Afternoon Dust

nathan's blog

Forest, silence: Katie Paterson's Future Library

There’s two things I love about pine forests, more than anything else: the smell, and the sound. The smell is of a thousand Christmases rolled into one, or being locked in a warehouse full of pine-scented car fresheners — no, fresher, cleaner than that. The sound is of silence. Densely packed trees and meshes of needles make for a very effective acoustic dampening material. Any noises that are heard are clearer, nearer, and stop dead in their tracks, no reverberation time at all.

Katie Paterson’s new work is about time, among other things. Pine trees have been planted in a forest near Oslo; every year for the next hundred years, a text will be written by a different author to be held in trust until the hundred years are up, at which point the trees will be felled and turned into paper for publishing an anthology of the texts.

Controlling SuperCollider using an Arduino sensor

I’ve been experimenting with controlling SuperCollider using Arduino sensors, and since it was hard to find accurate documentation of this on the web I decided to write up some of my own.

The sad news is that I could only get this procedure to work on a Linux system, though Mac users should also be able to make use of it. The code relies on the SerialPort class, which currently seems to have trouble recognising Windows serial port addresses.

Here’s what you will need:

  • SuperCollider running on Mac OSX or Linux (I used version 3.6)
  • The ArduinoSMS quark
  • Arduino board with suitable analogue sensor

For the process of installing quarks in SuperCollider, refer to the documentation. For setting up your Arduino board and sensor, see the ‘Basics > AnalogSerialRead’ and ‘Analog > Calibration’ examples included with the Arduino software.

Recent exhibitions at Grand Union

There seems to be something of a curtain theme going on at Birmingham art space Grand Union at the moment. First there was Maia Conran’s video projection Trace, a loop of swelling and falling lines that was inspired by curtains lifted by a breeze, but in its wall-length proportions came to resemble an abstract breathing architecture. Calming and hypnotic, the work’s expansion out from the wall was aided by the tendency of human perception to infer a three-dimensional space from the most tenuous of cues, a visual habit Conran also explored in her film performance Deep within the mirror we perceive a faint line. Whereas the latter work focused on the uncanniness of the spatial illusion, however, Trace retained the intimacy and the quietness of the situation that inspired it.

Jeremy Millar — XDO XOL

I wrote about Jeremy Millar’s film Daphne before, but his new work, showing as part of Whitstable Biennale 2014, feels bolder and more substantial. It features a flat, fog-covered landscape, a bog or fen, clay formations covered in shrubs. The only human presence is that of a solitary man, who sits quietly by a stream or shelters inside a derelict, abandoned concrete building. The film ruminates on the landscape and upon the actions of the man, which range from passive contemplation to patient, focused activity.

Whitstable Biennale 2014

Last weekend saw the opening of the 2014 edition of Whitstable Biennale, a festival of new visual art located in a quaint little Kentish coastal town. Having spent a couple of years living in Whitstable, helping out on the production team for the previous two editions of the Biennale, I was much looking forward to exploring this year’s festival as a punter. The main programme for 2014 seems bigger this time round, bolstered as usual by a healthy satellite strand.

Failing to see, or not: Hannah Rickards at Modern Art Oxford

While in Oxford for Audiograft festival I had the opportunity to visit Hannah Rickards’ solo exhibition at Modern Art Oxford. The show comprises various works made over the past decade related to meteorological phenomena — or rather, to different attempts to describe or otherwise represent experiences of such phenomena. In the film No, there was no red. (2009), people recount experiences of seeing aurorae, sometimes agreeing or disagreeing over the appropriateness or accuracy of particular descriptions, metaphors, or similes; Like sand disappearing or something (2013) is a multichannel audio installation of further (or the same?) attempts to describe and explain similar experiences.

140201_1630 (water piece)

New piece arranged and performed in SuperCollider.

This piece is a demonstration of the Part-Aleatoric Sample Machine, a project I am working on to explore possible interfaces between human and non-human listening. In the PASM, a computer uses chance principles to select samples for playback and apply effects; a human performer decides how long each sample is played for, and also operates a simple sine wave oscillator.

The samples used in the piece were recorded at Linton Falls, North Yorkshire.

Classifying as Philosophy: AND Publishing Workshop

At the weekend I attended a workshop hosted by Birmingham’s Grand Union art space and led by Andrea Franke and Eva Weimayer of AND Publishing, with input from digital archivist Karen DiFranco. AND has amassed a sizeable number of pirated books to form their unique Piracy Collection, part of which has been made available to read at Grand Union over the past few weeks. The methods and intentions of the piracy differ from book to book, with artists’ modifications, unauthorised translations, commercial frauds, and publisher and printing house errors all represented. The task of the afternoon’s workshop was to begin to classify and catalogue some of these books. Established cataloguing systems were dismissed as ill-equipped to reflect the often unique provenance of the books in the collection.

140103_1504 (pluck piece)

New piece arranged and performed in SuperCollider, using code from Bruno Ruviaro (pluck pattern) and a recording of dry leaves in a pestle.

An archive containing the SuperCollider code and audio sample can be downloaded here.

This work and all associated files are released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

What the senses understand: Recent works by Katie Paterson

I first came across artist Katie Paterson a few years ago when she made the streetlights along Deal Pier flicker in response to lightening storms for her work Streetlight Storm. Since then she has continued to make connections between ordinary, everyday objects and natural phenomena, ranging from nanomolecular technology to dead stars and quasars. In the process, she has developed close working relationships with scientists, often through residencies at leading research centres such as University College London’s Department of Astronomy and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. The recent launch of two new works seemed like a good opportunity to reflect on her conceptually rigorous and aesthetically engaging practice.