Santa Fe Complex – June 13, 2009
Organized and curated by Philip Mantione
FrankenCircuit is the result of an enormous collaboration of over 19 artists, musicians, scientists, computer programmers and engineers. At a superficial level, the Frankenstein reference is obvious, such as in the aesthetics of the FrankenSwitch. But beyond that, there are issues raised by Mary Shelley’s classic tale that are as controversial today as they were 200 years ago. Shelley lived during the Industrial Revolution, the beginnings of the science of electricity, and in an age of new discoveries.
“By the early nineteenth century, philosophers like physician Erasmus Darwin and chemist Humphry Davy, both well known to Mary Shelley, pointed the way to mastery of the physical universe. Discoveries about the human body and the natural world promised the dawn of a new age of medical power, when such things as reanimation of dead tissue and the end of death and disease seemed within reach. In Mary Shelley’s day, many people regarded the new science of electricity with both wonder and astonishment. In ‘Frankenstein,’ Shelley used both the new sciences of chemistry and electricity and the older Renaissance tradition of the alchemists’ search for the elixir of life to conjure up the Promethean possibility of reanimating the bodies of the dead.”
The original title of Shelley’s book, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, alludes to the central theme of the book. That being the potential power and perceived danger in the thirst for and acquisition and application of, knowledge. It could be argued that these fears relating to knowledge no longer exist. But consider current debates over genetic engineering and the ramifications of genetically modified food and cloning. And the nuclear debate still looms large in the public psyche, as so-called “rogue” states acquire nuclear technology. Governments and corporations jealously guard their discoveries as Victor Frankenstein kept secret his methodology to the very end. While Frankenstein’s rationale was based on the potential misuse and inherent dangers of his knowledge, contemporary reasoning may be more related to profit, self-preservation, or maintaining the current world order.
“Mary Shelley suggests that Frankenstein’s misfortune did not arise from his Promethean ambition of creating life, but in the mistreatment of his creature. Frankenstein’s failure to assume responsibility for the miserable wretch he fathered in his workshop is his real tragedy.” (http://www.uv.es/~fores/msaron12.html)
The idea of responsibility as related to the acquirement and subsequent use of knowledge becomes key, so much so, that failing to acknowledge this sense of obligation ultimately leads to destruction. Allan Watts said,
“…the underlying problem of cybernetics, which makes it an endless success/failure, is to control the process of control itself. Power is not necessarily wisdom.” (“The Book On The Taboo Against Knowing Who We Are”, pg. 44)
So today we grapple with the opposing ideas of secrecy and open source, control and pure research, and what we can do, versus, what we should do.
Santa Fe Complex
Electricity, controlled from a single knife switch, animates seven distinct kinetic sculptures, compiled from re-purposed mechanical parts and electrical circuitry. Their sounds are amplified through a sound system and mixed with precomposed electroacoustic music, to create a unified sonic environment that serves to dislocate the individual sounds from their physical placement. Work ranges from high tech microprocessor controlled circuitry to low tech mechanistic devices that are at the mercy of friction. The pieces, created independent of one another, are united in their collective sound and in the source of their animation.
by Martin Back
In homage to the early video experiments of the 1960’s and works by Wolf Vostell and Nam June Paik, Martin will be presenting ‘Cathode’s Revenge’ in which sound from a photocell driven series of oscillators produces a video image, which, in turn, controls the sound of the oscillators.
by James Brody
… is receiving its first realtime performance at FrankenCircuit. The work is made up entirely of sounds from that city. These sounds are provided by the Venice 2.0 project headed by Fabio Carrera (http://www.venice2point0.org/).
by Tristan Chambers and Zevin Polzin
This piece is constructed from found objects acquired from the “Black Hole,” the scrap yard of Los Alamos Laboratories. The very materials used for developing the first nuclear bomb are rearranged and connected to create a primitive computational machine entirely handmade. This machine is constructed to contemplate some aspect of the event involving the first detonation of the atomic bomb, which took place at the Trinity Site in White Sands, NM. Like any computational machine it performs operations as an abstract entity, yet as a physical object, wrought with the history of one of the few most sophisticated yet destructive events in human technology, it will convey the material basis upon which all computational processes subsist. The materials of our creation are not durable enough to comprehend such an event–a testament to the irrevocable consequences of atomic destruction.
