High Fidelity Wasteland II: The Proto-Plastic Groove

WORK IN PROGRESS!

High Fidelity Wasteland is a sound-centric trilogy that experiments with the material waste left over from generations of decomposing sound reproduction technology.

HiFi Wasteland II: The Proto-Plastic Groove recomposes alternate forms of sonic expression inhabiting shellac phonograph recordings. Spinning at 78 rpm, this precursor to the vinyl record was the first ever disk-shaped recording medium. Though shellac looks and behaves like any other plastic we know today, this dark resin is in fact an organic bioadhesive, excreted by the tree dwelling Lac beetle as a protective shelter for her offspring. Chemically similar to synthetic polymers, shellac is considered a natural form of plastic — one that was rapaciously harvested and commodified throughout the 20th century for the global music industry. Though produced on a massive scale, shellac records signify a short-lived transition the outset of our throwaway culture. This first iteration of HiFi Wasteland II: The Proto-Plastic Groove presents current electromechanical sound experiments, up-cycled prototypes and sculptural processes that release this hardened byproduct of insect survival into multi-material forms of sound and noise.

Material research and sculptural elements made in collaboration with sculptor Irene Pérez Hernández whose work challenges historical sculptural conventions by questioning materiality and form. Her works activate seemingly-mundane objects, placing them in circumstances that are alternately poignant and absurd, posing larger questions about power dynamics, autonomy, and modalities of cultural and material circulation.

The artist gratefully acknowledges the generous support from the European Media Art Platforms / EMARE program at KONTEJNER | bureau of contemporary art praxis, co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union, Global Forest e.V., Deutsches Phonomuseum along with Alex Rex and Daniel Stigler for technical support.

Photo Credit: Irene Pérez Hernández

High Fidelity Wasteland I: 100 Year Old Quicksilver Cloud

100 Year Old Quicksilver Cloud is the first work in High Fidelity Wasteland – an audio-centric trilogy that experiments with the material waste left over from generations of decomposing sound reproduction technology. Wading into the toxic haze of early transmission infrastructure, this installation sonifies the decaying atmosphere inside a thyratron – a 100 year old vacuum tube radiating a cloud of blue ionized mercury. Vacuum tubes generated, amplified and controlled some of the earliest flows of electrons signalling the start of widespread communication networks – radio, tv, telephony, computing. Though produced prior to practices of planned obsolescence and outliving industrial lifecycles of technology today, the decommissioned liquified metals of the thyratron represent one of the multitude of ruinous substrates of post industrial ecology.

Audio produced in collaboration with AGF (aka Antye Greie-Ripatti)
Technical support provided by Daniel Stigler

Commissioned by transmediale – festival for art and digital culture Berlin as part of the culture program related to Canada’s Guest of Honour presentation at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2020.Produced with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Government of Canada.

Further sponsorship provided by Martion – Audiosysteme.

Shimmer Generators V.3D

“Shimmer Generators V.3D” is an installation consisting of two Sideman 5000 drum machines with exposed electromechanical hardware.

The very rare Sideman 5000, is the world’s first commercially available drum machine and was invented by Wurlitzer and brought to market in 1959. Though this electro-mechanical musical instrument was built to be repaired and serviced as it aged, it had a rather short commercial life. It was quite giant, weighting over 70 pounds, very expensive and rapidly being replaced by much smaller transistor based electronics, most Sidemans ended up in the garbage. These photos are part of the artist’s media-archeological dive into the machine.

This is a sister artwork to Shimmer Generators V.2D and A Sideman 5000 Adventure

Photo credit: Hannes Woidich

Shimmer Generators V.2D

“Shimmer Generators V.2D” is a photo series that peers into the intricately hand-wired world inhabiting obsolete sound reproduction technology.

The site of this photographic investigation takes place inside the revived sound generating circuitry of the very rare Sideman 5000, the world’s first commercially available drum machine, invented by Wurlitzer and brought to market in 1959. Though this electro-mechanical musical instrument was built to be repaired and serviced as it aged, it had a rather short commercial life. It was quite giant, weighting over 70 pounds, very expensive and rapidly being replaced by much smaller transistor based electronics, most Sidemans ended up in the garbage. These photos are part of the artist’s media-archeological dive into the machine.

