Friday, May 12, 2017

How a Humble Pineapple Became Art
LONDON — How did a pineapple become a postmodern masterpiece? The aesthetic merits of tropical fruit inadvertently entered Britain’s national cultural conversation after two students jokingly placed a store-bought pineapple on an empty table at an art exhibition this month at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, a port city in northeastern Scotland. When they returned a few days later to the exhibition — part of the Look Again festival, which aims to highlight Aberdeen’s cultural heritage — they were shocked to discover their pineapple protected by a glass display case, instantly and mysteriously transformed into a work of art. After one of the students, Lloyd Jack, 22, who studies business, put a photograph of the pineapple on Twitter, along with the words, “I made art,” the image was shared widely on social media, turning the fruit, fairly or not, into a cultural sensation. To some, though, the stunt was a self-promoting social media prank befitting the digital age. Mr. Jack’s post received nearly 5,000 likes on Twitter. Before long, the work, which the two students titled “Pineapple,” had been deconstructed on art blogs and social media worldwide; parsed in Paris, Texas and Tokyo; and even featured on Canadian television. Some on Twitter lauded its “genius,” while others ridiculed it as the latest example of conceptual art’s plodding banality. Mr. Jack said he and the other student, Ruairi Gray, also 22, had been stunned by the attention afforded the pineapple, which he said the two had put on the table in a moment of lighthearted whimsy, slanted slightly to the left to give it a bit more gravitas and flair. He said the “work” was on display for nearly a week before it was removed. “We weren’t sure how the glass case got there, and initially assumed it was bungling curators,” he said. “We couldn’t believe our eyes, and didn’t expect our lowly little supermarket pineapple to become a global star.” The fruit cost one pound, or about $1.30. Nevertheless, he said, the pineapple, alone in its display case and destined to rot, was a poignant symbol of Britain in the era of “Brexit,” the nation’s decision to leave the European Union. (Unlike England, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain.) “The pineapple symbolizes the U.K. leaving the E.U., standing alone, attempting to survive, cut off from the outside world,” he said. Others saw hidden meaning in the pineapple, including an art professor at the university who, Mr. Gray said, enthusiastically lauded the “purposeful way” in which the display case had pressed down on the fruit’s leaves. “It just goes to show the ludicrousness of conceptual art and how anything can become art,” Mr. Jack said. Others were not altogether amused, including the organizers of the Look Again festival, who found their exhibition suddenly hijacked by a fruit. After investigating the renegade pineapple, they discovered that the glass case had been placed at the exhibition by a janitor — though it was unclear whether the act had been motivated by humor, artistic sensibility or both. “This pineapple was nothing more than a prank,” said Hilary Nicoll, an associate director of the festival, with amusement tinged with slight irritation.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Most Successful Virtual Band: Gorillaz "Adding Substance to Pop"

Most Successful Virtual Band: The Gorillaz “Adding Substance to Pop”

Genre: Avant-Pop, Experimental Pop, Alternative Rock, Brit Pop, Trip Hop, Hip Hop, Electronica, Indie, Dub, Reggae and Pop.

Awards: Grammy Award, Two MTV Video Music Awards, NME Award, (New Musical Express) Three MTV Europe Music Awards, Nominated for Nine Brit Awards

Studio Albums Gorillaz 2001 Demon Days 2005 Plastic Beach 2010 The Fall 2010 Humanz 2017

Tours Phase One Tour (2001-02) Demon Days Live (2005-06) Escape to Plastic Beach Tour (2010) Demon Days Festival (2017) Humanz Tour (2017)

Permanent Band Members Damon Albarn- Vocals, Keyboard, Guitar, Bass Guitar, Drums, Percussion, Melodica (1998-Present) Jamie Hewlett- Illustration, Visuals, FX (1998-Present)

Live Band Members Mike Smith- Keyboards (1998-Present) Jeff Wootton- Lead Guitar (2010-Present) Seye Adelekan- Bass guitar (2017-Present) Jesse Hackett- Keyboards (2010-Present) Gabriel Wallace- Drums, Percussion (2010-Present) Karl Vanden Bossche- Drums (2005-2007, 2010-Present)

Animated Band Members 2-D Murdoc Niccals Noodle Russel Hobbs

    The british virtual band Gorillaz was created in 1998 by “Blur” Musicians named Damon Albarn, and Graham Coxon. During a Blur interview Albarn and Coxon met Jamie Hewlett of Deadline Magazine. Hewlett began to hang out after the interview in with Damon sharing common interests. One evening they had a conversation at Albarns while he and Hewlett were watching MTV and Hewlett remarked…

 “If you watch MTV for too long, it’s a bit like hell, there's nothing of substance there. So we got this idea for a cartoon band, and something that would comment on that.” [1]

    MTV during 1998 would have shown the Backstreet Boys, Third Eye Blind, Usher, Matchbox Twenty and other popular artists. These contemporary 1998 pop artists provided good jumping off contextual building points for the two to start creating their ideas and begin their Avant-Pop directed approach. Originally after formation the Gorillaz identified as singular “Gorilla” without the “z” and released their first song “Ghost Train”.

   Which lives on the second side of the single “Rock the House”, and the second side of compilation “G Sides”. The “Ghost Train”collaboration included Albarn, Del The Funky Homosapien, Dan the Automator, and Kid Koala. The same producers that worked on “Time Keeps on Slipping” by Deltron 3030. Although Albarn still claims, “The first ever Gorillaz tunes was the Blur 1997 Single “Own Your Own”. [2]

