Bureaucrats dance!  First Sample Scene from “Liberty’s Secret”

Andy Kirshner is a professor, composer, performer, and filmmaker who makes work about thorny social, political, and existential questions.

In the spirit of eating less cholesterol, exercising regularly, and calling my in-laws more often, I am endeavoring to update my blog more frequently in this New Year.

Last summer, I worked with ten actors to shoot a sample musical number from my movie-in-progress.  The cast included many UM faculty (including A&D A-list actors Malcolm Tulip, Nick Tobier, and Melanie Manos), while the crew was ably (wo)man-ed by recent A&D grads Adrianne Finelli and Laura Pazuchowski.  We shot 5 scenes, one of which I've finished editing and have posted on the movie website.  Here's a link:

"Connect the Dots"


Adaptive Art at the Duderstadt

Art & Design and Engineering Students team up to create art with interactions

Andre Grewe makes websites for the School of Art & Design.

Opening this afternoon at the Duderstadt Gallery, the /bin/art exhibition showcases student projects developed in Adaptive Art: an interdisciplinary class offered by the School of Art & Design and the College of Engineering.

Co-taught by Satinder Baveja (Computer Science & Engineering), director of the University of Michigan's AI laboratory with expertise in machine learning, and Osman Khan (School of Art & Design), an artist who uses technology to create interactive installations, Adaptive Art focused on using computation, algorithms and machine learning as mediums for aesthetic expressions.  In this class, computers aren't something that you do your work on - instead, they're a vital part of the finished work, and might even have created it on their own.

Working in teams that mixed Engineering and Art & Design students, the class used Arduino microcontrollers and Processing, an open source programming language, to create a wide variety of works that interface with people, whether in the same room or on another continent.

I stopped by while the show was being set up and had the chance to get a preview of some of the installations:

The Beckoner
Picture this: You're rushing through the Duderstadt on your way to class. As you hurry past the gallery, you're startled by a sudden tapping sound. As you turn toward the source of the tapping, you realize it's being made by an articulated wooden hand - and now it's beckoning, drawing you closer... This isn't the start of a horror story, but an interactive installation: The Beckoner is a wooden hand mannequin that's controlled by software programmed to recognize human figures and faces - when its camera senses a human-sized shape walking by, it taps. If that shape stops and appears to be looking toward the camera, it beckons them in. "The Beckoner is study into the dynamics of human-computer interaction in a public space – can a wooden hand really engage the attention of the busy students and faculty walking by the gallery?"


Rehaiku plays with conventions, filtering messages about disposable pop culture relayed on a very modern form of communication through a centuries-old formal Japanese structure. The software retrieves tweets from Twitter in real-time, and uses machine learning techniques to combine pieces of these different tweets into correctly formed haiku, creating perfectly formed groupings of 5, then 7, then 5 syllables about Kanye, Justin Bieber and more. The program then sends its creations back out into the world, tweeting them based on crowd response at:

In today's world of TSA body scanners and cameras at every store entrance and traffic light, it's hard to know when you're being watched. Monitor plays into this modern paranoia: As a viewer steps into the installation, he's surrounded by 3 pillars, each topped with a TV monitor. The center TV displays a security camera feed of the subject, and the other two display closeup footage of human eyes. As the subject turns toward any of the monitors, facial recognition software notices - and switches that monitor to static. The result? "The subject will only be able to see video in his periphery, adding to the sensation that he is being watched. The room reacts to the subjects actions in a way that is meant to maintain his ignorance of the content being displayed. "


Pouring Sound
This installation takes a new approach to the traditional sampler, "focusing on transforming how we treat audio and sound, from being audible and intangible, and translating it into a physical object that can be moved, contained, and mixed together." Users can speak into the red/blue pitcher, then play back the sound by pouring it into the green/yellow one. Sound can be sloshed back and forth between the vessels to mix, and dumped on the floor to erase.


