain and Sweden and spatializes them through the big concert hall of the Nalepastrasse. We also invited Chris Watson to give a workshop, where the participants will explore the day and night time sounds of the city of Berlin with him, and present a multichannel installation of their work at the end. And finally, Estonian-based American sound artist John Grzinich will screen his “Sound Films” as a running installation. Grzinich has recorded countless hours of sound explorations in Estonia, Latvia and Portugal to a video camera, and the often static visual settings where the sounds take place are often contrasted by a very active sonic environment picked up by sensitive microphones, hopefully encouraging people to listen more closely to their own environments.


Jacob Kirkegaard

Perhaps the artist whose work for Tuned City least fits into our preconceived categories is Jacob Kirkegaard. His “Labyrinthitis” piece works with tones generated by his own ears during a medical examination, and which can produce a sympathetic resonance in the ears of the audience. I’ve always been interested in the architecture of the body as well, and this piece highlights the role of the listener in the production of sound, taking them from a passive position into a very active state where the sound they hear is in fact coming from themselves.

Of course there are many more artists, performances and installations in the program, as a quick glance at the program on the website or in the catalog shows!

Bertram Niessen: In the festival, several different spaces are involved. How and why have you made this selection?

Derek Holzer: This is really my own take on it, but it’s all too common for academic conferences to discuss things without having any genuine connection to the things they are discussing. Perhaps it’s in the name of “scientific objectivity”, but Brazilian rainforests get discussed in London or New York, punk or noise music gets discussed by elbow-patched professors who have never been to an underground concert in their life, open source software gets discussed in Microsoft Word and Powerpoint files, and architecture gets discussed in boring little white classrooms with ugly fluorescent lights and bad acoustics. So we really wanted to “break down the conventional conference format” by staging the lectures and performances in the kinds of spaces that architects really work in and on: construction sites, renovated buildings, urban wastelands, public squares and buildings which were designed for specific acoustic features and purposes.

Some of the locations suggested themselves out of certain needs, such as the anechoic and echo chambers at the Technical University, or out of specific organizations interested in hosting specific works, such as the installation at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum garden, the works commissioned by the Singuhr soundart gallery for the Prenzlauerberg Wasserspeicher or the building which Mark Bain will wire up with sensors and microphones.


Fehrnseturm – Alexanderplatz

But the decision to use several of the locations was quite deliberate, based on what we wanted to discuss during each day. So the topics of discussion on the day we occupy Alexanderplatz will center around questions of working in public space, urban space and sonic experience and sound as a system of social communication. Likewise, the next day in the disused Wriezener Bahnhof train station, where tx architects are working with local residents to design a city park which responds to their needs and interests, will focus on the design of acoustic environments.


Main concert hall, Funkhaus Nalepastrasse

Perhaps the most astonishing architectural work featured in the event is the Funkhaus Nalepastrasse. This building was designed and built in the 1960′s as home for the East German radio, and two full concert halls (one small, one massive) form the core of this building. The rest of the structure was engineered around these halls as a kind of acoustic buffer, to prevent outside noise from trains or airplanes, for example, from getting in, and every aspect of the interior design, right down to the decorations on the wall panels, was calculated for its effect to absorb, reflect or diffuse sound.

One of the things we encountered quite often when speaking with architects about this project, was that architects are highly visually-oriented, and not very well educated about sound and acoustics, preferring to leave this particular “pain in the ass” to the acousticians, who come to clean up the mess with panels and such, later on. So to situate our final day in a building whose entire purpose was to sound good and to produce good sound, is a powerful statement that acoustic design should not be relegated to a secondary role, but rather should be an integral part of the architectural process from the beginning.

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TONEWHEELS interview for Digicult.it

Posted in Text on January 19th, 2008 by admin

TONEWHEELS Digicult.it Interview

I’ll be playing at the NETMAGE Festival in Bologna next Thursday (24 Jan 2008) with Sara Kolster, presenting our audiovisual project TONEWHEELS. Digicult.it magazine did an interview for the occasion, which should turn up in Italian and English on their site this week. Enjoy!

Warsaw 2007, photo by ch0hlik/Rafal Jozwiak

DIGICULT: Would you like to tell me something about your different artistic backgrounds? When did your collaboration start?

DEREK HOLZER: My background originally was in radio and media-arts, including college, community, pirate and internet radio. This kind of work led very quickly into field recordings and from there to the other aspects of sound art which I am still busy with to this day. I spent quite a bit of time between making environmental recordings as well as media-arts projects surrounding them (such as Soundtransit.nl) and making and programming digital sound through free and open source applications such as Pure Data.

