‘Mallpraxis’, description of installation

Description of Whole

MallPraxis, the installation, was housed in a space called 'D4' at Diorama Arts based at Warren Street. It was due to be open to the public for two days 13th & 14th November 2004, from midday to 8pm . The space was chosen for its location and immediate surrounding physical environment. D4 is located at the end of an old office block, and it is let out for regular classes, rehearsals and exhibition space. D4 features two large 'shop' windows at right angles to each other, giving the impression of openness and light . The windows look onto both a car parking loading bay and the wonderful Regent's Square/Triton Square, with its elevated trees, lit pavements and above D4, the large 'pop art' florescent fan. The many new office buildings around the square create confusing reflections of lights, the fan and themselves. The square becomes particularly exciting as the light diminishes and artificial lighting starts to dominate.


D4 and its surroundings were a good setting for an installation whose apparent form was 'shop-like', and which would be made up of objects that were both products and setting.


The installation could be seen from the Euston Road, particularly at and after dusk. Four monitors, with bright changing colours beckoned across the square; as they were approached series of words could be discerned .


On entering the space, cacophony struck. The room was full of sound, a mixture of sounds, artificial, musical & 'natural'. The objects in the room were low lit, emphasising their form, or their nature; light from the monitor screens illuminated the space, never quite the same, never quite evenly distributed.


As people moved round the space they became aware of the various different sound sources. The cacophony was not from a single central system, but was made up of individual objects performing their own discrete sound acts.


Each sound-producing object was an Intel based computer, a PC. This is an important existential fact, as a very similar installation could exist using tapes or disks. These devices were PCs and they are peculiar and particular because of this. The installation took place in the undisguised world of Microsoft Windows, of the prosaic everyday world of global domestic or office based software. This is as essential to the piece as the cultural or formal nature of the sonic material.






The whole room of objects were networked together and were synchronised centrally from a piece called KONTRÖL:


                           INVENSÅN (four parts)







Each machine took its part in a mixture of organised structure and organised chaos. There were eight timed trigger points in an hour. On the hour each machine contributes to the theme of pealing bells, on the quarter the theme of IKEA furniture names , on the half, birdsong, on the quarter to samples from "Who will buy?" (Lionel Bart, 'Oliver' 1960). Between these four points each machine had its own localised material.

The networking was achieved using a D-Link 8 port 10/100Mbps Switch, with Cat5e cables and a D-Link wireless router, and Netgear wireless USB adapters for the ‘Bush’ radios.


Description of ‘INVENSÅN’

INVENSÅN had four parts, there were four individual silver-coloured office PCs in a row sitting on top of white IKEA 'BONDE' cabinets. The PCs were second hand, bought at a 'Computer Fair' in Gower Street, 500 metres from the installation. They were Dell Optiplexes with 800mhz Pentium III, and the monitors were Compaq 17inch.


This piece had three themes, commercial computer culture, bell ringing, and inventions that lead to our music/gadget/communication culture and the PC.


The computer culture sections consisted of one fourteen-minute section playing random sequences of twenty re-tuned Windows start-up chords, and one fourteen minute section playing random sequences of twenty re-tuned Apple-Mac start-up chords. These occupied the positions before and after the on the hour peals of bells throughout the installation.


The bell ringing section consisted of the use of a special interest piece of software for Windows called 'ABEL', produced by Chris Hughes and Simon Feather of Abelsim, which sequenced wave samples of bells in the traditional sequences of English bell ringing. In the piece the samples were replaced by eleven words, Ask Not For Whom The Bell Tolls, It Tolls For Thee. The first machine begun the sequence, it was not a recording of the sequence, and ABEL was made to perform the changes 'live'. At 3 minutes 30 seconds the second machine started the sequence, at 7 minutes the third started and at 10 minutes 30 seconds the forth started. For the last three and a half minutes the four machines were all performing the changes.


The invention section consisted of a universal holding score, a graphic of which was displayed on the screens. The piece lasted for fourteen minutes, and allowed each possible variation of four things, occurring or not occurring, to happen: no machines, all machines together, one at a time, two at a time, and three at a time; there are fourteen options. To begin, no machines play for a minute, then each played for a minute, then together and so on.


The first machine ran a special interest piece of software called Weaver, which produces Morse code. It repeatedly tapped out the words "What has God wrought?" which were apparently the words chosen by Annie Ellsworth, the young daughter of a friend, to demonstrate Morse's invention at the opening of the newly constructed telegraph line on 24th May 1844, from the Supreme Court chamber in the United States Capitol to his partner in Baltimore.


The second machine ran a text-to-speech package called CoolSpeech, and displayed a jpeg from the Internet of Alexander Graham Bell's notebook. We heard (and could see) the words "Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you." These were the first successfully transmitted words by telephone; Mr. Watson joined Bell in the other room. Text-to-speech was used as an ironic, high tech, low quality technology, echoing the remarkable down turn in quality of speech of digital devises such as mobile phones, answer phones and note taking gadgets.


The third machine played a sample, found on the Internet, of Thomas Edison singing the song he sang on his first demonstration of the phonograph, "Mary had a little lamb".