Other projects featured in the show include:

  • Audio Wall: a Microsoft Kinect powered interactive space that allows the user to produce and play with music using only their body
  • Digital Genesis: viewers are invited to place and move physical blocks onto the digital environment, which provide light and water sources, nests and environmental effects
  • Hands Free Super Three: presenting three classic video games played hands free (sans controller)!
  • Inside Out: a garment that displays its wearer's heartbeat
  • Music Sequencer: a self-contained, 8-bit, Arduino-powered music sequencer. Sounds are selected and sequenced using an array of buttons on the main panel.

Read more about all of the projects at the Adaptive Art blog.

To get the full impact of these interactive installations, you should really see them in person, but there's a limited time to check them out: /bin/art opens with a reception at the Duderstadt Gallery from 4 - 6 pm on Thursday, December 16 and closes on Friday, December 17th.


Mann on Board

Geoffrey Mann touches clay and likes it

Kath Weider-Roos is the Creative Arts Producer at A&D. She snaps photos and asks questions.

Geoffrey Mann from Scotland was one of the many Witt Visitors to the school this week. He was brought in by fellow Scot, John Marshall, to talk about his work which, as he describes it, “challenges the existing divides between art, craft and design.”

If you’re not sure exactly what this means, this photo makes it more explicit:

That is, he’s going to take all your ideas about ‘craft’ and wreak havoc with them.

I found Geoff in the ceramics studios. He was having a little 2D time after having just played in the 3D studio across the street.

Geoff was working with John Leyland to create a mold for one of his dinnerware pieces from the Cross-fire Series, It took me awhile to understand why he needed to create a mold for these pieces.  Didn’t they exist already? Well, it turns out those incredible shiny ceramic teapots and plates in the photos aren’t real. They were all created in the digital realm and the only thing you could actually hold in your hand (or have some twisted tea in) is a rapid prototype output of the renderings.

So here’s the story behind this fancy dinner set. Geoff was invited to participate in a five year research project, Past, Present & Future Craft Practice (PPFCP), based at the University of Dundee in Scotland. He was the designated ‘future’ man. (“Just because I work in 3-D digital forms, I always get labeled as the ‘future’,” he says.)

And, the first thing Geoffery Mann thinks of when thinking about what to do for the craft practices project is sound. Sound? To me, this explains exactly why he was chosen for the ‘future’ portion of the craft exposition. He said he was particularly intrigued with the idea of ‘getting caught in the crossfire’ and the unseen effect of sound on objects. What kind of artifacts would sound, say for example, an argument leave on an object if it were made visible?

So in thinking about the project, he asks: where do arguments happen? Well, often at the dinner table they do.  So he had the idea to create a scene at a dinner table. It’s elegant and perfect, but there’s something wrong. The dinnerware gets caught in the crossfire of the dinner conversation. So he made this incredible dinnerware set. And though it is superbly real looking, it was entirely fabricated using 3-D animation.  Here is final video he made, using a table-side argument between Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening from American Beauty.

Turns out, the video was shortlisted for the Vimeo Awards in NYC (which take place this weekend) and now Geoff is receiving numerous requests for the dinner set from various museums and collectors.

So here Geoff Mann is, in the A&D ceramic studio, trying to figure out how to render his rapid prototype models into ‘real’ material. Not an easy task since the shape is so unusual. He adds “From the buyer’s point of view, it doesn’t have to be real ceramic but well, I’m a bit of a purist that way. “

P.S. Thanks to John Marshall for the photos.


Sonic Acts 2010 Wrap-Up

John Kannenberg is a first year MFA candidate in the School of Art and Design.

The Game of Life Foundation's Wave Field Synthesis system, a 192-speaker surround sound system.

The last half of the Sonic Acts 2010 conference was just as jam-packed as the first. The third day focused primarily on field recording and music, beginning with one of the figureheads of contemporary R. Murray Schaeffer-influenced recording practice, Barry Truax, lecturing about his own work composing music with environmental sounds. I was particularly interested in his discussions of convolution and its application to the manipulation of the acoustic space of field recordings.

