Saturday, April 28, 2007

going DEAF: Pneumatic Sound & Hardware Surrealism

After a short and jetlag-altered visit to Rotterdam, I've been reflecting on some more works from DEAF. My documentation was pretty poor (phone cams don't like dark exhibition halls) but luckily Anne Helmond has some excellent photos from the show, and we liked many of the same works. Helmond also shared my observation that despite the theme ("Interact or Die!") the strongest works were non-interactive (even non-computational).

One other work that rates a mention was Edwin van der Heide's Pneumatic Sound Field, an outdoor installation made up of a suspended grid of 42 pneumatic valves under electronic control. Rapidly switched, the valves emit tiny bursts of white noise - not to mention (as the artist points out) actual air, the material substrate of sound itself. The result is visually underwhelming - a metal spaceframe snaked with little hoses - but sonically and perceptually amazing. Impulses of sound and air flicker over the grid, moving between discrete rhythmic pulses and fused granular clouds that traverse the space like waves. The valves are tiny, perfectly discrete sound sources, so the textures they create are packed with spatial detail, even if they are limited in sonic variety. Van der Heide frames the work as a perceptual and acoustic experiment, but its reception is equally shaped by techno (post-techno, whatever) and its language of immersive pulse and timbre. In other words, it reminded me of Pan(a)Sonic. And like Roots and especially Ondulation (blogged previously), Pneumatic Sound Field uses physical media to create a perceptual field that is richer, higher-res, and more inherently dynamic, than the computational equivalent.

Finally, a work that isn't post-computational at all, but tightly and ironically wedged inside digital culture. Exonemo's Object B is in part a Half-Life mod with a case of Surrealism. Your gun emits oil drums, trucks, furniture, cows and lumps of masonry, which accrete into bizarre composites. What's more, the mod seems to have leaked out of the computer; most of the "players" are controlled by spastic robotic sculptures made from home hardware and electronics shop detritus. It's a beautiful and incisive satire of human-computer interaction, as well as the whole paradigm of 3D graphics. The mass culture readymades of game geometry and home hardware converge in a mad, twitching clump. Documentation online is a bit sparse, but check out this video from

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