The fourth machine played a sample, found on the Internet, of John Kelly's first singing computer; "Daisy, Daisy".


In 2001, just before HAL is disconnected, he starts singing. Because the computer's voice is a human voice, HAL's singing doesn't seem extraordinary to us. The song he chooses is rather curious. I doubt that too many people would think of "Daisy, Daisy" as the appropriate song for such a scene. However, as Arthur C. Clarke knew, this song is historically important: It was the first song ever sung by a computer. This work was done by John Kelly at Bell Laboratories and employed his synthesis-by-rule algorithm.                              

                                                                                           (Olive, 1997, p123)




Underneath each computer, on the BONDE’s shelves were cardboard boxes. Each box was labeled with a theme from my research. In these boxes were objects purchased in the process of developing the work. Variously, there were books, CDs, postcards, toys, technical manuals, samples and scores. Recently I have seen installations presented in galleries, where research material, books and magazine articles, have been available in the foyer for people to read. I thought, as the holding form was ‘shop-like’, that very shop could contain the objects that helped its own inception. These boxes also echo the position of the product, in stores such as ‘PC World’, which can be taken off the shelves, beneath the display, for purchase.


Description of ‘KÜK’

KÜK was a blue, original, Bush TR82 Radio with a PC built into it. The motherboard was a Mini-ITX board with a built in fan-less 500mhz CPU. KÜK was built to operate entirely wire-less. It had a system of 12volt supply that can run of a battery, and had a wireless LAN network connection. It was an original 'found object' from the Castle family, used throughout the sixties, seventies and eighties. The PC had no monitor, though the GUI desktop could be viewed on the central PC, KONTRÖL. The radio sat on a constructed 'table' made from IKEA parts, a LACK shelf and VIKA CURRY office table legs.


As with the other pieces in MallPraxis, KÜK played pealing bells, IKEA names, birds and snippets of "Who Will Buy" on the quarter hours. In the intervening sections of fourteen minutes KÜK played continuous, randomly selected phrases of Alistair Cooke's 'Letter From America'. His habit over the 45 years, of referring to the then current president as 'the President', is exploited in this piece. Which President is he talking about? It is always a different President; the piece has the tone and feel of one of his broadcasts, but is made up of about 25 segments, spanning eleven Presidents and 45 years. This piece simply exploited the "Repeat" and "Shuffle" settings in a Windows Media Player Play list.


Description of ‘BLÄR’

BLÄR was a blue, reproduction Bush TR82 Radio with a PC built into it. The motherboard was also Mini-ITX board (17cm x 17cm). BLÄR had also been built to operate entirely wire-less. It was a 'bought object' from Argos, produced for the Millennium. This radio set sat on a constructed table, as with KÜK.


Apart from the quarter hour group activities, BLÄR had three different sequences. Firstly, it played lists of names of politicians and officers involved in the debate about going to war in Iraq and the subsequent Hutton enquiry. Secondly, it played 'Bull Hero' a piece that uses these same names as samples in a 'Sound Font' to play a found midi file of Ravel's 'Bolero' (1928), and thirdly, in the same manner 'Fool' a found midi file of Chris Rea's 'Fool (if you think its over)' (1978).


Description of ‘SRUND’

SRUND is a construction, a commercial diffusion system, and a set of compositions .


The commercial diffusion system is Creative Inspire T7700 7.1, bought on the Internet (at a good discount!). The seven speakers are NOT identical; the system is designed for listening to DVD surround sound (no 7.1 media came with the system only 5.1).


SRUND was made of IKEA storage system STOLMEN, the uprights looked like scaffold poles, they are adaptable in length, behave a little like builder's Acro-props and are produced with a system of connecting parts for making shelving and clothes hanging spaces. There were seven poles as there are seven speakers, there was an eighth non-existent pole and speaker position making a would-be octagon, this void created the entrance. The bases of the poles were IKEA TRAKTOR (stool) bases that have castors. In the centre of the poles was another TRAKTOR this time complete, for sitting on, in IKEA colours. The CREATIVE bass unit and amplifier, and the computer were built into IKEA LEKMAN storage units, which were grey semi-transparent flat-pack boxes. These boxes were on STOLMEN shelves attached to the 'centre' speaker pole. There was no monitor, and no controls.


SRUND pealed, chanted, chirped, and sang along with the rest of the pieces at the quarter hours. Four times an hour in-between times, it played a medley of compositions, which fitted exactly into the thirteen-minute slot. The composition exploited the multi channel capabilities of the diffusion system. The software used to construct and playback the compositions is SoundSource 8.3. It treats each track as equally important and the speakers can be arranged in various ways. Tracks can be assigned to a speaker or a position between speakers. Sounds seeming to move between speakers can be achieved by making up pairs of tracks with matching fade-ins and fade-outs.


For Whom the Bell Tolls

This is the same basic piece as is used for INVENSÅN using ABEL. For SRUND, the software was given ten muted samples and one word sample to play - eleven times. Eleven tracks were produced (one for each word) and placed around the seven speakers equidistantly, as if the performer uttered his words in the position of a bell ringer (not the bell). This set of changes is quite short so as to fit the time space allotted.