A presentation by Hildegard Westerkamp followed, discussing her long-standing interest in leading soundwalks. Some technical difficulties (see the above video), while unfortunate, actually enhanced the drama of her presentation, an interesting blend of lecture, listening exercises and recitations of quotes about the practice of soundwalks, spoken by people sitting amongst the audience and challenging those present to shift their listening attention to different acoustic spaces.

The interview with Annea Lockwood that followed focused on her return to the sonic spaces of rivers with her new project, A Sound Map of the Danube. Existing as both a stereo album recording and a 2.5 hour long 5.1 surround sound installation, Lockwood's new piece sees her exploring the sonic landscape surrounding the Danube River, her intention being to transport the listener to a specific place through sound. Lockwood initially made her reputation as a composer with a similar piece, A Sound Map of the Hudson River, another piece exploring the sonic mapping of a particular place.

Steven Connor reading "Secession"

The day ended with a panel entitled The Hot Space in Music, revisiting the artists who presented at STEIM a couple of days before but with one notable exception: the panel began with Steven Connor reading his essay Secession, a piece about sound, space, and his own struggles with the auditory affliction tinnitus. One of the highlights of the entire conference for me, his talk was incredibly inspiring in its heartfelt analysis of sound's relationship with space and how a phenomenon like tinnitus can make us question our notions of space.

The final day's presentations consisted of the keynote speech Representation of Space in the Brain by Michael J. Morgan was just as insightful about the way the mind perceives space as it was about how the current trend of 3-D movie technology will ultimately fail just like its predecessors. And the final panel I attended, Spatial Perception featured three very exciting sound installation artists: HC Gilje, Jan-Peter E.R. Sonntag and Jakob Kirkegaard, who discussed their various uses of video and sound in space.

The concerts and film screenings the last two days were equally impressive. Jakob Kirkegaard's Sabulation (see above video) was shown amidst surround pieces by Barry truax, Hildegard Westerkamp and Annea Lockwood.

The Game of Life Foundation held a series of recitals of music composed for their Wave Field Synthesis system, a surround sound system consisting of 192 speakers and eight subwoofers.

The grand finale of the entire conference took place at the Artis Planetarium in the Amsterdam Zoo, where a series of sound performances were accompanied by laser lights (in sets by TeZ and Francisco Lopez) and video, as in the piece pictured above by Paul Prudence, whose video covered the entire planetarium dome and had the audience gasping. A fitting end to a conference about sound art: art that made its audience make sound in response.


Sonic Acts 2010: The Poetics of Space - Sound Art in Amsterdam Day 2

Amsterdam sound art conference continued

John Kannenberg is a first year MFA candidate in the School of Art and Design.

Day 2 of Sonic Acts 2010: The Poetics of Space started off with the beginning of the conference proper, meeting up at the massive Café De Balie in the Leidseplein entertainment district of Amsterdam. De Balie seemed enormous, with its multiple rooms of café seating, a full bar, ticket office and two theater spaces on the ground floor alone; that was until the crowd for Sonic Acts decided to show up.

There were so many people, the atrium and café were shoulder-to-shoulder by 9:45am, fifteen minutes before the conference was scheduled to begin. Luckily I'd pre-ordered a festival and concert pass before I arrived, so I was one of the lucky ticket holders who had priority to sit in the theater where the conference was actually taking place; dozens of other people weren't so lucky, and were banished to the secondary theater to watch what was happening in the theater across the hall on a live internet stream. Keep in mind, this was an academic conference on sound art...I can't reiterate enough, the interest in sound art I witnessed in Amsterdam was truly unprecedented. I've never felt hipper wearing glasses, being bald, and carrying around a Zoom H2 than I did for those four days in Amsterdam. wink

The keynote speaker was Derrick de Kerckhove, a collaborator of Marshall McLuhan's who spoke about the 21st century's move past traditional renaissance perspectival representation into a post-visual, tactile perspectival realm dominated by the advent of electricity, with the "point of being" replacing the "point of view" as the commonly accepted referent to one's position in space.

