Darwin: Okay this week, I'm up here in the Rocky Mountains. It's a very windy day. So if you hear some background howling, I apologize already. Our interviewee - or discussion partner - this week is Andrew Benson. I'm lucky enough to have him as a coworker at Cycling '74, but he also is a very active, professional visual artist. I've also been lucky enough to see some of his work in different incarnations over the years has been pretty phenomenal. Hi, Andrew, how are you this morning?
Andrew Benson: Pretty good. I imagine the weather here in San Francisco is probably the opposite of whatever's happening in Colorado right now. It's like a beautiful sunny day - not to gloat or anything.
Darwin: I'll tell you what I think both of us have: we have a leg up on the East coast, which right now sounds like it is falling into the sea in some horrible way. So, as with most interviews, what I'm going to do is ask you to kick this off by giving us a little bit of background. Tell us something about where you're coming from.
Andrew: Sure. One thing as a visual artist, I feel like one thing you have a lot of opportunities to do in your life is think about your personal narrative. I spent a lot of time drawing as a kid. You know, it just seemed pretty obvious that I should probably be an artist to people. And so I went to art school at some point after messing around for several years and I was a painting major. So a lot of my background artistically is through that. But while I was at school, I started getting into doing sound work, and performance work. And, eventually video work came last, which is sort of ironic since it's sort of taken over a lot of what I've done in recent years. I was really a reluctant video artists in a lot of ways.
I was primarily interested in working with sound first. And so the work with sound kind of led me to working with Max, and working with custom gestural interfaces and electronics and stuff like that. And I was working with Leticia Sonami at the time, at SFAI. And then eventually, it was right around that time, I think, that Jitter was just sort of starting out and becoming something I remember, like Joshua came and gave a demonstration in one of my classes. And at first I had no interest in it actually. I was like, "Well, this is cool for people who are interested in video. But that's not me." And then, something happened somewhere where I just sort of got the bug, and I started working with it.
And, from there, it was sort of an interesting thing where it was like, at first I started making videos and working with videos on the computer. And then at some point I just kind of fell into this big vortex, where I became obsessed with video and the history of experimental video and thinking about signals and how that has progressed over the years. So now I'm sort of post all of that. I got a job working at Cycling, which just seemed to intensify all of those interests and gave me an excuse to spend a lot more time, making weird videos and - I don't know what else to say. Yeah, I think that's pretty much it, I'm just, you know, I'm really into thinking about things in terms of signals, and in terms of one process leading to another. And so that's kind of taken me in a lot of different directions.
Darwin: Sure. Now let's talk a little bit about some of the things that you've done as a professional video artists. I mean, you've done installations and exhibitions in you work, but you've also worked with some fairly big artists in different ways. And, you did the live performance thing with MIA, right? Yeah. And, did you not do something with Aphex Twin?
Andrew: Yeah, I was...
Darwin: Is it something that you can talk about or not?
Andrew: I can talk a bit about it. I mean, I think it's all been at, at this point, all of it's been published on blogs at some point.
Darwin: Right. Because sometimes those guys get pretty wrapped up in NDAs. And you can't actually say that you ever were in the same town as they were,
Andrew: Yeah. I mean, I'm, I'm really careful to sort of not overstep the bounds of that kind of stuff. So we can't say too much technical, but I can definitely talk about the overall stuff. So yeah, I did the live visuals for MIA at Coachella in 2009. I was hired on to create some live processing effects for that. And then I got hired back for a couple more dates - for a street scene in San Diego and outside lands in San Francisco. So I've done a little bit of work with her. And, the majority of that work grew out of experimentation that I was doing with this kind of optical flow feedback process that I had been developing at the time.
And it kinda caught the eye of a lot of people. And so I got a call from their manager and they wanted me to take this thing. That was a really just an experiment at the time that I was posting videos online about. And so that had to sort of become a real performance, you know, really like an application that was ready to trigger videos and run with input from this sort of stage video feed and all sorts of things. I had about two weeks to do that. So it was like, it went from like a sort of a twinkle in my eye to a sort of very large twinkle in everybody's eye in the course of two weeks.
