I haven’t blog-written for a long time and so much has happened in the last year plus. Amongst other global meltdowns, well yes, we are still in a pandemic. Like all artists, this changes everything. Cancelled exhibitions, postponed residencies, etc. You can’t make projects for physical spaces. And most of all, no plans.
We all have to be adaptable, right?
This year, for the first time ever, I’m not only “going to” but also participating in Ars Electronica. It has hitherto been cost-prohibitive for me to attend and so I’ve only looked at the documentation and heard stories about this long-standing art festival that explores critical issues around technology.
This year, they’re doing a virtual exhibition with the concept of “gardens” curated by different nodes — essentially different cities that are doing some sort of online exhibitions that an audience of thousands can navigate to and view via the web.
I admit that right now, I don’t understand it fully. The exhibition begins today (Sept 9 2020), I will explore various gardens and come up with my own feelings and conclusions about them — it’s odd but I’m compelled by their curatorial direction. I’m grateful to not only participate but also that they’re sharing this format with a more global audience.
I was invited by Freaklab Thailand to participate in the Psych Garden along with several other projects, essentially part of the Thailand node, which continues my work with the Bangkok 1899 Residency earlier this year.
This new installation of Unnatural Language, my ongoing collaboration with Michael Ang, is called “Botanic Quartet”.
This installation of Unnatural Language is one that I’ve developed at my house and consists of four plants — all plants that are native to Thailand that play in a synchronized quartet with one another.
I will be presenting this as a 24-hour livestream performance on September 12th (12:01 am – 11:59 pm) At UTC +2 — this is the timezone in Linz, Austria.
I chose four instruments: a baritone ukulele, which I played myself, drums, which are me banging on pots and pans, a musical saw, played by my sweetie and a sampler which plays recorded sounds from Thailand.
Each plant is hooked up to a sensor — in most cases these are electrodes that read their rapidly-changing electrochemical activity. The data from this sensor gets processed by an embedded chip — an ESP32 that plays synthesized effects of these instruments, changing tones, pitches and patterns.
Specifically what is happening is that:
the drums vary their style and tempo
the ukulele changes its chord patterns
the musical saw alters its pitch
the sampler triggers with data spikes
The “clock” is a different ESP32 chip which sends synchronized beat signals to all the other ESP32 chips over OSC — through my local wifi network.
They receive signals at different times and so respond slightly out of sync. So like a musically expressive performance every beat does does not align exactly with each tick of a metronome.
What you don’t see in the video is how technically sturdy and extensible this work is. Each “Datapod” can run off of batteries and be located at various distances from one another in physical space. They are weatherproof, solid and don’t require a central computer and so easily can be brought to different festivals and events.
I’m super-curious where this will go in the future as this project is one that I’m dedicated to and has so much potential for site-specific installations, both during the pandemic and post-pandemic. Despite all this I’m excited to share a physical installation with you.