    Jamie Hewlett was the artist to bring alive the 4 animated members that would eventually populate the Gorillaz media. This was the first virtual band that the world had ever seen. Hewletts previous comic work “Tank Girl” served as a jumping off point for the aesthetic of the animated members of the captivating virtual band. The virtual band consists of, 2-D who’s the lead vocalist that plays keyboards. Murdoc Niccals that plays bass guitar & vocals. Noodle plays guitar and keyboards. Russel Hobbs is the Drummer & percussion sounds. The four characters are completely fictional and are intended to not resemble any real contemporary musicians or themselves. At this point in time it was extremely avant-garde and experimental in the music video world to be using cartoon characters. It’s even more avant-garde in the sense that the cartoon characters were not resembling any real life musicians. What was really evocative was Albarn and Hewletts creation of a fictional universe for which these characters lived. Viewers can find characters in the video pieces jump from, 2-D book art to 3-D engineered characters side by side with non cartoon footage to create a realistic and non realistic surrealist landscapes. Fantastic revolutionary imagery that really grounded their work arises as being different than other MTV pop. You can find the band currently contributing the creative media on their website, and music videos, social media, and DVDs. Their website ( provides instant interaction for visitors and has an open video during the duration of a surfers visit. The only places to click on the site include the tabs, News, Store, Fan Club Sign Up, and social media links. They currently use a disappearing sidebar that holds the band's visual and audio releases.
    For every Gorillaz release since “Blur’s 1997 Single, Own Your Own” (Albarn's proclaimed original Gorillaz song.) Damon Albarn has served as lead composer. Although every piece of their work serves as a collaboration between a variety of musicians responsible for covering such pop genre avenues. Most would classify the Gorillaz genre as Alternative Rock, Trip Hop, Hip Hop, Electronica, Indie-Dub, and Reggae. Arguably they set out to purify the pop genre itself in all aspects.     Albarn's and Hewlett’s success amongst others have continued to impress. However it’s more appropriate to label their content and visual delivery systems in a bundled critique in which they are extremely Avant-Pop with new ideas of visuals and performances that no one in their time has been releasing.
    The first Gorillaz album “Gorillaz” was a 15 track project released in 2001 and sold 7 million copies, and the Guinness book of world records awarded them the,

 “Most Successful Virtual Band.” [3]

   This award comes without question as they have continued to shape their own intermedial practice throughout their discography, visualizations, and merchandising. Not to mention avid attention to contemporary technological times allows them to develop amongst application releases and virtual projection performances all using the building block fictional characters in artistic environments. This avenue continues to propel their success as an avant-pop artist. The 2001 album “Gorillaz” included 4 very popular singles:

Clint Eastwood (first album release, memorable hit, back side containing song Dracula, vocals performed by Del tha Funkee Homosapien, the genre is electronic dub and hip hop, when Clint Eastwood released in early March, it landed at number 4 on the UK charts.)


 19-2000 (used for EA Sports FIFA video game 2002 [4], most memorable as “get the cool shoeshine” vocals by Damon Albarn, with a video of the Gorillaz riding around in their Geep, and mimicking MTV cribs).


 Tomorrow Comes Today (the first EP, including Tomorrow Dub, Tomorrow Comes Today Video, and Film Music.) Tomorrow Comes Today was co-produced with Hip Hop producer Dan the Automator, featuring Phi Life Cypher (UK Rap Group) and Del the Funky Homosapien (US Rapper).


 Rock The House (a hit amongst United Kingdom charts, vocals by Del tha Funkee Homosapien, during the time being sued by Doppelgangerz for stealing the idea for the “Gorillaz” the video had visuals associated with emotions the band was having, and portrayed some of the characters as satanists in kong studios)

   The same year as the September 11th attacks, D12 (Hip Hop band commonly in collaboration with rapper Eminem) was stranded in England without Eminem and Albarn invited D12 to the studio to start collaborating on a track on September 13th [5]. This project Albarn felt extremely appropriate as he was experimenting with middle-eastern music at the current point in time. [5] This would be an appropriate project to release to promote working together. This approach would be rather experimental in regards to western pop culture's current view towards the middle east as perpetuated through the media. This release titled "911" debuted in December of 2001.

   Gorillaz swung into 2002 performing February 22nd at the Brit Awards in London. This performance included 3-D animations on 4 large screens and included Phi Life Cypher rapping during the event. That year they were nominated for four Brit Awards, Best British Group, Best British Album, and Best British Newcomer. However they didn't win any. Dan the automator (Dan Nakamura) added in an Interview about the event...

 "You can't determine in advance how well a thing like this is going to do, It was done for fun, so it's always a surprise when it takes on a life of its own." [6]

     More importantly this notes the artistic vision of the Gorillaz, and processes that Gorillaz and their collaborators kept in common throughout production. Their next visual project built off of the Gorillaz 2001 album. They released the DVD. “Phase One: Celebrity Take Down”. This project included 4 visual pieces, “5/4”, “Charts of Darkness Documentary”, “Gorilla Bitez (Which included multiple skits with the band's virtual characters)” and “MEL 9000 Tour of the website” [7]. They even designed the DVD menu like the band's website starting to depict Kong Studios an important part of the virtual characters environment and personal story development involving Murdoc and Russel, 2-D, and Noodle. The media DVD release propelled the ideas of a film project that was soon abandoned by Albarn and Hewlett after multiple studio meetings with Hollywood executives amounting to Albarn saying,

 “Fuck it we'll sit on the idea until we can do it ourselves and maybe raise the money ourselves.” [8]

     Generally artists that venture down this lane of approach find more reward and control in production. Albarn and Hewlett are addicted to control and sometimes barely agree with each other let alone would be successful taking orders of direction from a studio that doesn't share the same building block vision. It also reinforces the logic of working with what you got. Which is a common theme of production for the group.
     In October of 2004 the Gorillaz released “Rock It” a website video to get fans ready for the album release of Demon Days in 2005.

   Demon Days hit Japan May 11th, May 23rd United Kingdom and May 24th the United States. The album debuted landing at number 1 and top of the UK Album Chart. Two of the more recognizable tracks:

   “Dirty Harry” was charted No.6 in the UK in its first week as a single release. Referencing “George Bush’s Mission Accomplished” speech, with an image for the cover resembling the film Full Metal Jacket’s.


    “Dare” was a number 1 United Kingdom hit and is sung completely by Damon Albarn, more memorable the lyrics “its coming up, its coming up, its coming up, its dare.” In this video 2-D walks around Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays live real head.


