Friday, November 9, 2012

When an artist becomes a scientist, and then, a wizard

it is with great satisfaction that i report the near-finish of my first semester of college with straight A's and an entirely more fulsome (and fascinating) aspiration- to become an electrical engineer.

its a very interesting experience, to be the person that i am, walking into this sort of world. electronics have fascinated me my whole life, but i was always frightened of it. and a scientific pursuit never occurred to me, in a million years. i had studied surveying for a brief time at a tech school, but the only other serious aspiration i ever pursued (that one would need a degree for) was french translation. art and the sheer act of creating always had a higher pull on me and always made it easy for me to just throw the conventional path aside and frankly i PREFERRED learning on my own. i always figured that i would just be an idiot savant for the rest of my life, an autodidact who learned in her own way, who pursued many paths but never strayed too far into the scientific realm.

so it is with great interest that i find out how INTERESTING and BIZARRE the world of technology and especially electronics is. i am delighted to learn that no one really KNOWS what current is, or why a transistor works. all engineers and scientists know is how current behaves. they know that a transistor can amplify. but they don't know why. they can only hypothesize and direct it.

and the fact that current is present everywhere, even within our bodies, can be somewhat tamed and observed reliably, does not diminish the weirdness of harnessing a mysterious force. and of course, the SOUNDS- the sounds are of prime importance. i could very well see focusing on sound exclusively, and the building of both sound and visual instruments has been on my mind for some time now. it is what pushed me into this field.

when i look at the trajectory, i realize that the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and to an even greater degree, Broadcast, had everything to do with this bend in my aesthetics. combining the pastoral, the spooky and the electronic into one really upended much of where i was before then. there was this since of wanting to live in the past that i have completely abandoned. there is this realization that the new does not have to leave behind the past, and can combine with a wholly psychedelic future. that really led to me embracing technology in a way that is almost childlike. the fact that i became married to my laptop since i started making films didn't hurt either. i realized that things were possible that my archaic aesthetics had never considered before. that, while i may have wanted to live in 1966, i couldn't have done nearly what i had accomplished artistically in those days that i could now. all of that led into discovering a treasure trove of electronic (NOT HOUSE, or TECHNO) music, and that led into wanting to build instruments, learning about circuit bending, and then signing up for an electronics certificate, and then really finding out what it means to be an engineer and work with truly mysterious, yet concrete forces.

in our lab one day in school, we made a two tone oscillator. it just brought it all home for me like a ton of bricks. hearing those tones emanating out of all those breadboards delighted me. i heard the silver apples and broadcast and stereolab in those tones. even watching the humble LED's light up when you wire something right makes me reel with delight. HERE is something that you can sink your teeth into. this isn't like parapsychology or the occult or literature or art. it isn't speculative. it isn't abstract. it is a mound of immutable laws wrapped in riddles. it is a toy that you can play with, a color you can paint with. it makes sound and it can make things light up. it can detect and spin and do what you tell it, when you speak its language. and its language is in resistors and ohm's law and potentiometers and schematics. its a SCIENCE, and science can be an art- but art cannot be a science. it can only be informed and shaped by science. art is all variables, all possibilities. if a circuit were purely art, it could not transmit its information. there is an exactitude, a sense of having to work on the Force's terms, which i find intoxicating. i have to be BENT into that shape. i can't just flow around it and "intuit" it. it demands study and everything done correctly. but when you do that, you can create something completely unique, and truly artistic.


  1. Congrats Carmen! I am glad you are enjoying school so much! I think the idea of recreating the 60's pretty daft myself. Far better to take the best bits of it and see what can be welded into the NOW. It's really impossible to recreate something. It's sort of like trying to redo a Renoir and expecting everyone to be jazzed about it when the real thing is still around and ready to be discovered and still very much alive.

  2. exactly. but the thing is, i really was that person! as you know. i really really would have been happy to have lived in a time capsule. it would have felt more natural to me. realizing that the future is now- wow!!!!

  3. I know what you mean. I think sometimes I'd like to have lived then. Then I realize the 60's weren't so groovy for everyone. Lot's of people were treated very horribly-blacks, women, gays, the working class. I recall Ray Davies saying something like "The whole Swinging London thing happened for, like, 25 people. Everyone else, mostly working class, continued on in their gray dull, drab lives in their bombed out neighborhoods." That got me thinking. I'd still like a time machine but I'd like to come back. I mean we just re-elected Obama right? Imagine how flabbergasted Malcolm X would be to learn a black man had won the white house not once but twice? In some ways this is a better age right?

  4. it is TOTALLY a better age and i truly have come to loathe the luddites and doomsayers who hate technology or now in general. all those "simplicity" folk who damn technology as something inorganic and unnatural. or suspicious. so many people round these parts like to talk about how in the future we would live down by the river and use candles and sing songs round a campfire and trade granola bars instead of have money. it would be just like THE GOOD OLD DAYS.
    i can't imagine any greater reward for suffering through 8 years of bush. its like the summer of love in reverse, if altamont had happened in late 66 and early 67 and the human be-in had happened in late 69. we got to suffer really hard before a historic breakthrough. its so huge we can't even imagine how big of a deal that really is.
    i am overjoyed, every day, to be a part of this time and this place. i am so glad i got here and didn't stop...back there.
    and oh yeah. i want you should WRITE THOSE BOOKS. the swinging london/dennis wheatlyish combos. it is my duty to bug you on that.

  5. I'll probably do the Swinging London novels at some point. I think the problem was I was trying to write a mystery and I found that rough going. The one I am working on now is adventure and seems to be flowing much better.

    I agree about the luddites and neo-traditionalists. I once stayed at someones campsite without any toiletries for 5 days and was covered by bugs every night. It was also ludicrously hot. I realized two things: 1.I hate camping 2. I get why my farmer ancestors embraced indoor plumbing, screened windows, and a/c as quickly as they could!