Ken Gregory - Cranking Out Paradigms
  Year :   1994
  Location :   Canada
  Worktype :   computer controlled inter-active audio/video installation
  Info :   Weidenhammer

Sound Object
  Work Details  
  thesis written by Lori D. Weidenhammer in collaboration with Ken Gregory Today, the computer is a utilitarian tool which usually comes with an interface which is based on the business office model. The human input is primarily typing on the keyboard, (which is modeled after a typewriter), and shifting iconic symbols around an imaginary office environment with a pointer. The monitor displays icons which are symbols of a standard office environment: documents; folders; filing cabinets, (floppy discs, hard drives); trashcans, pens, telephones, desktops, etc. These symbolic icons guide the operator of the system in the manipulation of stored information. Software, (the instructions which mediate the operation of the internal components of the computer hardware), is the defining element of what can be done with computers. It is usually designed with business applications in mind. Computer technology is maturing as a significant medium for artistic creation. Software creatively applied can be the defining element for artistic work. This takes the computer away from being simply a tool. Through software, it becomes a partner in the creative process. Our interface and software will link the body and personal memory to words and images stored in the computers memory without the trappings of the business interface model. Our installation will link the body and personal memory to words and images stored in the computers memory. Working Definitions (The Concise Oxford Dictionary) interface: 1. surface forming common boundary between two regions. 2. place, or piece of equipment, where interaction occurs between two systems or processes. 3. connect with interface. record: 1. register, set down for remembrance or reference , put in writing or other legible shape, represent in some permanent form. 2. convert to permanent form for later reproduction. 3. trace made by recording instrument on disc or cylinder for subsequent reproduction by gramophone crank: 1. part of axle or shaft bent at right angles for converting reciprocal into circular motion, or vice versa, or (slang) to increase (speed, etc.) by intensive effort. The Viewer as Activator When one enters a gallery, the first sign you probably see is please do not touch the display. If a visitor to a gallery is to interact with an installation or object, they must be given clues that they have permission to touch the art. Our installation relies on the active participation of the viewer. The message to interact with our object is implicit in the design of the interface. The viewer will see a video screen embedded in a piece of beautifully finished wooden furniture. Its shape suggests a gramophone. The crank attached to its side suggests a possible cause and effect relationship: If I turn the crank, the image of the record on the video screen will turn, and the sound of a record will play. This is exactly what happens, but after this action, the installation starts to work in a way that is not predictable. For example, the software in the computer will read four factors of variability. Turning the crank will provide kinetic input to the computer software which reads the speed of rotation, the direction of rotation, number of revolutions, and whether or not the crank is in motion at all. The reading of physical/mechanical motion into data is achieved through a sensing device using optical electronic technology. Then, custom-designed computer software uses that data in real time to present the audio and video clips. The Grammophone as Interface The gramophone is a seductive invention that has nostalgic connotations of a time when our relationship to technology was not as complex as it is now. It is one of the first inventions, along with the telephone, that successfully disembodied the voice. By placing a record on the turntable, placing the needle on the record, and turning the crank, (a very simple series of actions), the music of your choice would stimulate your senses. The invention of the record is still echoed in the design of round spinning data storage devices, such as CDs, floppy discs, and hard discs. Records as Stored Memories When you listen to a specific musical record your mind may naturally be flooded with certain memories and associative images. You may repeat certain songs to revel in the feelings those memories evoke. The physical act of choosing a record and turning a crank suggests a possible interface. A Rolodex file card system is another interesting model. A simple records storage system of singular file cards; each card recording a name, address, phone number and related information of a person. The cards are attached to a rotating shaft with a round knobby handle on the side which when spun by hand flip the cards around so we can view them. When we approach the Rolodex the current card in view is the last card viewed by the person before us. When we spin the wheel, random chance, weighted by the A to Z order of indexing, guides which cards we see before the card we want can be viewed. Speed of rotation, direction of rotation, and no rotation all affect which cards we see. We might make interesting memory associations based on the names we see during the search for the information we want. This interface links the body to data as fixed memory which in turn stimulates imaginative memory. The Installation as Active Tool The computers sound responses are not totally predictable so it becomes a partner in the creative process. On a musical instrument, C sharp is always C sharp and the musician is always in control and making the choices. Although Gregory has programmed his computer, he cannot predict exactly what sounds it will access. It is an active tool, whereas an instrument is a passive tool. When humans learn language, the person teaching them is not endowed with the ability to know what they are going to say... The same applies to Gregory and his computer. Jack Lauder, Critical Distance Vol 1#2A, April 94 The interactive spectator cannot predict exactly how actions will affect the images and sound bytes presented to decipher. In this way the spectator is having a conversation with an unpredictable speaker, not simply cranking a gramophone to let it play its singular fixed message over and over. In this installation the number of possibilities has a high rate of variability. There is a large enough number of possible juxtapositions of sound bytes and video images to create an experience that is unique to every viewer. Coping with Randomness For example agent K9 types out a page of random impressions from whatever is presented to him at the moment : : [sic] street sounds, phrases from newspapers