Infinity Machine (2015) is a projected audiovisual computer program. It generates random phrases from all the words in the dictionary, accompanied by randomly selected pre-generated soundtracks and programmatic animations (that are generated in real time). The animations are symbolic representations of vital technologies that underpin the technological infrastructure of our society, and the sounds represent machinic processes that operate autonomously.
This work is a musing on how technology has become an end in itself, a sort of teleological driving force that is determining the direction that our society progresses in, rather than serving its needs. Another way is putting this is that we are starting to serve technology, rather than the other way around. This work runs infinitely, and will eventually generate every adjective-noun and adverb-verb combination possible. It exists because it can, not because it serves any purpose that is helpful to society, just like many of today's technologies. While it generates language in infinite variations, and is thus very "productive", what it produces is essentially meaningless, just like much of what our society produces. To a large extent, we are spinning our wheels and producing a lot of "sound and fury that signifies nothing".
This work is a computer program running in real time that models the exchange and accumulation of money capital, social capital, and power in a capitalist system. The mathematical rules that govern the simulation are based on the artist's understanding of how these forms of capital function, rather than any scientifically verified model. It is therefore a mathematical representation of a mental model, the way the artist imagines that capitalism functions.
It exhibits some interesting emergent behaviours, like the formation of tall clusters with large amounts of money capital and power, which are reminiscent of corporations, and the formation of more mobile, denser and shorter clusters containing large amounts of social capital but little money capital, which are akin to large social networks. These "social clusters" are capable of moving around and gobbling up the "corporation" clusters, which resembles a small but nimble "start-up" outcompeting and replacing a more established corporation. The images shown are snapshots of the work running - as it runs, the distribution of different forms of power change constantly as powerful conglomerations wax and wane, and new ones arise.
Labour Audio Triptych
This three part audio work is about the current lived experience of inequality and precarious employment in Ontario. A 2013 McMaster University study (in collaboration with United Way) showed that barely half of working adults in Hamilton and the GTA have permanent full-time work (Lewchuk et al.) The rest are working in temporary, contract, or casual positions and have no benefits or job security. We also know that inequality is increasing at an accelerating pace, in Ontario and across Canada.
These works were created from audio recordings made in workplaces in London, Ontario, such as supermarkets and construction sites. The recordings were then manipulated in order to create these three soundtracks, which express the feelings of stress, anxiety and uncertainty produced by precarious employment, and also reflect the conditions and mechanisms that lead to it.
This work was part of the 20/20: Vision/Hindsight exhibition at the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre, Hamilton, Ontario, on show from September 11th to December 19th, 2015, and was also included in The Daily Grind, an exhibition at Museum London (London, Ontario), December 19th, 2015 to April 24th, 2016.
The top image is at Museum London, and the lower one at Workers Arts and Heritage Centre.
You can listen to the work using the following links:
Motif Draw is an interactive artwork. Every time the user draws something, the computer analyzes its size, shape, and complexity, and then decides what to do with it. Some shapes are repeated multiple times to make textures, some are drawn in clusters, and others are filled in and rescaled to be drawn on the screen as repeating motifs. The composition builds up continuously as new shapes are drawn.
This work aims to be a sort of collaboration between the computer and the user. The user makes some decisions, and the computer makes others. This work sits somewhere between full user agency (a drawing application), and full computer control (a "generative" drawing program). The result is sometimes exciting, and sometimes frustrating - as the computer can make delightful compositional decisions that might not have occurred to the user, but also completely wreck a pleasing composition by drawing something unwanted over the top of it. Just like life, you can control some aspects, but other aspects are beyond your control.
This program also generates sound in real time. The composition is analyzed every time a change is made, and the parameters of the sound synthesis engine are modified accordingly. This gives the program an enigmatic quality, like the program is telling you its reaction to the current composition, or you can hear its current thought processes.
Motif Draw on display at Vibrafusion, London, Ontario, July 2014.
DNA Artspace, London, Ontario, December 2013.
Clamour was a collaboration between Giles Whitaker and Chris Myhr.
Found appliances, surface-transducers, speakers, computers, and electronics.
The former workplace kitchen of the Fodemesi Shoes factory was reanimated with sound and motion. An array of computer-controlled appliances operated autonomously within an immersive field of sound generated by devices embedded in the walls, ceiling and cupboards of the space. The work aimed to evoke and intensify the forlorn qualities of this abandoned site, and engaged with ideas of labour, consumption, appetites, and noise.
Mcintosh Gallery, London, Ontario, 16th August - 14th September, 2013.
The works in this exhibition were all concerned with the characteristic surrounding sounds of various public and institutional spaces, their soundscapes. Soundscapes can be experienced as comforting or irritating, liberating or restrictive, depending on the particular person and their relationship to the space. Audial information is often regarded as secondary or supplementary to visual information, but careful attention to the soundscape of a space can be very revealing about its properties. Sound has the ability to define spaces, but it also often infiltrates them from the outside, and refuses to be contained by them. In this sense it has an anarchic nature, which is particularly suited for revealing, analysing and disrupting the rules that normally govern these spaces. Public spaces, institutions and cultural practices are inherently political, as they reflect the values of dominant groups, and facilitate certain types of activities and preclude others. Through sonic means, these works aim to reveal the properties of these structures, to shed light on how they have been constructed. Who is in charge? What is permitted, and what is forbidden, and how is this communicated through the aural properties of the space? The soundscapes of a variety of spaces in London, Ontario were revealed, analyzed and/or disrupted by the works in this exhibition.
The video work pictured is "The Listener" (2013, 16 min, 3 channel video with sound). This work aimed to invert the usual privileging of visual information over audio information in a video work, presenting highly detailed and spacial ambient sound alongside minimal video from the space.
Another work from the show, Structural Breakdown, was installed on the street in London, Ontario, and this work was the subject of a Metro News article:
Institutional Noise (2012) is a program written in the Pure Data programming language which constantly generates an entirely synthetic sound which mimics the ventilation and other machine sounds of an institutional space. By mimicking the sorts of enveloping sounds found in institutional spaces, this work can act as a critique of those soundscapes, but could also draw attention to their comforting/enveloping qualities.
(Photo credit for 1st and 4th images: Brad Isaacs)
The Listener (abridged version)
Make/Shift, Artlab, University of Western Ontario, September 20th – October 4th, 2012.
Untitled (Sound Installation)
This installation consisted of six small, microprocessor controlled machines which made sound by tapping on the architectural surfaces to which they were attached. These sounds overlaid the existing soundscape of this institutional space, and drew attention to its properties. At the same time, the work effected an actual change in the aural properties of the space and imbued it with new affective qualities. This work intended to problematize the unstated or unquestioned assumptions around this public space. How are the perceptible structures in this space arranged, and why is this taken as “natural” by its inhabitants?
A high quality sound recording of this work in operation can be heard at: