20 OSCILLATORS IN 20 MINUTES is an experimental music performance/technical challenge/standup comedy act where I attempt to build twenty sound generating square wave oscillators in twenty minutes. This involves fabricating small electronic circuits with wires, chips, small components and nine-volt batteries under the pressure of limited time and expectation. This is a test of my technical abilities and an experiment in working with live troubleshooting as a method of musical improvisation.
The Fisher-Price Nursery Monitor (circa 1983) was a low watt household radio set originally intended to “let parents be in two places at once” by broadcasting the cries of a baby in distress to a mobile receiver accompanying a parent outside of earshot. However, when in very close proximity these devices produce audible feedback that sounds uncannily like whimpering electronic babies. Feedback Babies is an electromechanical sound apparatus that makes use of slow moving motors to automate these transmitters in order to create nuanced feedback patterns.
The Mini Ungineer’s Notebook is a hand drafted reference booklet that I’m currently working on that pays homage to Forrest M. Mims III’s Mini Engineer Notebooks. Mims is prolific amateur scientist and electronics writer. His Mini Notebooks were published by Radio Shack during the mid 1980s – early 1990s – over 75 millions copies of his sixty books sold.
Static electricity affects everyday materials in curious ways – hair stands on end when rubbed with a balloon; laundered clothing clings together if an antistatic sheet is not tossed into the dryer; a static shock transmits from a finger after one drags their feet across the carpet…
The Electrostatic Bell Choir is an electromechanical sound installation that plays with the static electricity emitted from discarded CRT television monitors. This static (that can be felt when one places their hand on the screen when the TV is turned on) is gleaned for its potential to generate subtle movement and is used as the driving kinetic force in the artwork. Sets of static bells* consisting of ultra lightweight pith balls and bells from old grandfather clocks and rotary telephones are mounted in front of an assembly of twenty reclaimed Cathode Ray Tube television sets. A control circuit cycles the TVs on and off in alternating sequences which causes static to build up on the monitors. This static charge agitates the hanging pith balls, causing them to waver and lightly strike the bells ‐ resulting in quasi‐melodic compositions. The TVs are muted, tuned to various channels of white noise and physically spacialized in order to devise a dynamically layered soundscape textured with the signature high-frequency hums, pops and buzzes of the cathode ray tubes warming up. Although compositions are programmed into the piece, it inevitably takes on a character of its own as the static fluctuates and dissipates in response to ethereal nuances (i.e.: changes in air quality such as humidity). The glow of the screens and the subtle resonance of the bells magically punctuate the dark surroundings of the installation.
*Electrostatic bells were invented in 1742 by Andrew Gordon, Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University at Erfurt, Germany. This is the first device known to convert electrical energy into mechanical energy (the moving of a bell clapper back and forth between two oppositely charged bells). It was popularly used at the time to predict oncoming thunderstorms by sensing static electricity in the air. The Electrostatic Bell Choir aims to focus the sensibility of this invention to a more personal scale where it demonstrates the intriguing effects of the invisible environment that constitute our domestic spaces. The artwork is at once mysterious yet can be tangibly deconstructed as the relationship between the static charges and the bells is observed as the TVs illuminate and catalyse the effect.
Darsha Hewitt too makes her process transparent, in this case by showing us her personal sketchbook, where she draws the diagrams and schematics for her devices. Her drawing style is in large part an homage to the inventor Forrest M. Mims III, who wrote many do-it-yourself electronics books and articles in the age before the internet and computer-rendered schematics. Darsha’s meticulously drawn and lettered schematics on grid paper are, to those in the know, instantly evocative of Mims’, yet manage to convey Hewitt’s obvious excitement and delight with this material. Her style is deliberately anachronistic, even the Rona Jaffe novel which donated its cover to the notebook dates from the era of Mims’ notebooks. This could well be, except for a few small clues, a document from 1978 rather than 2008.” – Rob Cruickshank
The Rotarian Choir is a sound installation featuring a chorus of table-top and wall-mounted rotary telephones. Relying solely on the original gong ringers in these modern communication devices, The Rotarian Choir chimes out a repertoire ranging from cheerful and uplifting to downright dismal compositions. The timbral range of the phones vary from harmonious ringing to subtle clicks and muted metallic purrs
La Chorale à roulettes est une installation sonore qui met en vedette des téléphones à cadran, de table et muraux, autrefois à la fine pointe de la communication moderne. Chaque appareil ayant conservé sa sonnerie originale, La Chorale à roulette présente un répertoire de compositions où des timbres joyeux et entraînants peuvent répondre à des sons d’une infinie tristesse. L’oeuvre propose une gamme de timbres allant de la sonnerie mélodieuse au clic à peine audible d’un ronron métallique assourdi.
