Friday, December 23, 2011

Second Life Avatars

The following are the three avatars I developed for the class we held in Second Life.

First, here is the avatar I made using Second Life's in-game facial and body adjustment tools.

Second, here is the avatar I created using a photograph of my face and a facial template:

Lastly, here is the "fantastical" avatar I created. I used a facial template and photoshop to design the face of the alien. In the full-body picture you can also see the 3D orb objects I created to be part of this alien creature's presence. I linked the orbs to its body so any time I moved my avatar the orbs all floated along.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Lecture: A Dialogue with Rebecca Solnit on the Altered Landscape

I attended the lecture given by Rebecca Solnit at the Nevada Museum of Art.  After a brief introduction to Rebecca’s writing career, Solnit and Colin M. Robertson, the Charles N. Mathewson Curator of Education, viewed slides of some of the photographs in the Altered Landscape exhibit. The conversation was very rambling, with Solnit moving swiftly through her thoughts on the works being viewed, and her own personal experiences.  Solnit seems to have a complicated relationship with critique, stating that often “Criticism wants to chop everything up in little pieces and to have the last word.”  She dismissed that practice, saying that she is interested in the larger story, what these works actually mean; she was familiar with many of the works in the Altered Landscape, and while appreciating the aesthetic appeal, she spoke at length about what the pieces could mean, the story behind it, what the artist intended the viewer to or not see.
Solnit compared the pieces in the Altered Landscape to the ideal, perfected natural photographs of Ansel Adams. Why did Adams not wish the viewer to see the human element in his photographs? Does the artist’s intent change the meaning of the work? While Solnit believes in the importance of the artist’s intent, she also believes that we limit ourselves if we don’t try to discover our own meanings in art.
In regards to the environmental aspect inherent in the exhibit, Solnit related her long history with environmental and political, activism, and discussed the human obsession with a pristine landscape that doesn’t exist anymore. Her solution to the current environmental issues is to embrace the current peopled landscape, and to use it wisely, taking a systemic approach.
The dialogue was very enjoyable, and Solnit was very impassioned yet personable. She brought up issues of feminism in regards to environmentalism, and had obviously put much thought into the matter. She brought up the Madonna/Whore complex and compared it to our ideal that landscapes need to be pristine or else they are completely sullied.
When Solnit opened the floor for questions, I asked “Where does our obsession with a pristine landscape come from?” She believed that this came from a masculine ideal to be the first to claim something, to be the first to do something, an obsession with virginity.

Lecture: April Gertler

April Gertler is an artist based in Berlin, Germany.  Her resume is expansive; she earned her BFA and MFA in photography, and has exhibited her work in many international galleries.  During the lecture, Gertler started by describing her recent works. She has been involved with some photography, but her passion seems to be with collage. Her collages are created from mixed media, and she described the satisfaction of finding the local materials that she would use with her collages, such as old books, magazines, and thread.
One of her projects she adopted as not only an artistic exercise, but as a complaint against exorbitant art prices: she would compose one of her collages, and then sell it for 38 dollars or Euros. She appreciated that there was no art dealer involved, and that anyone who wished could be art directly for a reasonable price.
One of her most recent works, an art book called Damp Patches, is a collection of collage, photography, and drawings that was made possible by funds from a Kickstarter project.
Many of Gertler’s collages have a whimsical feel to them, while at the same time adding a personal touch through found photographs and issues important to Gertler. She takes a lot of inspiration, as well as materials, from her present locations, and she has an interest in the local people involved in her projects.
Gertler discussed her art for a short time, but it seemed that her real passion is for Picture Berlin, an art program that she funded in Berlin. She discussed at length how the program worked, its benefits, and its ideal situation in Berlin, a town that places a heavy emphasis on the arts. She has a great love of art residencies, having spent time at many of them, and her appreciation for them fueled her to create the program in Berlin.
Although Gertler enjoys her art, the lecture impressed upon its listeners that her true calling is bringing an artistic community to others.
When Gertler answered questions, I asked her how Europe inspired her work, as opposed to living in the U.S, because she is so inspired by location. She replied that traveling through Europe enabled her to rely less on her own materials, and to use found objects and materials. She also said that she started to rely less on titles to label her art.