I don’t think that artists operate in a vacuum–think of the mythical modernist painter, alone in his studio, inventing painting all over again from scratch–so I’ve always been very active in the different communities around the media I work in. Education and collaboration have always been a very integral part of my process. It’s how I learn and how I get better, by doing it with other people.

Sara and I have been working together since 2001, when we went together to the Acoustic.Space.Lab symposium, at the site of a 32m dish antenna used by the KGB as a spy station during the Soviet era in Latvia. Since then, we have collaborated on videos, installations, websites, workshops and live audiovisual performances. Each one of us is totally dedicated, perhaps even immersed, in our own chosen media, which is what makes our collaborations so strong.

SARA KOLSTER: Although my background is design, I never really felt myself a designer. The focus of my work soon shifted towards still and moving image, resulting in collaborations with media- and sound artists and documentary makers. I have a very research-based approach, ranging from a more formalist approach in the use of image and sound (like the Tonewheels project), to a more content based perspective used in disciplines such as journalism, documentary and archeology (like the projects Ossea and Living Spaces). The last few years this resulted in a wide variety of projects involving installations, webbased projects such as SoundTransit, single channel video work, live performances and animation. Besides my artistic work, I really enjoyed giving lectures and workshops in art centers or Universities in various countries.

As Derek, I don’t really believe in working alone and prefer to collaborate with other artists – each with their own talent – coming from different backgrounds. For me, this process of collaboration is an essential aspect of my work. It pushes me and my work into areas I didn’t think of before.

DC: When did your interest in optical sound technology start? And when did you decide to rescue also historical experimental a/v instruments, used for instance in Toneweels?

SK: In 2003 we started the project Visible Sound/Audible Image which involved a series of live av-performances, workshops and screenings in the Baltic States with a central focus on the direct interrelation of image and sound. The live-performance resonanCITY was part of this project and showed already our interest in using analogue material, such as found objects, medium format slides and film footage to create sound and images from. You can see it as a preliminary state of tonewheels, especially the visual part of it, since I used a small lightbox and a camera to create a live projection. The overhead projector I use in Tonewheels is nothing more than an enlarged lightbox; with the only difference that the projection directly shows what my hands are doing without any digital interference of a video camera or a beamer. There’s no delay or buffer between the “real” image and the projected image which makes the performance extremely “live”.

DH: I’ve always been fascinated by the ANS synthesizer, which was conceived by Russian inventor Evgeny Murzin in 1938 as a way of creating music from a score without an orchestra. It’s a bit like what we expect from music software nowadays, actually! The “score” of the ANS is a glass plate covered in a black wax. You scratch through the wax, and this lets light into the synthesizer. Where the light shines in determines the pitches that the synthesizer plays, and because you roll the glass plate through the synthesizer (a bit like a printing press, actually), the pitches can change depending on how your scratched and how fast you move the plate. The pure analog simplicity of this instrument is quite striking!

So with this idea in mind, I went together with Sara last summer to the “Workshop for Art and Music with the Overhead Projector”, organized by Ralf Schreiber, Christian Faubel and Tina Tongerel at the Moltkerei in Cologne. I originally thought to make an ANS wall-installation, which could be played by scores drawn for the overhead projector. But then I became more interested in actually drawing the waveforms of the sound, which is exactly what the tonewheels we use are doing. I was also impressed by the work of New York’s Loud Objects group, who were at the workshop as well. They solder together simple one-bit microcontroller-based synthesizers live on the overhead projector, and this approach of making the technology more transparent in some way is very important in an era of laptops and black boxes, where the audience has no idea how the sounds they hear are being produced.

Because of my interest in the ANS, which is housed at the Moscow State Conservatory, as well as in other pioneering electronic music instruments such as the Theremin, I have been in touch with Andrei Smirnov from the Theremin Center for quite some time. His knowledge and resources in the area of direct optical synthesis are unparalleled, and the historical information he has given me was extremely useful in conceiving what kind of project this could turn out to be. Andrei was more than happy to look over the research I did, and to offer suggestions and (sometimes blunt) criticisms.


Warsaw 2007, photo by Patrycja Stefanek

DC: Would you like to describe me the Toneweels set? How does your live set work and how do you both generate sound and visuals?

DH: Tonewheels is an experiment in converting graphical imagery to sound, inspired by some of the pioneering 20th Century electronic music inventions. Transparent tonewheels with repeating patterns are spun over light-sensitive electronic circuitry to produce sound and light pulsations and textures, while projected graphical loops and textures add richness to the visual environment. This all-analog set is performed entirely live, using only overhead projectors as light source, performance interface and audience display. In this way, Tonewheels aims to open up the “black box” of electronic music and video by exposing the working processes of the performance for the audience to see.

