**more sketches will be uploaded soon**
1. GUITARBOT 2.0
(aka Miss.GuitarBot, referencing Eric Singer's original GuitarBot)
This piece was developed over the summer with Andy Doro. Using the guts of a printer, we created an "musical robot." Inside the printer cartridge is a piezo running through a LM386 op amp as a pickup microphone. As the cartridge rides up and down a guitar string on a DC motor, a stepper motor attached at the bottom of the runner plucks the string. With potentiometers and switches, we can control both the speed and direction of the plucking and sliding. The closer the cartridge is to the plucking stepper motor, the higher the frequency of sound (and yes, it sounds like a guitar -- a Sonic Youth guitar :)).
Aside from general aesthetic design concerns, further development of this project will be creating multiple bots playing different gauge guitar strings. We would also like to experiment with having an image control the sound: instead of a printer printing ink to produce a copy of an image, the printer will play a guitar string based on the image being sent to it.
GuitarBot 2.0: printer cartridge on the guitar string
GuitarBot 2.0: mounted on wood with stepper motor and electronics all over the place!
2. SPEAKER SYNTH
feedback loop system. playing the sound of electricity. more here
3. GEAR COMPOSITIONS
a) weight: several gear systems powered by a single weight
b) distance: remote, hand crank controlled wooden gear systems (referencing the removal of "distance" as a result of our technologies)
c) guts: gear systems embeded within found objects (dug out interiors).
4. MOTOR POETRY
tiny motor driven systems, animating recursive narratives. Each system will relate to the other.
(Thoughts inspired by an interview with interaction designer Bill Verplank, conducted by Gideon D’Arcangelo, June 2006 )
There is a large discussion revolving around interactivity and computers. What works, works best, and feels natural...in other words, how do we make systems that are intuitive? More interesting to me lately is not so much the question of how a system can be intuitive, but how a system becomes intuitive. When does an "unnatural" design teach us how to naturally interact with its "counter intuitive" logic? For example, typing on a keyboard is not a natural activity. I remember my first computer class in 7th grade and being given a test for typing. I hated it. My brain struggled with the odd ordering of the letters on the keyboard and I fought to use more than just my index finger and thumb. Of course, over time and through my dependence on computer technology, I learned. Now, typing is intuitive. But beyond it simply being a skill I have acquired, typing has also changed the way I think. It has effected my "natural" way of being. Typing is how I speak through email, IM-ing, and even text messaging by phone. Beyond the simple content of words, I play with characters to express emotion, make funny faces, and reveal extraneous, contextual information. It is natural for me to quickly type a colon with a parenthesis the moment I feel a smile :) or a frown :(. The typing action and my mood become intertwined, naturally.
This "naturality" does not exactly address the topic of intuitiveness emerging from design. We think of intuitiveness as a state of being connected to our actions in a way that we do not have to think. Intuition is usually a good thing. It infers we are in tune with the world around us and making complex decisions with the deepest core of our experience and knowledge. It may be natural for us to smile when we are happy, but it is intuitive for us to know what will make our friend smile. The best moments of creativity come from an intuitive place. For musicians, this is a sonic intuitiveness. Knowing how and when certain sounds unite to create rhythms and melodies that make people dance, cry, and laugh. The intuitive process of music making consists of playing, listening, finding, and repeating. Traditionally, this process emerges from a group of musicians playing their instruments live, starting with improvisation and narrowing down the options as certain parts (melodies and rhythms) become realized. But what happens when the intuitive process of making music is mediated by a computer? For one thing, the group can be eliminated. A computer allows for one person to play all instruments, hence, being only one decision maker in the process. Secondly, the existence of virtual instruments (instruments that only exist inside the computer and are manipulated either through an external controller or display settings on the computer screen) invites instruments you can see, but cannot touch. And finally, software for audio recoding is visual. One does not have to rely so much on their ear since sound waves are drawn on the screen and compositions are visually mapped out in linear blocks of color. We "see" our music as it sounds through the graphic displays of our computer software. The notion that only one person is needed for a band, instruments can be played while not being touched, and that a sonic composition can be built by a process of "cutting and pasting" blocks of colors in a line across a screen is completely counter intuitive to our common sensibility of what it means to make music. However, I would argue that it is not counter-intuitive. In fact, what I see is simply a new kind of intuition being built around the new tools a computer offers. If making music is touching an instrument (playing), hearing its sound (listening), deciding whether on the sounds you want to hear (finding), and playing what you want to hear based on what was decided (repeating), then the core process remains the same. Only now with a computer, our intuition is evolving to accommodate new intersections of our sensibilities. Rhythms are drawn that could never be played, but these rhythms are no less intuitive. They are just new.
