Improvisation

The New Media Reader provides a comprehensive guide to new media and the evolution of media, critical analysis, content, and understanding throughout history. Janet H. Murray provides a hopeful introduction with a brief history of new media and the notion that media will provide a shared structure of meaning and “invent communities of communication at the widest possible bandwidth.” Further reading including writings from McLuhan and Klüver that offered concepts that I have considered in my work: the power of the medium, its social effects, and the innocence of experimentation in art, engineering, and electronics.

Briefly, Klüver discusses Jean Tinguely’s 1967 performance, “Homage to New York”, where Tinguely disregarded the rules of engineering during the piece’s construction. After researching Tinguely’s work, I found it fascinating to think that his mechanical sculptures do not follow any rules or guidelines and the piece is constructed with random elements and accidents. According to Klüver, Tinguely can only understand his own work.

Similarly, I have researched artists who alter the sounds of toys and electronic objects by ‘bending’ them by adding various electronic items to the original circuit so the object no longer reacts the way it was intended. These ‘instruments’ are then prerecorded or performed live. Much like Tinguely’s performance and other performances at The Garden Party. The element of surprise (since you can never predict what your instrument will do if you are bending it live) is very exciting.  Manipulation of mechanical or electronic components on the fly presents an exciting approach to art, music, sound, and performance, which I had not considered until recently.

This medium, which, on the surface, may seem to provide only an aural sensation, resonates in McLuhan’s writing about the power of the medium and that studies should be focused on how the medium affects society. Considering ways of improvisation encourages me to contemplate on the cultural meaning of improvisation and how my lack of knowledge within that medium allows the artwork to evolve into something that may not have evolved from a ‘trained’ engineer or musician. The lack of knowledge of electronics, resistance, and capacitance, allows the artist to transform that medium in ways that a ‘trained’ electrician may not attempt because she is trained to implement the ‘proper’ procedures for creating a circuit.

This action opens up a dialogue about the medium itself and questions the validity of the artist by the level of ability and talent within a particular medium. The medium, whether it is electronics, paint, found objects, mechanical pieces, or sound, can be analized by its ability to communicate a message in contrast to other mediums. Artists must analysis their medium of choice by isolating the medium from her established concept and view the medium within the larger contexts of new media. Then the artist can consider how the medium is communicating her concept and deliberate the level of effectiveness of that medium.

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