Screening: Miss Representation

Miss Representation, a film written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, starts with the director expressing her concern about raising a girl in a society that objectifies women so absolutely.  She states that these constant images not only damage self-esteem, but they undermine how capable women feel. The film is packed with many video clips, photos, and statistics, to demonstrate these points; many political figures, actors, and other people in the public eye give sound bites and interviews also.
Good points are raised throughout the film. It emphasized that very few women are in positions of power, and thus women’s interests are not adequately addressed. With few women to emulate, future generations of woman will also be underrepresented and unempowered. It denounces the false “strong female characters,” prevalent in media, revealing these character’s over-sexualization and lack of substance. Miss Representation also outlines the devastating sexual violence that can occur when men have grown used to seeing women as objects.
The film is fast paced. It is an entertaining message created for those unfamiliar with feminism and the effects of media on society. At times it is a bit simplistic. However, a simpler view may be necessary for those who have not considered these messages before, and this film would be a good initiation.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Final Writing Assignment: Autechre and Alex Rutterford

Digital Artists: Autechre and Alex Rutterford

Autechre is an experimental music group comprised of Rob Brown and Sean Booth. Both grew up in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. They met as teenagers in 1987, and shared a mutual interest in breakdancing and Rochdale’s graffiti scene. They were heavily influenced by both hip-hop and electronic music. They began working with digital and analog equipment, starting with cheap machinery like the Roland TR-606 drum machine and the Casio SK-1.

Roland TR-606 drum machine

They released one album under the name Lego Feet, and then released their first album under the name Autechre in 1991 on Hardcore Records. Shortly afterword, Warp Records released two Autechre songs on what would become a seminal record compilation called Artificial Intelligence.

Autechre was influenced by acid and other English techno, which was apparent in their first few albums. From the start, however, Autechre didn’t wish to be tied to any particular genres or affiliations. The term IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) became popular around this time as a catch-all for music of this type, although Autechre and other artists never embraced the term.

Autechre’s albums don’t usually have a stated purpose, except, however, for their Anti-EP, which was released in 1994. It was a protest against the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which was created to prohibit raves in England by banning music with repetitive beats. One track, titled Flutter, intentionally didn’t have any repetitive patterns, and the cover of the record had this tongue-in-cheek statement: "Flutter has been programmed in such a way that no bars contain identical beats and can therefore be played at both forty five and thirty three revolutions under the proposed new law. However we advise DJs to have a lawyer and musicologist present at all times to confirm the non-repetitive nature of the music in the event of police harassment."1

Text from the Anti Ep

Composing Flutter may have inspired Autechre to dabble in more experimental work; their albums in the mid to late 90’s, were even more abstract and transitional. Their fifth album, released untitled but know to their fans as LP5, was released in 1998, and represents a midpoint between their early dance and hip-hop inspired works, and their later, more experimental compositions. In the 2000s, their work became increasingly more abstract, focusing less on beats and melodies and more on sonic experimentation.

Autechre's LP5

Autechre has created their work by using a variety of digital and analog synthesizers, drum machines, mixers, samplers, and software, many of which are customized by Autechre themselves. Brown and Booth have been know to use the software Max/SP to create some of their work, and have used generative music methods to help their work evolve. Autechre also continued to work with instruments and tools that they had used early on in their development. In a 2002 interview, they stated:

“’We've always used roughly the same toolset during the years but the amount of new stuff you're exposed to increases exponentially. We were seriously compromised economically earlier on. We had to buy hardware, there were no plug-ins or anything like that. We've tried to stick to our guns and grow at the same rate mentally, without being led astray by new technologies." "That's how we were molded," Brown cuts in, "starting out with no cash and having to spend a year and a half with the piece of equipment we had, getting to know it inside out before we'd both chip in to buy something new." Booth reprises, "I wouldn't mind if everyone had to use the same three tools to make music because ultimately it's down to your imagination.’"2

