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Ben Curtis

January 7th, 2014

It’s been just over a week now since I got the news I’d been fearing. I was sitting in London Heathrow waiting for my connection, sometime between 30 and 31 December and two-hour nap bursts…somewhere between full consciousness and a daze. Ben Curtis had died of cancer. For those of you who do not know, Ben was my favorite musician (topping a shortlist of Anthony Gonzalez, Brian Eno, Dave Grohl, and a couple others) and, most notably for me, guitarist and beyond for Secret Machines and School of Seven Bells. Stories from those who knew Ben are spread throughout the Internet, reflecting on his warm personality and transcendent talent. I only spoke to him a couple times, importantly at the Secret Machines concert that change my life at the Black Cat in Washington, DC. It is no exaggeration that that show changed my life–it propelled me into a new stratosphere of inspiration and wonder at the possibilities of music, of audio filters, of stage lighting and visual effect…. I was at the Home Depot the next week purchasing stage lights for my band. Thus my visual career was born.

Days that were only possible because of Ben stand out in my memory: the day my friend Brian brought over “Alone, Jealous and Stoned” by the Secret Machines as the first single off “Ten Silver Drops”; seeing the Machines mesmerize the 930 Club and wondering if they’d invented grey lights; being so utterly upset when Ben left the Machines to form School of Seven Bells; the joy of seeing School of Seven Bells live at the Black Cat and realizing they had the potential to again change the way I thought about music; the day I decided “Alpinisms” was my album of the year when it came out; the day I bought “Ghostory” for my brother and felt like I was letting him in on the best secret in the universe… I could go on and on and on. Instead, I should just share some of his music. Enjoy.

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The Soundtrack(s)

December 3rd, 2013

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The Soundtrack (the journal):
Cool surprise today to see my first published article as an artist in the new edition of The Soundtrack. I was asked to do a piece on my film Awakening. I wrote the article before the move to Germany. With such distance comes interesting perspective–reading it again was like reading the words of an old friend. And yes, I laughed at my own reference in the article. I guess I thought it was funny at the time, too?

So far, leafing through the journal has been very rewarding. Their description of it summarizes the content well:

The Soundtrack is a multi-disciplinary journal which brings together research in the area of music and sound in relation to film and other moving image media. A complex cultural, technological, industrial and artistic phenomenon, sound-with-moving image is a rich area for analysis, investigation and speculation. We encourage writing that is accessible to audiences from a diversity of intellectual backgrounds and disciplines as well as providing a forum for practitioners. The Soundtrack’s aim is to nurture this new and expanding area of academic investigation in dialogue with soundtrack producers of all kinds.”

http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/journals/view-Journal,id=146/

The Soundtrack (of experimentation):
Also pictured above are four Laser Jet toner refills. No, I don’t have a Laser Jet printer… I am attempting to DIY some ferrofluid. If you don’t know, ferrofluid is a magnetic liquid that is used in some really interesting fine art sculptures and (expensive) toys. A gallon of the stuff can run more than $500. My Laser Jet toner attempt could result in something not only cheaper but much more colorful. I will post the results on the website soon! I already have my neodymium (read: strongest things you’ve ever seen…I could barely separate them) magnets ready to go. I’m very intrigued with the possibilities of filming it for Digital Synthetic-like textures. Yes, calling this section “The Soundtrack (of experimentation)” was a bit of a stretch, but you may be laughing at me, so that works.

The Soundtrack (of my December):
Based on recommendation of my collaborator Brian Young, I’ve been obsessing over the production on the London Grammar album–this song is my favorite so far. Enough people have been writing about the band to the point that I don’t have much to add but to encourage you to listen:

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Salzburg, Austria

November 10th, 2013

Spent the weekend touring, filming, and sound recording Salzburg, Austria for use in some upcoming projects and just generally having a great weekend with the wife.

Gorgeous city, and everything was musical.