     Demon days sold 1 million copies in the UK in 2005. Since it has gone 5 Times platinum (platinum = selling 500,000 copies) in the UK, Double Platinum in the United States, Triple Platinum in Australia, selling a total of 6 million copies worldwide. [9] The 2005 MTV Video Music Awards gave the Gorillaz two awards for “Feel Good Inc”, Breakthrough video and best Visual Effects. They continued to perform “Feel Good Inc” in concert using music video parts in their performance.
     In 2005 Gorillaz also coordinated the Demon Days release with “Gorillaz Figurines” released by designer toy maker “Kidrobot”. The sets varied in editions and had sets of anywhere from limiting 1,000-60,000 limited issues in circulation. Quite genius approach to bringing sculptured on screen characters into fans hands. They released figures simultaneously with videos like “Dare” where character Noodle was sold in limited edition, amongst others. During the 2006 Brit Awards in London they performed “Dirty Harry”, and were nominated for Best British Group and Best British Album. They took the virtual characters a step further and created a fan frenzy when they did holographic performances at the 2005 MTV Europe Music Awards and the 2006 Grammy Awards.

   Their April 2006 announcement of Demon Days american tour, sold out in the begining hours. They then announced a plan for a holographic world tour in 2007. Where the cartoons would actually appear on stage using a technology called Musion Eyeliner. Musion Eyeliner would captivate audiences bringing colored lifesize and larger than life holograms moving across stage using the live stage illusion referred to as “Pepper’s ghost. The illusion is not truly a hologram because it places reflective material at an angle in front of the audience that is illuminated by a LED screen below so characters appear to 3D volume. 2006 was a visual high point for the group when Hewlett and Albarn started collaborating with movie mogul Harvey Weinstein from Weinstein company and Miramax films. September 2006 Albarn announced...

 “the band has been a fantastic journey which isn't over because we're making a film. We’ve got Terry Gilliam Involved. But as far as being in a big band and putting pop music out there it's finished. We won't be doing that anymore.” [10]

Little did they know about the projects to come… October 27 2007 the official Gorillaz fansite announced documentary film “Bananaz” would be released. A Film directed by Ceri Levy would document the previous band years. It was released on Babelgum Website April 20th 2009, and on DVD June 2009. Albarn & Hewlett began work on Carousel a visual project that actually birthed the band's third album Plastic Beach, shortly after commenting by Albarn that Gorillaz were done making music. Meanwhile Gorillaz simultaneously etching out the ongoing avant-pop adventure throughout his and Hewletts artistic practice. They didn't know they had a project to start until they were already working in their artistic practices of visuals and DVDs. More importantly they weren't ever done when they thought they were done. Reinforcing experimentation through process at its root. It was also important to their history in understanding that by staying on course they were able to extract and start to work with new ideas and stimulus for creation of new projects.
    Albarn takes a leap when talking to the public saying Plastic Beach, “is the biggest and most pop record I've ever made in many ways, but with all my experience i’ll try to and at least present something that has got depth…” [11]
    They planned on having Plastic Beach collaborations with Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Gruff Rhys, Mark E. Smith, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Kano, Bashy, De La Soul, Little Dragon, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, sinfonia ViVA, the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music. Here’s some notable popular tracks from the 16 track project.

 On Melancholy Hill (was a synthpop production that had Damon Albarn's charismatic lyrics that helps listeners become pulled out of a gloomy day, and focus on the brightening up the listening session with catchy lyrics “Up on melancholy hill, sits a manatee, just looking out for the day, when you're close to me!)


 Stylo (was a electro funk song that collaborated with Mos Def and Bobby Womack “convinced by his granddaughter”[12] to be on a Gorillaz track. You can also hear Damon Albarn through the back up vocals. The visuals use most real life footage of Bruce Willis driving a red Chevy El Camino, while Murdoc, 2-D, and Noodle find time to cause a fast pace car chase.


    January 18th they announced that they would be headlining the final night of Coachella Valley Music and Arts festival. The same year Damon Albarn made statements in an interview to defend the integrity and direction of the avant-pop work they have been making. During the same time he was under the impression that the cast of Glee wanted to cover the group's recent songs. To which Albarn said, “The Fox tv show is a poor substitute for the real thing.”[13] At this point the pop media industry can't expect anything less of a response from Albarn given they were soon to be releasing their idea to “Reject the false Icons” emphasizing thinking for yourself and more importantly to have ideas about power of self development and an anti popular culture ideology.
     December 8 2010, “Plastic Beach” was announced to be released for download for free to website fan club members on Christmas Day. The same day they released the album “The Fall” which was recorded on the American leg of the "Escape to Plastic Beach" tour. The Fall ended up being in collaboration with a release of the application iElectribe by Korg. A software development company developing for the iPad, and Apple Platforms. The application had Gorillaz designed interface, including 128 sound samples that were created by the band. Including 64 ready to use loops made by Gorillaz sound engineer Stephen Sedgwick and Korg designers. This is a big leap for any music group in the 20th century to jump into application collaboration and development. Reinforcing ideas that anyone can be an artist and to let fans become composers as well. Shortly after the iElectribe release the Gorillaz announced:

 Do Ya Thing (was a song that partnered with Converse in February 2012, on a project called Three Artists One Song project and included James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem and Andre 3000 of Outkast. The single included a visual by Hewlett and animated versions of 2-D in 3D using green suits to map the directions of the character.

   In April Albarn told The Guardian [14] that Hewlett and Albarn had a “fall out” and future projects were unlikely due to tension building during Plastic Beach and The Fall. Word spread quickly through the fanbase. By the time it does however Albarn and Hewlett had already had their arguments worked out by the end of the same month. It’d be hard to believe Albarn and Hewlett would let a fall out occur at this point, but it was actually weird timing being after “The Fall” Album. This does however nail home the fundamental idea in collaboration, being sometimes you just have to take a punch for someone else's idea or not be afraid to let another collaborators idea weigh heavier than your own. Nevertheless to jumpstart the fanbase and kick things off they started scheming a follow up to Plastic Beach. They planned releasing new content in 2016 with so called upbeat humorous and positive melodies. [15] All the tracks contained nothing less than 125 bpm. One hundred and twenty five beats per minute is comparable to nodding your head repeatedly for .75 seconds up and down.