or magazine, objects in the room etc. He then folds the page down the middle and places it on another page of tyupewriter [sic] messages and where the shift from one text to another / marks the spot. William S. Burroughs, The Burroughs File In his book, The Secular Grail, Christopher Dewdney discusses the relationship of chance to meaning: [The] ability to simulate intelligence parallels the results obtained by aleatoric literary compositions such as William Burroughs s cut-ups, where meaning is generated through unexpected combinations of words and ideas. When presented with seemingly random images and fragments of text we automatically search for patterns and associations to make the information useful. An active spectator projects their subjective interpretations and self-generated narratives and fragments of narratives onto the images and fragments of text as he or she cranks out the information. In his book The Burroughs File, William S. Burroughs describes his cut-up writing process. A simple set of rules which generates new text. Computer software is simple rule systems multiplied into various degrees of complexity. Raw information, that is any recordable sound or image, is manipulated by software through various processes and reconstituted into patterns of pure sound and image or in a manner which plays upon new meanings when the original information is fragmented, counterpointed against itself, repeated, duplicated, distorted, etc. Computers are perfectly suited to these processes. The Text as Audio Clips in the Information Bank Executioner of the Self comes from a dream about a murderer who is to help construct the device of his own punishment and destruction. The theme is about self-fulfilling prophesy that turns self-destructive. The story is a nightmare version about how an individual s survival instincts conflicts with the survival of the community he acts within. Photographs of the Mind-Body Chasm is a series of speculations on how the disjunctive relationship between the mind and the body of the artist affects her personal relationships. The text is a repetitive and obsessive examination of the relationship between evolution and physical attraction. The Video Images in the Information Bank The images we chose to put in the information bank come from our associations with the themes and images within the text. The dream of the Executioner of Self contains references to broken shards of porcelain, which have a parallel image of the broken shards of the record. The text called Photographs of the Mind-Body Chasm contains references to the pitfalls the body presents to the mind, hence the choice of the image of a steel trap clamping shut, or being welded. We choose images that echo the repetitive, obsessional paradigms within the text. The image of a cat licking itself is an act of self-cleaning, that if repeated can represent an act of self obsession, licking a wound so obsessively that it never gets a chance to heal. The Structure and Function of the Text The text is composed to suit a cut-up method, juxtaposing fragments of 4 different voices, (2 from each poem). The repetitive structure of the poetry allows for the active listener to draw connections between key words and phrases we have emphasized in the software program. These sound bytes will occur more often than others, and in a particular order that contrasts with the randomness contained within our communicative model. The phrases and key words we give more emphasis to can be compared to the patterns which are contrived to show up more often in a pair of weighted die. Snake Eyes will come up more often if a piece of lead offsets the roll of the die. This type of weighted randomness can be used as a simple decision making rule embedded in the software. To relate to the computer I am typing on right now, I am hunching over a keyboard, pecking at the keys, and grasping at the mouse. I resent the numbing effect that using this form of interface has on my body. To create a device that changes my physical relationship to the software brain of the computer would affect the relationship of my body to the text I am writing. I would begin to think about the relationship of my intellect to my body in a new way. That is what this project is meant to do. Therefore the text I am creating for the sound bytes is designed to stimulate emotions, memories, and thoughts on the relationships we have to our bodies, as well as the bodies of others. The body of others may be lovers, friends, strangers, or murderers we read about in the paper. The dream of the murderer who makes the device to destroy himself is a nightmare through which the more positive text breaks through like shards of hope. In Photos of the Mind/Body Chasm, the voice who obsesses over physical attractiveness is juxtaposed next to the voice who obsesses over the problem of a mind detached from body. Both texts explore fear of a body, (i.e., the strong body of the murderer, or the unattractive body in Photos of the Mind/Body Chasm). The poetic structure of the texts is designed to present the viewer with evocative images to activate the imaginative process. The voice fragments are cut up and made into units of meaning. The viewer manipulates these units of meaning when he or she turns the crank. From that point on, they have manual control of the fragments of language. They will create patterns of meaning unique to themselves by comparing my dreams to their own, and forming visual analogies to their personal iconography. Structure and Function of the Video Images The images in the video aid the communicative process described above. The stills and repetitive moving images help the viewer to focus on interpreting the sound bites. The image seduces the viewer s visual sense, and encourages the viewer to actively scan their memories and imaginations for comparisons to their personal imagery. Our installation will link the body and personal memory to words and images stored in the computer s memory. We can not predict how the software will present the information as we are experimenting with non-linear, random access, real time editing processes. The sound and images will be presented in a non-linear way that mimics the structure of memory and is linked to the spectator s active role. Executioner of the Self He had the weapons I hope to kill the criminal he turned a shard of white porcelain in his hands And that s where hope starts. deep into his neck These are the materials he had to make the device: A white porcelain plate. whimper A rubber collar. bang I was playing with the shadows of my fears This is the plan he had to make the device: One: to break the plate into sharp, chunky shards Two: to attach the shards to the collar Three: to wind the collar around the killer s neck Four: to kill the criminal by forcing the shards deep into his neck