by Töped Emoh
…is comprised of various scraps of repurposed home construction material, imitation grass, guitar strings, machine heads, shelf lighting, a mirror, aluminum and a simple motor mechanism. The piece strips the idea of interactivity down to its essence by means of a toggle switch. When activated, a motor sweeps a “hand” across the strings producing a rhythmic “ca ching” sound. The mirror gives the illusion that the mechanism has been lowered into a grave-like hole in the ground.
by Tory Hughes
Cyrus Ahmadi-Moghadam (mechanical and electrical engineering)
All the girly bits, and just as much electricity! Francine’s goal in life is to pull together her feminine side. She likes to flirt shamelessly and make people smile. She thinks Frank is really cute but awfully rugged, and he gets so noisy when he is excited; also she is not sure what his core personality is. In the meantime, she just wants to have fun, meet new people, and play around. In her past life she was a vibrating bed. In her next life she wants to be a blue Corvette.
This object is based on a Magic Fingers vibrating bed motor, onto which a plate was attached with springs. To that plate a variety of assembled elements have been soldered and glued. Among these are marabou, beads, jingle bells, goose and pheasant feathers, iridescent mylar, polymer clay, fiber optics, googley eyes, and other related materials. Thanks to Terry Pratchett.
by Philip Mantione
The piece is constructed from a hacked slide projector, a stepper motor found at the Black Hole in Los Alamos, a found wooden drawer, aluminum bar, and an old stereo receiver. As the slide projector runs continuously, a piezo microphone picks up its sound and the audio signal is sent through the receiver to the stepper motor which moves the clock’s single hand. The hand moves “undecidedly” in the space between 0 and 1. The regular rhythm of the machine and lights is contrasted with this random movement, in a sort of collision of analog and digital worlds.
LUZ DE OSCURIDAD
by David Enoch McPherson
…is a kinetic sculpture which spins, belches smoke, and throws patterns of light and shadows every which way.
robotics and electrical design by Simon Mehalek
concept by Philip Mantione
The robotic sculpture mounted on conductive steel cable overhead, known as Prometheus, was constructed from a device salvaged at the Black Hole in Los Alamos, its original function remains a mystery. It tracks and follows viewers in the space, while projecting their video image and aurally communicating with them. The name of the piece refers to the second part of Shelley’s original title, “Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus,” a phrase originally coined by Immanuel Kant referring to Benjamin Franklin. In the myth, Prometheus (whose name means “forethought”), is punished by Zeus for stealing the secret of fire and giving it to humanity. But Plato, through his character Protagoras, adds a new dimension to the story:
“…Prometheus suffers because he stole part of what humans need to live, but the most important part, civic wisdom, was lacking…Prometheus, the forethinker, should have known better.” (“Why Prometheus Suffers: Technological and the Ecological Crisis.” by Albert A. Anderson, Babson College)
The robotic Prometheus attempts to rectify his failure, as bits of wisdom are communicated through an on-board speaker and a computerized voice using quotes by people such as Albert Einstein, Dalai Lama, Mohandas Gandhi, Euripides, Aeschylus, and Socrates. As subjects are tracked by Prometheus, their image is picked up by a mounted camera, zoomed to a close-up of their face. As a viewer looks up (to the Gods), they are presented with a huge God-like image of themselves staring back from the “heavens.”
by Zevin Polzin
My piece will be a partly enclosed plot of soil inoculated with mycoremediational fungi, tended by a “robot gardener” that will measure soil conductivity, monitor light levels, and water the plot at regular intervals. The robot will be stationary, embedded in the soil, and built using as many biodegradable parts as possible: eventually the system will be degraded and consumed by the mycelium it tends.
