A Small Migration (Shawn Decker, 2004) was a piece first presented as part of the show “Sonic Differences” which was a part of the Biennial of Electronic Art Perth, in 2004. This work is a direct extension of my previous “physical” installations, with this project extending both the scale and complexity of my previous installations, as well as the nature and complexity of my work with hybrid physical/computational systems.
A Small Migration consists of many piano wires strung roughly 8 or 9 feet above the ground across an open gallery or public space. The wires are fixed at the ends with tuning blocks, so that the walls of the gallery then act as a “sounding board” for the piece. Normally these would be attached to the Gallery Walls, but as the Moores Building in Freemantle, where the exhibition was held, is an historic building, the walls were off-limits, so instead, a scaffold-like structure was built supporting the tuning blocks from above.
Wires are stung in parallel, and roughly 3 inches apart, and as long as 30 or 40 feet (depending on the space available). Small motors tap each wire with a striker attached to the shaft of the motor, causing sound. Each motor is sent a series of short electrical pulses by the micro-controller, causing it to strike the wire, which creates a disturbance that generates sound and also visibly shakes the wire. The rhythmic patterns used are those found in nature, and are constantly accelerating and decelerating and are derived from indeterminate processes such as 1/f noise algorithms. The installation contains a great many wires and motors (variable given the space) —the number in this installation being 32 wires and motors.
Investigation of the human role in the physical world is an ongoing interest of mine, including the subtle ways in which technology is changing both our understanding and perception of our environment. As an installation artist, my work has been greatly influenced by the ideas of R. M. Schafer (author of Tuning the World) and others who have explored the ways in which technology has affected, and mostly diminished, our perception of the richness of the aural aspects of the world around us. Like Schafer, I believe that the overwhelming presence of recorded media (both video and audio)—in conjunction with the introduction of a host of other post-mechanical and post-electrical sounds into our environment—has greatly desensitized us to the subtle and complex systems of interrelationships and causalities found in nature. One goal of my installations, following the tradition of John Cage, David Tudor and other American experimentalists, is to alert people to their immediate and specific environment—to help people to pay more attention to the minutia of the physical and cultural world around them, listening and watching carefully and thoughtfully. A second goal is to suggest hybrid directions that technology might take in developing modes of presentation that are more consistent with the natural world around us.in both an ecological sense, as well as a perceptual one.
As my artist statement discusses, one strategy I use to create a less mediated experience within many of my installations is to favor installations composed largely of sounds and actions produced by simple mechanical devices. These are hybrid systems, in which custom-programmed micro-controllers (small single chip computers used in industrial control, robotics, and other applications) are each physically attached to, and control, one mechanical element within an installation. Many sets of these computer program/mechanical element pairs are interconnected within each piece, with each separate pair reacting to the others in the installation, and also potentially to the surrounding environment.
Each of these mechanisms is programmed with a set of possible responses to the other elements of the installation. These rules, which incorporate indeterminacy, 1/f noise, Brownian noise, and other patterns taken straight from nature, create a complex system of interrelationships between the individual devices. I do all the programming myself—these computer programs control the entire installation’s behavior and are thus an important part of the work. The merging of the kinetic, aural, and visual in these immersive works, creates a language of actions, relationships, and complex causalities.