March 31st, 2011


everyone is a utensil

I was so right that last weekend in Berlin would be Apparatjik overload. Usually I blog from trips in chronological order but the exhibition and performances are better told in chunks together rather than split up by day. So here goes...

everyone is a utensil

I went to NNG with some friends on the day I arrived to check out the cube. The gallery was mostly empty, there were perhaps 2-3 people walking around, plus two security guards (we'll call them G1 and G2). The cube walls had some muted lights and you could hear soft sounds (wouldn't call it music per se, but there were bits of voices [mostly Jonas I think] and instruments making disjointed sounds). There is a reflective floor surface around the base of the cube that is perhaps 4-6 feet in depth, and you're not supposed to walk on that. Anyway, you could walk around the cube, wave your arms, whatever, and the cube would 'respond' with sound. I was of course aware that our movements around the cube were being recorded, so at first I was a little reserved testing it out.

That reserve lasted approximately 23.4 seconds.

The thing is that you couldn't just walk around it and expect to have a very interesting/varied response. You had to walk towards and away from it, you had to move fast then slow, you had to be a participant and not just a witness. Put something out there, and see what comes back. We kind of knew that the more outrageous we were, the more interesting the response would be, so we jogged a bit, changed directions mid-stride, jumped up and landed on the balls of our feet, danced, etc.

One thing that disappointed me was that the cube was not as sensitive as I thought it would be. The idea of recording 'footsteps' for the orchestra composition was stuck in my head, so I had planned to do different steps that might make certain sounds. But the cube was not picking up fine motor movements, it was mostly gross motor movements.

We played for perhaps 15 minutes, when G1 came over to me with a mischievious smile and said confidentially, "You know you are being filmed?" [looks up by the sound board and points] "Camera." [looks up at the top of the cube] "Camera." [looks to the other side of the cube] "Camera." She seemed to get a kick out of watching people make goofballs of themselves around the cube - not in a bad way, mind - and I told her it was no problem and we knew there would be some kind of filming going on. Meanwhile someone had accidentally stepped on the reflective surface around the edge of the cube, and G2 went to collect a dry mop from a closet and aggressively cleaned the smudges away - much to the amusement of the cube ;-) It sounded like it was being tickled.

The cube itself was only part of the experience. Just like G1, I enjoyed watching people interact with it, there was very much an us/it feeling among the different constellations of people there during the interactive program throughout the weekend. Some people didn't know what to make of it and just walked around it and left, often looking over a shoulder on the way out; some people discovered by themselves or by watching others what the cube could do but were too reserved to attempt any interaction themselves; others merely wanted an excuse to join in with gusto. On Friday we went back to the gallery along with some other friends who had just arrived and there were people sitting on the floor and leaning against a nearby wall. One guy saw us rushing back and forth to try to get the cube to make a frenzied musical sound, and he came over and played too. He had some good moves - did some side stepping and then even did a cartwheel or two. I was quite impressed!

Occasionally someone on the other side of the cube would do something that would cause a cool sound and light reaction, and I'd rush to the end and accost them with, "Hey, what did you do to make it do that?" Most of the people had no clue what they had done to make the particular sound!

At times I did wonder if we were being a little too active around the cube, that maybe some people felt we were being disrespectful or so. But I knew my own intentions were good and that there was a purpose behind all the movement - the composition the guys would write for the Deutsches Kammerorchester - and this was probably not clear to the average person just stopping into the gallery. There were no signs to say people were being filmed, and the one page flyer that was on the counter top just said 'Everyone is a utensil. Responsive installation.' Nowhere did it say that the movement would be turned into music, so I wonder if people would have behaved differently if they had known. I know that I threw myself into it because I wanted to make sure that the resulting music was not all built on people strolling past and doing nothing exciting for two weeks ;-) Of course I may regret that if the footage ever gets published anywhere LOL.

Anyway, I enjoyed this part of the installation very much and I hope the people who visited the gallery did too.

(cross-posted on outland)

apparatjik tv & little a & pixel city

Every day at 6:00pm, the interactive cube would make a conclusive sound, the 'end of transmission' image would show up, and then the 'Apparatjik TV' program would begin. There was a four-hour window for apparatjik tv, and we had no idea what to expect on that first day.

We took a seat on the floor near the sound desk to watch the video clips. After watching for about an hour, the clips started over again. The segments included all the Q&As, some of the chapters that we received back in fall 2009 before the 'Electric Eye' single came out, the Pixel City clips, and the 'start at the top' image submissions (among many others).

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Anyway, back to the apparatjik tv. Here are some pictures of the 'start at the top' entries:

EDIT: I can't believe I didn't mention my total geek out when I saw my own photos up on the cube! Because each side of the cube had a different photo collage, and the images changed individually every few seconds, it took me a few minutes to find one of my own. My friends also found pictures they had submitted, it was really fun seeing how our images fit in among the others and talking about the creative work people did. I would have been glad to spend even more time on that part of the TV program, but I think in total it only lasted about 5-10 minutes. You can find all the startatthetop entries on Flickr. There are over 2200 images there, and some of them are so incredibly cool!

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After we had seen the full set of video clips, we headed out to dinner. I have to say that as the daylight faded, the cube light reflected on the glass walls of the gallery and it looked amazing from both the inside and outside of the gallery. After over a year of the cube imagery, seeing the many now iconic (for tjiks anyway) images and video clips flickering along with the regular city lights was very cool. I couldn't imagine a better venue for this installation and was so glad to have been there to experience it.

We went back to the gallery just before the 'pixel city' program was to start. I thought from the Apparatjik bulletin that the gallery would be open during pixel city, but G1 and G2 told us the the gallery was closed and the lights were all shut off - except the cube of course. The disco Smart Car / Pixel City video started up and we thought it was likely to just play on a loop until 2am, which was kind of disappointing, but really we'd already seen quite a lot of visuals by then so I was more than happy to go to my hotel and get some sleep finally :-)

(cross-posted on outland)