 “I'm starting recording in September for a new Gorillaz record, I've just been really, really busy so I haven't had a chance. I'd love to just get back into that routine of being at home and coming to the studio five days a week”[16], Albarn states.

    Reinforcing the concept of working in a present place in time conducive to completing projects and building off of pieces to make paths for new ideas. Not to mention the previous Hewlett, Albarn April argument has been referred to as making their collaborative friendship and relationship a lot stronger. In April 2016 Hewlett showed life of a new project on social media platform Instagram showing work on album featuring content from Liam Bailey, Albarn Himself, Twilite Tone, Vic Mensa and Jean Michael Jarre. They also jump started their media worlds and fan base by releasing interactive media stories about what the fictional band members have been up to sense the last project. They featured Noodle, in “The Book of Noodle” where she ended up in Japan tracking down a demon crime boss. Russel featured in “The Book of Russel” which had him on the shore of plastic beach in North Korea, and starved to point he shriveled back to normal size. Murdoc, in “The Book of Murdoc” was captured by the label EMI at sea and told to make another album. 2-D in “The Book of 2-D was swallowed by a whale named Massive Dick and washed up on an empty part of Cabo San Lucas surviving by eating the whale's blubber. They then gave Noodle her own instagram in October of 2016 augmenting her character personality in further clips. This marks a huge milestone for the virtual band as they continue to pave their own road through captivating their fan base and creating new relationships with viewers using compelling character stories on social media.
   This year (2017) has already been a big year for the Gorillaz. A new horizon is born as they are creating a unique festival called “Demon Dayz Festival” to start the 10th of June 2017 at Dreamland Margate, in Margate, England. Now becoming the first “virtual band” to have their own festival. The festival will feature virtual characters Noodle, 2-D, Murdoc, and Russel and other animations new and old, using new lights and installations and more Musion Eyeliner technology.
   The new 2017 project “Humanz” tracklist was initially leaked as one would expect given today's digital age. The actual “Humanz” album was said to drop via instagram on march 23rd saying the scheduled release date was the 28th of April 2017. Showing features of, De La Soul, Popcaan, Vince Staples, Pusha T, Rag n Bone Man, Anthony Hamilton, Kilo Kash, and Kali Uchis... Leading up to the release date singles started appearing on the band's youtube page.

"Saturnz Barz" (a hip hop, trip hop dancehall song with a music video came out in 360 view and normal view. This was a huge release and powerful hit featuring jamaican dancehall artist Popcaan and Abarn. The 360 video was named across the internet by Billboard and NME (New Music Entertainment) most successful debut of Virtual Reality music videos thus far. [17] Which is nothing short of surprising given the band's project history. It defeated the previous VR music video record that achieved 1.3 million plays total. Saturnz Barz actually got 3 million views in the first 48 hours.


“Andromeda” (was a visual and audio release on youtube that had an animated planet in galaxy featuring american rapper D.R.A.M. & Albarn is something one would consider post-disco, and alternative dance mixed with synthpop as it is a song one would find accompanied in an 80s club.


 “Ascension” was along the same type of visual, where the camera moves along a street on a left to right continuous pan through a dark city scape featuring american rapper Vince Staples. Marking the first of a Gorillaz, and a Vince Staples collaboration. This song would fall into the genre of alternative hip hop and alternative dance. Staples vocals on this piece fit the tempo very well and is extremely evocative.


 “We Got the Power” featured Jehnny Beth of english rock band "Savages" and Noel Gallagher of "Oasis". This visual was a stationary shot of the animated traffic jam on a multiple leveled highway. This amongst other pieces serving as a visual metaphor to go with the lyrical message. This track is a synthpop genre and actually has back up vocals by D.R.A.M for a second album collaboration.


 “Let Me Out” a trip hop and alternative hip hop track featured Vince Staples and Pusha T american rappers. The visual was the 4 animated band mates over a checkered visualizer that would move blocks around the video. To spread the message that the content doesn't have to be changing too much to be entertaining, that sometimes people just want something familiar, like social critiques on the inauguration of Donald Trump.


    Who knows what's next for Albarn, Hewlett, and Coxon, only time will tell as they meander through their upcoming performances and collaborations. One things for sure there's no argument that the Gorillaz are one of the most influential avant-pop experimental collaborative and revolutionary virtual band making compositions beyond music, in applications, merch and festivals. They constantly deliver beautifully melodic yet beneficial social criticisms for listeners, to disrupt the content that normally populates the pop industry and more so western culture through their lyrical content, instrument content and artistic process.
    Throughout their history they operated on foundational conceptual building blocks. Such blocks continued to propel projects based on their day one goals in 1997 since the have been "adding substance to the pop world". There’s plenty of hints and obvious pieces of content that lean us toward understanding Albarn, Hewlett and their collaborators aim. They're continuing to set the bar higher for themselves and every album release so fans and other artists are able to experience music in a visual and audio world that had yet to be explored since the Gorillaz came into the pop scene.
   The past two decades of pop have Albarn and Hewlett and their collaborators to thank for really beautiful pieces of music and virtual/live performances that will help carve out societies concentrations in a new mass communicated light and set forth new methods to approach and talk and communicate on current environmental & social problems, Gorillaz truly serve as revolutionary twentieth century Avant-Garde artists.



[9] “Artist Profile - Gorillaz” . EMI. 2006.

