Lessons on the Universe at Gray Area’s Analog Orgy

 

Inside the Grand Theater the atmosphere was part laboratory, part museum with racks of test oscillators from the 50s emitting unearthly tones and homemade synthesizers straddling screens. The Gray Area’s newest exhibition highlighted Andy Pulse and synth trio CTRL-Z, Bay Area based analog artists experimenting with light and sound.

CTRL-Z, an Oakland based group who met while studying music at Mills College, were eager to show off their rare synthesizers. “This is a Russian made one,” exclaimed Ryan Page. “The chips are actually written in Cyrillic script.”

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For their seventy-minute opus, Daniel Steffey of CTRL-Z had scored a detailed piece. Then, Ryan took all the timelines Dan had devised and wrote a piece of code to send them to the different speakers based on certain breaks in the score. This resulted in a hypnotic binaural experience with vastly different tones emitted from every corner of the theater.

“It’s all composed so we’re not screwing around at all,” Ryan assured me. This thorough planning led to a dramatic arc found in the crescendos and teasing endings of classical composition. “The ultimate goal is to be able to organize sound in real time.”

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On the left, close to the stage, video magician Andy Puls perched inside his hacked together pixel distortion device. “The whole image is coming from video feedback. The camera is feeding the screen and the screen is showing what is on the camera.”

Instead of worrying about projecting at a high enough resolution, Andy dived in between the pixels, blowing them up to human size, each like its own blooming, pulsing television screen. “The camera ends up filming it’s own image and there’s a lot of effects along the way. This lets me do a lot of mirror imaging and mixing effects and this is color and image control.”

In between twisting feed screen and zooming in on an ancient tape video recorder, he played the taishōgoto, a beguilingly delicate Japanese stringed instrument. Other times, CTRL-Z’s synths would thunder so loudly I plugged my ears in pain. It certainly wasn’t for everyone – but I find beauty in contrast.

IMG_3678.jpg(“I build this synthesizer that has light sensors. The image is on the little screen and the synthesizer is strapped to it. Light ripples trigger the ringing sound you hear.” – Andy Puls)

“I think music is spiritual and this is a whole music and visual experience,” philosophized Andy. “This is supposed to put you in a special state.” It was certainly successful. Despite being jarring at times, it was incredibly meditative – to the point that I experienced the sensation of falling into the image several times.

In the age of precision CGI, this whole show may seem like an obsession of antiquity. Yet, sitting under the hypnotizing swirl of shape and color, I began to think that perhaps we are all in an infinite feedback loop and our actions are like Andy’s handmade synths, shifting the output every step of the way. There is no source; everything is recycled off what came before.

Published on Ripple.co

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