Darwin: And in the meantime, you're sort of like, "Don't talk to me! I can't talk to you! Don't talk to me!" I can imagine that was a pretty rough two weeks trying to prepare for that.
Andrew: Yeah. I mean, to be honest, I almost said no to them. When I called them back, I'd missed their phone call, so when they call and when I called them back, I was like, "Okay, I have to tell them, no, this is not going to work. I can't do this." But then I talked to them for a minute and it was pretty obvious that I had to do it, because it was a pretty exciting opportunity for me. And also it was sort of like "If I don't do it, nobody will...", you know. And I think really, that's been my experience for the past several years is that I keep finding myself in these situations where I'm the only one that would bother to do this, you know?
Darwin: Right, right. Well, I would say that, in the internet world, you really are identified with the optical flow, smeary feedback thing. And, you know, if we go look at your website, pixlpa.com, a lot of those videos kind of feature that work. Where was it at? Where did it exist at the time that people started seeing it and noticing?
Andrew: I had done a couple of test runs with it. I mean, I guess to sort of backtrack a little bit, I was really just looking for ways to perform with video, and looking for things where it's like a video input could produce some good feedback effects. Feedback's always been sort of a really central component to my video work. And I hit upon this idea of like sort of tracking motion and using it to kind of smear things, in this kind of feedback-distortion process. And at the time that I started posting things online, it was really at the point where I had found some code online that I converted into a shader and sort of punched a bunch of stuff together really quickly. And then I did some videos where I was dancing around in front of the camera and, you know, producing these kinds of liquification sort of smear effects and stuff. And I think that's always what the first step of anything is like, you know, you turn it on and you like push record and start moving around in front of the camera.
Darwin: Yeah. The number of test videos I have, which is me like wagging my head from left to right in front of the webcam is pretty, you know... there's probably an installation worth. Right?
Andrew: Yeah. I, I was really like, you know, it's a really central part of process, I think, for anybody who works with live video, especially, is that you spend a lot of time in front of your laptop with the camera on while you're programming or while you're patching things together. And you know, it's really easy to sort of forget that you're even doing that. And like, you know, my wife kind of laughs at me all the time because I'll be deep in focus in front of my computer. And then all of a sudden I'll look up and start like moving my head around and waving at my computer.
And, you know, it's like I think that's a really important part of the process. And if you look at historical recordings of experimental video tests and stuff like that, there's always some video artists there, you know? And I'm really interested in that, like the presence of the video artists, even in these cases where you're dealing with really abstract, sort of experimentation and stuff like that. I think a lot of my work for about a year there was really heavily informed by that kind of curiosity.
Darwin: Right. That's actually an interesting point and I'm think it's unlike a lot of kind of artwork - you tend to see imagery of video artists because either they're testing work by pointing the camera at themselves, or because they're video artists, there's always tends to be extra video cameras around taking pictures of what's going on. Right?
Andrew: Yeah. I mean, it's kind of nice because you reached this point where, I mean, like if I was a painter, nobody would know what I look like. So, you know, there's like that outside chance that someone would actually recognize you on the street!
Darwin: Right, from your appearance in your own video. Now you're based in San Francisco, which is kind of notorious for having a strong and completely crazy experimental scene. Have you worked with many local artists on this?
Andrew: A bit. At the time, when I first got the call for the MIA job, I was actually preparing to do a show with a local artist, Joshua Churchill, who performs using this kind of like this guitar rig with a million pedals and does this big, intense sort of noise/feedback/drone kind of thing. So he and I were gearing up to do a couple shows together. And we did it right after Coachella, we did the show at ATA. And then, from there, we also did a show at Southern Exposure together. And then also one at the Berkeley Art Museum that was hosted by PFA and Steve Side over there. And so I've worked a bit with local artists here. I mean, Joshua is probably the primary person that I've collaborated with locally. I feel like more than anything, I ended up collaborating with people in other places probably more often than I do with people who are local here.