 [13] Associated Press (10/12/2010) “Gorillaz: We Won’t Let ‘Glee’ Cover Our Songs”

[15] Book, Ryan. “Damon Albarn Writing A Musical While Flirting with Blur and Gorillaz Comebacks” The Music Times. The Music Times. July 2014

[17] Britton, Luke (March 30, 2017) “Gorillaz Break Record with ‘Saturn Barz’ VR video” NME,

[5] Brown, Cass; Gorillaz (2 November 2006). Rise of the Ogre United States: Penguin. p. 43. ISBN 1-59448-931-9

[3] Cooper, James (19 November 2007). “Gorillaz: D-Sides”

[16] “Damon Albarn: New Gorillaz Album Coming, Recording Starts in September . Billboard, Retrieved 31 July 2015

[4] David Roberts (2006). British Hit Singles & AlbumsRoberts, David. Guinness Book of British Hit Singles & Albums. Guinness World Records Ltd. 18th edition (May 2005). ISBN 1-904994-00-8 London: Guinness World Records Limited

[1] Gaiman, Neil (July 2005). “Keeping It (Un)real”. Wired.

[6] Grant, Kieran (23 February 2002). “Gorillaz come out of the mist”

[12]  Greene, Andy (9 April 2009). “Gorillaz Attempt to Draft Bobby Womack For Upcoming Album”

[8] Joseph, Michael (2 November 2006). "Gorillaz in the Midst". The Big Issue in Scotland (604):

[7] Mitchum, Rob (5 February 2003). “Phase One: Celebrity Take Down DVD” Pitchfork.

[11] Morley, Paul (27 November 2009). “Paul Morley’s Showing Off… Damon Albarn”(MP3). The Guardian. 29 November 2009.

[10] Williamson, Nigel (November 2006). "West London Calling". Uncut: 88.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Hi-tech art that talks back.

Hi-tech art that talks back. By: Driedger, Sharon Doyle, Maclean's, 00249262, 4/24/95, Vol. 108, Issue 17
Academic Search Complete

In a bold new show artists express joys and fears about cyberspace
Portraits by Montreal artist Luc Courchesne do not hang quietly on a gallery wall. They chat and, occasionally, argue with each other. They talk to viewers and, if they like someone, will share their feelings and perhaps even confide a secret. If not, they become moody, abruptly ending the dialogue. Courchesne creates this dazzling illusion of art-with-an-attitude in his interactive work, Family Portrait: Encounter with a Virtual Society. The artist's ``virtual beings,'' who respond to the click of a mouse, are stunningly lifelike. They appear suspended in space, as if separate from the computers, video monitors and laser discs that generate them. But electronic wizardry is not the point of Family Portrait, says Courchesne, whose work has been exhibited at the National Gallery in Ottawa and New York City's Museum of Modern Art. ``I'm like an alchemist,'' he says. ``I try to do crazy things--like turn technology into experience.''
Courchesne, 42, is one of six Canadian artists represented in Press Enter: Between Seduction and Disbelief, an international exhibit on art and technology that opens this week at Toronto's Power Plant gallery, part of the beleaguered Harbourfront cultural centre. This timely show focuses on artists' fascination with cyberspace as well as their skepticism about an increasingly wired world. A strong undercurrent of technology has flowed through the art world for more than a decade with the proliferation of microcomputers. ``Then, in '94, there was an explosion as the Internet brought everybody together,'' says Derrick de Kerckhove, director of the McLuhan Program at the University of Toronto. ``Now, art and technology is literally taking off.'' An array of new computer technologies is transforming culture, as musicians perform ``live'' on the Internet, museums offer tours via modem, and virtual reality plays on the stage. ``Technology is evolving our traditional notions of art,'' says Mark Jones, publisher of CyberStage, a new Canadian quarterly devoted to art and technology. ``It's also creating new forms of its own.''
Artists are applying their new electronic palette in surprising ways. ``They are stretching the use of these technologies,'' says Jean Gagnon, associate curator of media art at the National Gallery. ``They can be playful and ironic and give a humoristic twist to them.'' They are also addressing serious issues. De Kerckhove theorizes that artists express the collective unconscious of a society, and ``there is a great deal of fear of computers out there.'' That anxiety about cyberspace and individual identity is one of the main themes of Press Enter. And, according to Louise Dompierre, chief curator of the exhibit, most of the artworks are interactive, so people can experience them ``in a real, visual way.'' Some deal with issues of privacy, notably American Jim Campbell's Untitled (for Heisenberg), in which, through an ingenious use of computers and video, the viewer's image pops up in bed with a naked couple. Others, such as German artist Christian Moller's Electronic Mirror, which unexpectedly erases a visitor's reflection, illustrate a lack of control over technology.
It was the potential for interaction that first attracted 34-year-old David Rokeby to the electronic medium. ``I wanted to repair the rip that had appeared between the audience and contemporary art,'' explains Rokeby, originally from Tillsonburg, Ont. Behind him, in a corner of his studio in the heart of Toronto's Chinatown, two color-splashed canvases lean casually on a bookcase. They were art school projects, painted before Rokeby switched to an experimental program. Since then, Rokeby, who was recently featured in Wired, the U.S. magazine about hi-tech culture, has immersed himself in computers, circuit boards and cables--the tools of his chosen medium. Now, there are signs that he has realized his art-school dream of ``making art that connects with people.'' Acclaimed internationally, Rokeby has participated in the prestigious Venice Biennale. And at an exhibit in Hamburg in 1993, visitors lined up for hours to see his latest work.
