Tuesday, February 26

In Pictures: Tending Networks Symposium

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Johnny Chang tonight at Window from 6 - 7

Johnny Chang will be performing a short selection of pieces from his London and Los Angeles compositions in conjunction with a field recording work via radios by Sonya Lacey tonight at Window from 6 - 7pm.

The event kicks off a three-day stint for Johnny at Window, as he'll be conducting less formal performances from 3 - 5pm on Wednesday and Thursday, activating the space with a range of sounds, from delicate amplified paper and dried vegetation to pure tones and field recordings.

Tonight, Tuesday, February 26, 6 - 7pm
Window, General Library Foyer, 5 Alfred Street, Auckland

Tuesday, February 19

Garden city goes digital with conference

Christchurch will play host to a spectrum of digital artists, musicians, programmers, and designers this weekend for Tending Networks, the yearly symposium for the Aotearoa Digital Arts network. Highlights include a keynote and new work presented by Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, the Seoul-based masters of flash who first came to light with their cheeky, minimal work "Artist’s Statement No. 45,730,944: The Perfect Artistic Web Site" shown above.

Stella Brennan will be discussing her most recent work, "South Pacific", a poetic micro-narrative overlaid over satellite imagery which I've previously reviewed.

Eddie Clemens, now based in Christchurch on residency, will be talking about his Pinball Lanterns installation in the Auckland Central Library space. Douglas Bagnall will show us how to "take the tedious work of experimentation, abstraction and learning out of the process of making art" via his myriad machine creations, which range from A Film Making Robot to Te-Tuhi Videogame machine and Cloud Classifier. Finally, cyber-performance group Avatar Body Collision will most likely focus on UpStage, working between countries, and the nuances of the virtual theatre.

Full Symposium programme here.

Seance for Nam June Paik in Christchurch this weekend

“I use technology in order to hate it more properly” Nam June Paik

As part of the ADA Symposium this weekend, Daniel Agnihotri-Clarke presents Séance for Nam June Paik, a screening and performance event featuring Disasteradio, Naomi Lamb, Emil McAvoy & Damian Stewart, Bronwyn Smith, Nathan Thompson, Dell McLeod, Andrew Clifford, Morgan Barnard, and Dan Untitled. Widely regarded as the father of video art, "digital artworks by Aotearoa/New Zealanders will be presented in a new project: to channel (and negotiate with) the spirit of the late Korean artist’s practice".

Saturday 23 February 2008
8pm, SOFA Gallery Basement, Christchurch Arts Centre.
$15/10 or Free Entry with Tending Networks: ADA Symposium Registration

Reciprocity work from Emil McAvoy and Damian Stewart, and Disasteradio.

Monday, February 11

Prada's Trembled Blossoms fails to fully bloom

From ShowStudio comes word of "Trembled Blossoms", an animated short film for Prada. Directed by James Lima, the film depicts a "cyber woman's journey through a magical, illustrated forest", accumulating clothing from the fashion icon as she goes. And while "Blossoms" is an important shift from glossy photo spreads to moving image for fashion, what's more interesting are the cues taken from online worlds, videogames, and new media.

The film's protagonist, an androgynous avatar birthed into the world by a rose, is heavily influenced by manga and anime - featuring the long legs, large eyes, and faerie complexion favoured by Japanese artists. Beginning nude, but fully grown, the animation starts in the same way as notable online words like Second Life. The main item of clothing, a red and blue check sheath dress, isn't put on, it's transferred. Another avatar appears to bestow the clothing, virally spreading the distinctive check texture from herself to our heroine. A host of traits are picked up from online massive multiplayer environments like World of Warcraft: a pixie companion that circles the avatar, a camera that tracks movement, even glitter and glow effects that look downsampled and artificial.

Starting life as a series of stunning storyboards from James Jean, with beautiful finished watercolours from Jared Purrington, "Blossoms" mood boards are pieces of art by themselves. Elegant lines wrap around explosions of colour, pencil drawings of organic flower/high heel hybrids are delicately articulated. Unfortunately, the final work fails to keep it's cyber and organic influences in tension. Caught between pixel and paint, avatar and actor, "Blossoms" plunges into the Uncanny Valley.

