Tuning Pask's Ear, with Jon Bird

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The context for the work Tuning Pask’s Ear was Bird & Webster's shared interest in replicating a series of relatively little known electrochemical experiments by cyberneticist Gordon Pask.  

Pask demonstrated a number of mechanisms that were able to construct their own sensors and thereby determine the relations between their own states and the environment. A significance of Pask's devices is in the fact that its form and function is not pre-specified or imposed by a designer; rather, it autonomously grows components from an undifferentiated chemical medium as a consequence of the controlled input of energy by an experimenter and its interaction with the environment.  These devices can be described as 'epistemically autonomous’ as they fundamentally determine the nature of their relation to the world, rather than a programmer or designer.

Bird & Webster's aim to replicate Pask’s experiments sought to verify his findings but also provide us with a concrete means of addressing the question; how can form and function emerge without being pre-specified or externally imposed? Another aim was to assess the potential of using electrochemical devices as 'real time' generative artworks that are directly linked and responsive to their environment and whose form is shaped by the history of these environmental interactions. 


  

The significance of Pask's work, which until recently had been overlooked by a computationally conditioned scientific community, had only recently re-emerged through research conducted by a small number of scientists. 

Tuning Pask’s Ear represents an initial response to thinking about the relations one might have with Pask’s electrochemical device.

John Baldessari’s – Four minutes of trying to tune two glasses (for Phil Glass sextet) 1976, became the catalyst for Tuning Pask’s Ear. Working against the clock, Baldessari is seen to play upon the absurdity and contingency of making melodic sounds whilst trying to tune two glasses of water. Tuning Pask’s Ear reimagines Baldessari’s piece and similarly shows a contingent and absurd attempt to tune a glass of water, but in real-time to a variable tone generated by an electrochemical device, Pask’s Ear.

In Tuning Pask’s Ear, the tone from tuning a glass of water acts as sonic input into the electrochemical device resulting in the growth of connections and threads. The consistently changing and evolving thread growth is converted into a tone which is then amplified to act as output to steer the glass tuner. The tone of the device changes as it responds and adapts to input, so as the tuner attempts to tune the glass to the existing tone, this works to change the state of the device, generate new thread growth and thus alter the tone emitted. Successive attempts to tune the glass flounder in an absurd and futile feedback loop. 

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