Archive for August, 2007

alone in the otherness

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

or, what i didn’t do over my summer vacation…or, this is what happens when you stew over things.  i’ve been talking about and mulling over what follows since june.  i need to put this down and keep going.  i’m very interested in the ideas.  i’m just not going to practice stew no more.


my father called to tell me that he heard something on NPR about how insects emit frequencies that resonate sympathetically with the plant life around them in such a way that certain plants become transmitters of specific frequencies emitted by bees and other insects.

i’ve been spending much more time in the woods this summer and, around the time of my father’s call, had been climbing trees.  the tree climbing began when it was necessary for me to use a tree to get over a fence in a park i frequent.  once in the tree i realized that without much trouble i could ascend further and, well, now i enjoy climbing trees…

anyway, i noticed that when my body is pressed onto a limb (in my case, often holding on [er…hugging] in fear), how much i could feel the movements of the trees, the leaves, and, by extension, the vibrations from the surrounding air and earth.

while in a tree i remembered a deep listening exercise i learned from pauline oliveros i’d practiced with my students that involved focusing one’s attention on the nearest and then farthest perceptible sounds. deciding to adapt this exercise by focusing on the movements within the tree, i closed my eyes and, after a while, felt an increase in the lower frequency rumblings. i realized that i was about fifty feet from some lightrail tracks and assumed that a train was about to pass.  looking up i glanced out and waited for what felt like too long – and i momentarily thought i was sensing something else when the signal increased dramatically and the train finally passed.  i estimate that i sensed the train about three minutes before it arrived.

later, i saw a flock of birds lift off from a neighboring field and quickly get into formation and realized that the medium of air, for them, offers an awareness of and palpable connection to the group, a collective, essentially ‘haptic’ data stream, that is similar to what fish must experience underwater.

i climbed down from the tree and looked around.  i saw a lot, heard a bit less, smelled even less, and felt very little.  the souls of my shoes impeded the vibration around me – i had been cut off from the complex,  infrasonic percolations and patterns that the tree seemed to connect me to.   i walked back through the woods and returned to the paved path, walking while thinking deeply.  within ten minutes or so was almost hit by a cyclist who was trying to pass me that i didn’t sense coming at all.  i remembered a friend telling me how hunting was meditative because hunters need to become utterly still so as not to reveal their presence.  i thought about all the layers of insulation we put on all the surfaces we interact with and how those layers are complicating so many necessary and persistent interactions.

i thought about the tsunami from a couple years ago and how the vast majority of deaths were human. from what i’ve read,  most other animals retreated from coastlines and headed for higher ground hours before the waves hit.

i went home and did some research and found out that most terrestrials use the surface of the earth as we use our vast communications systems.  elephants (Vibration as a Communication Channel: A Synopsis, Peggy S.M. Hill), for example, have what amounts to water beds on the souls of their feet that amplify the earthly rumblings.  their proboscis feature a sensitive infrasonic transducer near its’ end.  other terrestrials, frogs for example, can inflate their chests to amplify vibrations rippling across the surface.  still other species use their lower jaw to receive the same signals. i thought about how essential it is for all ectotherms (‘cold-blooded’) to be on the surface as much as possible.  birds and insects seem to be tightly coupled with their environment as fish are to water.

i thought about myself, at that moment, standing in my shoes in the woods and surrounded by sights, sounds, and scents, i felt numb.  it occurred to me that, as walkers on the surface, we’re in between crawlers and flyers – who both seem holistically integrated into the environment via sophisticated physiological attributes that allow them to ‘outsource’ much of their ‘understanding’ of the world to the world itself, and exist in a state of collaborative interdependance.  not so for us. we see the world as a collection of discrete particles and objects, and understand our experience as the intersection of these discrete components.

i remembered some research i’d done on walking, and how to build robots that walk, and how inefficient the ASIMO is, for example, and how some researchers were using passive dynamics (Steve Collins, University of Michigan) to make walking machines efficiently (no batteries required), and how one researcher wrote that our gait is, essentially, a controlled fall.  another friend, working a design job for a shoe company, shared with me the fact that higher the shoe lifts the body off the ground the greater the skeletal distress it causes.

to me, we seem alone in the otherness.  we seem cut off from the complex interactions, the array of causes and effects, that regulate and balance most life on this planet. where other tree dwellers developed tails to help them maintain balance and connection, we descended, stood up on two feet, and grew a huge frontal lobe, and have been in a controlled fall ever since.

as endotherms our senses are tightly integrated for survival.  endotherms, often hunters, need an accurate picture of their environment in order to eat.  as endotherms with huge brains and a physiological disconnection from the feedback relationships other species live in, our models of the world seem often to have the specificity of dreams or hallucinations – and are just as effective as those figments of the imagination, especially in the long term.  our  inevitable  ‘data processing’ within  our peculiar physiological system and environmental relationship contributes to this ‘otherness’ by adding what seems to be a significant delay in our interactions, causing us to value our mental model over that which is being modeled.  we are a sort of endothermic apotheosis.  a radical and extreme form of an endothermic organism.