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Sound recording in the Mirabell Palace gardens

Alps
Capturing video of the train ride by the Alps

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Hard to mess up capturing a city this gorgeous

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Unexpected bonus: sound capture of cannon fire. We still have no idea what this ceremony was about, but it is very well recorded!

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New Media Art and Disability Awareness in Russia

October 19th, 2013

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One of my TV interviews at the opening of “Sustaining and Creating” at the State Russian Museum

Well, that’s it. Close the cover, button the clasp, and toss the book on the shelf. Thanks to an incredible amount of support, this week I accomplished just about everything I could possibly hope to in my career, and I am on cloud 9 x 999. (I edited that sentence several times… initially it said “art career,” but that wasn’t encompassing enough.)

This past Monday I set out on a Kennedy-Center-acquired grant to St. Petersburg, Russia. The Russians had allowed a show to take place in their State Russian Museum (the largest and finest collection of Russian art in the world) featuring only Americans. The show was organized by VSA and featured some absolutely fantastic art.

I have a great relationship with VSA and I was thrilled that they asked me to go as their sole representative to the opening: it was not only my opportunity to debut The Almagest Series at one of the more incredible museums in the world, but an opportunity to raise awareness for disabilities like Tourette’s Syndrome. I prepared extensively, but had no idea what to expect.

Wow.

Four talks, a press conference, 5(+) television interviews, radio interviews, and hours upon hours of conversations later, I am done.

bell

The madness started Tuesday. My first event was giving a Master Class at the Smolny University of the Russian Academy of Pedagogy with students who were learning to become art teachers. A tour of the University allowed me to glimpse what incredible drawers and painters they all were. I presented for about an hour and had such an enriching conversation with them… they were eager to learn more about coping with disabilities and we created audio/visual pieces together. My favorite part of the talk was showing them Videopong; they all created their own video pieces using the free resources that Videopong can provide. I am so excited that I was able to spread video art in this way, and that they will in turn be able to show their own students. They gave me a bell they had handpainted as a thank you… it’s beautiful!

Tuesday night (and again Thursday morning) I spoke to masters students at St. Petersburg State Bard-Smolny and St. Petersburg State University about approaches to new media art, both in studying it and installing it in galleries and museums. I’ve never seen audiences so interested in how to install a SONAR sensor! I felt like a toy soldier who’d just been reassigned to Candyland.

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The exhibit sign outside of the State Russian Museum

Wednesday was going to be my easy day…I took a trip to the Hermitage and then went to the State Russian Museum for the press preview, and I did a couple different interviews before the show opened. The setup was elegant and beautiful. The Almagest Series was showing in two different rooms in the museum (a former palace), synced up… the sound creeped along the floor but also echoed on the 20+-foot-high ceilings. The effect was incredible… it truly helped the piece fulfill the meaning of “ambient” (I love Eno’s definition–the piece works equally well when paid close attention to, or when taken in passively).

Then I was taken to the large hall by the exhibit entrance. We opened the door to open the exhibit, and behind it there must’ve been 150 people for the opening conference… including 6-10 (I don’t even remember) television cameras, journalists, and radio people with microphones facing the front. And, of course, one microphone in the front facing all of them. Thankfully the exhibit curators spoke first, so I had time to prepare some quick remarks! This exhibit was a huge deal for three reasons:

Alice

  1. The art was incredible. Seriously, check out the work of Alice Chen (above). Look at the DETAIL in her work. The image just can’t capture how gorgeous it is.
  2. The artists’ stories were inspirational. I was so privileged to share the stories of these artists with the Russian people. Alice, above? She is legally blind. Instead of letting that keep her from drawing, she uses a magnifier to draw one small part at a time. This methodology CONTRIBUTES to her art… look at all the details that result from working so closely. Using disability as an aesthetic enhancement was a major theme in my talks. Read her story: http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/alice-chen.html. 
  3. U.S./Russian relations. The Russian culture as a whole is further and further embracing disability. In the U.S., we are so privileged with what may seem like the most basic accommodations for the disabled (like wheelchair access) and cutting edge research… the Russian audiences were curious to learn more about these and adopt our lessons and experiences. But even beyond that, they wanted to learn about our music scene, our artists, our landscape. They wanted to know if I felt safe on the city streets, what I loved about St. Petersburg (the architecture… the people!), if I would do a piece inspired by my trip for them (ABSOLUTELY). Just outside the exhibit were two flags on the same stand: U.S. and Russia. I took several pictures standing in front of them. Despite all the gorgeous art in the exhibit, I think this may have been the most beautiful sight. Art speaks a universal language, and it was incredible to use it to bring our countries closer together.

