Azimuth is a floating sky observatory and also refers to the angular direction of an object, celestial or otherwise, often used in navigation or astronomical observations.

When I first saw the photos of the distant martian landscape sent back by NASA’s curiosity lander, they felt so familiar, from a place I had been before. The distant mountains and red hills littered with rocks reminded me of the landscapes I had hiked in various deserts of the western US. At that moment, time and space seemed to collapse in my mind and the life cycles of civilization and technological development came full circle.

If the exterior of the craft, loosely modeled after the Apollo lunar return modules, symbolizes the pinnacle of modernity’s technological achievement and the era’s attendant hopes and optimism, the primitive interior relives mankind’s desire for escape and epic journeys over land, water, and beyond. Bridging the two is the view of heavens and the magnetic pull of the impossibly-far.

As I lay on the deerskins next to the embers of a smoldering fire, I run my hands through the soft earth beneath me, gaze at the stars, and inhale the aroma of smoke and mud. I feel grounded and secure and drift off to another era. Sometime later, the capsule begins to gently rise and fall, surfing on the wake from a passing ship and a feeling weightlessness ensues. A contradictory experience of terrestrial, nautical, and astronomical placement occurs. I am reminded of my own desires to explore and encounter the foreign, and then consider the impossibility of escape.

Azimuth was created in collaboration with Steve Gurysh for the VIA festival in Pittsburgh the first week of October 2012. It was facilitated by The Drift, an artist-run collective I co-founded to produce art for the rivers of Pittsburgh. Images 1-3 courtesy of Ryan Howard of Lux Aeterna Creative.



A Green Roof

The green roof is an exercise in absurdity: a mixture of futility, contradiction, and unsustainability. Green roofs are fairly recent phenomenon (or perhaps an ancient one being rediscovered within the city) intended to provide cooling and warmth; beauty and functionality while using wasted space outdoors. I didn’t allow the absence of a roof stop me from my dreams of environmental stewardship, so I built a roof—indoors. Unfortunately the recipe, followed blindly, led to a whole new set of problems. It blocks most of the natural and artificial light that once entered my studio, blocks the fire sprinklers, and has introduced various unwanted insects. The paltry crops of wheatgrass and mung beans grown were tasteless and unjustifiably-expensive when all the costs were taken into consideration.

Imagined Systems

An invisible machine that can be heard but not seen and touched but not felt

Imagined Systems is an interactive sound installation creating a virtual space filled with imaginary machines and objects. As visitors passed under spotlights in particular ways, for example in a counter clockwise motion for a large turbine wheel, the virtual devices would respond with appropriate sound. Drawing on everyday sounds collected over the years—a potato hissing in the microwave, unintelligible radio babble from a cab in Queens, an alarm at the airport, oil dripping in the pan of a cooling engine—the sounds are remixed into a scene that cannot be placed, perhaps vaguely reminiscent of Pittsburgh’s industrial past.

The work was created for 2011 Pittsburgh Biennial at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. The visitor is presented with a darkened, empty room illuminated by three spots of light on the floor. Hidden 3D cameras fed video to computers running custom computer vision, physics, and sound synthesis programs driving a four-channel speaker system.

Below is a brief sample of the audio from one point during the piece’s lifetime.
Imagined Systems by ukle

Invisible Chimes

Lately I have been exploring the idea of invisible, intangible interactive systems and how they would be experienced. So much of everyday interaction deals with sight and touch. We rely on visual and tactile feedback to manipulate and understand physical systems. How difficult is it to understand and know a system when these two components are removed leaving only sound? Everyone has had the experience of stumbling through a dark house at night to get a glass of water, but relied primarily on the sense of touch to get by. What happens when Newton’s 3rd law no longer guides us and the glass we grasp doesn’t press back on our hand? The closest experience I can think of is the theremin, although the underlying system is limited in potential complexity.

The first piece I have made to explore this concept features invisible wind chimes. When a person walks through the space occupied by the virtual chimes, they begin to ring. Should the actor stop to explore the source of the sound, he will uncover a fine-grained, predictable, knowable system. Using computer vision techniques to detect movement in a space, real, physical objects are able to interact with virtual, “physical” ones. Although not concrete, they are still physical because a physics simulation ensures the individual chimes still hang behave in ways we know and expect. They hang from the ceiling by strings, collide with each other (causing them to ring), swing and respond to gravity by eventually settling back to rest, and respond to touch by a soft body (muting any ringing).

Invisible Chimes is an intangible, interactive system that prompts us to consider how we acquire knowledge of complex systems from limited experiential data. The chimes, though installed in a space, cannot be seen, and while they can be touched, they cannot be felt. The only indication of their presence is the sound they make. Nevertheless, the system is still very much a “physical” one, in that the chimes are governed by the laws of physics. Although they can be appreciated by simply walking through them, further interaction reveals that the individual chimes can be separated, muted, and lifted, and that they behave in a predictable, understandable way. The inset video reveals the physical model the custom software uses to create the interactive system.