we have evolved to this point.  and evolution is the sum of all the complex interactions that comprise this reality and is far bigger than any ‘one’. in other words, our form is just as natural as any other form on this planet, yet we are so poorly integrated and so profoundly ‘othered’, i wonder how it is that we have survived?  well, we haven’t been here for that long….

it occurred to me that we have a fixation and awareness of our own death, and from what we deduce, other species do not share this awareness.  hard to prove.  yet, given our position in this world as the dreaming, giant-brained, odd men out,  it seems fitting that we would be ‘aware’ of our own situation, and, by extension, our inevitable, demise, doesn’t it?  we are fascinated by death, we ritualize and worship it.  it occurs to me that our medical technologies, for example, designed to extend life (stall death) are actually retarding our evolution, and in doing so complicating other environmental systems.  it further occurs to me that much of our technological development tends to complicate and ultimately slow ‘things’ down by elevating levels of energy exchange in trivial developmental areas while producing significant toxic by-products that many of us are unaware of.  mechanized travel, mass-production, the internet, etc. we seem to be actively, ignorantly, and sometimes gleefully accelerating our own demise while telling ourselves that we are either headed for some profound convergence (religious, scientific, technological) or ‘simply’ doing what needs to be done to survive in this world, unaware of the real effects.

perhaps our essence is persistent, inevitable conflict.  i really mean it: inevitable, persistent conflict.  no ‘permanent’ solution is possible.  we are driven (another conflict) to manage (another conflict) every situation yet don’t have significantly detailed models  to see the real causes and effects of our actions on the environment that we are aspects of (but we have the tools to create better models.  john yau said, in the introduction to a film on donald judd, that after the a-bomb metaphor is dead, and what we need are ways to see the world as it really is.  how many of us have responded to the information age by relying on forms and rituals that fall under the category of what kurt vonnegut refers to as ‘persuasive guessing’ ?[your guess is as good as mine]).

does this seem bleak? i’ve been living with these thoughts for about three months now and my stress level has lowered significantly – and i have some ways of measuring. the connection to the all is authentic and natural; our presence and participation are inevitable.  the signal we get is just really noisy, and the interplay of my will to create mental models of ‘my’ environment coupled with the dynamism of the environment and the fact of minimal, individual influence over pretty much anything (when you, and/or your friends make bizarre decisions about something important: relationships, work, etc., ask them why they did it.  you will be surprised how often they say, honestly, ‘i don’t know‘ – i’ve been doing that all summer and it has been very interesting, it suggests to me that there is a sort of brownian emotion at work and even one’s ‘private data’ isn’t under one’s control) makes for some complex, but somehow often pleasant surfing.

clan of the avatard

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

my friend beth, after a 22 hour trip from delhi to baltimore, commented drowsily that while traveling through india with a friend over the past month: “we were often, in fact, avatards from secondworld”.

drive time (2007)