Computer music may be considered unnatural, but it is not made without intuition. Perhaps music is not all about sound. In the same way a deaf musician like Beethoven can feel piano keys and hear the melody in his mind, so too can a computer musician see a drum sequence in an editing window and hear the cadence of its rhythm in his mind. Such adjustments in our perception of how we relate to sound change our intuition, but does not eliminate it. And these changes in our intuition invite new forms of expressions that grow to become no less natural that the beating of a wooden drum.
In general, a state of flow embodies:
1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities).
2. Concentrating and focusing, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
4. Distorted sense of time - one's subjective experience of time is altered.
5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
9. When in the flow state, people become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975. p.72).
The idea of overcoming duality of self and object is a key theme of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig (1974). "When you're not dominated by feelings of separateness from what you're working on, then you can be said to 'care' about what you're doing. That is what caring really is: 'a feeling of identification with what one's doing.' When one has this feeling then you also see the inverse side of caring, quality itself." (page 290)
What is happiness? Happiness is such a subjective and elusive term, yet we all manage to agree on the what it feels like to be "happy." Happiness is a state of bliss. When happy, the world seems manageable, dreams are possible, and we function with a keen sense of intuitiveness. We feel connected. Perhaps happiness can be best be described as feeling the simple state of balance among much complexity.
If we believe that happiness goes hand in hand with a loss of "self consciousness" and our contemporary capitalist society is built firmly upon the notions of self identity, expression, and awareness through material desire and possession, it makes sense that "...excessive concern with consumer goods and material possessions is inversely related with positive developmental outcomes" and therefore why "...teenagers from working-class, and even impoverished backgrounds [are] happier than upper-middle-class teenagers living in exclusive suburban communities." With the material possessions within their financial grasp, upper-middle-class teenagers struggle with the issues of ownership or lack of ownership of prescribed materialistic self identities. This struggle is inherently shallow, narcissistic, and devoid of meaning. Also inherent in this struggle is the endless race of materiality, in that one object is never enough because there is always something newer and better guaranteed around the corner. Goals are transient, needs are superficial, and value is monetary.
(slightly tangential, this all makes me think of "Century of the Self" -- where once the political process was about engaging people's rational, conscious minds, as well as facilitating their needs as a society, the documentary shows how by employing the tactics of psychoanalysis, politicians appeal to irrational, primitive impulses that have little apparent bearing on issues outside of the narrow self-interest of a consumer population. He cites a Wall Street banker as saying "We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. [...] Man's desires must overshadow his needs.")
There is no secret code for happiness. However, I do value the process of analyzing states of happiness, as the results can be combined with other humanistic studies to give us insight into how and why we should build the systems we do. When we impose social, economic, and physical structures upon society, it is far better for us to build towards positive effect, and be continually aware that nothing made exists without effect, intentional or not.
The ideas I have tossing around in my head, are many. To begin writing about them without having begun to play and see them in reality, is laughable. Presently, my interests can be categorized in this format:
1. My technical interests: making things move. exploring/re-purposing electronic and/or mechanical systems.
2. My aesthetic interests: hand made objects with a poetic sense of materiality and form. Wood tends to be a particular favorite.
3. My conceptual interest: relationships -- I refer to this as a "space between" (objects and objects, people and people and people, people and objects). interiors -- how things work (physically and emotionally). stories -- we all have stories to tell and stories that tell us.
4. My metaphorical interests: elements of sound - noise, interference, rhythm, harmony, music. Circles -- loops, repetition, interdependency, systems.