Roboticist Masahiro Mori coined the term in the 70s to describe robots "with appearance and motion between a 'barely-human' and 'fully human'. We love the clumsy hulking metal of C-3PIO, but a more realistic woman cyborg with fake hair, skin and unblinking eyes repulses us. While "Blossoms" doesn't cause this degree of emotion, it fails to work because of it's straddling. Instead of an obviously artificial video-game walk cycle, or a motion captured female walk, the film uses a mediocre between - a badly animated slink that's more strange than sexy. Likewise, the avatars facial expressions are more than the real-time triggered response of a videogame, but they're also far less than human. The result is an experience that is beautiful but cold, stunning but not completely compelling.

Powersound at Te Tuhi

Te Tuhi's foyer space reverberated with drones, clattering sticks, and plucked tones on Friday as it played host to a sound and dance performance for James McCarthy's Powersound+. A "sonic wall drawing", Powersound takes the form of a bridge of wires at various tensions, with pickups for amplification. Joining him was members from Auckland's experimental music community Vitamin S, including: Kristian Larsen, Zoe Drayton, Paul Buckton, and Andrew McMillan. The group successfully flowed through a number of phases, from Drew's initial harplike 'activation' of the instrument, through harsh guitar scraping, Dada-like play, and a rich harmonic tone on the verge of feedback to close.

Kristian throws sticks at James in some sort of fishing-baseball hybrid.

Zoe provides noise and soundscapes via a laptop.

James sets up a made instrument of wooden posts at various lengths.

Thursday, February 7

New media work shows traffic, but not it's impact

As well as recycling code as a way to teach programming, Steph Thirion recently finished Cascade on Wheels, a data vis project attempting to translate abstract traffic stats into a more meaningful, compelling interactive. Beautifully realised in Processing, Cascade extrudes upwards, creating something akin to a spatial bar graph over Madrid - the higher the wall, the more traffic on that street. Responsive and navigable, the user is able to pan, zoom, and explore this new environment of data easily. The problem is, Cascade stops there, failing to make any statement about how, for instance, the 100,000 vehicles per day on El Prado street impacts residents, the environment, and the urban fabric.

Thirion (and the rest of the team) seemed to realise this, and came up with a second vis based on the same data, Traffix Mixer. A sound toy, where "emotion was given prominence over direct readability", Mixer does provide a nice complement to the more strictly infographic Cascade. But unfortunately, the innovative, slick interface compromises the power of the work. " Ah, i forgot how pleasant it sounds... nice to hear it again.", is one comment on the video blog. The sound of a speeding car coming up behind you - as any pedestrian or cyclist can attest- is always unnerving and ominous. Mixers sound, while aggressive, is too abstracted from its subject matter, sounding more like a track from a laptop/glitch artist.

Traffic expands like a virus. The amount of vehicles will always expand to the amount of roadway available. Its effects are also viral and ever expanding. In a landmark study in 1981, Dr. Donald Appleyard demonstrated a direct correlation between the number of friends people have on a street, and the amount of cars travelling on a given street. Even more interestingly, when asked to define their "home area", residents on Appleyard's "Low Traffic" road circled the whole street: their house, the front yards, the footpaths, and even their friends houses. With growing traffic comes growing impact, and a growing retreat. Children on the street stop playing. Adults on the footpath stop conversations. Hanging out in front yards ceases, decks stop being used, and finally in extreme situations, the front room of the house is unused, permeated with traffic noise, horns, and pollution. Traffic Mixer and Cascade on Wheels, while stunningly executed, fail to convey the impact of their subject - either quantitatively or qualitatively.

Tuesday, February 5

Monolake/Robert Henke 2008

(Editor's note: from guest contributor Melody Watson)
Almost exactly four years after his last memorable performance in Auckland, Robert Henke (otherwise known as Monolake) graces our New Zealand shores once again.

Those of you who went to that 2003 gig will know that it was one to remember, one that people still talk about even now. This year’s performance promises to be no different.

