The Photophonic Experiment

photophonic.jpgElectric light orchestra
Light bulbs. Biscuits. A 10,000-volt charge. The only thing you won’t find making music at a Photophonic Experiment gig is guitars and pianos, says Maddy Costa.

Maddy Costa
Friday, October 20, 2006
The Guardian

Ceinws in north Wales is the kind of tiny, bucolic town where nothing unusual is supposed to happen. And possibly it didn’t before Mark Anderson moved in. A sound-artist, instrument-maker and pyrotechnic with the performance group Blissbody, he has a workshop opposite the village pub that appears perfectly innocent from the outside, but inside could pass for a laboratory from a Frankenstein movie. Glass tubes and dangerous-looking electrical contraptions clutter the floor. Wires coil across a table. A standing lamp looms in the corner. “Watch this,” says Anderson, as excited as a five-year-old setting fire to a box of tissues. He points a mysterious black cone at the lamp and turns a dimmer switch to activate the bulb. Slowly, the lamp illuminates, and a sound fills the room: a low buzz at first, but growing painfully high-pitched as the light reaches full brightness. This really is white noise.

Remarkably, what Anderson is demonstrating isn’t an instrument of torture but a “photo-synth”, a device that converts light into sound. It’s a key element of the Photophonic Experiment, a bizarre, potentially fascinating collaboration between Anderson and like-minded musicians Pram and Kirsten Reynolds that tours the UK from next week. And if the people of Ceinws think Anderson is odd, they should hear what his associates get up to.

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iTunes 7


Finally, us poor CD designers are being treated with a bit more respect in the digital music world. Lots of improvements in the new iTunes (is it my imagination or is the sound processing better in this version?) but best of all is the splendid Cover Flow feature which allows you to select music by flipping through the album covers.


Very smart indeed although the graphics processing required is making my old G4 groan a bit. You also need to have artwork attached to all your ripped albums otherwise you’ll be looking at a lot of black squares with quavers on them. iTunes can get the missing artwork for you but only from the iTunes Store which rather limits the field; the more eclectic your taste, the more you’ll have to search for the covers yourself.

Another very welcome new feature: you can finally hear continuous tracks without gaps or clicks, something I’d complained about since v.1. It remains to be seen whether bands and record companies (and Apple, of course) are going to work out a way of giving us the rest of the album artwork but for now this is keeping me happy.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Neville Brody and Fetish Records
The lost art of sleeve design

Paris III: Le Grande Répertoire–Machines de Spectacle


The Grand Palais from Ave du M Gallieni.

The Grand Palais, opposite the Petit-Palais, was built in 1897–1900 by Louvet, Deglane, and Thomas. Its dimensions, covering all area of about 38,000 sq. yds, are imposing. It consists of a large front building, united with a smaller one in the rear by a transverse gallery. The style is composite, but mainly reminiscent of the 17th century. The façade is adorned with a double colonnade, rising to a height of two stories; and there are three monumental entrances in the central pavilion. The sculptures of the central portico, representing the Beauty of Nature, and Minerva and Peace, are by Gasq, Boucher, Verlet, and Lombard. Those to the right represent Sculpture, Painting, Architecture, and Music, and are by Cordonnier, Lefebvre, Carlès, and Labatut. To the left are the Arts of Cambodia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, by Bareau, Suchet, Béguine, and Clausade. On and under the colonnades are friezes of Amoretti, holding the attributes of the arts. At the top are a balustrade, allegorical groups on the abutments, by Sepsses and Greber, and bronze quadrigae, by Récipon. In the middle of the principal building rises a depressed dome. The rear-façade, in the Ave d’Antin, is embellished with colonnades, sculpture, and friezes in polychrome stoneware, made at Sèvres (Ancient and Modern Art).

In 1900 this building is to be used for contemporary and centennial exhibitions. Afterwards it is to be the scene of the annual exhibitions of paintings and sculptures, horse shows, agricultural fairs, and the like. Its destination explains the peculiarities of its internal construction. The roof is glazed, consisting of curved sheets of glass 10 ft. long and 3 ft. wide.

Baedeker’s Paris (1900).

One of the highlights of this trip was a visit to the wonderful Grand Palais to see an exhibition of invented machines that wouldn’t have been out of place in La Cité des Enfants Perdus or a Terry Gilliam film. The slightly run-down but still splendid venue was the perfect setting for rusted contraptions devoted to making loud noises or smashing things to pieces. The exhibition is still running should you have the good fortune to be in Paris up to the 13th of this month.

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Generative culture


77 Million Paintings by Brian Eno, Laforet Museum, Harajuku, Tokyo.

Brian Eno is in the latest Wire talking about his forthcoming DVD-ROM, 77 Million Paintings. He also mentions coining the term “generative music” in 1995 to a resounding silence. 77 Million Paintings continues the generative project:

This will be available later in the year as a DVD-ROM (which will play on most modern computers) and a DVD featuring Brian talking about the project. It also includes an extensive booklet covering Brian’s long and successful career as a visual artist.

The name 77 Million Paintings comes from the possible number of images that can be created from a huge number of combinations. Anyone familiar with Brian’s audio-visual installations will instantly recognise the inspiration behind the project. The music is from Brian’s installation collection.

Ambient stuff for the eyes, in other words. I’d be looking forward to this if I still had a TV (mine packed up a few years ago) as I used to program my primitive Spectrum computer (which still works!) to generate simple patterns, turning the TV screen into an abstract artwork for a few hours. The difference with Eno’s project, of course, is the greater variety, quality and degree of intent involved. I saw one of his installation works, The Quiet Club, at the Hayward Gallery in 2000 which used similar audio and visual processes. With 77 Million Paintings you’ll be able to turn your living room into a quiet club of your own.

In a similar generative vein, there’s WolframTones: “A New Kind of Music – Unique cellphone ringtones created by simple programs from renowned scientist Stephen Wolfram’s computational universe.” Too complicated to explain; go and play around with it.