Printed images ca. 100x140cm each

This is a sister artwork to Shimmer Generators V.3D and A Sideman 5000 Adventure

This work was commissioned by Eastern Bloc and made in collaboration with Lena Maria Loose and Carolin Meyer

Sirens

Sirens is a sound installation that consists of a custom made high fidelity sound system, found objects and an audio composition. The installation makes use of used motor hoods from the Trolli 35 lawnmower. The Trolli was one of the standard lawnmowers made and used in the former German Democratic Republic.

More about this project can be read about in the Soziale Sollbruchstelle Vol. 1 Publication

This work was made in collaboration with AGF (Antye Greie-Ripatti)

Sirens is part of the Soziale Sollbruchstelle Series of artworks that was funded by the Einstein Foundation Berlin and realized with the support of the Berlin Centre for Advanced Studies in Arts and Sciences at the Berlin University of the Arts. The artist gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Photo credit: Philip Poppek
Video by: Jemma Woolmoore

Armour

Armour is an installation that consists of 12 used motor hoods from the Trolli 35 lawnmower mounted on pedestals under acrylic display units. The Trolli was one of the standard lawnmowers made and used in the former German Democratic Republic from 1962-1989. This work treats these used warrior helmet-like objects like time worn historical artefacts and provokes questions about their functionality and past.

Armour is part of the Soziale Sollbruchstelle Series of artworks. More on this project can be read about in the Soziale Sollbruchstelle Vol. 1 Publication. All works in this series can be found here.

More on this project can be read about in the Soziale Sollbruchstelle Vol. 1 Publication. All works in this series can be found here.

Photo credit: Falk Messerschmidt

Tower/The Lookout

Tower and the Lookout are photographic works that transpose the motor hood of the Trolli 35 lawnmower into the high definition setting of present day consumer electronics design and marketing aesthetics. The Trolli was one of the standard lawnmowers made and used in the former German Democratic Republic from 1962-1989. The photographs treat this worn down domestic object as a rarified object of luxury and desire. By concealing and revealing its attributes, viewers are compelled to step into the mysterious universe of the Trolli and confront up close how the glossiness of its setting falls away as the detail of its embattled and timeworn patina takes over.

Both Tower and the Lookout are part of the Soziale Sollbruchstelle Series of artworks. More on this project can be read about in the Soziale Sollbruchstelle Vol. 1 Publication. All works in this series can be found here.

Government Issue

Government Issue is a photograph that focuses on the packaging details of the Trolli 35 lawnmower. The Trolli was one of the standard lawnmowers made and used in the former German Democratic Republic from 1962-1989. Government Issue obscures the image of the lawnmower as a means to continue the mysterious narrative of this iconic Spartanesque object. One side of the box read ‘Rückgabepflicht Verpackungen,’ which translates to ‘mandatory return of packaging.’ The concept of being obliged to return packaging to the state after material goods are purchased is somehow challenging to consider in consumerist oriented Western culture. The box hints to some practices of reuse and recycling commonly carried out in this former communist state, where raw materials where quite scarce.

Government Issue is part of the Soziale Sollbruchstelle Series of artworks. More on this project can be read about in the Soziale Sollbruchstelle Vol. 1 Publication. All works in this series can be found here.

Operation Manual

Operation Manual is a photographic collage that crops and reframes user manuals for the Trolli 35 lawnmower. The Trolli was one of the standard lawnmowers made and used in the former German Democratic Republic from 1962-1989. Operation Manual creates a mysterious narrative where women operate and seemingly happily care for small, infant-like militant machines.

Operation Manual is part of the Soziale Sollbruchstelle Series of artworks. More on this project can be read about in the Soziale Sollbruchstelle Vol. 1 Publication. All works in this series can be found here.

More on this project can be read about in the Soziale Sollbruchstelle Vol. 1 Publication. All works in this series can be found here.

The Watch

Artistic Collaborators:
Sophia Gräfe
AGF (Antye Greie-Ripatti)

Further support and expertise from:
Jemma Woolmoore

The Watch is part of the Soziale Sollbruchstelle research project which was funded by the Einstein Foundation Berlin and realized with the support of the Berlin Centre for Advanced Studies in Arts and Sciences at the Berlin University of the Arts. The artist further gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and Halle14 Zentrum für zeitgenössische Kunst.