Monolake has been an integral part of the minimal techno scene in Berlin since the early 1990’s and had releases on the groundbreaking label “Chain Reaction” before starting to release music on his on label “ Imbalance Computer Music”

Monolake describes his music thus: “I create music people can dance to, music people want to experience also with their bodies, massive rhythmical structures, temporary sonic architecture with carefully choosen textures, shimmering details, constantly breathing and pulsating objects in time. …Music in which is nothing is static and which wants to exist as a state rather then a story, music which is the result of an intense occupation with detail and which still leaves enough room for interpretation. Music which improves if played loud over giant speaker stacks. Those works are released under the project name Monolake and usually labelled techno, minimal, electro or dub.” He has performed as Monolake a number of times at various prestigious festivals such as Mutek in Montreal (www.mutek.ca) and Transmediale (www.transmediale.de).

Robert has also been involved with a very interesting collaboration with various producers over the world. This is called “Atlantic Waves” and it comprises Robert jamming in real-time with such people as Deadbeat (aka Scott Monteith) and Torsten Proefrock who is associated with the Basic Channel label. He has performed this in such places as the Tate modern and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. I was lucky enough to catch this when I was in Berlin, with Robert jamming with Deadbeat in New York. It sounded really great, and you could also see what was happening due to the interface being projected.

Yet another project (this Robert Henke is a busy boy!) revolves around the use of buddha machines. Here’s what online music magazine Gridface said about Layering Buddha: “Here the lovable FM3 Buddha Machine is his source. The result is a gorgeous ambient album of echoes and crescendos. At times the pieces are soothing (“Layer 001”), other times they are tense and immense (“Layer 002”). The incredible heft of these sounds is a result of Henke’s recording process. Henke used a state-of-the-art A/D converter to record information up to 48 kHz, allowing him to pitch the recordings down to reveal previously inaudible data.”

Robert describes his Layering Buddha performance as “music that needs attention and focus, that slowly builds up intricate and fragile structures, morphing timbres constructed of millions of microscopic sonic particles, cathedrals of filtered noises, dynamic and dramatic processes that grab the listener and throws them into a new state, or music that is almost invisible, floating around like air, music that grows when performed live using multiple channels of audio“. Layering Buddha was awarded an Honorary Mention in the Digital Music category at the 2007 Prix Ars Electronica competition.

Catch Robert Henke perform his Layering Buddha piece in a six channel surround sound environment on the 26th of February at 10/12 Customs St. He will be joined by Rosy Parlane (who releases on Touch), Nigel Wright (who releases on CMR ) and Rose. The performance starts at 8pm and costs $20 ($15 for AF members)

You can also catch Robert performing as Monolake at Coherent the Saturday before (the 23rd). He will be joined by local DJ’s Miles Kuen, Melody and Darin King as well as Wilberforce who will be playing a live dubstep set. This event will start at 10pm and will cost $20 on the door.

Friday, February 1

Guilt or pleasure? Infographics convert from one to another

We Make Money Not Art today briefly mentioned two projects from infographics specialist Michael Mandiberg I've taken a closer look at, Oil Standard and Real Costs, both plugins for Mozillas Firefox web browser. Oil Standard converts US currency amounts into their worth in barrels of crude, a simple premise with it's strength lying in the connectedness of the internet. Running online and using RSS feeds, prices are converted in real-time, rising and falling with the world markets. They're also personalised - the concept becomes much more concrete when it appears over an iPod you're buying online or your own credit card transactions.

Real Costs operates in the same way, albeit on a list of very limited travel websites such as AA.com, JetBlue, and Orbitz. Translating jet miles to kg of CO2 directly on the page, that trip from LA to NYC loses some of it's glamour. The plugin does go further than literal guilt tripping however, providing a range of alternatives like public transport, carbon offsets, and carpools.

But is it all a little too earnestly green? Perhaps. Mandiberg hopes the user might shift "from passive consumer to engaged citizen." With the lack of public transport in the US and the large distances between cities, RL might just have the opposite affect - causing apathy and a sense of helplessness in users. After all, who's wants to spend a few days and nights in a Greyhound bus to make the trek across country? Oil Standard seems simpler, more sinister, and - with the addition of live news feeds from Rigzone.com - much more real. Viewed as an art project, the latter is successful precisely because it doesn't prescribe. Instead it causes a vague but definite malaise in the user, and leaves them to work out any concrete actions or lifestyle changes.