Darwin: Why, why do you think that is? Do you think it's because you're so visible on the net or is it just, I dunno, maybe you don't like people seeing how you look? But why do you think that happens?
Andrew: Why do I end up working with people in other places? I think primarily it's by virtue of the fact that I don't get out of the house much, you know? I think sometimes it's easier to collaborate with someone who doesn't expect you to show up somewhere. I mean, the realities of having kids, and a day job and a teaching job and trying to have an art career on top of all of that is, you know - sometimes it's hard to make, you know, studio meetings and, collaborate with people locally. Sometimes it's easier, it's like less bandwidth to do things via email and stuff like that.
Darwin: Yeah. I totally agree. Having being a person with a fairly large family here myself, I mean, it's actually great because if you look over the history of art, there has not been a lot of opportunities for people to live where they need to live and interact with their family the way that they need to, and still maintain a vital artistic career. I think that has historically been really, really tough. And it's something that, you know, I probably am more grateful to the internet for that than anything.
Andrew: Yeah, definitely. I mean, in the past several years, I feel like I've had a lot of opportunities to show work in places and work with people all over the place, that, if it weren't for the internet, I don't think I would ever have that opportunity. Or, you know, they're just like, how would people even know that I existed outside of San Francisco?
Darwin: Right. So let's talk a little bit more about the optical flow stuff, because first of all, I think a lot of people aren't really clear on what that is. So could you maybe give a little explanation? This is your chance to be a teacher for a few minutes...
Andrew: Sure. So, the, the, the root of it is, this, Horn Chunk, I think is the name, optical flow algorithm, which looks at successive frames of video and tries to make an estimation of, for each pixel, sort of which direction that pixel was going or how much in each direction that pixel was going. It actually does this by looking at the difference in gradients between pixels. So if you have two pixels sitting next to each other, you would look at sort of the difference between those two pixels and then look at like between the two frames, what's the difference in that difference? So that's the basis, that's the root of it. And then, like it sort of extrapolates from there, and kind of creates this... it's a little more complicated than that, but ultimately that's the root of it is like, you're sort of judging a motion in one direction or another based on sort of how gradients change over time.
And so that's the first part, which is a pretty well-known computer vision technique and stuff like that. I think the thing that sort of unlocked the interest for me was when I took that information of how much each pixel was moving each frame, and then I sort of decided to take that and plug it into something that could actually take an incoming frame of video from somewhere else and offset that by that same amount, or maybe the opposite of that amount, orthere could be some relationship between that, like that analysis of direction. So for each pixel you have this velocity going in one way or another. And so the idea that I had was I could take that velocity and apply that to some other video source, some other frame of video. So that happens and then that gets fed back through the system.
Darwin: So sort of conceptually then you're using, you're using this optical flow analysis almost as a controller for other material.
Andrew: Yeah, totally. I mean, really, my whole interest in it came from the fact that it's really hard to make the right kind of controller for doing live experimental video or something. And source material becomes really important and as soon as I saw sort of the way that it interacted with the video and the way it kind of pushed things over time, it immediately became apparent that this was like a really great kind of performance interface, you know? Because I could sort of wave my hand in front of a camera and switch things around and make this really dynamic stuff happen. So that was, I mean, I was coming from this angle of a sort of gestural control interface.
But that was my primary interest in developing it at the beginning. I think the key thing, though, in the optical flow stuff that a lot of people I think don't quite get is that just taking the analysis and plugging that directly into that offset/distortion stage is often not that interesting, or you can get some kind of pixelated garbage from it, but really where it starts looking good or becoming interesting is when you manipulate that control signal and apply filtering, like low-pass filtering or blur effects.
Darwin: Or feedback effects. Cause here's some things I would say, one of the things that people who'd look who look at your work, for example, often assume is that you're doing that compression breakdown stuff. Which kind of was a exciting trope on YouTube for about two weeks and then... But the problem with that is it didn't have a smoothness or an organic quality. It looked more like straight on glitch and because that's what it was, you know, so I guess no surprise that that's what it looked like. So it's interesting to talk about, taking that signal and further manipulating it, because I think that that's the leap a lot of people don't make, which is that, this information is good, but taking the information and playing with it, makes it much, much more better.