Daniel Terrugi, Director of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales, and Raviv Ganchrow, a sonology expert and installation artist, comprised the speakers for the second session, Architectures of Sound. Terrugi discussed the positioning of sound sources in space (ie surround sound systems) and their impact on contemporary musical composition, while Ganchrow discussed his work with wave field synthesis in order to redefine acoustic spaces. Ganchrow's wave field synthesis system, a 192-channel surround sound system, was on the schedule to appear at the concerts in the Paradiso club the night after his speech, something I was really looking forward to experiencing.

Christopher Salter was the highlight of the Exercises in Immersion panel. His lecture, "The Question of Thresholds: Immersion, Absorption and Dissolution in Cross-modal Environments" was fascinating, covering James Turell and Robert Irwin's 1968 of the effects on consciousness of extreme sensory input reduction -- basically an analysis of the effects of minimalist art on the audience's consciousness. I was really interested in his discussion of enactive cognition (how our environment arises out of the loop between action and perception) and enactive perception (how perception is achieved because of our bodies' sensorimotor system, and all perception equals action). Salter's new book, Entangled: Technology and the Transformation of Performance is definitely on my to read list.

A panel on Utopian Spectacles was up next, with Branden W. Joseph (author of Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts after Cage) and Trace Reddell (Director of Digital Media Studies at the University of Denver) gave presentations about John Cage and Lejaren Hiller's HPSCHD and the Vortex concerts of Henry Jacobs and Jordan Belson. Renowned theater artist Robert Whitman was up next, discussing his use of space in non-traditional theatrical venues (see the above video), as well as debunking some myths about the legendary 1966 performance event Nine Evenings: Theatre & Engineering he participated in along with John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, David Tudor, Yvonne Rainer, and Deborah Hay among others.

The final panel of the day, The Poetics of Hybrid Space, featured Eric Kluitenberg (head of the media program at De Balie, the conference's venue; Duncan Speakman, a locative media artist who premiered a new guided soundwalk which took place immediately after the panel; Peter Westenberg, a visual artist who specializes in open source practices; Elizabeth Sikiaridi, a professor of urban landscape design at the University of Duisberg-Essen who spoke about the breakdown of Cartesian space as the ruling system of perspective and its replacement by the speed of electricity's power to control the rate at which we experience space; and Karen Lancel and Hermen Maat, Dutch artists who presented their wearable art project Tele_Trust via webcam from Vancouver. But that's not all...there were five more hours of concerts to go to.

The theme of the second night of performances was Expanded Space, and the bill focused heavily on experimental cinema. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's only abstract film, Lichtspiel Schwarz-Weiß-Grau from 1930 was up first. Projected on film rather than video, this was as close as we were going to get to experiencing the piece as it was originally presented; not to mention that beginning a five hour stretch of concerts with a six minute silent film from 1930 was a bold move, and the audience continued to amaze me by attentively (and silently) watching while crushed shoulder to shoulder in a standing-room-only crowd.

Gill Eatherley's three channel film Hand Grenade (featuring a soundtrack by legendary Krautrock band Neu!) was a definite highlight. Again projected on film, this abstract work was made in 1971 with a series of still images of light drawings which were extended, looped and altered via painstaking optical printing.

A performance entitled (SHIFT) by Dutch duo Optical Machines featured live sound and mesmerizing video generated via a series of mechanical devices and metal plates being filmed and processed in real time.

My favorite film of the evening was "Spacy" (1981) by Takashi Ito. I was amazed by its multiple layers of space folding in upon themselves...I'd love to pick up a copy of this compilation DVD of Ito's works. There was so much amazing work shown that night, it's impossible to write about it all by Paul Sharits, Bruce McClure, Greg Pope & Gert-Jan Prins and many others were all so inspiring...another day of information overload! And Sonic Acts 2010 was only half over...


