Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 10 - The New Age
Log 10 - The New Age

Liverpool Roundup - Dropping to Zero:
A review of audio and net projects at Video Positive 2000: The Other Side Of Zero, 4 March - 1st May 2000
Alice Angus


Video Positive, one of the UK's foremost festivals of visual art specialising in video and digital media art, takes place in Liverpool. To its credit it tries to do this in the expanded inventive field, avoiding a narrow interpretation of video by showcasing a range of work in both visual and non-visual media. The Other Side of Zero is the last incarnation of Video Positive, as the organising body, The Foundation For Art and Creative Technology, opens a new centre in Liverpool in 2002 and shifts to being an international centre from an organising agency. This last festival heralds the beginning of a new era for FACT and allows it to make the shift to a new curatorial approach that looks set to broaden the scope of its activities.

In this context it made sense to present a range of audio and web-based projects at the recent festival alongside the single-screen films and video installations. As these web-based and audio works are available online and on audio CD, you don't have to visit Liverpool to access them - one of their strengths is that they can be investigated in your own time.

One Bit Louder at the Bluecoat Gallery housed examples of a number of web-based works that make use of and experiment with the space available through the audio network. They offer possibilities for rethinking approaches to online activity and networking. Radioqualia's Frequency Clock web project integrates internet-based radio with other modes of communication. It describes itself as "...a new online radio station aiming to open an electronic portal into the eccentricities of antipodean radio space". It involves the establishment of a global mini FM network connected to the internet with an interface that allows net radio programmes to be shared and broadcast over the FM network. It aims to open up dialogue and generate partnerships between existing networks and communities and to expand the scope for innovation across forms of radio. Jan Robert Leegte's ~leegte, a striped down minimal combination of online audio and visuals, sets up a bare environment devoid of all superfluous information where the viewer/listener is left to either meditate on their expectations of digital interfaces, become mesmerised by the slowly developing work, or, with a slow server, to loose patience and leave, which is a real problem on some PCs. Other work included Christoph Kummerer's lovely gameboy pocket noise, a subverted reprogrammed gameboy, and mail2midi's lo-ser, which allows the participant to send an e-mail which is then converted to a midi signal played at lo-ser's base and streamed back to the user via the internet. These works attempt to push the boundaries of what is understood to be possible with digital media.

Frequency Clock Jan Robert Leegtes, ~leegte
[left] From radioqualia'sFrequency Clock (1999)
[right] From Jan Robert Leegte's~leegte (1999)

One of the highlights of the festival was Colin Fallow's CD ZERO, part of an ongoing series of CDs he has curated since forming Audio Research Editions in 1998. It contains 46 one-minute sound works on the theme of zero by international sound artists, experimental composers, noise-makers and other audio creators. It is a chance juxtaposition of artists working thematically and aims to stimulate interest in, and dialogue around, sound art.

Jan Robert Leegtes, ~leegte Audio Research Editions, ZERO
[left] From Jan Robert Leegte's~leegte (1999)
[right] Audio Research Editions'ZERO (2000)

The content or inspiration ranges from hidden sounds, sounds that are abstracted, low-tech aesthetics, a sense of the threshold between one state and another, and distortion. Some works are stripped-down, reduced, returned to zero, to an end in themselves, such as The Groceries' The Oth Harmonic, a shuddering duet for Tibetan singing bowl and guitar that builds layer upon layer onto the harmony until it becomes so thick it is reduced to one smooth perfect continuous sound; and Aidan Mark Humphreys' Basit - cloned samples of bowed bass shifted, dragged and filtered through often dramatic ranges, yet seeming as one whole entity. There were the more conceptual works where the recording is a vehicle for song or spoken word such as Petri Kuljuntausta's There was nothing in the room - " there was nothing in the room no furniture, no paintings, no printings..." he repeats, linking to William Furlong's Timeless which takes the first work spoken on Audio Arts magazine by Caroline Tisdall in 1973 - the word timeless. It is repeated and repeated until it merges with itself reducing to zero and referring to Ad Reinhardt's black square paintings. Many contributions are greatly enhanced by the sleeve notes, particularly Dusan Bauk's story of the millennium bug that found itself below zero centigrade.

