Commissioned for NEoN Digital Arts, Sounds and Stripes invites the viewer into a realm where old and new technologies mingle. These deeply immersive works from Japanese artist Ei Wada are created by hijacking and modifying outdated electronic devices. Analogue televisions, wires, cameras and speakers are repurposed to become digitally performative musical arrangements.
As its name suggests, Wada’s work is based around stripes. After accidentally plugging an audio signal into the video input of an analogue TV, he discovered that a striped pattern appeared on the screen – a visual representation of the audio. Wada became captivated by this transformative technique and adopted it into his work. In the Sounds and Stripes exhibition this technique is taken a step further, as the stripes are converted back into sound, creating digital music.
The work makes an impression even before the viewer has seen it. On entering the VRC corridor viewers are instantly confronted by a number of electronic sounds, originating from peculiar contraptions. The first set-up, Picture never be quiet, found in the centre of the room, consists of a striking light-box with a black and white pattern, a video camera attached to a tripod and an old TV. The camera records the lit pattern and transmits the visual signal as audio. As the camera zooms in and out, the frequency changes and different sounds are created. The sound can only be described as an oscillating, robotic “wow” that permeates the space.
As the viewer moves around the room, they become slowly more aware of the sounds going on around them; the longer they stand and listen, the more multi-layered the sounds become. Vibrations, unheard at first, begin to radiate within the space. One such sound is found in the arrangement TV Loves You. A recorded video signal is transformed back into audio through the use of headphones, emitting a personal message to the viewer. At first it sounds like nothing more than a static crackle, but if you listen carefully “I love you” begins to emerge. There is something both terrifying and saddening about this, hearing those tender words said in such a distinctively inhuman voice. The confession from the machine plays out whether there is an audience or not and can never receive a reply.
Whilst the previous works require a viewer- merely as an-observer, Border Shirtsizer- Prototype relies heavily on interaction. With the tag-line “wearing a striped shirt means wearing sound”, Wada invites the audience to take a shirt from the rack and stand, walk or dance in front of the camera, and create their own digital sounds.
Those fortunate enough to attend the opening night were treated to a rendition of a Beethoven piece by the artist himself. You could see that he inherently understood the sound in the way he worked with the technology. There was a continuous dialogue between machine, artist and viewer as he led the audience on a tour of the installations, manipulating and toying with the pieces, acting as translator between machine and audience.
However, viewing the work in the absence of the artist has a surprisingly profound effect. When there is no human guide, the viewer is left in an entirely robotic world. The works become their own self-sufficient entities. Their continuous drones fill the room, which feels empty with nobody there to play their music for us. And yet the machines have a subtle allure, encouraging the viewer to approach, to interact, and to enter into their musical dialogue; to make sounds from stripes.