NorthWest CyberArtists

Posted by Rhizome | Tue Apr 29th 1997 1 a.m.

Recently I was able to interview Mike Storie of the NorthWest
CyberArtists. The following are excerpts from our discussion on new
media art, the Pacific Northwest and water fountains.

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* Please start by talking a little bit about NWCA, its structure,
purpose, projects.

Mike Storie: NorthWest CyberArtists (NWCA) is a Seattle based non-profit
membership organization dedicated to the integration of art and
technology. Our activities include finding new venues for cyber artists,
producing exhibitions of cyber art, locating funding sources and
sponsors, hosting monthly meetings with guest speakers, hosting an
internet mailing list and web page (http://nwlink.com/cyberartist),
collaborating with other arts and community groups and, in general,
supporting the community of NorthWest CyberArtists with a membership
directory and other activities and services.

NWCA members have been involved in a number of innovative art
productions including such major events as: SYNESTHETICS (1993), BEYOND
FAST FORWARD (1994), and INTERACTIVE ARTSZONE at Bumbershoot (1995).

NWCA monthly meetings are held in the back room of the Speakeasy
Internet Cafe at 2304 2nd in Seattle's Belltown. Meetings start at 7 PM
and include a guest speaker, event announcements and a tech check where
everyone gets the opportunity to introduce themselves and mentions their
projects and interests. Meeting dates are posted to the mailing list and
the web page.

* tell me about your recent projects with midi.

MS: My artistic niche is building water features (fountains) that
respond to music via computer control. I use MIDI as the control for my
fountains because it is a standard and it is easy to obtain MIDI
equipment. Using custom designed computers, I have constructed several
fountains that emulate synthesizers in that they react to MIDI note-on,
note-off and velocity commands by squirting water and flashing lights
EXACTLY in time to the music.

My largest fountain to-date has 80 nozzles and 50 colored lights on an
8-foot diameter base, and can put 80 gallons per minute as high as 40
feet into the air. Amazingly, the entire thing is portable. I can load
it into a rental truck and re-assemble it in less then a day. I have a
20-foot diameter catch basin to recirculate the water and it all (with
the exception of the pumps) runs on a 12 Volt DC battery charger.

The fountain can be played directly by live musicians using any type of
MIDI instruments, it can be played by a MIDI sequencer, or it can be
played with pre-choreographed water displays to recorded music.

I feel the "art" lies in the display of water and somewhat in the look
of the fountain. So far, in addition to installations in Seattle, my
fountains have been filmed for MTV Europe and are seen pretty regularly
on Sesame Street. Sesame Street even wrote a song for my fountain, "The
Shpritzer Honker Splasher Song" by Emily Kingsley and Robby Merkin.

* could you describe where you show your work? what venues are available
in the northwest for the exhibition of new media art? is there space in
the gallery for new media art?

MS: Finding suitable venues for cyber art is a continuing agenda item
for NWCA. Obviously, my personal art requires a more special venue than
some. (i.e. high ceilings and good drainage.) The exhibitions (Beyond
Fast Forward and Bumbershoot) at the Seattle Center were both good
venues, the first being indoors in a large building and the later being
outdoors. I have also installed them at various parks and malls around
town.

The "cyber" artists I know fall into several different categories. I
squirt water. Some make music (which includes non-traditional sounds)
either acoustically or electronically. Some make light and sound
displays. Some make interactive kinetic sculpture. Some produce flat
art. Some do virtual worlds. Some combine different aspects of all of
the above.

The unifying element, of course is the "cyber" or computer aspect. We
have had many deep discussions of what this means to us as artists. To
the general public, the computer is too often the "gee whiz" thing. We
tend to consider the computer as the "brushes, paint and canvas" needed
to realize our art.

Finding a single venue for all types of cyber art is not easy, however
individual artists have had pretty good luck in finding venues for their
art. Some types of cyber art merely need a wall to hang on or some
suitable floor space. Others need a quiet space, or controlled ambient
lighting, or space for crowds to gather, or internet access, etc.

* do you think the internet allows greater viewer access to cyber art?

MS: Absolutely. But it depends on the type of art and the type of
internet access. At today's snail speeds, about all you can do is
download pictures and occasionally hear bits of music. If we all had
access to the "information highway" rather than the "dirt road," we
could enjoy the virtual worlds, etc. The main value of the internet
today is as a communication medium between cyber artists. Also, few
multi-media internet workstations have high-pressure water attachments
yet, so don't look for one of my fountains on the internet soon.

* who would you cite as doing interesting work in the northwest--CD-ROM,
video, on-line, performance? what do you like about their work?

MS: Take a look at the individuals listed on the NWCA web page
[http://nwlink.com/cyberartist]. Some of my favorites:

Einar Ask (einar@einar.com): Interactive sound and light art, electronic
music, non-traditional MIDI controllers. He loves kids and makes art
for them.

Bob Moses (bob@nwlink.com): Interactive kinetic sculpture, the "astral
plane," etc. MIDI computers. He is working with a group of at-risk
high school students in computer art.

Bret Battey (bret@isumataq.eskimo.com): Electronic Music composer. The
"Juggling Juke Box"

Burt Webb (phoenix@eskimo.com): Generalist and student of Virtual Worlds

Reek Havok (reekster@aol.com) and Alan Louks: Electronic music with
sound effects. Both do music and sound effects for Microsoft games.

Larry Berg (nwsyslaw@netcom.com): Cyber Art generalist.
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