Andrew: Yeah, definitely. I mean, much more better.
Darwin: Sorry about that. I mean, to say it that way much better.
Andrew: But, yeah. I totally agree. Around that time, I saw like it was me coming up with this stuff, like really sort of coincided with that, like the "data moshing" effects becoming really popular. Which is sort of a serendipitous thing. Like in some ways, it got me a lot more attention because people wanted that look and people had this sort of hunger for things that looked like that at that time, because it was trendy, and new, and fresh, and stuff like that. And Kanye West did the video. And then, you know, at the same time that Chairlift did the video, and it sort of sparked, all of this interest in glitch work, and people messing with files and taking key frames out and all of that kind of stuff, which all in all I think is amazing.
It's sort of like, I sort of look at data moshing as being the way like the wobble bass and... you know, it's something that's so primal that people see. And they're like, "I want to figure that out!" You know, "I want to figure out what makes that happen!" And that becomes this sort of gateway to people doing something more interesting. So you figure out the wobble base, but then that leads you to exploring LFO's. And it's like, that's your first experiments with an LFO and how much cool stuff can you actually do with an LFO besides that? It's amazing. You know,
Darwin: I think that's interesting because what you're pointing to is something that is becoming a general case level of excitement. And I think that it's all kind of related to some extension of the maker movement, which is we're doing where we are exposing people artistically more and more things that instead of having them sit back and say, "Well, I'm going to observe this because it's so technically awesome that I would never be able to approach it." And instead these things are being put out there in a way that makes people say, "Oh my God, I got to get in there. And I have to push my finger in that and wiggle it around a little bit because that looks like something that I could enjoy doing." And I'm not sure what culturally is causing that to happen, but, you know, you make a great point with the LFO and the wobble bass.
Andrew: Totally. I mean, it's like it's a core concept of synthesis and electronic music and stuff like that. It puts it on the surface so much, like the whole effect is an LFO. But in a filter, you know, a really resonant filter. But really, you put that on the surface and I think that gives a clue to people like what the underlying machine is behind it. And so I think that, like seeing that crack in the machine is sort of something that opens the door to people in a way; it's like they see "Oh, okay, well, it's not that complicated. I kind of get it, you know?" And then they can kind of jump in and start going from there.
Darwin: Yeah. That's, that's interesting.
Andrew: I mean, it's kind of like the electric guitar, you know, like the overdriven electric guitar is like, "I could do that." Right?
Darwin: The first person that did it, everyone was like, "What the hell? Why is he using a broken speaker? It doesn't make sense." And then next thing you know, everyone's doing it. Yeah. Well, that's really awesome. Now, one last question on this, then we're going to move on, but I would say that with the data moshing thing, a lot of people were doing things all in a great big burst of light, but I always felt like your stuff looked much more refined than most people's. And now we're hearing why, because you put some effort in the tweening space between the glitched stuff and the end result. How do you feel when all of a sudden now that becomes sort of like a stock plugin for Resolume or for Premier or whatever? How does that make you feel, that maybe implies more of an emotional ownership than exists, but what do you think about the progress of things from being total sort of hackerdom to all of a sudden becoming, you know, the plugin and then the whole yawn that plugins bring, kind of thing.
Andrew: Yeah, I guess, I mean, I published the shaders that I used as sort of the basis for all the optical flow work. And then - and this before I actually published them - I sent them over to myfriend, Anton Morelli. And I was like, Hey, you know, I'm going to put these out. I just wanted to show these to you. Cause, he was kind of like, "You know, I'm working in that space too." And so he took them and ported them to Quartz Composer, with my blessing. And then from there, I think it got sort of ported to work on just about every live video application. But I think the thing of it is, is that like an effect or a plugin is a little different from something that you've spent time crafting over the years.
