Simon Blackmore gained a First Class honours degree in sculpture at The University of Wales Institute Cardiff in 1999. In 2001 he completed an MA in Creative Technology at Salford University. He now lives and works in Manchester and works primarily with sound and custom-built technology. Recent projects have included: ‘Weather Guitar’ (a machine to play a guitar according to the weather), shown at Ikon, Birmingham in 2005. ´LSD Drive´, (a computer CD drive hacked to read light rather than data) shown in Perimeters Boundaries and Borders, part of f.city festival, Lancaster in 2006. ´Web Stream Boat´ (A low-tech interface in the form of a boat, designed to navigate through live web streams) developed during a ´Visiting Arts´ residency at Universidad de Andes and exhibited at Site Gallery, Sheffield in 2007. The sculptures often have a relatively lo-fi aesthetic drawing on influences from woodworking, hobby style electronics and open source software. The time consuming process of these works aims to question the role of the individual in relation to the mechanisms of a technologically driven society. Alongside his solo practice Simon also collaborates with Antony Hall and Steve Symons under the name Owl Project. Combining rustic woodworking, electronics and experimental music, pieces such as ‘Sound Lathe’, ´Log1ks´ and ´ilogs´ have been exhibited and demonstrated live nationally and internationally. In 2007 he undertook a Berwick Gymnasium Fellowship.
Reinventing the machine
Simon Blackmore (born in 1976, UK; lives in Manchester) makes performative sculptures and installations using sound and custom-made technology. Since gaining a First Class Honours degree in Sculpture at The University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (1999), and an MA in Creative Technology at Salford University in 2001, he has received commissions and exhibitions from galleries throughout the UK and was nominated for the Beck’s Futures Prize in 2006. He also creates and performs experimental music internationally as part of the Owl Project collective.
Blackmore’s low-fi aesthetic is influenced by the DIY subcultures of electronics hobbyists, garden-shed inventors and make-do carpenters as well as hardware hackers and the Open Source software movement. His often-surprising references range from Romantic painting to contemporary technoscience. His lyrical, playful experiments frequently result in ad-hoc, hybrid assemblages that question our relationship to machines and suggest alternative futures for creative technology.
Many of Blackmore’s projects have, in his words, ‘involved reinventing the function or image of culturally iconic objects’. Sprite Musketeer (2001), for example, transformed a classic 1970’s touring caravan into a mobile viewing station. Travelling through North Wales and England’s Lake District, the artist parked it at points along the road where the views recalled Romantic paintings such as those by JMW Turner. In doing so, Blackmore literally re-framed the British Sublime landscape within that homely symbol of working class freedom, the towed caravan, and its gentle invitation to view the scene differently.
Location also plays a key role in Blackmore’s Weather Guitar (2005), a project he first presented at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, in 2006. By means of a weather sensor placed outside the building and linked to a robotic playing device attached to an acoustic guitar, music is literally made by the weather. Claire Doherty describes Weather Guitar having a ‘moody presence’ as it ‘interprets shifts in atmosphere to create spontaneous, electronically ´ad-libbed´ compositions’ (Beck’s Futures catalogue, 2006). Like Sprite Musketeer, the work is the hybrid product of apparently unconnected historical, contemporary, classical, and mundane elements - in this case the ancient Greek Aeolian harp and a C20th meteorological device. The artist adds that the project is ‘an attempt to draw parallels between the scientific inquiry of measuring and quantifying the natural elements, and the Romantic notion of the weather acting as a source of artistic inspiration.’ The clarity and simplicity of Blackmore’s experiments may at first disguise the complexity of their production process as well as the wealth of cultural references they accrue. There is a pleasure offered to the viewer in spending time to detect these elements.
The artist’s desire to counter our culture of technological instantaneity and obsolescence with the slow time of traditional craft is celebrated and satirized in his ongoing collaboration with Anthony Gall and Steve Symons as the Owl Project (www.owlproject.com). Their most recent creation, Sound Lathe, is a machine that combines the process of woodworking with the production of electronic music in the form of a traditional pole lathe with custom-built software, sensors and switches: it generates tones according to the shape of the spindle and beats from the motion of the pedal. The Owl Project performs with Sound Lathe and other musical machines in clubs and galleries around the UK and Europe
In 2007 Blackmore undertook a new opportunity to develop his practice as a solo artist with a residency at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá as part of the Colombia-England Artists’ Residency programme. There he extended his experimentation with sound-making machines and our possibilities for interacting with them. His principle project was Webstream Boat, a low-fi interactive system for navigating between live internet radio channels. Employing digital simulation techniques he gained while in Bogotá, he mapped the physical locations of a selection of international radio web streams on to a virtual landscape. This landscape was projected in front of a ‘boat’ mocked together from old boxes. Seated inside, visitors controlled its wooden rudder to navigate their way through the streams on screen. Blackmore’s boat trips on the Amazon informed his design of the rudder interface and the movement of sound. Just so, the user can navigate into the fluid rapids of Colombian jazz, say, out of the choppy depths of thrash metal.
The internet and Google have of course enabled us to access data at a rate that was once unimaginable but Blackmore draws our attention to what we may risk in our desire for instant results. He explains that Web Stream Boat ‘takes a slower approach to moving through this data’:
’The work aims to offer a sonic experience closer to drifting along a river than our more usual experience of the web that abruptly moves through content. The radio streams (chosen for Web Stream Boat) currently lean towards independent radio projects. This is partly due to them being the type of stations that I actually find myself listening to and because I feel the streaming media format offers a way to expose sounds and ideas that are often avoided by mainstream media. Geographically mapping the internet completely is an incomprehensible task that I have no intention of doing. Rather I hope that this project offers some new ways to think about the way we navigate and experience internet space.’
Blackmore will be showing Web Stream Boat at Site Gallery, Sheffield between 12th and 24th November, 2007. He welcomes suggestions for stations at his website: www.simonblackmore.net/webstream
He is currently undertaking a Berwick Gymnasium Fellowship.
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
(01 October 06 - 31 January 07)