„Move On“ Werkleitz Festival
Halle (Saale) ― Germany ― 2015
Phase Orkestra is the third ‘orkestra’ in a series of installations that interrogate the inner lives of matter and machines.
Part shamanistic alien construction, and part perceptual experiment, the Phase Orkestra is intended to mirror our relationship to technology and matter. It is at once fascinating, disorienting, elusive and soothing – a complex organism comprised of wire, electronics, lights and speakers.
Whilst denying any purpose, it begs to be understood in terms of utility – what is it doing? why is it here? how does it work? In denying any ‘sensible’ answer, the work draws attention to the senses themselves – and questions the entwined myths of machines-as-better-than-human, and matter-as-less-than-alive.
As opposed to creating anthropomorphic machines, Phase Orkestra explores my ongoing interest in presenting technological assemblages as complex, internally animated and ‘alive’, in-and-of themselves. This lies in contrast to the myth of technology, especially artificial ‘intelligence’, as emulating and improving on biological life.
The myth of machines as both human-like and better-than-human is deeply entangled with the historical extraction of machine-like, human labour and the exploitation of material resources. Vaucanson’s automata may have sparked audiences’ imaginations, but his automated loom is what stimulated economies…and, by extension, matter itself must ‘only’ be a dead thing, waiting for human genius to animate and give it life – but, as Karen Barad asks:
“What makes us think that matter is lifeless to begin with?”
Sonically (and visually) the work explores the shift from barely perceptible to overwhelming, and is composed from field recordings made in and around Halle Neustadt.
The work opens with the sounds of electro-mechanical (‘time’) ticking and a disembodied GPS system pronouncing our unlikely arrival at an unknown destination. This sense of alienation is met by a crescendo of industrial air-conditioning and the roar of flames being used to seal asphalt, before revealing more musical elements: extended piano, foley and percussion, eventually forming a crude kind of electronic beat – a tribute to Halle’s position in the genealogy of east-German techno.
The video on the left is a 2 min edit of the original 18 min installation. A full un-edited version can be viewed on Vimeo.
Phase Orkestra was developed during a residency at Werkleitz Gesellschaft located in Halle (Saale), Germany.
The residency took place between May and October 2015 and was part of the European Media Artists Residency and Exchange Program and the Move.On. Festival with support of the Culture Program 2013 of the European Commission and the Goethe-Institut.
Sound Design, Code & Electronics
1km x Audio Cable, 20m x RGB WS2811 LEDs, 12 x 2m Electroluminescent Wire, 16 x Magnetic Relays, 1 x Arduino Mega, 1 x Teensy 3.6, 1 x USB Extender, 12 x 12” Speaker, 6 x Stereo Class-D Amplifiers, 1 x 300W Full Range Woofer, 1 x MacBook Pro, 1 x 16ch MOTU Soundcard, custom software developed in openFrameworks and Max/MSP.
Variable (as exhibited)
5000mm R (LED ring)
9000mm W x 15000mm L x 3600mm H (room)
The work arose in response to the unique east-German architecture, history, people and culture I discovered in Halle (Saale) and Leipzig. Living in the brutal and beautiful architecture of Neustadt – the first socially planned DDR housing estate – and its stark contrast to the un-bombed 16th century Altstadt – I similarly encountered a division between old prejudices and new techno/logical cultures.
While researching the origins of psychoacoustics, I discovered the pioneering work of Gustav Theodor Fechner (1801-1887), who lived and worked in nearby Leipzig. His seminal work Elemente der Psychophysik (1860) enunciates the concept and methods of a broader ‘psychophysics’ – the general study of the relationship between ‘objective’ physical stimuli and ‘subjective’ bodily sensation.
Conceptually, the work incorporates both Fechner’s scientific and more philosophical texts, much maligned at the time, which controversially asked questions little asked then (or now): do plants have souls? is matter alive? Leading him to explain an ‘animist’ or “daylight-view”, that “all matter – far from being dead – has its own internal, unknowable and complex life“.
The the use of ‘just-noticeable differences’ in audiovisual perception, lighting patterns and musical timings are based on several of Fechner’s experiments into the perception of noise and colour.
For example the stroboscopic LED patterns in the work are based on Fechner’s discovery that the subjective sensation of ‘colour’ can be induced by exposing the optic nerve to a 3-phase oscillation of only black and white patterns.
Known as Fechner Colours or Pattern Induced Flicker Colours (PIFC), the effect is usually demonstrated using a Bentham Disc (see below), and is still used in ophthalmology and research into glaucoma and ‘colour blindness’.
WARNING: STROBOSCOPIC EFFECTS
when viewing the Spinning Bentham Disc below
(look for a colour halo in the arcs of the disc)