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TECHNOCULTURE Constance Penley and Andrew Ross, editors (for the Social Text collective) Cultural Politics, Volume 3 University of Minnesota Press Minneapolis Oxford Copyright (c) 1991 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota 1037w

= page 271 = Black Box S-Thetix: Labor, Research, and Survival in the He[Art] of the Beast Jim Pomeroy

Paul DeMarinis

It's important to notice that the two most formative influences on Western musical aesthetics were deaf: Beethoven and Edison. -Paul DeMarinis, May 1989

Trained at Mills during the heyday of the Center for Contemporary Music, where he worked with David Behrman and Robert Ashley, Paul DeMarinis was among the pioneer composers who started working with microcomputers in the mid-1970s, and was part of the generation of artists that included Frankie Mann, Rich Gold, Maggi Payne, Blue Gene Tyranny, Ron Kuivila, Nick Collins, Jill Kroesen, and Fast Forward.

Much of DeMarinis's work since the late 1970s has dealt with synthesized speech and digital sampling, technically channeled through his own custom boards and software. An important body of work drew several "song" pieces out of the Texas Instruments Speak-n-Spell and led to the magnificent, hard-wired chamber ensemble, The Music Room, installed in San Francisco's Exploratorium in 1982. This work consists of six terminals, resembling electric guitars and sophisticated improvisations, regardless of skill or talent.

The piece has been widely imitated in popular commercial computer software such as Electronic Art's Instant Music. Several major toy manufacturers released unauthorized, stand-alone imitations for the 1989 Christmas season. This unwelcome appropriation is a persistent problem for techno-artists exhibiting in public museums -- Bill Parker's Quiet Lightning and Ward Fleming's Pinscreen are similar victims of corporate piracy.

In his recent "CD" pieces, DeMarinis deploys the archaic technology of the phonograph to comment on the current commodity fetishism of compact discs. Recalling what music was like before the needle went into the groove, he contrives to produce, through makeshift technology, an elaborate physical parody of contemporary digital playback, reminding us that "the sound field," through domestic mechanization, "was the first place to be totally polluted by the industrial revolution -- music boxes, organs, pianos are all mechanical." These pieces all employ music written just before the advent of mechanical reproduction, in the form of antique 78s salvaged from thrift stores.

Using a laser salvaged from an early model grocery checkouts scanner, advanced by an incremental stepper motor, DeMarinis bounces the laser light off the grooves of the record, picking up the reflected beam with a photo diode to be amplified exactly like every other laser disc player.

For Wagner's Tristan and Isolde, DeMarinis employs a Geiger counter to control the advance of the scan. "Liebestod is dying, frozen in time, released by the radioactive decay of uranium -- the myth of eternal, ever modulating Wagnerian love fantasy parceled out atom by atom by the death of the uranium sample" (commercially produced Fiesta-Ware, in the bright orange glaze, also found in a thrift store). Substituting the light beam for the stylus greatly delays the deterioration that repeated playing would effect upon the tracks, prolonging the metaphor interminably.

The "Blue Danube Waltz" is played from an Edison wax cylinder controlled by the movement of goldfish in a tank. As they break a beam of light reflected through the bowl, they "play the river" as their movement controls the flow of the melody, by advancing stepper motors spinning the cylinder forward or backward through the laser scanner.

A "Ptolemaic" piece (a reference to the ancient geocentric belief that the sun orbits around the earth) consists of a "record" nailed to the wall, played by a moving laser beam. The stamping plate for printing the hard(?jh) was disk of a Russian balalaika orchestra was recorded as a hologram and played by scanning the laser around the spiral groove by tiny electrically controlled mirrors. No needle, and no longer a real phonograph, but the essential music is still there, instantly recognizable.

Recently completed at the Exploratorium is The Ghost in Grammar's Basement (or "Alien Voices"), a work dealing with speech melody based upon analysis of the natural voice patterns of enthusiastic speakers, such as hypnotists, evangelists, salesmen, lawyers, and politicians. Isolated in one of a pair of phone booths, visitors can hear each other's voices, and their own, transformed. Some of the available transformations include inverted melody, monotone average, whisper, and pitch-quantizied to preset melody. Also available are exotic dedicated functions such as "robot voice," "sad Mickey," "horror movie," "Gregorian chant," "slow rock," and "alien voice."

DeMarinis has discovered that Ronald Reagans' voice has a pentatonic melody, perhaps one reason for his popularity. When the signal processing forces a voice into a pentatonic, major melody, it sounds dynamic and positive, whereas minor or diminutive chords change the mood of the same source speech until it sounds hesitant and uncertain. The result is an uncanny interactive mix: the fascination with encoding and voice recognition on the one hand, and the alienating shock of otherness on the other.

Like most artists working in this field, Demarinis is a techno-obsessive, continuously researching, experimenting, and tinkering with new systems, new data, new digital material. The esoteric range of his technical knowledge has come to embrace computer languages and circuit design, fiber and laser optics. holography, metal and plastics fabrication, signal processing, and digital sampling.

photo captions: Ich auch Berliner. Paul DeMarinis, 1990. A dichromate gelatin hologram of a 78 rpm record of the "Beer Barrel Polka" played by a green laser. Here, sans needle sans groove, only the ghosts of light serve as vehicle to echo the past. An homage to the Berlin(er)s, Irving and Emil. Photograph by Patrick Sumner. Courtesy the artist.

Al and Mary Do the Waltz. Paul DeMarinis, 1989. A turn-or-the-century Edison wax cylinder of Strauss's "Blue Danube" is played with a laser, motors, and electronics. The goldfish interrupt the laser beam occasionally to produce an uncomposed pause in the music. Photograph by Patrick Sumner. Courtesy the artist.

Paul DeMarinis in Mechanization Takes Command. 1990. A collaborative performance with Laetitia Sonami. A hacked Power Glove controls the pitch and articulation of a synthetic voice that sings verses from Giedion's text accompanied by sampled natural and machine sounds. Photo by Martin Cox. Courtesy the artist.

Typed by Cheryl Vega 7-23-95


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