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Paul Slocum emailed to say he appreciated the post on his work but perhaps isn't so happy to be slapped into the "circuit bending" category:
Is my work really circuit bending? key differences: (1) that traditional circuit bending has more of a chaotic element to it (placing wires without knowing exactly what's going to happen) where my stuff is mostly deliberate and calculated. And (2) while traditional circuit bending doesn't require much technical expertise, my work requires a ridiculous amount of geeky programming knowledge. (3) That my work really falls into the realm of software modification much more than hardware modification. All of my devices can easily be returned to their original state either by removing a cartridge or EPROM. Not so of circuit bend items. My stuff's like "Circuit Folding" or something.I described the genre as "emerging" but Ghazala says in the interview linked above that he started using found consumer electronics to make sound in the '60s. But the "instruments as sculpture" aspect of the trend perhaps isn't so interesting. The Nautical Almanac machines posted earlier intrigue because they look like form following function, whether that's actually true or not. (Genuine bricolage as opposed to self-consciously arty bricolage--though the guitar body is pushing it.) Similarly, just because one rewired a consumer device doesn't make the sound interesting. Again, I liked NA the times I heard them as much for the mic-swallowing, pushing-the-limit intensity of their live act--and complex, hybrid analog/digital sounds I didn't think I'd heard before--as the tweaking of instruments. The question here is whether circuit-bending is a big or well defined enough field to incorporate Slocum's light, software-based interventions into existing equipment and Cory Arcangel's hacked Nintendo cartridges. Maybe that is the evolution of the genre, rather than something completely different. Which is not to say I'm not guilty of indulging in a facile journalistic hook.
In your blog, you are usually pretty unforgiving of redundant art. Does circuit bending deserve a bit of a thrashing here? Reed Ghazala thoroughly explored the idea what, like 25 years ago? And wasn't Nam Jun Paik kind of a bender as well (long before that)? I love that bending is accessible to so many people, but in many cases the audio results are totally unlistenable. The process and concept is the interesting part, and that's been so explored. It seems like it's time for something beyond a confused Speak & Spell and croaking SK-1. I'm kinda torn about the whole thing.
New track: "Kill Maurice" [mp3 removed]. I made a video to go with this but I think I'll hold off on posting it. The molecular imagery seems too zany for this music. I learned a lot about editing, and sync-ing sound to images, but I'm starting to think I really hate video. It sucks your attention and demands more, more, more to a much greater extent than music, still imagery, or even looped .GIFs--it's an almost bottomless pit of (diminishing) content. There's a reason Billy Grant's rapidfire, overloaded videos are the way they are--it's what the medium has conditioned our eyes to expect. I've made three short vids now and dislike them not as videos, but philosophically, in that they seem to be trying to play the same game. Maybe I just haven't found the right fit between the music I'm writing and the imagery. But I also hate most MTV and it's hard to find a way around that model.
Above is a screen shot for an animated .GIF of mine that I saved as a 3.32 MB Quicktime movie. It depicts the growth of endorphins in a test subject watching Wheel of Fortune with his relatives at Thanksgiving (not really, I just put that in as a grant-friendly soundbite). Click here to view. One orange sphere is an "anomaly."
War and politics talk has been muted on this page since the shock of learning the exact number of torture-toleratin' Jesucrats out there (59 million, wasn't it?). Comments continue to trickle in along the lines of, "now let's not offend the Bushvoters." Of course I'd like those folks to admit their bloodthirsty instincts prevailed over what was best for America in the larger world, but my strongest bond is with people who marched against the war or had a sick feeling in the pit of their stomach when they saw the Abu Ghraib photos, as opposed to racist glee, numbness, or the naive belief that it was the work of "a few bad eggs." True, Kerry never mentioned the pictures in the campaign, but he at least had a conscience about US military excesses at one time in his life. Conventional wisdom had it that if he'd come off as a peacenik he would have lost even bigger. Now we're back to the Vietnam days of destroying villages to save them and glorifying Marlboro men for military exploits that mean...what, precisely? Oh, yeah, quelling local rebellions of Muslim extremists so that democracy can be spread to the rest of Iraq.
Haven't been to the rehung MOMA yet. On principal, this page worships Alfred Barr and believes his successors are "grocery clerks," to use Colonel Kurtz's phrase. Once it became apparent the museum would never be the dynamic collection Barr originally envisioned, shedding older works as it acquired newer ones, it should have left well enough alone and enshrined his gripping narrative as whole generations saw and remember it. Anyone not as smart and perceptive as he perhaps ought not presume to tamper with what worked--as in, sold the world on a particular (ostensibly too linear, politically unbalanced) vision of artistic change at a particular moment in history. Whatever one thinks of Cezanne's position as the cornerstone of pictorial Modernism, the current staffers' substitution of that corny Paul Signac in his place at the entrance is just lame. Dress the decision up as they will, as signifying the importance of proto-Pop or what have you, it was evidently a flattering-the-donors move, as the Signac is pledged to the museum by David Rockefeller. Above, left to right: Christopher Ashley, Robert Morris Serra, Abe Linkoln. Picture courtesy Screenfull & Look, See.
As an example of the circuit bent gear phenomenon mentioned in the previous post--this is Nautical Almanac's equipment table.
Paul Slocum is doing some interesting work in the emerging "circuit bent" field, where old games, toys, and keyboards get broken open and rewired to make new sounds. Check out his repurposed Epson dot matrix printer that makes music and still prints out images. This is fascinating on the level of Mad Maxian, Professor-making-a-nuclear-reactor-out-of-the-ship's-radio-and-coconuts bricolage (or as an illustration of the Gibsonian axiom "the street finds its own uses for things"), but the printer is only part of a larger gesamtkunstwerk, including Slocum's band Tree Wave (a duo with Lauren Gray), which is making some of the coolest music around. While the band uses the printer and other low-tech gear (1977 Atari 2600 game console, 1986 portable 286 PC, 1983 Commodore 64 computer) to make its music, it's not the annoying, tuneless gameboy stuff we've been hearing in the galleries lately but rather has been compared to guitar bands such as My Bloody Valentine and early Stereolab. This is because the computers use fuzz tones and other psychedelic guitar-like sounds as opposed to pure video game bleeps. "Sleep" is a simply amazing 3 minutes of music that updates the Krautrock formula of drones-over-insistent-beats with rich, jangly, unmistakably consumer-electronic textures that just seem to keep surfacing in the mix. Catchy, crunchy rhythms kick away underneath while spare but sublime femme vocals float in over the top. The equipment runs with custom music software written by Slocum for the band, obviously with a very analog-sounding end product in mind. According to the website there is also a video element used in live performance. Hopefully we'll get to see and hear all this here in NY soon.
UPDATE: Slocum's thoughts on whether his work is really circuit bending here.