The Nazaraliev Medical Center in the Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek is using stones as part of a treatment course for heroin addicts. The conservative culture in the central asian country makes it difficult for many addicts to speak about their addiction in public forums such as group therapy sessions usually associated with drug treatment programs. In place of group therapy, patients are given a river stone to speak of their trials and hardships caused by their addictions. With a recidivism rate less than 20% a year after the month-long treatment, the "lithotherapy" program has proven extremely effective.
At the close of the course of treatment, the patients add their stones to the Tashtar-Ata, ( the Father of the Rocks ), a local pilgrimage site in the form of a massive rock-pile where, in addition to the 5000 patients to graduate the program, countless individuals have placed stones to release all manner of problems in their lives.
On March 23rd I made my way to Atlanta, Georgia to be the guest of Craig Dogonski at Georgia State University where he and his wife Pam Longobardi are resident professors of art. It was also the weekend of the Atlanta Science Festival. Pam had a big role in that Festival having conceived Plastic Gyre, a forum for artist and scientist activists to raise awareness of the growing problem of plastic pollution in our oceans.
Craig and I were scheduled to stage a far more modest demonstration at his gallery, Whitespace. Our contribution to the ‘science’ festival would be to hook up plants and rocks to various detectors, including brain wave equipment, change the small voltages therein to pitch, and orchestrate the result as electronic music.
[ Craig Dogonski ]
[ Craig’s mysterious artwork ]
I had never met Craig before now, but for years he had been trying to find a way to get me to Atlanta. Now here I was, making a three hour presentation to his graduate students, doing a TV interview together for GSU Public Broadcasting, then the performance at Whitespace—all on the first day. Day two was morning crits with his large undergraduate class, followed by one on one follow up studio visits. Day three was a big luncheon at GSW for Pam’s forum, then a visit to the Language Research Center at GSU where Craig has developed a long and fascinating relationship with the resident chimpanzee population doing visual art.
[ Laurie Presentation ]
[ Undergraduates taking a break with improvisational theater exercises ]
[ Craig digging some sounds ]
Both Craig and I have been working for years with the IBVA Brain Machine. Craig uses it mainly for orchestrating brainwaves, while Gordon and I focused on generating sounds from plants and rocks. In addition, for the demo, I schlepped Gordon’s Wheatstone Bridge and Rate of Change Converter to Atlanta. The Whitespace demo/performance was crazy. Just as the film crew were setting up to record our transformation of plant voltages into music, my computer went dark screen. In retrospect, I believe it was plant retribution for insisting the plant do things it wasn’t properly prepared for. Plant music is a delicate task. Crowds of people plus show and tell are not an ideal venue for coaxing a beautiful melody from a Rhododendron. I have seen equipment shut down like this before, when the wrong vibe is in the mix. Soon, Craig’s computer crashed too. His came back in a hour, but mine took a week including a trip to the shop. (No evidence of damage.)
[ Duncan and Craig setting up at Whitespace, Atlanta ]
[ Duncan and Craig performance and lecture at Whitespace, Atlanta ]
Working with Chimps
To quote their website:
“Researchers at Georgia State University’s Language Research Center examined how two language-trained chimpanzees communicated with a human experimenter to find food. Their results are the most compelling evidence to date that primates can use gestures to coordinate actions in pursuit of a specific goal.”
And consider this:
“Humans’ closest animal relatives, chimpanzees, have the ability to “think about thinking” – what is called “metacognition,” according to new research by scientists at Georgia State University and the University at Buffalo.” Craig, in turn, built upon the capacity chimps have for ‘metacognition’ to explore their capacity to mimic writing and make art.
[ Craig with marks made by his long time chimpanzee collaborator, Panzee, who died last year ]
[ Paintings by Craig and chimpanzee collaborator, Sherman ]
[ Panzee ]
[ The careful writing Panzee made (original rendering) ]
[ Panzee writing ]
I wasn’t allow to photograph the chimps currently in residence at the Language Center, nor get very close to them, but I was grateful for seeing their world and the place Craig has spent so many enjoyable afternoons.
The trip was winding down, but we had both enjoyed a wonder filled and creative meeting of the minds. I would leave the area soon, but not before I invited Craig to meet Ed Kelly at Kelly Research Technologies, Inc. in Lakemont, Georgia.