Like, I mean really, like it's just one small part of the overall system that's doing the feedback, in my particular case, I feel like that's like this core part or let's like the nugget sort of in the center of it, but, there's all these other elements that I'm also bringing to it. Like I said, the temporal filtering, spatial filtering, I do a bunch of stuff with compositing, like using that analysis to determine what's transparent and what's opaque. So in the feedback there's a compositing stage. So I'm doing that. There's several other sorts of feedback effects that are running, in parallel or sort of as part of that signal chain. So I guess to me, what I would say about that is that I kind of enjoy when things like that become a plugin because it forces you to think about what it is that's actually making what you're doing. And I think that can be a really disorienting experience at first. Cause you're like, "I thought this was what my thing was all about, but if everybody can do that, [then] what's my thing?" You know?
Darwin: Yes, that's what I guess that's what I was getting at, which is that was for awhile "your thing". But I can see where being pushed beyond that is probably a great artistic motivator.
Andrew: Yeah. I think it really pushed me to refine what I was doing a little more and maybe even explore what else the thing could do besides that kind of look. I think the early tests that I was doing, kind of followed, aesthetically, the kind of data moshing look because I was kind of into that look too. But, as it progressed, I really just started going off in other directions and thinking about, how I could refine it to be better, as a sort of video performance, thing. And, other elements that I could bring into the equation, like these, like I'm really proud of this particle brush stroke thing that I came up with that uses like Verlin integration.
But you know, nobody really pays attention to that part of it because there's all this other crazy stuff going on. But there's a lot of thought put into like how does color get inserted into the frame? And how much natural reality peaks through and there's all these kinds of things that, I really was forced to develop, to a certain extent to run faster than the crowd that was doing sort of the glitch art data moshing stuff, you know? So I I think it's a good... I think ultimately it's a good motivator and it was a fun time for a little while there just because it seemed like, it, it peaked a lot of people's curiosity in my work in general. And, it made me a lot of friends in the process. So I can't really complain.
Darwin: Now, one of the other... I'm gonna write a note here for myself. One of the other things that, I have noticed over your work: so the glitchy optical flow stuff, that's one thing that I think you're primarily noted for, but one of the other things that intrigued me in a treat me from the very first piece of work of yours that I saw was that you seem to be drawn towards things that feature organic movement. And, if I remember correctly, the first piece of yours I saw it looked like a great big ball of hair that kind of moved amoeba-like across the screen. And I remember it being one of the first artificial art pieces that actually kind of gave me the creeps, like in the same way, you know, it's like, if you're not expecting to see a centerpiece and all of a sudden you see a centerpiece, then it moves.
Darwin: It's like the way it moves and everything just creeps you out completely. You showed me this piece and I had that same sort of visceral reaction, which is like the heaviness of it was pretty grotesque anyway, but the way it moved really was shockingly animalistic or organic. And, you know, I've seen other work of your since then that kind of shares that - although never in quite the same way. But in looking at it, I'm also getting the sense that this isn't done through any sort of physical modeling or anything like that. It's just numeric manipulation of some sort I'm guessing. Is that right?
Andrew: A lot of it, I mean, if I remember right, the piece that you were talking about, the hair ball. Yeah. I think I even called it hairball. It was - just to kind of give like more of a picture of it is, you know, these very thin line kind of OpenGL drawing things, and you know, sort of the cluster of lines, which I feel like in some ways is really kind of a ubiquitous, formal element now, like with the whole set of creative coding world, is you have like these sort of clusters of lines doing stuff. But the way I was generating the movement from that was actually by using audio as a source for the motion, and doing some feedback, so I would push audio information into these verticies, you know, and Jitter matrix.
But then I would also run that matrix through some kind of feedback loop or something like that. And this was all just total experimentation. Like I didn't really have any kind of knowledge of physics, or there's this whole history of kind of generative motion and animation and stuff like that, that I was really naive to at that point. I mean, this was like 2005, I think. But sort of to go back. I mean, my first interest with video was sort of making audio work with video in some way, you know, like I sort of had this really strong interest in audio and sound and working with sound and the sort of signal and all of that kind of stuff.
