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Saturday Art: Bleep Labs’ Noise Explorer 5000 (#ArtOutside)

1:09 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More of the art of Art Outside 2012: Flam Chen New-Circus Troupe, the Web of Wishes 

Saturday afternoon at Art Outside 2012, electronic artist and musician Thomas Fang took me on a tour of the Noise Explorer 5000, an interactive sound installation. Created by Austin’s Bleep Labs, it features homemade electronic musical instruments combined with ‘circuit-bent’ classics from the 1980s — Casio keyboards, drum machines, and childhood ephemera like the Speak & Math.

Two Bleep Labs Noise Explorer Users play with the instruments

Thomas Fang (right) guides two users of the Bleep Labs Noise Explorer 5000.

The Noise Explorer can be used by up to two explorers at its side-by-side stations. The users listen on headphones and can mix the levels of individual instruments or warp the sounds with effects pedals. The results can be recorded and played back later. The DIY art of circuit-bending  — modifying existing electronic objects into quirky instruments and aural art —  has been growing in popularity, but Fang suggests that an installation like this lets new people gain hands-on experience of its possibilities.

Circuit-bent Touch & Tell instrument with a photo of Snoop Dogg added

Circuit-bent Touch & Tell instrument

One of Fang’s most well known installations is the Furby Youth Choir, where he skinned and altered the childhood toy to create a flock of undead furbys that chirped, babbled, and sang in shrill tones to each other. In the Noise Explorer, repurposed toys like this Touch & Tell beep and talk in otherworldly, glitched up voices.

A tiny blinking 'robot' like box, the Thingamagoop features a blinking LED and light sensor

The Bleep Labs' Thingamagoop

One of the stars of the Noise Explorer soundscape is the Thingamagoop. Unlike the circuit-bent devices, it is a homemade creation of Bleep Labs. An LED light hangs from a tentacle-like protrusion at the top of this whimsical synthesizer in a box. Its blinks fall upon the device’s light sensor, creating a panoply of weird sounds that the user controls with the many knobs and switches. The Thingamagoop’s output can even be used to control other instruments.

A user of the Bleep Labs collaborates with Thomas Fang

Thomas Fang (right) collaborates with a user of the Bleep Labs Sound Explorer 5000 at Art Outside 2012.

You can listen to and download recordings of the Noise Explorer 4000, a previous installation from Houston’s Free Press Summer Festival, or hear more from Thomas Fang on Soundcloud.

Find more from Bleep Labs at

Photos of Art Outside 2012 and the Bleep Labs’ Sound Explorer by Kit O’Connell, all rights reserved. Creative Commons-licensed video by Kit O’Connell, with additional audio from the Bleep Labs Noise Explorer 4000 and Creative Commons-licensed photos by Jon Lebkowsky and Church of the Friendly Ghost.

Watercooler: Global Protest

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

Been thinking about the state of things, like I often do, and inspired as usual by conversations with my friends.

Look at the example set recently by other countries, like Canada or Mexico, with their vibrant street protests. It’s painful to compare it to the United States sometimes. When our northern neighbors enact new laws against free speech and protest, the people take to the streets nationwide. Here, there hardly seems to be a reaction, or the reaction is one of fear.

At my optimistic moments though, I imagine that a wave of globally connected, technologically-enhanced protest reached our shores in fall of last year, and while it’s at low ebb here in the United States now, its washing over other places. We’re ready here — the channels of connection, communication, and key networks of radical activists — waiting for the return of the wave when the time comes. Will it be a tidal wave next time?

That’s what’s on my mind today. I’m off to the Austin Stonewall protest tonight, though it’ll be over by the time you read these words. I’ll let you know how it goes!

And this is today’s open thread — what’s on your mind? Any more thoughts on today’s healthcare decision (or anything else)?

Watercooler: Cat Futures

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Meow, y’all.

Last night in my watercooler, MyFDL’s cmaukonen shared fascinating news from the New York Times — Google created a powerful neural network with the ability to recognize important or significant objects, and then set it loose on YouTube. The results? One of the most powerful computers ever created taught itself to recognize cats:

The neural network taught itself to recognize cats, which is actually no frivolous activity. This week the researchers will present the results of their work at a conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Google scientists and programmers will note that while it is hardly news that the Internet is full of cat videos, the simulation nevertheless surprised them. It performed far better than any previous effort by roughly doubling its accuracy in recognizing objects in a challenging list of 20,000 distinct items.

“We never told it during the training, ‘This is a cat,’ ” said Dr. Dean, who originally helped Google design the software that lets it easily break programs into many tasks that can be computed simultaneously. “It basically invented the concept of a cat.”

This story appeals to me on multiple levels. It’s obviously quite funny — as a friend of mine commented last night, was there ever any doubt that a sentient Internet would think mostly of cats? And of course, the next steps seem just as clear. First Google’s expensive computing array teaches itself to recognize cats, then it’ll teach itself to make LOLcats, or to create autotuned music videos about them.

Hidden in the mirth is the reminder that we’re on the brink of developing dramatic new technologies. New technologies bring new dangers — improved computer vision benefits many including repressive governments. Yet tools are tools — those who resist oppression can make use of them too. For example, new computer vision techniques might be used by Anonymous to analyze protest videos to identify repeat offenders among violent police.

And there’s never been a technology we’ve successfully put away — the genie does not go back into the bottle. Human curiosity and inquiry have few, if any brakes. We can’t stop the future, only do our best to shape it in ways that are ethical and equal for all.

In other words, as another Internet meme goes, “I, for one, welcome our new cat-loving computer overlords.”

This is tonight’s open thread. What’s on your mind?

Watercooler: Turing

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

I think it’s important for Firedoglake to briefly observe last Saturday’s milestone: the 100th birthday of Alan Turing, one of the great pioneers of computing. Turing was born on June 23, 1912 and died on June 7, 1954. He developed key concepts in computer science like the algorithm, around which our high-tech lives are built today.

The timing is appropriate, with Pride events in many cities this past weekend, to reflect not just on Turing’s contributions to computer science but his treatment as a gay man. When he reported a robbery by a man with whom he’d had a sexual relationship, the British Government convicted him of gross indecency and forced him to take a series of injections as a form of chemical castration. FDL’s Teddy Partridge wroting movingly in 2009 of the successful campaign to obtain a governmental apology for Turing’s treatment.

Until recently, most accepted the coroner’s ruling that Turing, who died of cyanide poisoning, committed suicide. A BBC News article published Saturday creates some doubt. Professor Jack Copeland, a Turing expert, believes that his death may have been accidental rather then deliberate, the result of careless experimentation with electroplating using potassium cyanide.

The problem, he complains, is that the investigation was conducted so poorly that even murder cannot be ruled out. An “open verdict,” recognising this degree of ignorance, would be his preferred position.

None of this excuses the treatment of Turing during his final years, says Prof Copeland.

“Turing was hounded,” he told the BBC, adding: “Yet he remained cheerful and humorous.”

One final note: I’ve recently revived the @MyFDL Twitter account.I tweet a selection of diaries from MyFDL, mostly those I promote to the front page along with a few other highlights subject to my discretion. Since I edit on weekdays, that’s when you’ll find it active. This is an experiment, but if you are on Twitter & want to get updates from MyFDL then please follow.

This is tonight’s open thread. What’s on your mind?