Tombé dans la désuétude, le téléphone à cadran a acquis une certaine valeur auprès des collectionneurs d’objets de design moderne. Par ailleurs, on trouve souvent d’intéressants spécimens mis au rancart dans nos caves et au fond de nos armoires. Tous les appareils de la Chorale à roulettes sont de fabrication canadienne et ont pour la plupart été obtenus par troc par le biais de postes d’échange établis sur l’Internet. Ils ont étés échangés contre un peu de tout : d’un gâteau aux bananes à une simple poignée de main.
La Chorale à roulettes est l’oeuvre de Darsha Hewitt et Alexandre Quessy. Ils tiennent à remercier cordialement Ken Campbell (conseiller technique) pour son aide précieuse.
Tin Can Telecom is a web art project that makes use of wireless Internet frequencies (WiFi) and a modified Cantenna (description of cantenna below). The artwork acts as portable public announcement system that makes silent announcements to individuals seeking open wireless networks. Tin Can Telecom consists of a wireless web server that emits a wireless Internet access point open to the public. When someone chooses to connect to the Internet using the Tin Can Telecom network, they are automatically directed to a website that hosts a public service announcement devised by the artist.
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The Tin Can Telecom is best suited to be installed in locales where there are individuals using laptops that are potentially looking for open wireless Internet connections. The Artwork has been installed at a public library in Montreal and in the central meeting room at HTMLLes (feminist media arts festival in Montreal). In both instances, individuals had the opportunity to connect to a network called ‘~BaCk~PaIN~.’ When someone connects to this network, they are instantly directed to a series of hand drawn animations that illustrated techniques for achieving better posture while working with computers. When a new user connects to the network the physical antenna unit produces a ‘bleep bloop blip’ sound to indicate that someone is looking at the website. The Tin Can Telecom network is a closed network and does not connect to any outside websites.
WHAT IS A CANTENNA?
A Cantenna is a do-it-yourself antenna used to increase the range of a wireless network connection. It is made up of a couple electronic components (copper wire and a connector) and a tin can. It can be hooked up to a wireless Internet router therefore making the wireless network accessible at a further distance. It can also be hooked up to the network card on a computer and used as a way to tap into a wider range of wireless networks that a computer’s wireless antenna would not otherwise be able to pick up.
Cantennas are very popular amongst computer hobbyists. Amateur instructional videos and websites about how to build Cantennas can be found all over the Internet. Despite its popularity, the Cantenna has been outlawed in certain parts of the world as it is seen as a device used by hackers to ‘hijack’ unprotected networks. In Sacramento California it is illegal to have possession of a Cantenna.
The escapist possibilities afforded by portable electronic gadgets like PDAs and mp3 players are seductive. However, these objects generate virtual barriers between users and their physical reality. The hand-crafted wooden Personal Soundtrack Emitter shifts the role of the portable electronic device from an object that induces seclusion to one that promotes awareness of one’s environment. The device abstracts and reorders its user’s sonic environment into an intimate live soundtrack. It draws attention to the subtleties of one’s surroundings by heightening often-inaudible sounds (such as breathing and touch) and compressing more prominent ones.
The Personal Soundtrack Emitters are listening devices that resemble 19th century mp3 players. Each device contains a modified sound amplifier, headphones, and control knob. When someone wears a Personal Soundtrack Emitter they amplify themselves as well as the subtle sounds that surround them. By tweaking the control knob they create interference on the circuit that results in distortion of their physical sound environment.