So, to get excited about video, I had to somehow insert sound into that process. And so, that was for me the big kind of Eureka moment, when I started working with Jitter was like figuring out how to put audio data into a matrix. I think [that] unlocked my whole interest in working with video. And so from that, I would generate these kind of like crazy sort of FM synth kind of things to generate the motion and the position data. And then I would filter that and run the overall shape through some feedback stuff. But, yeah, I think in general, movement is something that I tend to be kind of obsessed with when doing video work.
If you look at the history of video, I'm really fond of sort of pointing out that film and video, although they've sort of converged into similar areas, really have a different history, you know, like video was primarily a transmission format, it was a way of getting fairly crappy looking visual signals from one place to another in the most efficient electronic way. And film started out as a photographic medium. So it started out with high quality photography that was then, just a bunch more pictures were taken so it could move. So whereas film started out as photographs that move video started out as a signal. It started out as a transmission. And so to me, the history of video is that: video is first about motion and then about what it looks like, and if you look at, like, to me, like the most exciting video pieces are always ones that move in a certain way or that have a certain kind of animation to them.
I think that it's easy to forget that now because everybody's working in HD or at the minimum like 720p, and people are trying to push harder and harder and harder towards higher resolution and more visual clarity and more detail. But really, the history of video is that it looked crappy, and you had to make do with what you had. And one of the ways to make do with that is to make it move in a nice way. So I think that's where, I mean, it's been sort of my primary interest in a lot of this stuff is like, I want it to look good, because I'm a pretty visual person, but I want it to move in a way that is compelling.
Darwin: Yeah. Move interestingly. So, you know, we've talked already about how you are using this cross-media or intermedia mechanism, whether it's using one video frame as a controller for another, or in this case using audio as kind of a stimulating device for this movement, have you done much work with sensors or that kind of thing?
Andrew: Yeah. I think physical computing. Yeah, definitely. My first introduction to Max was really when I was taking Latisha Sonami's class at SFAI and I started out wanting to do like noise performances. And I did this thing where I'd hacked some game controllers and took the analog sticks and attached them to a shirt and stuck some like big dowels onto the analog sticks and had this - it was a really bizarre performance interface, so there was that. And I really got into that, you know, working with sensors and stuff like that. And it's strange; I feel like I haven't created a lot of finished work, over the past, I don't know, five years, that really involves a lot of like sensors or stuff beyond using a camera, like the camera's sort of taken over, I think, as a gestural controller for me.
But, but a lot of my teaching, when I teach at SFAI, that's sort of a primary thing that I'm talking to the students about is using physical computing and interaction with electronics and stuff like that. So I think that my approach to working with video and audio is really informed by techniques that you learn trying to get sensors and stuff to behave properly and do the thing that you want them to. So like all that filtering and scaling and getting something to interact the right way, I feel like that's a really interesting process, it's like you're crossing the border between the real world and the computer. And usually the communication is really noisy between those two worlds. So you have to sort of clean it up after it comes in, you know?
But yeah, I think in general, I'm really interested in those kinds of translations betweensort of universes of, you know, you've got a sort of natural physical reality, and then you've got this virtual digital representation of that reality. And then you think about all the transformation that happen, something just in crossing that border. And then once it's inside of the computer, you're thinking about all the transformations that happen inside, and then ultimately, what a lot of artists, I think, neglect to pay attention to is also the transformation from something that's digital and back into something that exists in reality. Like, thinking about like how this is going to project onto a wall, or all those things alter the work. I don't know, to me that's like, so much of my thinking is based in that sort of space of thinking about those translations between things and how those things interact.
Darwin: Are there any translations that you really wish existed that kind of don't in any viable way right now? I mean, you know, to me, there are some of the sort of like science fiction based things: I certainly would appreciate Smell Vision, I guess, and the little holographic popup, but, for me, right now, it seems like there's an awful lot of these translations available, and I haven't explored a lot of them. And so it still seems like the world's mine, but it sounds like you've done a lot more in, and you've integrated it more, in your work. Are there any outside world integrations that you wish existed in a way that was much better than they do now?