SK: The projection I create is not static, but exists of graphical film “loops”. Besides this constant movement, I manually move translucent material in another layer. In the future i would like to work with more than one overhead projector. This would give me more freedom to experiment with more complex patterns and light-layers, switching from one to the other projector. You could see it as an extreme low-tech video mixing system!

DH: Currently, the audio comes from my side alone, and we both contribute to the visual elements. The audience can see the spinning tonewheels and circuits of the interface on my overhead projector, and on Sara’s projector there are running patterns and colors which overlap on the screen with the image of my interface. Perhaps later on, we will add some circuitry which allows Sara’s graphical patterns to influence the sound as well. The whole project is quite new, and is very intensive to develop, so additions come one at a time for every performance.

DC: How do you design and choose different graphical patterns for your live shows? I know, for instance, that you use also traditional and folk decorations. What will you do for Netmage?

SK: For our set in Poland, I created graphics based on folk patterns used in traditional Polish clothing. When we visited Warsaw the first time in order to investigate the performance setting and to do research in order to develop our tonewheels-set, we found a book about traditional Polish folk-art and the idea arose to use it as a starting point of our set. From the book I manually reproduced these graphics on the computer, resulting in 15 different tonewheels and film-strips which we used during our set in September of this year. Besides these folk-patterns – which were quite complex – I designed several other black & white graphics – more quiet ones – which would make the projection more interesting. Besides the b&w-graphics, I use translucent material such as color light-filters and masks. For Netmage I will use a combination of the Polish patterns and newly created ones.

DH: The Polish folk patterns looked quite beautiful, but acoustically they were usually quite similar…they all had the kind of buzzing sound of a square or sawtooth waveform. I had been looking for a while at Edwin Emil Welte’s Light-Tone organ, which used spinning glass discs with various harmonic waveshapes painted on them to create sound. So I asked Sara to imitate one of these discs from a photograph. While it wasn’t harmonically perfect, it did have a very different sound from the others, and it became one of my favorite tonewheels to play because of its unique timbre.

What’s interesting is that this discussion of designing the tonewheels from the graphical point of view versus designing from the sonic point of view is an exact reproduction of the debates which took place at the dawn of this technology in the 1930′s. Animator Oskar Fischinger was working on painting or photographing graphical shapes and patterns directly into the soundtrack strip of motion picture film, to see how certain shapes sounded. On the other hand, the technician Rudolf Pfenninger was interested in creating a “vocabulary” of waveshapes which corresponded to different instrument or voice sounds, so that he could compose film music graphically without the need of performers (again, the main idea behind most computer audio software).

The Netmage performance will most likely use all the different tonewheels we have developed so far. Each has its own special characteristic and sound.


Warsaw 2007, photo by ch0hlik/Rafal Jozwiak

DC: About the audio: which is the sound are you looking for? I mean, are you able to control and write a partiture with this kind of material approach to sound?

DH: Pre-programmed, scored, scripted or sequenced music doesn’t interest me at all. My performance strategy has always been to create a situation with a number of possibilities (instruments, objects, timbres, etc) and explore those through improvisation. Live performance for me has always been something like a struggle to gain control of what is often a very chaotic system. The sound which happens in the Tonewheels performance is primarily the sound of modulated electricity, sent directly to the mixer. But as it is direct current voltage, I can also send it to the analog modular synthesizer and create new sounds with it there, and this is where it becomes exceptionally chaotic! Beyond that, I like to see what happens in the live scenario, rather than try to predetermine what I or the audience will hear.

DC: How do your way to handle, touch and dismantle the sound/image source influence the live experience? Is there a different feeling for you as performers, instead of using softwares and laptops? I think it is a more deep sensor experience…

DH: In the beginning of 2007, I made a small promise to myself to slowly get rid of the laptop from my live performances. Not all at once, but in stages. I started to realize that laptop performance, outside of a few people who really critique it like Mattin, is an absolute dead end. I’m not saying that computer music is a dead end, or that music should not be created or composed on the computer. But I question projects like all the laptop quartets and orchestras which have popped up lately. It’s the visual equivalent of watching the window of an internet cafe! There is simply nothing performative in it, so why expect a paying audience to sit and watch it? Gadgets and Wii-motes and sensors and these kind of things people have been working with the last 10 years or so add some performativity back in, but in the end the big challenge is to involve the audience’s attention in a meaningful way. The computer allows for so much complexity, and for so much pre-planning, that very little is actually spontaneous. And even less of it has a sense of danger to it.