The tractor beams, transformers and di-lithium crystals of yesterday's utopian vision of tomorrow's technology returns in works such as Rene Beekman's vox et praetera nihil, and Longstone's Least Significant Bit. Reminiscent of all those sounds and movies we grew up on, that taught us the sounds of the future, the unnatural and the extreme, to hear these pieces is to hear the flickering sound of the future coming back from the past and to wonder again about the utopian dreams and nightmare visions of the technology of the future.

There is, in much of the work, a concern with recording the soundscape of the world at a particular moment, sometimes mediated through digital technologies to focus, pare down or expand the sound. Leif Brush's Windribbon + DSP, Loren Chasse's a pile of sticks transferred one by one, to a pond, Brandon Labelle's Sounding Degree Zero, Warren Burt's Alterations Around Water - Zero (water in different stated of freezing at different distances) are some of the works involving recording sounds often unnoticed or outside the normal audible sound spectrum. Greyworld combine the heard and obscured sounds of the happy shopping world with musak and easy-listening pop into a hypnotic creation worthy of The Stepford Wives. Frank Coleman's witty one-minute torch song, Cutting Halves into Infinity, and Dr Sonic's Fat Zero, an interrogation of the cynicism of the space race, attempt to mark or recall the moment of a journey or transgression, a cycle of beginning and ends reducing to zero. Max Eastley and Peter Cusack's Zero Day to Zero Night explores the space between abstraction and identifiable sounds.

Max Eastley is known for his creation of synthesised organic objects that interact with the shifting, changing environment, that meditate on understandings of natural and artificial. There is a rare delicacy and focused intensity to Eastley's work which sweeps to the edge of consciousness and recognition. Sounds flow one to another in intricate patterns reminiscent of the rhythm of life, the sounds of empty spaces, the shuddering intensity of silence, and combine in a response to the existing, fluctuating environment. Concerns echoed in the work and writing of Brandon Labelle, whose instruments constitute a landscape of found collected electric and 'natural' sounds, contact microphones and paper. His, along with the work of many of these sound artists, entreats listeners to chase the identity of the sound as it strokes the surface of memory drifting within grasp before slipping away. Yet, try as we might to reach for the clarity of recollection, it evades our searching, folding and retreating into the darkness. Unrecognised, yet utterly familiar, many of these sound works weave patterns and vibrate against the membrane of recognition, never piercing the surface. The combination of sound sources seems to be reflecting, reacting to, and reassessing the reverberating world that surrounds us. The contact microphones, placed on surfaces to excavate the inner sounds of rooms or objects, reveal sounds in the background of every day; the sounds around us, behind us and beneath silence.

What relevance have the performers on ZERO to video art? What relationship has their work to innovation in digital arts, with its lack of moving images, its unusual and minimal use of electronic technology, its physical relationship to the instruments and to the sound itself? It is precisely this relationship with the evidence of the human, the touch, the voice, the natural materials, and the irreverent approach to technology that is necessary to explore and question our relationship with new digital technology. It is this relationship that allows the work to interrogate the relationship of sound with vision and our relationship with the future of technology. This innovative work is not at the mainstream, established forefront of technology development because it is radical in its approach challenging our assumptions and expectations. It deliberately blurs the boundaries that allow us to separate "artificial" from "real".

Our approach to digital technology is built on our historical relationship with computers and video technology. Part of our understanding of computer technology is that of order, control and precise measurement. Although a few mainstream films such as [dhatch] or The Matrix have tried to move into more radical representations of digital space, we are still entrenched in material, architectural visions of digital space such as the cult film Tron and Robert Longo's 1995 visualisation of the Internet 2021, in the film version of William Gibbon's book Johnny Mnemonic. Against this, many of the above artists push their use of technology into an area where control is lost, opening up space for natural phenomena and chance. Away from the screen and the visual, away from the linear, structured visions of digital space, collections such as ZERO and projects such as radioqualia and ~leetge offer alternative approaches to understanding digital space and strategies for exploring digital technologies.

The projects can be found via:

For information on ZERO and other Audio Research Editions projects contact are@livjm.ac.uk

ZERO can be ordered from FACT or at Bluecoat Chambers, School Lane, Liverpool, L1 3BX, ph. 44 (0)151 708 0474, info@fact.co.uk - price [sterling]11, postage world-wide [sterling]3.


Alice Angus [Pisces Monkey] is a writer and curator. She initiates and produces collaborative projects that open up different kinds of space in which artists can experiment and develop their practice and in which new audiences can experience contemporary conceptual art, film and performance.



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room