Andrew: That's an interesting question. I mean, I think with sensors and the translation of the world into like a digital representation, I feel like there's sort of two sides to that. One is sort of the notion of it and like the fantasy or the marketing version of what those things are doing, and then there's like the reality of it. And I guess to me, like what tends to be most interesting to me about working with different sensors and stuff is sort of looking at how they behave, the difference between the way an accelerometer behaves and like a photocell, or a photocell and an infrared range sensor. All these different sensors, although they capture something that is specific, they also have this other quality to them besides what they're capturing, which is like their behavior.
And so I guess I tend to be less interested in this sort of scifi notion of controlling things with my brain or like the sort of Minority Report waving your hand in front of a hologram or stuff like that. I tend to be far less engaged with that sort of fantasy and more interested with every new technology that comes along, looking at what the behavior of that technology is. And, to me, that's what gets me to really geek out.
Darwin: Well sure, because each one of these technologies is idiosyncratic in some foolish way and kind of sussing that out, it's kind of fun work actually.
Andrew: Yeah. And it's like when the Kinect came out, it took me like a year before I actually bought a Kinect, because I was just kind of like, "What am I ever going to use that for?" Of course, I had people begging me to try it, you know? But, when I got one, I was really interested, like I think most people using it, as a sort of device for doing skeleton tracking and doing this other kind of stuff. And the thing that I became most interested right away is just like looking at that depth image and thinking about all the things you could possibly do with a depth image. And I don't think I really went very far in experimenting with it, but like all of that stuff, I think "How could you use that signal in a different way than what was already happening?"
I feel like the Kinect is one of those examples of things where people, they just get it to work and they just get it to do one thing and then they stop. You know, it's maybe getting it to work was difficult enough or, you know, it was so fulfilling to just get it to connect to a point cloud or something that there's no further investigation into that system, you know? So I don't know. I'm curious to see how that develops. Like I always think technologies get really good after people have kind of discarded them. And like the fanfare has sort of died down a little bit there,
Darwin: If there isn't just so much history behind exactly that in terms of musical hardware; a couple of weeks ago, I did a interview with Liz Larson who was talking about going back through the process of dealing with analog video, manipulation tools and how, in the rush to embrace Final Cut or whatever, all these tools have been kind of abandoned, but the people that remain into them just kind of kept on driving them into further and further depth and more and more interesting work. And now it's kind of being rediscovered.
Andrew: Yeah. I mean, I think internet culture has a really interesting relationship with that kind of stuff, because like when a new technology comes along, I think everybody kind of gets, it's like a race, you know, like everybody wants to publish their YouTube video of them waving their hand around.
Darwin: Yeah. Everyone wants to be the perfect person with an unboxing video.
Andrew: So there's like the unboxing video, but then there's the creative coding version of an unboxing video, which is like the 'hello world'. I got this new toy and I connected it to some 3d geometry, thing. And I think it produces a lot of momentum and so everybody like rushes to do what's basically the same thing. And then I feel like you want to produce some of that kind of stuff, just to feel like you're having a conversation with other people or that there's some kind of relevance to what you're doing, but ultimately I find that like the most fulfilling work ends up being the stuff where it's like you can kind of get away from that rush, and spend a little bit of time and like just really kind of get to know something.
But, and then because like the internet allows people to connect, these sort of like specialists, hobby communities, have a sort of space to connect with each other, it's allowed for like these forgotten technologies, I think to get some new life in them, like between the maker community and all that stuff. To me, what's really exciting is this feeling of [that] there's this sort of marketing angle and the hype and all of that kind of stuff that happens. But then there's also this space of people who are just doing their thing and finding each other online. And, there's something really sweet that happens with that. I think you got it.
Darwin: That's a really good point. Well, I can't believe how quickly the time has burned by. Before I let you go, I'd like to ask you a question. This month's podcasts have all been about people who have sort of a professional life in, in the media arts world, right? You you've done that kind of by having a lot of different professional lives that you kind of keep your arms around. And I think it's cool. I think it's cool that you can move forward, you know, working with Cycling, you can move forward having a pretty active artistic life interfacing with other people to collaborate on stuff and also be to be doing teaching. I think that's really exciting and I look at that and I'm like... Well, cool, because that's the kind of life I sort of like wish to emulate as well.