So I started acquiring the various parts of an analog modular synthesizer, and I picked up my old hobby of DIY electronics in order to build the parts which I could not afford or find in any other way. The synthesizer works in a very physical and direct way, outside of this imaginary dataspace of the computer. It’s mechanics and electrons moving in absolute real time, and it’s full of risks for the live situation, and that’s what convinced me it was the way forward.

SK: In our previous performance resonanCITY I already experimented with the use of analogue material such as medium-format slides and 16mm film. But I never was very satisfied by the quality of the projection; it never was as crisp as it would have been when it would be a direct light-projection, using a slide-projector for instance. For quite some time I was looking for a more direct way of projecting and creating moving image. When this workshop came across last summer, I decided to experiment with the overhead projector, resulting in the tonewheels set.


Warsaw 2007, photo by Patrycja Stefanek

DC: Behind Toneweels there is both a deep technical research and a long study on cinema-history and last century avant-garde. In the same time you both use open source softwares like PD and join workshops about it, so it seems you have a “do it yourself” approach to technology. Which is your relationship with the instruments do you work with?

DH: I’ve always believed that the first step in any kind of technological art is the creation of one’s own tools, rather then buying or downloading some ready-made solution based on someone else’s idea of how art should be made. So PD appealed to this side of me very much, and I created almost every instrument I used with it over the years. Now that I’m working with analog electronics more and more, I find that there is a similar community of people who are constantly inventing new sonic machines, and they have inspired me greatly. From musicians like Jessica Rylan, who built her own performance instruments from the circuit-boards up, and instrument builders like Tom Bugs, who cranks out a new quirky noise-box design every month or so, to true electro-mystics like Martin Howse, who concerns himself in an almost alchemical way with the materials and hidden potentials of electrical circuitry as it interacts with physical matter and bodies–all these people and more have shown me new ideas and directions over the last year.

DC: Do you consider your “material” approach to Audio-Video like a sort of archaeological rescue operation or do you think that Electronic Arts are now pushing to new paths more focused on a physical contact (less digital) with Audiovisual materials?

SK: Walking around on many media-art festivals, I was always surprised by the hype around new gadgets. A lot of times it felt like a sort of fair for tech-fetishists – whether it was GPS or motion controlled surveillance cams – only used to mystify the audience. Most of these – especially digital – techniques create a distance between the audience and the work which is shown, since the way it functions is completely hidden. When you think for example of av-laptop performances, the audience has no clue what is happening, where the sound and images are coming from. Above it all, the static behavior of the performer behind his/her laptop does not reveal any empathy for the audience.

I think a lot of artists come back from the use of digital media, or at least become more critical and aware about the fact why they use a laptop or other new technology. I do believe that the era of a computer-as-end-interface is over. Instead, its role becomes more complex; as a link in a chain of analogue devices (whether mechanical or electronic) it opens many interesting artistic possibilities to discover and explore.

DH: It wouldn’t be difficult to characterize much media art of the last ten years or so as having a euphoric–no, actually more than euphoric, even beyond utopian–vision of the possibilities of disembodied data. The media activist can suddenly make a radio show or magazine without the traditional media infrastructure. The digital sculptor can fashion 3D models of impossible objects existing in worlds with invented laws of physics. The laptop composer has an endlessly recursive strange attractor of fantastic instruments and orchestras to do their bidding. Or one can even sample their favorite performers and play along with that. But all this work exists only in the imaginary dataspace, to be played out in the dark corners of the internet, via solitary explorations with the home computer. When you bring a group of people together (in a real room, often with ugly carpet or perhaps the smell of unwashed feet) around computer art, what you often get is a situation where one person is “inside” the work, either as artist or audience, and the rest are watching someone else be “inside” something without knowing exactly what it is they are experiencing. Even this “locative media” craze, which was supposed to be about giving physical location to this disembodied data, actually required that all of us walk around staring at screens or plugged into headphones the whole time. Alone, waiting for a message, like a participant at the hacker conferences where they still prefer to use IRC even when they are in the same room (purple carpet, stinky feet..). I, for one, decided that I’d had enough of that. And I sincerely hope there are others who are willing to join me.

Warsaw 2007, photo by ch0hlik/Rafal Jozwiak

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LeviathanVerräter (tUMULt)
MarblebogForestheart (Autopsy Kitchen)
NjiqahddaNjimajikal Arts (E.E.E.)
SkullflowerIIIrd Gatekeeper (reissue) (Crucial Blast)
Two Dead Sluts, One Good FuckTwo Dead Sluts, One Good Fuck (Fan Disc)
VargrBlack Northern Supremacy (20 Buck Spin)
WitchcraftThe Alchemist (Rise Above)
Wrath of the WeakWrath of the Weak (Bastardized)

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