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

YouTube Preview Image <meta content=" 2.0 (Linux)" name="GENERATOR" /><meta content="rouvelle" name="AUTHOR" /><meta content="20070609;9180300" name="CREATED" /><meta content="rouvelle" name="CHANGEDBY" /><meta content="20070731;23282000" name="CHANGED" /><br /> <style type="text/css"> <!-- @page { size: 8.5in 11in; margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } --> </style> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">here is the last installment of my current show at Fringe in LA. this piece is called drive time, here is the wall mounting:</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>description:</strong> a small, visitor controllable time machine. pigmented (white gouache) drops of water are illuminated by a variable, user controllable strobe. by adjusting the speed of the strobe the drops appear to be frozen in time, moving forward, or moving backward. stick a finger in the drops and adjust the dial next to the basin to enhance the effect. nothing fancy, really, but i liked the way this piece worked with the other elements of the show. i particularly liked the backwards effect when placing a finger in the droplets of water. the sound was nice, too – and added a disorienting element as you could hear what was ‘really’ going on while your eyes were telling a different story.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">i traveled with this circuitry in my carry-on and couldn’t install the piece until an hour before the show due to a series of other things to take care of pertaining to the rest of the show. at 5pm i quickly set it up and, with fingers crossed, turned it on. with minimal tweaking it worked. my friend sam was generous enough to do a huge amount of circuit building/fabricating, and helped me trouble-shoot the waterworks as well. thanks sam.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">the strobe was giving us headaches while working in cramped rooms in baltimore. the room where the piece sits in LA was accidentally built twice as big as designed, but the larger space mitigated the intensity of the strobe and i found myself, and other visitors, spending lots of time with this work.</p> </div> <p class="postmetadata"> Posted in <a href="" rel="category">artworks</a> | <span>Comments Off<span class="screen-reader-text"> on drive time (2007)</span></span></p> </div> <div class="post"> <h3 id="post-49"><a href="" rel="bookmark" title="Permanent Link to synchronous oscillation/emf (2007)">synchronous oscillation/emf (2007)</a></h3> <small>Wednesday, August 1st, 2007</small> <div class="entry"> <p><meta http-equiv="CONTENT-TYPE" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" /><title /><meta name="GENERATOR" content=" 2.0 (Linux)" /><meta name="AUTHOR" content="rouvelle" /><meta name="CREATED" content="20070609;9180300" /><meta name="CHANGEDBY" content="rouvelle" /><meta name="CHANGED" content="20070712;12441300" /><br /> <style type="text/css"> <!-- @page { size: 8.5in 11in; margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } --> </style> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><span class="vvqbox vvqyoutube" style="width:425px;height:344px;"><span id="vvq-49-youtube-1"><a href=""><img src="" alt="YouTube Preview Image" /></a></span></span></p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">in nyc at roulette…</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><span class="vvqbox vvqyoutube" style="width:425px;height:344px;"><span id="vvq-49-youtube-2"><a href=""><img src="" alt="YouTube Preview Image" /></a></span></span></p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">in LA at fringe</p> <p>here is another work currently being shown at Fringe in LA (i’ve been referring to the piece as ‘<em>so/emf</em>‘, too). the top video was shot in nyc at roulette in march, the second video is from Fringe. visitors to Fringe were encouraged to lift the objects out of the display table and use them according to the instructions below. i made a change in the device after the roulette show by swapping a laser for the IR transmitter, and by putting a dish (from a votive candle) around the IR receiver. my intention was to make synching the objects easier, and possible from greater distances. it worked. i have twelve of these things built but only showed eight in LA, leaving a few backups around just in case…</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">here is the wall mounting from LA:</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>description:</strong> eight hand-held devices equipped with light sensors (photo-transistor), electromagnetic field detectors, a small laser, and a bi-colored LED(red/blue). the LED flashes in response to ambient light levels, and produces a color (mix of red and blue) based on the mix of positive and negative charge in the electromagnetic field within the gallery. the devices can communicate with each other and will flash synchronously if visitors point the laser of one device (the gold component on the left, front of the device) at the IR receiver (the clear plastic head at the center of the aluminum disc on the right, front) of another. it is possible for a group of eight visitors to make all eight flash synchronously.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">***the piece was close to the Balloon Chamber so there was always an active electromagnetic field around the piece.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"><strong>howto:</strong> gently lift the device off the table. at the bottom of the object there is a black on/off button. the emf detector will cause the LED to change colors, blue=negative charge, red=positive charge. when you are done with the device, please turn it off and place back its hole on the table. please don’t manipulate the laser or aluminum discs on the exterior of the devices.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in"> </div> <p class="postmetadata"> Posted in <a href="" rel="category">artworks</a> | <span>Comments Off<span class="screen-reader-text"> on synchronous oscillation/emf (2007)</span></span></p> </div> <div class="post"> <h3 id="post-48"><a href="" rel="bookmark" title="Permanent Link to joy of a toy: balloon chamber variation.">joy of a toy: balloon chamber variation.</a></h3> <small>Wednesday, August 1st, 2007</small> <div class="entry"> <p><meta http-equiv="CONTENT-TYPE" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" /><title /><meta name="GENERATOR" content=" 2.0 (Linux)" /><meta name="AUTHOR" content="rouvelle" /><meta name="CREATED" content="20070725;21142100" /><meta name="CHANGEDBY" content="rouvelle" /><meta name="CHANGED" content="20070728;10334800" /><br /> <style type="text/css"> <!-- @page { size: 8.5in 11in; margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } --> </style> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">Susan Joyce, whose gallery, Fringe Exhibitions, is showing my <em>balloon chamber</em>, which i wrote about in the previous post, told me that the neighborhood kids, who treated the work like a ball pit at a family restaurant during the opening (look at the video #2 from the previous post for an example), have been playing another game lately. the game involves a group of kids entering the chamber and trying NOT to touch, or be touched, by any of the balloons. i love this idea.</p> <p style="margin-bottom: 0in">if you’ve ever spent some time helium filled mylar balloons you know that they tend to follow air currents and people tend to leave significant air-wakes so that the balloons tend to follow moving bodies – add to this that the chamber is well stocked with balloons that are being stirred by an array of oscillating fans and rising and falling onto a bunch of large, latex balloons and you have an event that i would really like to experience.</p> </div> <p class="postmetadata"> Posted in <a href="" rel="category">artworks</a> | <span>Comments Off<span class="screen-reader-text"> on joy of a toy: balloon chamber variation.</span></span></p> </div> <div class="navigation"> <div 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