Soziale Sollbruchstelle

Encompasing video, sound installation, photography and collage, Soziale Sollbruchstelle is an interdisciplinary artistic research project that iconizes and creates a fictitious universe for a forgotten piece of utilitarian technology. The work draws out patterns and juxtapositions surrounding practices of technology between a historically significant communist state and contemporary consumerist culture.

Manufactured from 1962-1989, the ‘Trolli ESM II’ was one of the very few models of lawnmowers made available to the people of the former socialist state, the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Its most striking characteristic is its motor hood. Sitting on top of the machine, with two mysterious looking horizontal air vents, it looks like an anthropomorphic spartan warrior adorning battle armour. There is an added sinister quality to these objects, as decades of use has marked them as if they have endured a lifetime of battle.

Soziale Sollbruchstelle deconstructs this household device and transposes it into the high definition/sleek aesthetic setting of present day consumer electronics design and marketing. By concealing and revealing its attributes, this series treats the old lawn mower like a rarified object of luxury and desire. Viewers are compelled to step into the mysterious universe of the Trolli and confront up close how the glossiness of its setting falls away as the detail of its embattled and timeworn patina takes over. Soziale Sollbruchstelle evokes both a militant history and sci-fi dimension, where the Trolli is at once both worn out and weathered yet primed for combat against a future of unkempt lawns. Within the mystifying narrative built up by the works, the austere, robot-like icon further acts as an analog for the ominous nature of a society of unease, connected to machines of questionable intelligence, power and control.

Soziale Sollbruchstelle is an interdisciplinary artistic research project carried out during a fellowship at Berlin Centre for Advanced Studies in Arts and Sciences (BAS) / Graduiertenschule at the Art University of Berlin from 2016-2018.

The resulting works in this project include:
The Watch, video installation
Sirens, sound installation
Armour, sculptural installation with found objects
Tower, photograph
Lookout, photographic tryptic
Operation Manual, photographic collage
Government Issue, photograph
Soziale Sollbruchstelle, publication (deutsche Übersetzungen finden sie am Ende)

Artistic Collaborators:
AGF (Antye Greie-Ripatti)
Sophia Gräfe

Further artistic support and expertise from:
Jemma Woolmoore
Lena Maria Loose
Carolin Meyer
Artist Carpenter Berlin
Daniel Stigler

Soziale Sollbruchstelle was funded by the Einstein Foundation Berlin and realized with the support of the Berlin Centre for Advanced Studies in Arts and Sciences at the Berlin University of the Arts. The artist further gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and Halle14 Zentrum für zeitgenössische Kunst.

DIY Sonic Loophole Generator

‘DIY Sonic Loophole Generator’ is an animated step-by-step how-to video that demonstrates how to make a sonic loophole generator with mobile phones. This is a sister artwork to ‘DIY Telephone Feedback Performance’ – which you can read about here. These works are presented together as an Audio Visual Installation with a limited edition poster that is given away so that the effect can be experimented with at home.

This video was Commissioned by Michelle Kasprzak for the Future Flux Festival in Rotterdam

Feedback Babies

FeedbackBabies

The Fisher-Price Nursery Monitor (circa 1983) was a low watt household radio set originally intended to “let parents be in two places at once” by broadcasting the cries of a baby in distress to a mobile receiver accompanying a parent outside of earshot. However, when in very close proximity these devices produce audible feedback that sounds uncannily like whimpering electronic babies. Feedback Babies is an electromechanical sound apparatus that makes use of slow moving motors to automate these transmitters in order to create nuanced feedback patterns.