This philosophy, of working within limitations to create increasingly more disparate works, defines their oeuvre. Their music, while carefully crafted, still utilizes spontaneity to guide them in a creative direction. Brown, who occasionally feels overwhelmed by the creative process, stated: "You can sit in front of a computer and have a blank slate and be completely overwhelmed by the possibilities and not get anywhere. At the same time, you can get the oldest drum machine out and whack out four sounds like a kick, snare, and two types of high-hat, and try and come up with the freshest thing on the spot. The gear can guide you-- you can choose one bit of gear and it's obviously got its restrictions and its limitations, but at the same time, you've got to exploit what it's capable of and what it's best used for. Sometimes you try not to be too overly analytical, trying to let it flow for a bit first and see where it's leading you and then see what sticks to it, see what it implies. A lot of it is implications. Some of our earlier albums...are almost all implied music. But it's cohesive because we spent long enough fashioning the idea down-- to a shape, if you like-- that actually resembles music."3

The first track off of their LP5 album is entitled Acroyear2. This track can be heard in its entirety here:

This track is emblematic of where Autechre was in their artistic progression at the time. There is still an emphasis on a beat structure, but sounds, on first listen, chaotic. If one breaks down the track however, there is a clear and recognizable structure. They stress sonic landscapes and experimentation while maintaining a clear melodic line. Most importantly, this is a piece of music that cannot be fully analyzed or understood with one listen, which is part of Autechre’s approach to music. "’We are absolutely not trying to represent or duplicate anything at all…we're purely interested in being creative. I like to have space to wander around... I don't like to have to be tied to something. I like to be able to listen to something months later and have forgotten things. Which isn't easy when you build a track around a theme or idea, because that's the only thing people remember. I like not providing that basic template.’"4

Certainly Acroyear2 benefits from repeat listens. The skittering beats, so overpowering on first listen, give way to the melancholy melody. There is a determined nature to this work, which gives it a forward-pressing feeling, dragging the listener along with it for the duration of the track. Although the piece is nearly 9 minutes in length, it moves much quicker due to its marked propulsion. Future works from Autechre would de-emphasize this particular quality; their work with free-form ambient and noise artists like The Halfer Trio and Merzbow in the early 2000’s perhaps would be the impetuous to move them towards looser melodic and beat structures.

Regardless, Acroyear2 presents a powerful case study for “typical Autechre track” and will be used later on in this paper to discuss their art in relation to work of graphic artist Alex Rutterford.

Alex Rutterford graduated from the Croyden school of art in 1991 with a degree in Graphic Design. Some of his first work involved designing graphics for films such as Judge Dredd. He worked with the design team Lost in Space as a CG artist and creative director. Rutterford has worked with a variety of mediums. He has designed covers for Autechre albums and a booklet for Chris Cunningham’s director’s label DVD. He has also been a graphic designer for Bjork’s “All Is Full of Love,” and Squrepusher’s "Come On My Selector" music videos and did camera work for Cunningham’s short film “Rubber Johnny.”

Autechre's Untilted. Cover by Alex Rutterford
Autechre's Draft 7.30. Cover by Alex Rutterford

Rutterford’s most well known works are his music videos and short films; these include music videos he made for the Autechre song Gantz Graf, and Radiohead’s “Go to Sleep.” He has also directed short films, including Monocodes, Sound Engine and 3space, created for onedotzero2, a digital arts organization.