But one of the things that that kind of lifestyle does is put you in touch with a really wide range of different kinds of people. So, you know, with Cycling, you're working with coders, you're working with designers, you're working with really great programmers of various types. In your classes, you're working with a lot of students, students who have great aspirations and great visions and in collaborating with other artists and doing your own artwork, you're also kind of interfacing with the "now" artists, the people that are active now. And I think it probably gives you a pretty unique view of what the future should or could be. Where do you see things going based, just sort of on how you feel the wind's shifting?
Andrew: Whew. I mean, one thing that I've noticed just the past five years, I would say like one thing I always tell my students is when I was learning electronics, SparkFun didn't exist, you know, and there was no such thing as an Arduino. And, you had to figure out your own way to get the computer to talk to your electronics. And that was a really different world because it forced you as an artist to learn the language of engineers, you know, you had to dig through data sheets and look through the Digikey catalog, which is like the size of a dictionary - it's mind numbing. You know, and it's like to get anything done with electronics at that point in time, it was like you really had to sort of dive into this world that was really foreign, you know?
And I think that, these, these outposts like Adafruit and SparkFun and the Make Magazine and all of this stuff have, have, have lowered the barrier so much to working with electronics. And then with the Raspberry PI now too, there's like this kind of lower barrier to creating embedded computing systems. And like, I think there's like some really interesting things that are going to happen in the next few years of just these things becoming more and more available to people and that aren't specialists that aren't engineers. And to me, that part is really exciting - where things leave the world of the engineers and enter into the weirdos in their garages. That's, I think, where the interesting stuff starts happening. But also I think one of the big things that I'm looking at, and then I keep seeing is I think that our notion of what a computer is, is going to change really drastically in the next five years.
I think we've all come to accept this. Like at first, it was all about desktops, personal computing and stuff like that. And we all kind of jumped on with that. And then now laptops have kind of taken over as the form factor for creating work with a computer. But I just see, like, there's been such an explosion of these new single board computers and they keep getting better and faster and more powerful. And I think we might just start finding computers in a lot of different shapes, you know, and that to me is really exciting.
Darwin: Yeah. I would agree. And, and certainly the microprocessor thing right now is a real exciting space. I just picked up one of these UUDO boards, which is kind of crazy, cause it's like a four core, it's like a quad core Raspberry PI, but it also has an Arduino stuck onto it. So it's sort of like a camel of a board, but it works really nice for doing media work because you have all of the pins and stuff that you find in an Arduino implementation. But the full computing system that you got with a Raspberry PI - it's really nice. It's fun to see where this stuff is going.
Andrew: I mean, I think one of the things I talk with my students a lot about is this sort of notion that we have of there being a real world. And then there being this other world inside of a computer that we access on a daily basis - or this internet world or something like that, that these two spaces are really separated in our minds. And we kind of think of looking into the computer through this window, that takes us into this other space. And I think that with this idea of having these other platforms and stuff like that, and I think going back to like me getting into Max in the first place, it's really about bridging - like having that not be such a separate space.
I think there's an opportunity for those two worlds to have more connection with each other. And I think the iPhone really, to me, created another layer of reality for people walking around. It's like you have this sort of computer in your pocket. So you have the social interactions that you have on a daily basis, but then you have this other layer of interactions that you're having with people on a sort of global scale constantly too. So, I guess the openness of computing to accepting the world and the openness of the world to accept computing into it is going to be sort of an interesting tension.
Darwin: Yeah. I think you have something there - that should be an interesting future. Well, Andrew, thank you so much for your time. It was fabulous talking to you, so that was great. I'm just wondering, do you have any final words? I kind of like pop this on people often and most times people say "no", but maybe you have some words to the media artists of the future.
Andrew: Don't do drugs kids! Or not, whatever. Cool, whatever. Right.
Darwin: Well, thank you so much, Andrew. I really appreciate that. Have a great day!
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