Bass (Base) Line
by Frank Rolla
An electroacoustic object that examines peripheral animal behavior at the low end.
video by Alysse Stepanian
While manipulating footage from Jean Cocteau’s The Blood of A Poet, I sensed an excitement about the new technology that Cocteau must have felt eighty years ago, when he experimented with manipulating images through filming tricks and available technology of the time.
The wonders of technology in Mary Shelley’s days were also infectious. It is significant that, “Cocteau designed the work concerning the adventures of a young poet condemned to walk the halls of the Hotel of Dramatic Follies for his crime of having brought a statue to life.”
by Steina and Woody Vasulka
(1970-72) One-channel video and two-channel sound.
A configuration of multiple monitors knits together a selection of the Vasulkas’ investigations into the phenomenology of sound and vision. Matrix 1 brings together a selection from the artists’ 1970-72 Matrix series of video-array projects. The Vasulkas were early proponents of multimonitor video configurations, an initial departure from the convention of single-channel works that would eventually lead to video installations. For the Matrix series, the Vasulkas worked with engineer George Brown, a frequent collaborator in these years, in adapting a keyer, a device that regulates the combination of two visual signals, into an apparatus capable of layering multiple images; this approach is typical of the artists’ interest in modifying technology for aesthetic ends. The sound in Matrix I is generated, in part, by patterns of random electronic signals. These signals also generate images, which themselves generate sound. The result is a sequence of pulsing abstract forms that move horizontally across the video monitors; although the same image appears on each screen, the impression is of synchronized waves moving across the field of monitors. This horizontal movement, which might seem mundane to the sophisticated viewer of today, was another technical breakthrough; up until that point, experiments in scrolling and simulating the passage of images between different screens had been limited to vertical movement, as in Joan Jonas’s Vertical Roll (1972).
In some respects, the abstract, geometric character of Matrix I is reminiscent of the experiments in film and nonobjective form conducted by artists in the 1920s. In the work of Hans Richter and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, for example, abstract shapes are manipulated into moving compositions that simulate rhythm, musical harmony, and the contrasting values of opacity and transparency. The desire to create form from technical process is an inherently Modernist impulse. While acknowledging a general interest in such aesthetics, however, the Vasulkas credit the less austere painterly investigations of Salvador Dali and Maurits Cornelis Escher, with their distortions of visual perception, as more immediate influences. The artists also cite the significance of Bela Julesz, whose essays on the nature of “Cyclopean vision”-the fusion of left- and right-eye cognition to create a third-eye viewpoint-bear specifically on the effects achieved in Matrix l,’ where multiple camera setups were employed to create an overall composite image. (www.vasulka.org)
behavioral experiment 914
by Dr. Woohoo and Walter Gordy
I found a moleskin notebook on the Railrunner on the way to Santa Fe from Albuquerque. Upon opening it to find out who it belonged to, the following entry was bookmarked: “As of this moment, the brains of our army of mini-robots are being manufactured in China. Walter awaits their arrival with a soldering iron in hand, prepared to implant the brains into the bodies of the bots. The behavioral model application – which is a cross between Craig Reynold’s steering behaviors and the sub-modalities of emotions – is ready to be uploaded into the minds of our soldiers. Combined with their ability to see, to hear, we can only speculate what their physical and emotional reactions to the environment and spectators will be when they come to life at the Santa Fe Complex!” On the front page it read, “In case of loss, please return to: Dr. Woohoo!”
Martin Back is an artist, composer, musician and percussionist. A self-confessed dilettante, he explores a wide array of methodologies to create and perform his musical and sound works: graphic and text scores, digital computers and software, custom circuitry, hacked electronics, and custom percussion and stringed instruments. He has performed at numerous festivals and venues in New Mexico. Martin is founder and director of the Santa Fe Performance Collective and the composer’s workshop – Ancestral Groan Liberation Orchestra. He is also a member of the New Mexico SoundPainting Orchestra and the performance art/music group Buddha Pests. His video works have been exhibited at film festivals in the United States and Canada. Back studied for a B.A. in Moving Image Arts at the College of Santa Fe where he was a student of noted media artist David Stout and renowned media historian and theorist Gene Youngblood. He worked as an assistant to Steina and Woody Vasulka from 2002-2007. Martin is currently taking private lessons with composer and sound artist David Dunn.
