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ride, buggy, ride ... !

january 19, 2006.

... Monster Happy Tape ...

That's a pretty title, don't you think?

It's the name by which goes an installation of Colin Ponthot's, which is part of a small exposition currently on at the Point Ephémère (until january 22nd), which in turn is happening on the occasion of the 3rd yearly Octopus festival. Themed, more or less like last year, the exposition and concerts-event, once again proposed a spotlight on inventors. Inventors of instruments.

Colin's Monster ... she's an enormous, a bulky, cloddy mass of compact cassette tape, happy monster hanging down from the ceiling.
Just the sort of thing that I at times might dream of.

She looks fantastic.

How many tapes are in there? Fifty? Easy ... A hundred? Hundreds? ... One C90 cassette contains about 256 meters of tape, so a hundred C90 cassettes together make for over 25 kilometers of tape ... Yeah ... there's an awful lot of tape in this chérie monster, but I find it difficult to estimate precisely how much ... I guess we should ask Colin ... Something else we should ask him: what are these tapes? Where did they come from? What sounds are on them? ...

And how does the monster sound?

Disappointing- and unfortunately: in fact she hardly does ... Hanging around with the monster there are two cassette tape playback heads, each attached to the end of a long yellow cable. You can take one in one hand, take one of the monster's tape hairs in the other, move the head along the tape, and so by hand play back what's inscribed there. Those familiar with tape machines know the type of sounds, the sonic textures, that will result. But is that the son aquatique et étrange evoked in the expo's announcements? From that text, and also from an interview with Colin that I came across on the site of the belgian 'transcultures', I had come under the impression that the sounds collected by moving the heads along the tapes were somehow the seeds for some dsp, some treatment or other, some ensuing and ongoing sonic process... something that would've breathe some life, some soul, into this ... zombie ... Well, I just may have misunderstood. Or at the Point Ephémère this part had been unplugged ... In any case: with the applied 'by hand' technique of playing / collecting sounds stored on the tape, almost nothing that is on these many kilometers of the monster's magnetized plastic garlands will ever come off ... as it's simply out of reach ...

That annoyed me, to be honest. It even annoyed me a lot ...
"Poor monster chérie!" I found myself thinking."So that's what you became ... Just look at you ... That's what they do ... They all just look at you ... monster tropheeAnd I bet that is also what he does. A bloody voyeur is all he is ... He just looks at you! ... He don't care about you ... not like I do, baby ('come to daddy!') ... he don't care about all the beauty that's inside ..."
... "And yeah, sure, I had tears in my eyes" ...
Then I noticed the strands of tape that were lying around her on the concrete floor. Small bits and ends come loose, fallen down, only to be swept away and dismissed - 'zoveel is wel zeker' - at the end of the day ... So how could I resist? How could I not have picked them up? Also, I do confess, I took a bit off her. Tore it with my fingers, I did. A bit not fallen onto the floor ... But, ladies and gentlemen! I did it out of compassion. Yes, I wanted her so much to sound ... (whisper: "... tell me something ...") ... Yes! This was an act of mercy ... of pure and selfless mercy ... It was an act of love ...
[ june 2006: The couple of bits that I salvaged from Colin Ponthot's Monster Happy Tape on sunday january 15th, 2006, at the Point Ephémère, are part of the 51st acquisition of the Found Tapes Exhibition ... so rejoice! ... the Monster will happily sound ever after, in our fotex51 ...]

...

Okay. Did I get carried away here? But then I came to the exposition at the Point Ephémère with high expectations. And I really was disappointed with what I found there (and not just with Colin's Monster, which, for obvious reasons here is getting my main attention).

"Inventeurs d'Instruments" ... I did not just go to see. I wanted to hear. And to be surprised in hearing.

Already before going there, I daydreamed a bit. About the sounds a such Monster Happy Tape might make. And again wondered - as often did these past couple of years - how one could make it possible to 'read' what's on badly messed up audio tape, without having to go through the so cumbersome process of disentangling and restoring it ... in my mind's eye I imagined scanning devices, that one might handle, a bit like a bar code reader, for reading tape clods. Without, however, having some precise ideas about how such devices eventually might be made to work.

When I heard about the Monster Happy Tape, I had imagined it to come equipped with a series of very sensitive reading heads - or 'things' functioning the way tape reading heads do - picking up varying magnetic signals while moving, and converting these into varying electrical signals and (hence) into sounds. And that moreover these, in some way, would have been enabled to move freely - and randomly - within that gigantic mass of magnetic tape. Attached to springs, elastic strings ... something ... their movement being influenced by the movement of the tape mass, a 'slow irregular swing' caused by onlookers/listeners moving around the Monster, and touching her ... And thus maybe (surely) not 'faithfully' playing back what originally was transcribed onto the tape, but using the Monster's magnetized mass to produce something new, something 'not yet heard' ...

Now wouldn't that be a fine thing to develop and try one's hands at?

The next step, of course, then will be the creation of the tape-o-bug ... a tiny, electro-mechanical and autonomous playback device. Think of it as sort of an artificial crawler ... a mechanical louse ... an electronic flea ... Very miniature, very light weight. It doesn't measure much more than 1.5 millimeters in length and width, and its 'body' is but a mere fraction of a millimeter thick. The tape-o-bug is lighter than a sing bird's feather, and has six elegant legs with suction-enabled feet, enabling it to place itself firmly on the emulsion covered side of a magnetic tape, and move along a tape's length, in any direction. The inside of its body contains, essentially, a powerful microprocessor, RAM memory, and a radio transmitter/receiver. tape-o-bug The tape-o-bug's belly has one or more captors attached to it (see picture). Captors that record the variations of the tape's magnetic field during the bug's movement. The variations in magnetic signal are - eventually - treated / by the processor, temporarily stored in RAM, and asap transmitted to a central tape-o-bug-data-base, for further processing and playback-as-sound ...

Oh! Clearly this is what Monster Happy Tape needs to come alive: a whole swarm of such jolly tape-o-bugs ...

Btw, future versions of the tape-o-bug of course will be able to roam freely, without much human supervision or control, as they'll come equipped with sufficient AI to enable them to go out and search for magnetic tapes themselves, and transmit the data they harvest back to base.

"Ride, buggy, ride ...!"

But until that day comes, I'll just continue to pick up, unravel and rewind them tapes myself.

[ Some may have recognized the tape-o-bug in the above picture as a scaled-down version of Abionin (Artificial BIOmorphic Neurocontrolled INsect), designed and developed by George Vastianos, and described in the newsletter of the Seattle Robotics Society. ]

[ earlier related SB-entries: in-strumm-end-s (festival Octopus 2005) :: axiology for dummies ; next related SB-entries: fotex #49-51 :: Octopus festival 2007 ]

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