I knew Craig had a passing familiarity with Radionics, but there is nothing like visiting a lab where the machines are being built and classes taught. Ed Kelly’s father, Peter, had been my instructor on how to use a radionic instrument in this same dome lab some 30 years before. He had also introduced us to his new, recently upgraded BETAR sound system. The original BETAR had been purchased by the late R. J. Reynolds III and subsequently installed in my studio in Long Island City, New York. That device we still use and hack. Over subsequent decades it became The Music Machine and later, The Purr Generator. The Purr recently spent a year on display at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore and had a follow-up sojourn at The Gregg Museum at North Carolina State in Raleigh.
Now, we were back at the origin of that long sonic journey of three decades. Ed was gracious enough to give us an afternoon of his and his sister Erin’s time to forge a new connection. Craig was blown away, and Ed immediately saw the potential of IBVA in demonstrating the efficacy of certain products he was making. My hope was that through Craig and Pam’s friends in the environmental movement, Ed’s work with agricultural radionics would get some much needed attention. Call it “Another fine afternoon of mad science & art”!
Premiering March 1st at the Peninsular Arts Contemporary Music Festival is “Biocomputer Music”, a duet for piano and slime mould. Eduardo Miranda’s biocomputer is created with Physarum polycephalum cultures that act as memristors when voltage is applied to them.
Discovered only recently in solid state electronics, memristors have the capacity to be programmed by voltages, which is how they are being used in the musical biocomputer.
Human input to a piano is transmitted electrically to the biocomputer. After the signal is processed by the cultures, the biocomputer responds, sending signals back to the piano strings via electromagnets.
Duncan was interviewed on Frank Stasio's The State of Things today, talking about subtle energy, signals from rocks and plants, and the Purr Generator. Duncan is in Raleigh NC, for the opening of "Farfetched: Mad Science, Fringe Architecture and Visionary Engineering" at the Gregg Museum.
From the show notes:
In the age of constant digital stimulus, it can be hard to truly listen to all that's around you. Duncan Laurie will tell you that listening a little closer might bring you happiness or healing. Duncan has found ways to tap into the sonic energy of organic materials, like plants and rock.
Several of his pieces, including the joy-inducing Purr Generator, are currently on display at the Gregg Museum of Art and Design at North Carolina State University. They are part of the exhibit "Farfetched: Mad Science, Fringe Architecture and Visionary Engineering.” Duncan Laurie is an artist, researcher and author of "The Secret Art: A Brief History of Radionics Technology for the Creative Individual" (Anomalist Books/2009), and he joins host Frank Stasio in the studio.
And the exhibit notes:
The Gregg Museum’s spring 2013 exhibition Farfetched: Mad Science, Fringe Architecture and Visionary Engineering takes as its basic point of departure British mathematician Alfred North Whitehead's famous quip that, “Every really new idea looks crazy at first.” The exhibition will feature objects that question (and push) the boundaries of what is considered “normal” in art and technology.
For example, Frank Lloyd Wright was considered a great architect, and Norman Bel Geddes was recognized as a great designer, but neither Wright's visionary mile high city (The Illinois), nor Geddes's proposed flying wing (Air Liner Number 4) ever proved feasible (no wonder; the air liner would have had nine decks and incorporated areas for deck-games, an orchestra, a gymnasium, a solarium and a machine shop for in-flight repairs).
Meanwhile, an uneducated Hispanic handyman named Simon Rodia, who was labeled insane, really did manage to build the famous Watts Towers in Los Angeles—singlehandedly and so sturdily that the towers couldn't be torn down (city engineers tried). Some of the greatest scientists, architects, and engineers who ever lived—Galileo, Newton, Tesla, Marconi, the Wright brothers—were accused of insanity at one time or another during their careers.
Thinking big (or “thinking outside the box”) in both art and science means taking risks, and even risking failure. To make this point, Farfetched will include works by both mainstream and “outsider” artists and scientists, ranging from Perpetual Motion Machines to Orgone Generators.
[ Brainwave and plant music from The Secret Life of Plants, 1976. ]
Artist and eco-systems designer Richard Lowenberg discusses his pioneering efforts in bio-sensing art and his proposition for a slow-tech movement in an interview at Data Garden.
Mr. Lowenberg worked with Woody and Steina Vasulka at their "Kitchen" space in New York, devising EEG biofeedback systems to integrate with audio/video synthesizers. By the mid-70s' he had moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to collaborate with scientists at NASA Ames Research Center. It was during that time he worked on a number of sequences for the The Secret Life of Plants film.