James Brody (b.1941) studied composition at Indiana University with Iannis Xenakis and Franz Kamin. Brody wrote the liner notes for the original Nonesuch LP of ‘Iannis Xenakis – Electroacoustic Music’. He was co-founder of the FIASCO group in Bloomington, CAPASA in San Antonio and the Baltimore Composers Forum. In 1970, he taught composition, theory and electronic music at East Texas State University. He has written many electroacoustic and instrumental works which have been performed at various international venues. Brody was a guest composer at the Electronic and Computer Music Studio of The Peabody Institute and is an active member and past president of the Baltimore Composers Forum. Background Count was performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC as part of a concert of the SONIC CIRCUITS International Electronic Music Festival. Techqua Ikachi!, for four channel electroacoustics, four instrumental groups, chorus, singers and actors with a text by Frederick Schreiner based on the Hopi story of creation, was premiered at York College of Pennsylvania in 2004 where he was a member of the adjunct faculty of York College of Pennsylvania.
Tristan Chambers is an electronics engineer and a computer hacker who interests himself in the use of technology both in art and science. Taking ideas from his experience designing and building scientific research instruments like digital beam forming scatterometeres and atmospheric research laser control systems, he integrates found objects and home brewed software to express the signals and phenomena of nature and mathematics in audible fluctuations and schematical works of art.
Töped Emoh was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1978. His work can be found in every major city in the US and Canada. Although he is an entity with all the rights of a legal citzen, he was not born in the traditional way, has no mother and is the progeny of multiple fathers.
Walter Gordy currently attends the University of New Mexico as an electrical engineering student, with a focus in digital design and control systems. He has over ten years experience as a programmer. His work includes unmanned self-navigating aerial vehicles, small robots, graphic design, and sensor networks.
Stephen Guerin is President of the Board of Directors of Santa Fe Complex. He is also the inspiration behind sfX and spends a significant percentage of his time volunteering on its behalf as a spokesperson, organizer and developer of the intern program. He is President of RedfishGroup, a R&D consultancy based in Santa Fe, where he applies the emerging science of complex adaptive systems. His work centers on visualization, modeling and the design of self-organizing systems. He served on the National Science Foundation’s Human & Social Dynamics Grant Review Committee and lectures on agent-based modeling and visualization as a faculty member of Santa Fe Institute’s Complex Systems Summer School. Between 2000 and 2002, Stephen worked as a Senior Software Developer at BiosGroup and participated as a member of Stuart Kauffman’s research group. Guerin started researching chaotic systems as they applied to economic systems and business cycles in 1989. He founded RedfishGroup in 1991 to provide special effects animation, video editing and commercial printing. RedfishGroup’s long-term mission is to create living software systems.
Tory Hughes has been making things since she was six. Now grown up mostly, she makes jewelry and sculpture, and teaches and writes on the creative process and making things with polymer and mixed media. www.toryhughes.com She and Francine share a penchant for sparkly earrings and foreign travel. Her work has been exhibited internationally for more than twenty-five years, and is in museum collections in the US, as well as in private collections and a variety of publications. She has written a book, created fifteen DVDs, and is a teacher and creative consultant, helping people navigate their own creative landscapes.
