Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chip Tune Marching Band

Blogging! Reality -as it happens! So.. six weeks ago, on Friday 3rd April, I caught an early (9AM!) train to Helsinki to take part in the Chip Tune Marching Band workshop that was happening as part of the Pixelache Festival. This workshop is run by a friendly bunch from Newcastle University's Culture Lab. The idea is for a group of people, of whatever background, to build a simple electronic instrument and then march with it through the city (Berlin is next). 
Arriving ahead of time at the designated meeting point, in the foyer of Kiasma, I was immediately met by no-one. Like the mountaineer who realises, half-way up, that they have left the bath running, my anxiety was beginning to rise; my brain was plugged in, and both taps were on full. I hurried to the bus station, recalling a bus number but finding no such bus. At the last moment, it occurred to me that I had the number upside-down, and it was with great relief that I climbed aboard. It was with even greater relief that I soon heard the familiar accents of Englishmen abroad, and so was introduced to the Chip Tune team! 

The workshop took place at the University of Art & Design (a wander through which was an experience in itself!). After an informal introduction session (open to anyone, the workshop was in fact mostly attended by alarmingly interesting people working in such spheres as performance art and experience design), we were put in pairs and given the components with which to build our Chip Tune instrument. The workshop stems from a project to investigate taking electronic art out of traditional contexts, often using adapted consumer technology.. so it was that my partner created a device that used a hand-cranked mobile phone charger to generate the sound. I was left with a light-sensor, but was happy to be able to build something that I might be able to use less dextrously, whilst playing guitar or whatnot. You know, by covering it with my foot or something. 

Once we had created our new sound weapons (and many of them really did look like weapons!) we were issued with green logo-emblazoned vests, and toured the halls of the university before heading out onto the mean streets of Helsinki. Attempts to orchestrate a dynamic call and response, between the high and low pitched instruments, generally gave way to a chip-skronk free-for-all, as we wound through the local streets like a particularly noxious cloud of hornets. 

This was a really fascinating day, a chance to meet and talk with some very interesting people, and a doorway, for me, into the previously socially-intimidating world of circuit boards and Maplins components. Maybe now I can go back and build that "non-operative theremin" from Grand Royal magazine! My instrument, pictured here, has since been disassembled and rehoused in a Milk Seafood Noodle pot, and was played, with successful results, in a song in my set at the Homegame Festival in Scotland (hopefully an MP3 to follow!). Thank you CTMB! 

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