This is a piece made from a 'found' midi of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus To make the 7.1 mix there were 31 tracks, with over 20 species of bird built into a 'soundfont'. There are four, 'found' stereo sound effect 'dawn choruses' montaged to create a thickness of 'bird-ness' in which the bird-choristers may sing.


Who Will Buy

This is made with a sound font made of six segments of the line: 'Who', 'Will', 'Buy', 'This', 'Wonderful', & 'Morning'. These soundfonts are then applied to a found midi of the song "Who Will Buy" (Bart 1960). Instead of different samples being applied for each instrumental line, the same sample is applied to each instrumental part, changing arbitrarily over time, as if some instruments were lagging or racing ahead, blurring the point when the words change. The distorted pitch of the sampled voice is prominent in this piece, and due to the number of identical samples being triggered nearly simultaneously, the sound is very full.


The President

This piece is 118 seconds long. This is two seconds allocated for each year Alistair Cooke produced a 'Letter From America'. He spoke about eleven presidents. This piece has been produced using a boxed set of Alistair Cooke's work from the BBC (2004, Audiobooks Ltd). There are eleven occasions in the piece when the word President occurs simultaneously, from all the speakers (with the exception of one, when there are only five tracks of ‘President’, reflecting the curious BBC editors’ omission of material relating to Jimmy Carter’s presidency).


This piece is constructed around the 'found' midi file of ABBA's 'Money, Money, Money' and samples recorded of a Swede pronouncing IKEA furniture names (my samples). Two types of sound fonts are used; one providing tuned words, and one providing different names for different notes.


Cries of Bombay

This piece is constructed from a midi file made from Thomas Ravenscroft's round 'New Oysters', and samples recorded by an Anglo-Indian recalling street cries from his childhood. The soundfont was made by creating quartertones and reconstructing the scale. The samples are mixed into a soundscape of recordings made in Colaba, Bombay.


Description of ‘LINDI’

LINDI was built once again, from STOLMEN parts. It had a PC dance mat from a game attached to it along with a web-cam. It had a screen, which was mounted at head height. The piece was mounted centrally next to the window, which overlooks the square. There was a glowing blue wire that comes from a speaker that protrudes from the main support. The other end of the wire was connected to the wall. During the fourteen minute section LINDI created a continuous whooshing noise, which is a scan of the web-cam. This sound changed with movement or changes of light in front of the camera. This scan was produced by Internet available software called voice . At the same time colours were announced and sound samples played as the mouse pointer touched a different coloured pixel. This action is created by iFeelPixel software. On the monitor a square purple slide is shown. Slowly the slides changed and it could be seen that it is a pixelated picture with exaggerated colour . Finally it could be seen, that it is a picture of U.S. soldier Lindie England, famous for holding an Iraqi prisoner on a leash. The blue wire is the leash. On the floor was the dance mat. If the dance mat was stepped on a variety of war sound effects could be triggered, created by VoicedKeyboard, these samples, it must be pointed out, come with the software!


Description of ‘MONITOR’

MONITOR was silent; it controlled four monitors displaying coloured graphic displays of words. The monitors were old DELL 14inch models saved from being put in a skip, three years ago. They were sitting on four white IKEA DIDRIKs. The controlling computer was in a Perspex case and has four graphic display cards. The graphics shown related to either the immediate themes, such as tolling bells or birds, or to themes that were sequenced around the room. Essentially there were typically one or two words per slide on each monitor, creating a phrase.

            "Birds of a feather"

            "Ask not”  “for whom”   “the bell”   “tolls"

            "Stolmen" "Didrik" "Bonde" "Lekman"

            "Toftan"  "Traktor"  "Lack"  "Vika"

            "Atarimae Hinshitsu" "Quality" "That is" "Expected"

            "Miryokuteki Hinshitsu" "Quality" "That" "Satisfies"

"Terms" "Of" "Reference"

            "Rules" "Of" "Engagement"

            "Who" "Will" "Buy"

"Where is the man with all the money"?

"New Oysters, Chairs to Mend, Old Clothes, Any Milk Today"

            "Extra" "Added" "Value"

            "Added" "Extra"  "Value"

            "Mary" "Had a" "Little" "Lamb"

            "Mr." "Watson" "Come Here" "I Want" "To See" "You"

            "What" "Has" "God" "Wrought"

As the sequences were triggered the words changed, creating moments when the phrases would become mixed up, suggesting new readings, new associations and ambiguous meanings.


Description of ‘KONTRÖL’

KONTRÖL was a non-performing computer at the centre of organising MallPraxis. It was embedded in an IKEA TOFAN bathroom cabinet, was a Mini-Itx format machine, and sat on an IKEA BONDE next to the door. It ran NetControl2 software, which could trigger macros, or schedule macros locally on each machine. Importantly, once the installation was locally scheduled, it had to be centrally synchronised. NetControl2 could also adjust volumes centrally and it was an emergency STOP! KONTRÖL had back-ups of content and scripts for each machine and could be used to edit scripts in different machines over the network. The scripting software used is Macro Scheduler 7.2 from MJT; this can start Windows programs and stop them to timed scripts, which are constructed in simple text files.