Silicon Remembers Carbon, the art that drew crowds in Europe, also appears in Press Enter. In the installation, Rokeby's ``canvas'' is a bed of sand enclosed by a narrow walkway, on the floor of a darkened room. Sounds and images of flowing water, blowing winds, fire and shadows are projected onto the sand in ever-changing patterns. The effect is compelling and one that allows Rokeby to play with viewers' perceptions of art and of their own bodies. If visitors, for instance, dip their hands into the convincing video ``pools of water,'' they will feel dry sand. That is, if they dare to touch it. ``There is no barrier except people's fear,'' says Rokeby. ``The question is, `what is the art here?' '' Silicon Remembers Carbon presents an unspoken challenge for viewers to literally cross the line into the sand--and into the artist's illusion. ``An interactive work creates a radically different situation for an audience,'' says Rokeby. ``There are no rules.''
The medium presents challenges for artists as well as audiences. Sylvie Belanger once sold some of her cherished antiques to finance her ambitious electronic art projects. The petite artist with an international reputation works on a grand scale. Some of her early installations traversed rooftops and covered towering church walls. But Belanger, born near Montreal, has kept enough pine armoires and ladder-back chairs to lend a distinctly Quebecois flavor to her studio home in a converted factory in Toronto's west end. After 10 years in the city, the 44-year-old artist has also retained her French-Canadian sensibilities. ``As a Quebecer,'' says Belanger, ``the question of identity has been part of my upbringing.'' Now, the artist is exploring the issue in the context of technology and how it is affecting human identity--the theme of The Silence of the Body, her complex installation in Press Enter. There are three parts to Belanger's interactive photo-video artwork. One wall has a dramatic, back-lit mural of a pair of eyes. The adjacent wall features a huge ear. On the floor beneath them is a mouth. Each organ is enhanced, literally and metaphorically, by electronic technology, and exaggerated to superhuman dimensions. Taken together, the three elements suggest a face. But they are physically fragmented, not quite human. ``Technology disembodies us,'' suggests Belanger, ``but it also allows us to create a new self.''
While Belanger focuses on the future, Alberta artist George Bures Miller looks at how existing technologies, like television, affect personal communications. And, indeed, his work space over the old Woolworth's in downtown Lethbridge looks more like a TV repair shop than an artist's studio. Miller is convinced that the artwork he rigs out of cables, monitors and cameras ``can humanize technologies that aren't very human.'' He adds, ``Man, there's all this stuff happening with computers and TV and we don't think much about it.''
One of his pieces, Conversation/Interrogation, shown in Press Enter, provides what he describes as a ``rude and scary'' awakening to the fiction of television. The installation is simple and spare. A wooden office chair sits in front of a blank TV screen. Off to the side, a surveillance camera focuses on the chair. But this art, unlike a painting or a sculpture, is incomplete without a viewer. Only when a visitor accepts the posted invitation to ``please sit down,'' does the artist appear on the screen. In a tone that ranges from suggestive to intimidating, he draws in the viewer, whose own image appears on the screen--but without sound. ``You remind me of your lover,'' Miller intones. ``You know all of my conversations with you are recorded.'' The viewer becomes the viewed, and the experience is, at once, amusing and unsettling. ``I wanted to make the viewers physically aware of how TV leaves us voiceless,'' says Miller. ``A painting would not have the same emotional impact.''
But is it art? ``There are people who still don't think that it is a valid medium,'' says Rokeby. ``But then there are people who still don't think photography is a valid medium.'' Gagnon, de Kerckhove and other experts say that resistance to electronic media is rapidly disappearing as the art form gains critical legitimacy. Still, few private galleries display the works, which often fill entire rooms, and even fewer collectors purchase them. ``Most buyers for that kind of work are museums,'' says Gagnon. Part of the problem lies in the technology itself. Equipment can be difficult to operate, sometimes breaks down and quickly becomes obsolete. ``It's a very expensive medium for collectors and artists,'' says Courchesne. He, and others, survive through grants, teaching jobs and sheer determination. ``Electronic art is particularly pertinent right now,'' says Rokeby. ``Like it or not, we are surrounded by technology and we need to understand how it transforms the way we experience the world.'' As long as there is a cyberspace, artists will be exploring it with cyberart.
PHOTO (COLOR): Silicon Remembers Carbon: `making art that connects with people'
PHOTOS (COLOR): The Silence of the Body -- Belanger: artistic inquiries into the ways that `technology disembodies us, but also allows us to create a new self'
By Sharon Doyle Driedger

