Tuesday, 27 September 2016

I Ben to the Liverpool Biennial

So I went to the Liverpool Biennial for the first time and it was good. It runs until October 16th and is nearly all free, so you should go if you get chance.

We jumped off a bus and headed straight for Cains Brewery, accidentally finding an amazing secondhand warehouse and a neat little cafe tucked in a courtyard there, before stumbling into the cavernous interior.

The floor was filled with clay covered junk by Sahej Rahal and dominated by a large central construction - Andreas Angelidakis's Collider - which mysteriously concealed it's contents. This was flanked by other artworks including a tower of dog wallpaper stinking of real dog and Ramin Haerizadeh's bizarre paintings. These ancient, semi-religious and sexually hilarious tableaux lead you over to the most memorable characters of the event - Ramin Haerizadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh and Hesam Rahmanian's Anti-Catty, Space-Sheep and Princess Rambo.

These guys had made some ingenious and daft sculptures seemingly from odd stuff lying around their shared house, and even better they had made a series of videos showing off their special skills, some on instagram.

A video posted by Submersibles (@raminroknihesam) on

A video posted by Submersibles (@raminroknihesam) on

In the context of a serious art show these we're mad genius and I couldn't stop grinning. Anti-catty smuggled artworks by stuffing them up her skirt. Princess Rambo beat people with a gun, and my personal favourite Space-sheep did some pretty amazing cooking. Strangely they don't seem to hold their power so much when seen online. I think being surrounded by them as a collection of objects and videos really helped immerse you in their weird world. They seemed to be an exercise in rule breaking with shaky, instantaneous ramshackle production and a lack of finesse and editing. With other more "serious" work by others around they seemed to be able to unveil what creativity is without all the pomp and ceremony.

Inside the central structure was a video by the very enigmatic, name changing Marvin Gaye Chetwynd made with children from Liverpool. Clearly an artist-lead schools commission, this one was actually pretty good. The kids spoke at length about an ongoing narrative based about a character Dogsy Ma Bone and he wandered the streets meeting others who rapped and sang to camera. The key aspect was the intriguing costumes. Chetwynd had made strange hooded cloaks covered with kitsch dog patterns (I guess the stinky tower outside was her's too). The participants looked slightly uncomfortable wearing them which transformed what could have been a bland schools video into an otherworldy tale with brave and curious performances from the kids

At FACT we saw the amazing work of Krzysztof Wodiczko who had a large scale video installation where shadowy refugees talked in doorways about their troubles, but I was more impressed with some of his other work that demonstrated his ability to invent, engage with the public, hack new technology, tackle social issues, and remained accessible and visually arresting. For example there was a folding trolley / mobile home - inside which homeless people could sleep, eat and live. It looked a bit like a cross between a bike, a cage and a space rocket. Another project involved a helmet worn by war veterans which showed images of their disturbing flash backs in a visor as they wandered a shopping mall, and another was Alien Staff (1992) a walking stick topped with a video screen which contained relics from the life of it's immigrant owner who was encouraged to confront people in the street and discuss their situation.

Over at the Bluecoat Gallery was a great video of artists Karolina Magnusson-Murray & Leon Platt arguing about making a video about arguing as a video art project. This candid and self-referential piece was oddly compelling.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Chiptune meet Black Metal

Super-chuffed that I'm back in the studio with the inimitable Mr. Jon Garbett (aka Dr.G) with our chiptune-cum-black metal reinvention of Octopod. Just look at the excitement in this man's eyes...

Just to fill you in, back in January we released the Three EP on the MaggotHouse bandcamp site with 3 tracks of heavy, dancefloor-friendly beats with some awesome artwork from Stuart Tonge. Now we are back working with the badass engineering talents of Tom Gittins at his lush Monochrome Productions studio, and it is sounding immense!

We worked with Tom before on the little publicised Jazz Thrash Assassin single Pork Rind Grind and again on my favourite recording I've worked on - Meatfeast's Hands Like Claws EP. He did such a great job and really understood our angle, we knew he had to be involved once more.

The new Octopod tracks we're heard for the first time ever with live guitars at the 8 Bit Lounge gamer's event run by Leon Trimble and also for the first time ever with Bozwegian vocals at a Carnage Club album launch event alongside Stinky Wizzle Teat and Sealclubber.

