Reflections on PULSE
My band The Wiitles were fortunate enough to perform alongside some truly amazing artists in Savannah Georgia this past weekend. The annual PULSE Art and Technology Festival held at the Telfair Museum has come a long way since I first attended three years ago. Although always intriguing, this year, all stops were pulled and some big time technology artists such as Shih Chieh Huang, “fashion geek” Diana Eng, musical performances by the League of Electronic Musical Robots (L.E.M.U.R), and many others whose M.O. is combining art with electronics and technology.
Upon arrival at the museum, my immediate thought was that we were in over our heads. The lobby of the was taken over by a gigantic sculpture by Shih Chieh Huang which had breathtaking looks and size.
Even better, to my surprise, was the fact that attendants encouraged the attendees to get inside of the sculpture and play around. I think that there is not enough art that allows for play and touch, so I was extremely pleased with this experience. Below is myself and the newest addition to The Wiitles, Matt Gilbert, playing in the plastic:
Also by Shih Chieh Huang, my favorite exhibit from the festival was Counterillumination, which consisted of “kinetic, glowing, “breathing,” environments of low tech electronic creatures inspired by the evolutionary adaptations of life forms that reside in inhospitable environments, for example the deep ocean. The artist states “I create analogous ecosystems in my installations and populate them with organic living things made from common, everyday objects…household appliances, zip ties, water tubes, lights, computer parts, cheap motorized toys and the like.” In Huang’s work “computer cooling fans are repurposed for locomotion, Tupperware serves as a skeletal framework, guitar tuners are rewired to detect sound, and automatic night lights become a sensory input.” Huang’s almost hallucinatory environments have been featured at 01SJ Biennial at the San Jose Museum of Art, the Taiwan pavilion of the 2007 Venice Biennalle and in numerous other solo and group exhibitions nationally and internationally. Huang was also an artist in residence at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, where he studied bioluminescence in sea creatures and insects.” (taken from http://telfair.org/current-exhibitions/shih-chieh-huang/). One of the coolest things I have ever seen. Watch this video for more: http://messymix.com/showvideo/twilight.php
Most of the trip was devoted to really hard work, however, and so I missed some things that sound mind-blowing, including a musical performance by a league of robots (L.E.M.U.R), Zemi 17, who combines traditional Indonesian music and storytelling with a modern DJ sensibility. Another that I regret missing is Diana Eng “Fashion Geek”, whose worn technology I thought would be perfect for some future Wiitles shows.
The Wiitles now live in separate towns (in fact are considering becoming separate franchises in the vein of Blue Man Group) so preparing for this show was no easy task. Matt Gilbert and I basically came up with a set and a skeleton for programming and running the set. And, I think, mainly to avoid the problem of too many chefs, the rest of the group went along with it.
But even with those time and stress savers, there was still enough work to keep us busy 16 hours a day from Thursday til Saturday. We had redesigned The Wiitles set and sound from scratch basically. Whereas other shows have relied entirely on Max/MSP, we used Ableton Live on every song in this set, with Max primarily used a way to allow for more flexibility in the way that the Wii remotes communicated with Ableton. Also different was the way in which we brought the Bluetooth data in from the Wii remotes. We had been using a Max patch called aka.wiiremote to convert our Bluetooth data into MIDI, but recently had started using Osculator, which seems to lend much more control and sensitivity when operating the Wii remotes. These devices have already changed the sound and scope of The Wiitles for the better. However, getting them together and introducing all this stuff to the rest of the band over the course of two days was quite a chore.
In all honesty, I thought that we were doomed several times throughout rehearsals. Tensions were running high for a group that plays Wii remotes and mockumentaries. But this gig felt special, especially after seeing the amazing art we were performing alongside. We were lucky enough to be able to rehearse in the enormous Studio A at The Wiitles’s alma mater, the Savannah College of Art and Design. We were also lucky enough to be friends, and to have done this enough times to where now we can ignore or at least accept the stress and get our work done.
No one knew what to expect as far as the type and number of crowd that would show up. The Wiitles have had success in getting press. We’ve been written about in Mix magazine, in South Magazine, in Connect Savannah, oddly, in VSD from France. And the few performances we’ve done have been well attended. But we were usually on riding someone else’s back. We had a lot of people at the GDX conference, but they were there for other reasons besides The Wiitles. But, right at our 3 o’clock start time, the masses started piling in. All in all, the show was a resounding success. The people in charge at the Telfair informed us that we brought the largest crowd ever to their auditorium. The 225 seat auditorium was standing room only, and they eventually had to turn some poor families away at the door.
The thing that surprised me the most was the number of kids that showed up and, even more surprising, the number of kids who stayed through the whole show, and asked questions after the show. And good, encouraging questions like, “Where can we buy songs”. Our soon to be remedied answer, “Nowhere yet”. So stay tuned for announcements about The Wiitles children’s album.