Stills from Radiohead's "Go to Sleep" music video directed by Alex Rutterford
Still from Amon Tobin's "Verbal" music video directed by Alex Rutterford

Rutterford started creating his own video works in the early 2000s. His second film, Monocodes, encapsulates some of his primary artistic interests. It can be seen in its entirety here:

This piece demonstrates Rutterford’s interest in an exact use of computer graphics in relation to shape, color, and sound. His works tend to very detail oriented, and focus on both the large scale with tectonic flashes of light, right down to the smallest blip. This is especially apparent in his still visual works: one glance is not enough to take in all the details. Like Autechre, Rutterford allows spontaneity and precision to guide his work. When asked about his video work in reference to its creation, Rutterford was quick to dispel the myth that digital work is nothing but a shortcut,

“Technically speaking only a small part of it [referring to his videos] was automated: the slicing, and digital slicing technique as an automated process, but even that was a technique I developed as well, in order to do just that. It almost seems obvious when you see it - ‘Why hasn’t that been done before?’…because they can’t be bothered to put the work in. Everyone says ‘how long did it take you?’ How did you do it, they always want to ask me technical questions. I’d really love to be able to say to them, ‘I just wrote a computer algorhythm, and the computer did it all. I wrote a program and it all just intelligently works it out,’ but it doesn’t exist, it’s fools gold thinking that someone can sit there writing a piece of software that can make intelligent decisions about pace and animation, the closest I have seen is perhaps iTunes.”5

Comparing Autechre’s Acroyear2 to Monocodes, we see that both artists, while using generative methods to create their work, focus intently on small details that can only be created by human beings. Rutterford and Autechre have both expressed an interest in architecture, and it shows when experiencing the clean, precise design of their work, and their desire to show the construction and destruction of patterns. There is also a clear sense of forward motion to Monocodes, another similarity it shares with Acroyear2. Monocodes features sound design done by Rutterford himself, and it appears to be manipulated found sounds. He paid special attention to the order in which the soundscape progressed as it allows the viewers’ interest to be ever propelled forward while watching the visuals corresponding movement.

The best comparison of their work comes from a collaboration between them: the music video for the Autechre track Gantz Graf. This video was released in 2002, and demonstrates a more experimental side to both Autechre and Rutterford’s work. The Gantz Graf video can be seen in its entirety here:

The video shows both artists performing at the peak of their form. Autechre places a careful emphasis on the structure of the track, embedding many small human touches against the rush of digital noise. Rutterford in turn highlights many of these small sounds, synching up the visuals to the music in a tightly choreographed way.

In conclusion, I hope that these works have demonstrated an interesting similarity that these artists share with their focus on detail and digital composition. The most important thing that can be learned from these artists is that while they work within the field computer generated art, they are extremely precise in adding the human element. They both focus on adding spontaneity and well thought-out designs to their work. While computer generated art, even from artists like Rutterford and Autechre, can be seen as cold and inhuman, a closer look reveals that nothing could be further from the truth.


1 Discogs Album Information, Autechre-Anti EP.
2 Stubbs, David. "Autechre: The Futurologists." The Wire. Vol. 230. April 2003. Print.
3 Brown, Rob. Interview by Mark Richardson. "Interviews: Autechre." Pitchfork, 2005. 18 Feb 2005
4 Stubbs, David. "Autechre: The Futurologists." The Wire. Vol. 230. April 2003. Print.
5 Rutterford, Alex. Interview by Nick Kilroy. "Alex Rutterford on the Creation of the Gantz Graf Video." Warp Records, 2002. 14 Oct 2002.

Website Sources:

Autechre found on this site:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Project # 8: Crowdsourcing

Draw Me Define Me Website

For this project I wanted to create a crowd-sourcing project that would demonstrate how much of our preconceived notions of people are based around physical appearances and social status. The way this site would work is that users would submit brief descriptions of themselves but omit information pertaining to physical, racial and social attributes. Other users could then draw a portrait based on the descriptions. Ideally there would be multiple portraits submitted per description and visitors to the site would be able to view different artist's interpretations of the same descriptions.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Man With A Movie Camera: The Global Remake

To view the my video in context with the original, click here.

This (short!) video was created to participate in the project "Man with a Movie Camera: The Global Remake. This was shot with a Canon 7D and edited with Final Cut Pro.