In the studio we have been layering some doomy, Black Metal guitars, ring-modulated tapping, Slayer-esque riffery and sweeping solos over the same dancebeats that featured on the Three EP. Tortured screams and Burzum style moans are also featuring highly, and we may even push the vocal ideas much further when we go back to finish up.

More on all this soon, but in the meantime we may have a gig coming up thanks again to Stourbridge's Carnage Club, at Scary Canary Wednesday 12th October.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

The sound of old flames

Got the chance to see Torcher Chamber Arkestra yesterday at The MAC which was great. Tables covered with blown glass tubular things, bowls and glass marbles all being played by a percussionist, while another performer blew glass and a guy manipulated all the sounds live through a laptop, making it delay and squelch. Lots of alchemy and atmosphere, really enjoyed it - especially the simplicity of the movements combined with the variations in sound and material density etc. Favourite bit might have been at the end where glass bottles breathed in and out as they we're dipped into water. Worth checking out if you get chance.

After that I dived over to the Scary Canary venue in Stourbridge for some birthday fun and to wish local artist and old flame Wozart luck with his double marathon running. Check out some of Woz's artwork below.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Art Shows and Art Tells

"Bound to" - the "breathing" robotic sculptures I helped create for artist Halina Dominska were finally installed and shown at BCU back in June. After a few long days we successfully got the 5 silicone robotic skins, hung and naturally breathing in and out. Ultrasonic sensors we're used to detect distance and motion, and as audience members approached the skins came to life and started to breathe. Each object was controlled with an Arduino Nano that ran a mechanised motor attached to an internal armature to create the effect.

Halina's desire to make the fleshy objects approachable and friendly really worked but also encouraged some audience members to get a bit too close during the shows duration and the fragile innards were knocked around a fair bit by people grabbing, stroking, hugging, pinching and touching them.

During the install we were dogged by a few technical, practical and aesthetic issues related to the works placement which was hung high up in a corner, by a window, in a busy room, but she's planning to re-install the piece at some point and work through some the issues, so keep a look out for that.

Other students in the show had some pretty amazing artwork on display too - in particular I liked a video of a girl tied to a chair walking through a swamp to a tree, which seemed part performance art, part music video, and some of the psychedelic sculptures and other surreal artwork was great.

I've continued with a stream of popular kid's electronic workshops mainly using Crumble kits. These have taken place at BOM, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Baskerville School for autistic children, at The Studio for Talent Match Birmingham and Solihull with 2 weeks of Space themed Summer Camps taking place at BOM in mid-August. Summer Camp is looking like it's going to be amazing this year with myself and Amy Martin from FAMALAM (who recently did this inspiring TED Talk) pulling out all the stops to immerse youngsters in a craft and gadget filled 5 day journey to the moon. Adam from FizzPop is going to loan us some space junk to decorate with too and kindly introduced me to Tim Milward from Backface who was able to turn me into a full 3D avatar! Check this out!

Other great stuff coming from BOM residents includes a breath responsive generative video installation being worked on by Robin Price (check out his hilarious URL for this blog) and a theatrical-tech collaboration Agent in a Box from Katie Day from The Other Way Works and multiplayer/touchscreen games programmer Jon Sear which seems to involve some sort of real world spy hotel adventure.

I've also been asked recently to do a number of talks and presentations including one yesterday at Eastside Projects alongside a wealth of other Birmingham artists and curators including Ruth Claxton and Stuart Whipps from whom it was a real pleasure to hear some backstory of how they have developed their practice in the arts. Thanks to Joanne Masding who invited me along and also recently had a solo show in Leicester at the 2 Queens gallery.

I got to talk a bit about the development of PHLUMX, the years I spent VJing and as entrepreneur, the fun had in the Jazz Metal and Hardcore bands Jazz Thrash Assassin and Meatfeast and about all the cool projects done as Psicon Lab.

Other speakers at the event included Vanessa Boni, Matt Foster, Anneka French, Andrew Gillespie, Sam Jones, Antonio Roberts, Sarah Taylor Silverwood and Emily Warner.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Bom fellows talk

Here's the talk I did at BOM recently regarding what I'd like to achieve during my fellowship there.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

I'm a busy fella

So this year I'm a Artist Fellow at Birmingham Open Media (or simply BOM as it's better known) and it looks like I've roped myself in for a nosedive back into some artistic ideas I once left behind, plus a whole string of workshops and even an anamatronic art installation.