Electrostatic Bell Choir

The Electrostatic Bell Choir is an electromechanical sound installation that plays with the static electricity emitted from discarded CRT television monitors. This static (that can be felt when one places their hand on the screen when the TV is turned on) is gleaned for its potential to generate subtle movement and is used as the driving kinetic force in the artwork. Sets of static bells consisting of ultra lightweight pith balls and bells from old grandfather clocks and rotary telephones are mounted in front of an assembly of twenty reclaimed Cathode Ray Tube television sets. A control circuit cycles the TVs on and off in alternating sequences which causes static to build up on the monitors. This static charge agitates the hanging pith balls, causing them to waver and lightly strike the bells, resulting in quasi-melodic compositions. The TVs are muted, tuned to various channels of white noise and physically spacialized in order to devise a dynamically layered soundscape textured with the signature high-frequency hums, pops and buzzes of the cathode ray tubes warming up. Although compositions are programmed into the piece, it inevitably takes on a character of its own as the static fluctuates and dissipates in response to ethereal nuances (i.e.: changes in air quality such as humidity). The glow of the screens and the subtle resonance of the bells magically punctuate the dark surroundings of the installation.

Production of this work was made possible with the generous support of Edith-Russ-Haus für Medienkunst in Oldenburg Germany, Le Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec and Hexagram Concordia.

A Sideman 5000 Adventure

A Side Man 5000 Adventure is video series directed and hosted by artist Darsha Hewitt where the electro-mechanical “Cadillac of drum machines” is a window into a world of shimmering vacuum tubes, high-voltage oscillations and the basics of electronics.

A Side Man 5000 Adventure is a unique, long-form, episodic lesson both in media archeology and the basics of physics, electronics, and mechanical design. It’s the first ever comprehensive technical documentation of a machine that made history. And it’s a must-watch series for anyone interested in learning more about music, electronic history, or how things work.

All 10 videos can be viewed on youtube and vimeo.

A Side Man 5000 Adventure is a project realized in the context of the Art and Civic Media research program of the Innovation Incubator at the Leuphana University of Lüneburg and in cooperation with the Leuphana Arts Program. The Innovation Incubator Lüneburg is an EU major project supported by the European Regional Development Fund and the federal state of Lower Saxony.

Further support for this project was provided by FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) – Liverpool, The Human Futures Project and The Office of Equal Opportunity at The Bauhaus-Universität Weimar.

20 Oscillators in 20 Minutes

20 OSCILLATORS IN 20 MINUTES is an experimental music performance/technical challenge/standup comedy act where I attempt to build twenty sound generating square wave oscillators in twenty minutes. This involves fabricating small electronic circuits with wires, chips, small components and nine-volt batteries under the pressure of limited time and expectation. This is a test of my technical abilities and an experiment in working with live troubleshooting as a method of musical improvisation.

Presented at:
32. Chaos Communication Congress / Hamburg (DE)
Frameless / München (DE)
APO33 / Nantes (FR)
Piksel Festival / Bergen (NO)
Modern Art Oxford / Oxford (UK)
New Music Festival / Vancouver (CA)
Le Labo / Toronto (CA)

Audio Experiments

Audioexperiments by Darsha Hewitt

A video series that exist between instructional content and documentation of studio experiments. Though initially developed to illustrate the development of a material vocabulary related to sound, low-tech communication technology, radio and electricity, the videos were released on youtube as a contribution to the pool of accessible technical knowledge exchanged within do-it-yourself, educational and science and technology communities.

This work was made in collaboration with artist Peter Flemming

Complete playlist can be viewed here

– 60 Cycle Hum Experiment (01:24)
– Cat Whisker Radio Experiment (01:54)
– Automated Tuning Capacitor (0:34)
– Chaotic Spark Interference on AM Radio Experiment (3:19)

Personal Soundtrack Emitters

Personal Sound Emitters by Darsha Hewitt

The escapist possibilities afforded by portable electronic gadgets like PDAs and mp3 players are seductive. However, these objects generate virtual barriers between users and their physical reality. The hand-crafted wooden Personal Soundtrack Emitter shifts the role of the portable electronic device from an object that induces seclusion to one that promotes awareness of one’s environment. The device abstracts and reorders its user’s sonic environment into an intimate live soundtrack. It draws attention to the subtleties of one’s surroundings by heightening often-inaudible sounds (such as breathing and touch) and compressing more prominent ones.
Dr. Annie Gérin, Perambulations Catalogue, 2006

The Personal Soundtrack Emitters are listening devices that resemble 19th century mp3 players. Each device contains a modified sound amplifier, headphones, and control knob. When someone wears a Personal Soundtrack Emitter they amplify themselves as well as the subtle sounds that surround them. By tweaking the control knob they create interference on the circuit that results in distortion of their physical sound environment.