Philip Mantione’s orchestral piece, HEX, was recently performed in one of the Santa Fe Community Orchestra’s reading sessions, conducted by Oliver Prezant. In 2008, T = 2.7K, for trumpet, computer and video, was presented at CCA. Mantione’s music has been described as “austerely impressive” (Paris Transatlantic Monthly). Innova Recordings calls his Sinusoidal Tendencies, “a searing study in form and color.” Zane Fischer of the Santa Fe Reporter, called his interactive sound sculpture, “…a satisfying, interactive rabbit hole, in which tactility becomes sound.” Mantione has written music for computer interactive projects, acoustic pieces for orchestra, string quartet, brass quintet, woodwind quintet, piano trio and other chamber ensembles. In 2006, he composed B, commissioned by Thomas Buckner for baritone voice, string quartet, percussion and computer. In 2005, the S.E.M. Ensemble conducted by Petr Kotik, performed his Traffic for strings at Merkin Hall in NYC. Mantione’s music has been on radio in the US, Canada, Croatia, Lithuania, and Australia. His Sinusoidal Tendencies CD-ROM was in the European Media Arts Festival (Osnabrück, Germany), and in the CD-ROM Salon organized by Foro Artistico (Hannover, Germany). He has collaborated with multimedia artist Alysse Stepanian on performances, installations, and experimental videos. L.P. Streitfeld, of the New York Times and The Advocate & Greenwich Times, has described their work as “a wry and profound commentary on the conflicted state of America’s emotions.” Visit: www.philipmantione.com and for collaborative work: www.box1035.com
David Enoch McPherson uses painting, woodworking, sculpture, video and music to create his performance and installation pieces. Co-creating community spectacles that involve the efforts of people working together, his work can best be described as “participatory art.” McPherson attended the San Francisco Art Institute in 1994 and 1995. His major at SFAI was multi-disciplinary studies. He experimented with analog video and animation, performance, conceptual and installation work. In 1995, he attended the Burning Man Arts Festival in Black Rock City, Nevada. In 1998 he had a show of his paintings at CCA’s Plan B. Experimenting with audio software programs as well as with synths, drum machines, and external hardware, McPherson began to create elaborate sound compositions that were integrated into his installation environments. Finding inspiration and collaborations that emerged from New Mexico’s underground electronic music and Burning Man culture, McPherson has expanded into creating performances for events such as Design Week Santa Fe in 2006 and 2007, and the Milagro Awards ceremony of the Santa Fe Film Festival in 2007. One of his latest works, “The Inner Space Ship” was featured at Artscape 2008, a weekend long public arts festival held in Baltimore MD. His current work stems from the idea that if people can learn how to make art together, they can learn how to understand one another and create solutions together.
Simon Mehalek is Chief Technology Officer for the Complex. He is a respected researcher, technician and artist in the fields of optics, astronomy, photography, electronics, and mechanical design. Mehalek’s early interest in robotics and computers led to academic research appointments at the University of New Mexico, Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Lab, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Artificial Intelligence Lab. As Chief Technology Officer of sfX, Mehalek designs and manages its analog and digital infrastructures, making him a key connector of people at the Complex to realize its mission of integrative exploration of science, technology and art. Mehalek currently collaborates with Woody Vasulka, a pioneer in video and computer graphic art.
Flamingo Pink! (singer-songwriter Megan Burns) has been performing around Santa Fe for the last three years. Her music has been described as “Kitten-Pile-Music” as it has a gentle, sweet lullaby sound to it. Her music is influenced by: Tuesday Mornings, Friends and Lovers, Genuine Interaction, Space and Time’s Relativity, Energy Saving Lightbulbs and Trampoline Jumping. Megan is a self-taught guitarist with over a decade of voice training.
Zevin Polzin is a composer and computer programmer specializing in sleep concerts, emergent systems, adaptive instruments, and influencing the outcome of random events with his mind. Current projects include the further expansion of Pauline Oliveros’ Expanded Instrument System; designing software instruments for multiply-disabled children; custom noise machines built from repurposed and salvaged materials, and mycoremediational robot gardens. He is a graduate student at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, and is employed by the Deep Listening Institute in Kingston, NY, and by Littleglobe in Santa Fe, NM.
Ismael Retzinski has studied for roughly 315,619,200 seconds with Monsieur Chuchani, the creator of the last known Golem.