Sonic Acts 2010: The Poetics of Space - Sound Art in Amsterdam

Sound art conference in Amsterdam

John Kannenberg is a first year MFA candidate in the School of Art and Design.

Last week I travelled to Amsterdam for a four day conference on sound art, Sonic Acts XIII: The Poetics of Space, a densely-packed series of lectures, exhibitions and performances dedicated to 21st century notions of sound's relationship to space, using Gaston Bachelard's 1958 philosophical text on the architecture of the imagination, in which he phenomenologically analyzed poetic notions of space and place. The conference was a four day crash-course in contemporary sound art theory and practice, and one of the most exciting and inspirational art events I've ever attended!

The first day of the event began with a mini-conference and exhibition at STEIM, one of the world's premier studio/research facilities dedicated to electronic performance arts. Talks were given by artists-in-residence Hans W. Koch, whose "Two Rooms, Flipped" installation connected two of STEIM's studio rooms with sonically mirrored microphones which broadcast inverted pitches of sounds from one room to the other, and Yutaka Makino, whose "Conflux" installation of chemical fog and wave field synthesis created a simulated whiteout condition.

After the artists presented, a panel discussion of alternative venue curators discussed current trends in artistic curation and distribution. Daniele Balit of Birdcage discussed his inspirations for creating a "gallery without walls" dedicated to showing challenging works of art whose exhibition spaces are a part of the actual artwork, a concept influenced by works like Brian O'Doherty's "Inside the White Cube". Hamish and Keiko, the founders and curators of London's newest venue dedicated to experimental music Café Oto, discussed the joys and difficulties of running a world class music venue and café on a shoestring budget seven days a week for the past two years. Finally, Rotterdam-based collective WORM presented highlights from their activities of supporting and showcasing experimental art and music both online and in physical venues during their decade plus of existence.

From STEIM the activities moved to NIMk, the Netherlands Media Art Institute, which housed a group exhibition including Jakob Kirkegaard's Labyrinthitis installation (which broadcasts two tones into the spectator's ears, creating a third tone only audible inside the ears of the listener, as well as HC Gilje's "Blink", a video installation using the gallery space's architecture to generate colored patterns projected back into the space. This show was the lead-in to the actual opening of the Sonic Acts festival, US artist and sound art theorist Brandon LaBelle's "Q+A", a multichannel sound performance presenting the artist interviewing himself in surround sound. As you can (sort of) see from the video I shot from all the way in the back of the performance space, LaBelle's reputation in Europe drew a rock star-sized crowd -- not exactly what i was expecting, considering the comparatively dismal attendance at nearly every sound art event I've attended in the US (with the exception of Long Beach's excellent Soundwalk annual festival).

The next venue of the day was Paradiso, a gorgeous music club created from the remnants of an abandoned church in Amsterdam's Leidseplein entertainment district, where the first of three nights' worth of five hour long sessions of performances and film screenings began with seminal UK improviser Keith Rowe joined by the Nordic saxophone improv duo Streifenjunko and video artist Kjell Bjørgeengen for a beautiful set of quiet improvised sound translated into flickering analog television static.

Haswell and Hecker followed with a viscerally intense sound and laser light performance that filled the Paradiso with touchable light and sound so thick you could cut it with a bread knife.

Robert Henke, aka Monolake, ended the night with a live surround sound performance of thick dub-inspired electronica, perfectly synched to Jitter visuals by the Netherlands' Tarik Barri. As composer and Cycling '74 employee Gregory Taylor said at the show, "Tarik's Jitter work looks like no one else's", and he wasn't kidding.

Such an insane amount of information to process, and this was only day one! I'll be posting summaries of the rest of the conference soon, so stay tuned...