On Thursday, several people told me they’d seen me on the news the night before. There was so much media coverage that Facebook even told me I needed to put my Russian name (my website won’t let me put in the Cyrillic characters) as my native name, because people were having trouble finding me. Crazy. I did another talk to curators and critics Thursday morning, and a couple of them came across town right after for my next talk, focused on disability awareness, experiences, and educational practices in America. I suppose the media coverage paid off… there were more than 60 people at that final talk: educators of the disabled and also some of their disabled students. What an incredibly rewarding conversation this was! We walked the gallery to discuss the art, talked about my experiences growing up with Tourette’s Syndrome, public vs. private education, and the benefits of new concepts in disability education (neurodiversity, neuroplasticity, differentiation… thanks Claire and Jayson for your incredible help! It really made a difference). Everyone there agreed that art was a great equalizer, putting disabled and non-disabled people in place to be taken at the same face value. I was able to share resources to help the disabled Russian artists find international exhibit opportunities. The theme of my talk: embrace what makes you unique.

Thursday night, I was so utterly exhausted that I was only able to muster up enough energy to go to the Russiain McDonalds and order a Bolshoi Mak. Friday, I came home. I am spent, but having the opportunity to raise disability and Tourette’s awareness, exhibit in one of the most gorgeous spaces I’ve ever seen, and help improve U.S./Russia relations? It shows you the power of art.

There are dozens of people I need to thank… from the curators, to the drivers, to my wonderful translator… but I want to especially thank Sonja and Tatyana for making it happen! And of course I would be remiss without thanking Volkswagen, which has been an incredible sponsor to the VSA programs.

I may not be ready to close the book on my career QUITE yet… a Polish group came to my Thursday talk and they want me to come talk about new media art and disabilities in Poland. Time to start brushing up on my Polish!

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The Church of Spilled Blood, right next to the State Russian Museum

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This is a staircase in the Hermitage. The whole museum is this gorgeous, but, you know, also has art. The collection of Impressionists was great!

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When in Rome… yes, I drank compote. Yes, it was good. The fruit gives it a delicious flavor, even though it looks a bit… unappetizing

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Moving to Germany/Building a New Studio

July 4th, 2013

That’s right… I am moving to Germany! The hub of beer, Christmas markets, random festivals, and pioneering electronic art. I can’t wait to be closer to the conferences I always want to attend, the great electronic music scene, my fellow Videopong partners… it’s going to be incredible. The plan is to stay out there for three years.

I landed a great job opportunity that will pay me well and also give me a great housing allowance. I will use that allowance to do two things: 1) shorten my commute so that I have more time, and 2) finally get an entire room to myself for my studio. I am ecstatic about both… you will see more things on this website as a result of the first, and that includes planning the second part!

After doing a lot of research, I decided to go ahead and buy some of my studio supplies (paint, mod podge, you know… the usual) here in the U.S. and then ship them to save some money. I also decided to buy the big, fancy art table I’ve always wanted for doing my soldering, painting, and other construction. So I went to the most American place I could think of… IKEA! (That’s a joke, just to be clear… but I really did go to IKEA…actually, two different IKEAs). I got a nice big Galant table top and the Finnvard table legs… it should look like this when built, but black:

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I also got a really cool robotic-arm like table lamp for it. So excited!