Frank Joseph Rolla received an MFA in Sculpture at UNM and has taught basic robotics at the College of Santa Fe. Recent work includes Jerk and the Accelerants, an interactive performance for strings, and MIDI managed robotics, programmed using MAX/Msp, Rise, installation and performance of an articulated frame robotic sculpture, and Rail Sled, a powered radio controlled rail vehicle that will complete a run from the Santa Fe Railyard to Lamy. For FrankenCircuit, he will perform Harp, a work for fretless banjo and MIDI controlled gourd harp. He is also the designer of the FrankenSwitch.
Alysse Stepanian is a multimedia artist, and creator and curator of the Manipulated Image video screenings at the Complex. She is also a founding co-director of MANY in NYC, where she curated and produced multimedia festivals. Stepanian has collaborated with Philip Mantione under the name BOX 1035. Their installation,“Don’t be afraid, be ready” at Imagine Gallery in Beijing was listed in the City Weekend magazine as number one of the top 5 exhibits. Rencontres Internationales Paris/Berlin has distributed Stepanian’s video work in Europe, and her video, The Field was chosen by Sonic Circuits VII for international screenings. In 2006, Stepanian’s interactive web art, “e-postcards” and “Buffalo Weekly Videos” were featured in an invitational exhibition at The Islip Museum of Art in NY. Stepanian has studied and performed with Rachel Rosenthal in LA. In 2001 at DCTV in NYC, she directed liveReal, a multimedia performance broadcast live in Manhattan. In NYC Stepanian worked as the Technical Director for DCTV’s live broadcasts on MNN, and directed three of Democracy Now’s shows (2000-01). Stepanian’s paintings were represented by Sherry Frumkin Gallery in Santa Monica. William Wilson of the LA Times writes about her paintings, “They are a curious combination of reflection and force, of forbearance and analysis.” Stepanian has shown at venues such as: Kunsthaus Tacheles (Berlin), Leeds International Film Festival(UK), CCA (Santa Fe), Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art (Yerevan, Armenia), cinéma l’Arlequin (Paris), Podewil (Berlin), Galerie Bhak (Seoul, Korea), Art In General (NYC), Columbia University, and Dixon Place (NYC). (AlysseStepanian.com)
Steina and Woody Vasulka began working in the pioneering days of video art in the 1960s and 1970s, when artists interested in the medium were largely concerned with the social and political implications of television . In an era when “the establishment” as a political body was generally under attack, the seamless flow of commercial and institutional information in the form of broadcast images, texts, and sound was subject to intense scrutiny and criticism. Artists took possession of the television medium to generate alternative strategies of production, offering it as a site for aesthetic investigation rather than as a space for commercial entertainment and institutional authority. In contrast to many of their peers, the Vasulkas focused on the technological infrastructure of television, rather than on the social issues surrounding it. Four years after their arrival in the United States in 1965 (they met in Prague in the early 1960s), they began creating collaborative works that utilized their respective skills: his as an engineer and film editor, hers as a musician. In 1971, along with Andres Mannik, they founded the Kitchen, an alternative space in New York where artists could experiment with sound and electronic images. With a more scientific than intuitive approach, the Vasulkas began testing the limits of existing technologies to explore the formal properties of digital and analog imagery, the materiality of electronic signals, and the temporal relations between audio and video. Matrix I represents their first attempt to formalize many of these early experiments. (www.vasulka.org)
Dr. Woohoo (translation: Serious Fun), is a New Mexico based, internationally recognized artist who is programming a path from code back to the natural world. To create his art he combines the intelligence of algorithms, the creative expressiveness of organic media with behaviors found in natural systems. Working with digital media since 1993, Woohoo’s professional projects are available at blog.drwoohoo.com.
Anne “Ahni” Rocheleau
FrankenCircuit was made possible in part by the generous support of:
Whole Foods Market
Hogel’s Theatrical Supplies, Inc.
Special thanks to David Stout
for donating the monitors used to present the
Vasulka video installation: Matrix 1