5. My academic interests: How and why we make the things/devices/tools we make. Our human relationship as people to machine technology -- the myth and the science. The intersections between art and design.
THE ROUGH SCHEDULE:
This schedule maps out my process for both developing and executing an idea(s):
Now to October 4th: I play. I will make many "object sketches" that will be the result of my research/play.
October 4th to October 18th: I will complete an idea. Perhaps this will be developing one of my object sketches.
October 18th to 25th: I will step away. Reflect.
October 25th to November 8th: I will complete another idea.
November 8th to November 29th: complete final project.
November 29th to last day: rework, fix, revise, reflect.
Throughout the semester, I will share thoughts and photos of my work in development as well as writings of my general ideas.
You can never predict what a person will do, because it would require all the information that a person has and has had; but the person does not even have that himself, for most of a human's experiences and operations are nonconscious.- Tor Norrentranders, The User Illusion (367)
In general, when I analyze objects, art, ideas, and people, I find understanding through the context of relationships. I am exploring "spaces between." For this assignment, I am interested in the space between consciousness and unconsciousness in regards to information we may or may not perceive, process, and interpret in our daily operations. Traveling with an object(s) that is outwardly turned to the world, logging information without my attention, I will look at the corners of my world that do not get looked at, perhaps discovering measurements of myself in relation to the world around me.
I plan to build two systems:
1. "Eye in the back of my Head" is a tiny camera hidden in my pony tale to visually document the world behind me that I am always leaving.
2. "Headphone Recorder" is headset modified to record external sounds as I listen to my "internal" music.
Speaker Synth is an instrument that plays natural feedback loops to output a musical experience. By "natural," I am referring to the sound of electricity. There is no external audio input to the system, the only components in the loop are the speakers, microphones, and amplifying circuit.
Speaker Synth is comprised of five autonomous feedback systems made of a speaker, LM386n amplifier circuit and piezo microphone. Individual controls include a volume potentiometer and power switch. By manipulating variables such as the positioning of the piezo in relationship to the speaker, the laying of hands and fingers on the speaker, and the inherent dynamics of the individual piezo and speaker, etc, users develop and play noise. The result are sounds take the shape of notes, chords, rhythms, and harmonies.
More of these instruments will be made, with more in depth attention to the speaker, piezo and amplifier dynamics. I will also construct at least one with metal tubes attached to the speakers to experiment with a sound output that will not directly reflect back into the feedback loop. My intent is to have several Speaker Synths performed simultaneously, and produce a choral arrangement.
Essence of a Feedback Loop
The concept of a feedback loop is engaging, particularly in regards to consciousness and sense of self. Douglas Hofstadter refers to such a feedback loop as a "strange loop." We know our sense of self though layers of experiential, complex cycles that endlessly loop. Consider the phrase, "history repeats itself" in visualizing our process of living: we learn, add, subtract, and shape our lives, always returning to where we began to repeat again. To illustrate further, "Point a video camera at a TV displaying the camera's output, and you will produce a receding corridor of screens. Pixels make up the picture, but our interest is in the image, the tunnel of rectangles. Identity resembles that phenomenon. Never mind the neurons that make up our brain. Our emotions, others' responses and our repeated looks outward to the world and inward to ourselves shape what we call our self. Nor is ours the only loop we contain. We know how our friends see things; our mind houses their perspectives -- it has the formula for producing their thoughts." (Peter D. Kramer, Washington Post, reviewing Hofstadter's book "I am Strange Loop")
Speaker Synth was not intended as an exploration of such ideas, however the resulting interaction and sound inherently references the concepts of feedback loops in terms of consciousness. Speaker Synth is a "choral" instrument as opposed to either a classical or electronic instrument regarding its interactive and expressive qualities. The term "choral" addresses a voice. Something with a "voice" has an autonomous identity defined by its self. When powered, Speaker Synth plays its natural feedback loops, regardless of user interaction. When users do enter the system, they never have complete control, but rather, collaborate with the instrument. Hence, Speaker Synth embodies the sense of having has a "life of its own." It is self contained, self referential, self reflexive in both physicality and metaphor.