Now, the next part: I will be staying in a hotel for a month while I look for a house and wait for my household shipment to arrive from the U.S. How do I get my studio computer (and everything I need to run it) to the hotel so that I don’t miss a beat? After all, I have several shows coming up… I can’t be without my computer if someone needs me to render a different type of file or something!

A lot of trouble, but I know it will be worth it. I can’t wait to write all about it here and share this adventure with everyone.

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Duel of the Tiger (University of Missouri Grant/Trip)

March 31st, 2013

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My workspace… I spent a lot of time here!

This past week I had the incredible opportunity to go to the University of Missouri on a grant to collaborate with artist Nathan Boyer on a new project. Nathan and I met in Boston last Fall when we both showed up at the Boston CyberArts Gallery with audio/visual pieces based around SONAR readings… and of course set up right across from each other, messing up each other’s pieces (quick aside: for those who don’t know how SONAR works, it sends out a pulse and waits for it to return, using the timing to calculate distance. Well, both our pieces were pulsing on the same frequency at different rates, so they were causing a pseduo-moire pattern of readings and messing things up). We spent the next few hours putting a wall between our two pieces and talking about what we could do together by embracing the chaos caused by the dueling SONARs/computers.

A quick proposal and grant from the University of Missouri, and next thing you know I’m in Columbia testing it out.

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CINESONIKA 3 Film Festival / Ireland Trip

February 20th, 2013

 


Me speaking at the CINESONIKA Film Directors Panel on 17 February 2013

Tuesday/Wednesday

I’ve been overseas once before, but that was only to Bermuda… so I don’t know what happened here… I only know that, at some point, Tuesday stopped and Wednesday started, then I was cruising around Dublin in the top of a double-decker bus in a major haze. How do some artists fly out for only a couple days to do festivals? Crazy. I ended up needing like 2-3 days to adjust.

Wagamamas + Ireland = awesome noodles
Oh my god is this place delicious. Look at Emily’s ramen! LEGIT.

Wagamamas + U.S. = Yes please.

Dublin Dubstep = A store that should exist but shouldn’t.
Seriously, every music store had Ableton Live in the window, and then an electronic music section worse than our Guitar Center (and yes, I even checked the Dublin “Guitar Centre”). What’s the deal? On the other hand, I went into some clothes stores with Emily, and the electronic music they were playing was awesome. It was the first time I’ve ever wanted her to clothes shop (so I could keep listening) and she didn’t want to…

Salmon Fish King Prawn Pie = Clump of shrimp and potatoes.
I was too tired to care.

Guinness = Yep.
Pretty good. Although I am so drawn to the darkest beers now that I felt it wasn’t quite dark enough here. Smooth, though.

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Gettin Married!

April 21st, 2012

Excuse the little break from the website… I’m getting married today! Rest assured I am hard at work on a lot of projects 🙂

Also, Boss DD-6 on the way! One day someone will invent a VST that has warp functions, but they haven’t yet… so excited!

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Movin’ on Up

January 7th, 2012

The lady and I are moving to a new place!

Relevancy here: I’m going to finally have my art studio! You’ll be able to follow the build here as I go along with this project. My goal is to make it an art/music/post-production workshop that can effectively double as our second bedroom. This is of course going to require a lot of work.


The room as it is with current owner…

Decisions so far: GREY. Definitely painting it grey. It’s my favorite room color and will be light enough for me to project my art onto the walls without discoloration or contrast problems.

My new studio monitor controller to switch between my studio monitors (the KRKs I have and the grotboxes that I don’t yet):


SM Pro Audio MPatch 2.1

Now I won’t have to reach around my speakers all the time to make volume adjustments or plug and unplug cables.

Very exciting! The problem with moving, though, is that you need to pack up your former place.


Yikes

My workspace has shrunk considerably here, but I refuse to stop working until the last second! Here you can see me in the middle of programming and reinstalling screens on my second video installation. Progress is flying! Unfortunately I had a hard drive crash and lost some of my programming, but I’ve rebuilt a lot of it from the ground up and now it’s better than ever.

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