So a week or so ago I did a quick introduction to myself at the gallery in a day of talks which included previous fellows Antonio Roberts (prolific glitch artist now tangling with Birmingham's Eye of Sauron with identity-defying masks), Leon Trimble (VJ Chromatouch - creating domed immersive projections) and Amy Martin (director of Famalam a progressive childcare project). If you'd like to see me slobbing out, hiding under a chair, or roaring down a microphone you can read a brief summary of my 3 main projects on the BOM website.

"So what's going on with these projects and what's in store for us?" I hear you scream at the screen as 1s and 0s cascade over your face and your pint of wine starts to warm. Well... as well as the usual coding frenzy... Psicon Lab is currently teamed up with sculptor Halina Dominska and working on bringing fleshy objects to life using some electrical components and an Arduino. Check out Halina's blog here for loads more on that, and keep an eye out later in the year for the degree show at Margaret Street's School of Art (BCU) where it will be on display.
Halina's design sketches for interactive sculptures
MaggotHouse has brought long-time music project Octopod back to the stage after the well received Three EP which was released last year. After a short set at the 8 Bit Lounge at the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath, the duo opened a night for Stourbridge's legendary hardcore event Carnage Club before Stinky Wizzleteat and Seal Clubber tore the roof down with their ultra-heavyweight doom-laden sets. Wearing hoodies and black metal corpse-paint, this was the first time Octopod's new Black Metal look was unveiled complete with live guitars and wretched vocals. I was pleased to see the MaggotHouse label sampler CDs dissapear in seconds after the set and reactions to the new sound we're really encouraging, so hopefully we'll see more events from them soon.

Meanwhile back in the Meggabaase... Swoomptheeng are regrouping after a busy start to the year with a body-rocking gig for promoters Der Die Das in Feb and an entire arcade machine complete with Pacman/Jaws mashup in the 21 Pirates exhibition at the MAC (Midlands Art Centre).
Swoomptheeng live last year
So next up is a series of kid's electrical gadgets workshops and I've promised a tribal art gallery music event for later in the year at BOM, so plenty to get excited by there too :)

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Interactive Art installations with Chinese Arduinos on OSX

Last year as part of the awesome performance art event that is Fierce Festival I triggered some ultrasonic sensors using cheap Chinese Arduino Nanos bought from eBay for an art installation I worked on at BOM with OneFiveWest called "Code and Carpentry".

The ultrasonics work as motion and distance detectors and send MIDI data back to an Apple Mac which played this synth - called Helm - by Matt Tytel.

In the installation we had 2 areas fitted with a combo of 4 ultrasonics each which meant you could play an "air-theramin" to create music with smooth adjustments or just trigger sounds as you pass by. The third sound-toy you see in the video is a touch sensitive rail we created. See it all in action below.

The Chinese Nanos are great and super-cheap (we we're on a tight budget!), they run just like official Arduinos from a PC but mysteriously didn't work on a Mac, so after a bit of noodling around online I found out you need some Chinese drivers to get them talking which you can get from this Chinese site, but Apple have recently changed a few things for OSX "El Capitan" or "Yosamite" and you'll need to do a little bit more work if you have them as documented here.

The girls of OneFiveWest have recently had a Narnian wardrobe on show at The REP Theatre alongside BOM fellow Leon Trimble aka Chromatouch which sounded fun, and now have something going on in Manchester at Madlab - see keep your eyes out for that.

Monday, 11 January 2016

VLC ugly? Make your own skin

Everybody loves VLC, it's  a wicked media player that will play everything, but... my God it's ugly.

I've had a good look around online trying to find a decent skin for it for ages with little satisfaction, so why not make your own?

The videolan skin editor is really easy to use and you can make your very own skin quickly and easily. Need a start point? Well just open up someone else's skin and edit that. It's simple and you can finally have a VLC player that suits your eyes as well as all your media playback needs.

If you're good with Photoshop just draw your icons and chop them up using the slice tool, save as html and images and you'll have everything you need for your own sexy VLC skin.

Mac users -sorry skins just don't work on a mac :(