Copyright of Maclean's is the property of Rogers Media Inc. and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.

Chicago Style Citation
Driedger, Sharon Doyle. "Hi-tech art that talks back." Maclean's 108, no. 17 (April 24, 1995): 60. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2017).

Dances with Machines by Rebeccla Zacks

The movements of the lanky man of the videotape mesh perfectly with the undulating rhythms and cascading tones that accompany his dance. As the music swells, his gestures grow pronounced and emphatic; as the sound dwindles to the pulse of a synthesized bass or the flutter of an electronic clarinet, his motions diminish to the twitch of a hand or the slow weep of an arm. The choreographer, it seems, must have worked closely with the dancer and the composer to make such a seamless piece. The reality is more complex; This dancer is, in fact, also choreographer and composer, choosing his moves on the fly while simultaneously making the music to match in a intimate collaboration with a video camera and a homemade computer system.
Sprawled shoeless on the living room floor in his Toronto home, 38-year-old David Rokeby watches the 28-year-old version of himself on a small TV set. Though his worn jeans, wire-rimmed glasses and only slightly scruffy hair make him look like the math professor his parents wanted him to be, Rokeby has instead become an internationally known interactive artist--his multimedia installations invite gallery goers and exhibition attendees to become active participants in the artistic process.
In language that shifts easily between the professorial and the poetic, Rokeby explains both the technology and the artistic intentions behind his work. In many ways, his career sounds like that of a researcher. Rokeby thinks of each of his installations as an experiment; observing the hundreds of thousands of people who have participated with his pieces has given him an invaluable opportunity to learn about humans, machines and the very complicated relationships between them.
Through these artistic explorations, Rokeby has begun to understand how people's interactions with computers change as technogadgetry becomes more and more common. And he has uncovered some ways that machines can subtly distort human perceptions. After years of investigating such ideas, Rokeby worries that our increasing interaction with the Internet and "intelligent" technologies might cause us to devalue some of the attributes that make us human. So while others work toward a transparent interface between person and machine, Rokeby aims to expose the quirks, foibles and rough edges of that relationship. "Because I've programmed a lot, because I've built computers, I know what it's like to write a program and then watch people deal with it, and watch how my decisions change people's experiences" says Rokeby. "For me, it's important that I somehow articulate the importance of that act."
Rokeby played the videotape of his dance on a sunny January afternoon to demonstrate his best-known project: Very Nervous System. The name is an umbrella term for an ongoing series of installations the project's technological roots date back to some fiddling around with light sensors and a synthesizer that Rokeby did in the early 1980s. Over the years, Rokeby has used the technology behind Very Nervous System not only in his artistic endeavors, but also to support them; reduced to its initials, VNS is an image-processing device he builds and sells to performers, composers, researchers and other artists.
What VNS does, essentially, is translate the motion captured in a live video image into a digital signal. That signal can, via a Macintosh computer, drive electronic equipment such as synthesizers, video players and lights--all in real time. In a typical Very Nervous System installation, a body moving in the camera's field of vision becomes an integral part of the work, triggering and modulating sounds or other effects.
Rokeby develops software and hardware for projects such as Very Nervous System with little outside help, and no formal technical training. As a teenager growing up in southern Ontario in the 1970s, he taught himself programming in order to indulge a fascination with electronic music and computer graphics. At 19, with an offer on the table for a lucrative but uninspiring job in data processing, Rokeby instead embarked on a "five-year plan"--he would focus on the things that interested him and avoid those that "smacked of career." If it didn't work out, he figured, he could always go back to school and get a computer science degree.
After a stint at the Ontario College of Art, almost five years to the day after he hatched his plan, Rokeby received an invitation to show his work at the Venice Biennale, arguably the world's premier art show. The list of his artistic honors has grown steadily since.
Rokeby isn't the only artist exploring the gray area between the body, the mind and the computer ('see "Virtual Plants," p. 62), but he began doing this kind of interactive work long before most of the other artists currently on the scene, says Finnish media scholar Erkki Huhtamo, a visiting professor in the department of design at the University of California, Los Angeles. What's more, Huhtamo says, Rokeby is one of few to have constructed his own technological tools. "He's wonderfully capable of doing that," says Huhtamo, "but on the other side he has applied those tools for various artworks--a career that combines these two sides meaningfully and interestingly is rather rare."
Virtuosity in both technology and art has given Rokeby a unique perspective on the evolving ways people relate to machines. Audiences of the early installations, shown at a time before many people used much computing power outside arcade video games, were "more open to the raw experience," Rokeby recalls. They focused on the physical, and felt as though they were bumping into invisible objects that made noise. As time went on, though, people became more interested in the "geewhiz" technical aspects of the installations, and in tying the experience into a rapidly expanding computer culture.
But even as PCs became ubiquitous and "virtual reality" and "interactive media" attained buzzword status, there was an ecstatic quality to how people reacted to the piece. "Very Nervous System is very exciting," Rokeby says. "To show it is very satisfying on a certain level because people love it, and come up to you and tell you that it's brilliant and fabulous and it has changed their way of looking at something." But Rokeby began to worry that his work was too exciting, that people were so blown away by the real-time physical experience that they weren't stopping to ask the questions he had hoped they would: "'What happened between me and the machine? What does that mean for my relationship with my word processor?'"
To Rokeby, the answers to these questions have implications far beyond artistic concerns. He noticed that people tended to credit Very Nervous System with more than its fair share of responsibility for certain effects; they might, for example, synchronize their movements unconsciously to a particular preprogrammed rhythm in the mix but believe it was the technology that adjusted to them.
"Given people's general sense that machines are very smart," Rokeby says, "they have a strong tendency to attribute the smarts to the machine, even if it's their own smarts reflected back." Rokeby believes that as interactive technologies, particularly the Internet, begin to play a central role in communications, commerce and civic activities, "the sense of where the control is and where the intelligence is becomes more significant, more politically and socially important."
To get away from the distracting excitement of Very Nervous System, in the 1990s Rokeby began working on pieces that were less physical and lacked the frenzied feedback between audience and computer. In 1995, he started showing a piece that turned his early installations inside out, giving audiences the chance to watch the computer's image-processing operation as it happened and to see what the machine had been seeing for all those years. "One of the things that was always weird about Very Nervous System," Rokeby says, "is that it is a surveillance system, but no one ever felt threatened by it--people didn't feel like they were being watched."
So in Watch, Rokeby created an overtly voyeuristic experience. Video projectors shine two images side-by-side, each a processed version of a surveillance camera's view of a nearby public space. In Very Nervous System, the computer extracts motion from a video signal by comparing one frame with the last and determining which pixels have changed, but that whole procedure is invisible to the viewer. The image-processing techniques used in Watch are a dissection of VNS's internal workings. On one side only the things that are moving show up, white ghosts gliding through a black void; the other side shows only what's still, a seemingly normal but frozen black-and-white video image.
To these images, Rokeby adds a soundtrack: The occasional noise of a camera shutter or electronic beeping interrupts soft hypnotic sounds of breathing, a heartbeat and a ticking clock. It's a reminder, Rokeby says, that there might be something wrong with spying on people in this way.
Watch also serves as a reminder of how different the world can look when seen through varying technological lenses. In the early days of developing the piece, Rokeby aimed the camera out his studio window at a busy intersection. The two different video filters--one catching motion, the other stasis--became socioeconomic filters: In one image, members of a vibrant crowd moved swiftly about their business, in the other, panhandlers appeared to be sitting quietly alone on a deserted sidewalk.
Rokeby again draws from art a lesson about the impact of technology on our perceptions. The image-filtering techniques he employs in Watch are very similar to those used to compress video for storage or transmission. (Programmers save digital space by recording or sending only the changing pixels in successive frames of a moving image.) The more we use such techniques in daily life, he says, the more we wear inherently biased lenses. Rokeby says he is particularly concerned by the large number of design decisions being made "by programmers in startup companies working on intense deadlines, with very little experience of philosophy and politics."
Though the insights rokeby has gained through his art may put him in a better position to make such programming decisions, he has no desire to tie himself to his own startup company. He builds and sells only a few VNS units a year, though many more people would like to get their hands on one, according to Todd Winkler, a music professor at Brown University. "In the computer music world, his system is very well known and people talk about it, want to learn about it all the time" says Winkler, who has used his own VNS setup for more than three years in installations, performances and demonstrations. Still, Winkler understands Rokeby's decision to focus primarily on art rather than commerce. "Getting into the business of making little metal boxes that everybody in the world wants could really consume you completely," Winkler says.
On the contrary, what is consuming Rokeby these days is his latest project, The Giver of Names. It's a concept that came to the artist almost instantaneously on the day after his birthday in 1990. "The idea was there would be a computer and objects and you could present the objects to the computer and it would talk about them," he recounts. Realizing this seemingly straightforward notion, however, has taken the better part of the decade.
Part of the motivation behind The Giver of Names was what Rokeby, perhaps presciently, saw as a shift in the interplay between people and technology. As he wrote in an e-mail quoted in the catalogue for the 1998 premiere of The Giver of Names, in the 1980s it was the body that was "most challenged by the computer. ... In the '90s it seems to be the notions of intelligence, and consciousness."
Rokeby worries that as we grow accustomed to such phenomena as intelligent agents on the Internet and computerized phone systems, we may devalue certain human attributes. To talk to that computerized receptionist, for example, we often have to exaggerate and mechanize our speech--the change in enunciation is a "subtle dumbing-down process." So rather than trying to make The Giver of Names a flawless facsimile of human thought, Rokeby wanted to leave it rough, exposing the "quirky textures" of a strictly mechanical intelligence rather than using clever programming to paper them over.
In action, The Giver of Names is quirky indeed. The installation space is spare: A video camera aims at a black pedestal around which a variety of objects are strewn. Off to one side is a Macintosh G3. Visitors can select objects from the pile, or items they've brought with them, and arrange them on the pedestal; the computer captures an image and processes it, identifying colors, outlines and shapes. The system then begins a mechanical version of free-association, pulling up words that are somehow connected to the details culled from the image. The Giver of Names'"state of mind" in this process is a relational database of 100,000 objects, words and ideas.
An object on the pedestal, Rokeby explains, "is like a pebble dropped in a pond of memory, and the associations are like ripples moving away from the initial object and exciting or stimulating different parts of the memory." The words most "stimulated" in this process become the palette from which the computer chooses in forming sentences that appear on the computer screen. At the same time, male and female voices fill the installation space as they utter the words.
Presented with a soda bottle and an apple, for example, the system might pick up on the red of the apple and the shape of the bottle--these would probably stimulate the word "wine," among others, says Rokeby. "As for the sentence, it could be anything from 'The wine spilled' to something completely off the wall like 'Red aliens from inner cities flopped sumptuously on the wine-stained sofa.'"
Early on, The Giver of Names tended to talk about war. The system's fixation on generals and grenades prompted Rokeby to consider the fact that many of the databases he used were developed for military-sponsored artificial intelligence and natural-language processing research. "It's kind of interesting," he says, that the tools "used to train artificial intelligences about language will inevitably have a strong defense bias, because the best resources right now were funded by the Defense Department."
Rokeby is the first to admit that such specific lessons aren't likely to be obvious in his artworks, that most people won't listen to The Giver of Names talking about a piece of fruit and say, "Gee, I should really think about the effects of military funding on the future of artificial intelligence." But by seeing ourselves in collusion with and in contrast to the mechanical perceiving, thinking and speaking systems that Rokeby builds, we can all begin to think about, as he puts it, "how much of what we do is basically mechanical and how much of what we do does imply something richer and more complicated." And Rokeby takes great satisfaction in the unique intensity with which interactive art allows him to communicate such ideas. Not everyone gets the point of each installation, he says, "but when they get it, boy do they get it."
By Rebecca Zacks
Though David Rokeby and other artists who create interactive installations are starting to gain a foothold in the mainstream art world, it's still unlikely that you'll be able to find their work at a museum near you. You can, however, readily find these folks on the Internet, where their combination of computer savvy and artistic sensibility produces Web sites that are well worth exploring. Here's a small sample of what's out there:
Rokeby himself provides an extensive catalogue of his pieces, along with some of his writings, at
Austrian-born Christa Sommerer and French-born Laurent Mignonneau teamed up in 1992, and now work at the ATR Media Integration and Communications Research Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan. At their ATR Web site ( you'll find images from and explanations of the elaborate virtual ecosystems they've created for installations and Web-based pieces. Sommerer and Mignonneau have built a number of unique viewer/machine interfaces: Audiences can create new plants or creatures and influence their behavior by drawing on touch screens, sending e-mail, moving through the installation space, and even by touching real plants wired to the computer.
Janine Cirincione and Michael Ferraro, both faculty members at New York's School of Visual Arts, founded their design studio, Possible Worlds, in 1992. The company's elegant site ( provides a glimpse both of commercial projects (which include a new animated show for MTV) and of interactive installations--joystick-controlled journeys through surreal computer-generated landscapes populated with quirky characters.
New York performance and installation artist Toni Dove has shown a number of virtual-reality and video-laser disc pieces. A viewer's gestures drive the sound and images in Dove's interactive movie, Artificial Changelings, which tells the parallel tales of a 19th-century kleptomaniac and a 21st-century hacker. Read more about Dove and Artificial Changelings at, and be sure to click on the small moving pictures at the bottom of the opening screen for an archive of images from the installation.
The Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria, is a home for interdisciplinary investigation of art, society and technology. At the center's somewhat labyrinthine site (, you can explore the institution's "Museum of the Future," as well as archives from its annual festival and from the Prix Ars Electronica--an international computer art competition that has had a special category for interactive art since 1990.
Finally, installation artist Stephen Wilson, a professor in San Francisco State University's Conceptual/Information Arts Program, has compiled an encyclopedic list of links on "Intersections of Art, Technology, Science & Culture" at wilson. artlinks2. html. From here, you can get to pages on a vast number of artists, events, organizations and areas of research. Wilson's book, Information Arts, is due out soon.
Copyright of Technology Review is the property of MIT Technology Review and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.

Chicago Style Citation
Zacks, Rebecca. "Dances with Machines." Technology Review 102, no. 3 (May 1999): 58. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed May 10, 2017).