To fully understand Tristan Shoneâ€™s artwork, you need to read the explainer that accompanies a piece he created for the group show SouthwestNET: Techno at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. â€œAphanisisâ€ consists of a precision drill press, built by Shone, with a syringe in place of the drill bitâ€”a sort of sci-fi automated drug-implanting deviceâ€”enclosed in a glass box.
â€œThe life of the high tech cleanroom research and development engineer is one of constant restraint,â€ Shone writes. â€œThe extent of physical exertion involves tweezers, microscopes, mouse clicking and constant meticulous calibration. Your hands become dainty and weak from the latex gloves, your skin turns a Victorian white, your muscles slowly atrophy. Working on the micro-scale, unable to use any real bodily force, you lose touch with your primal desires; your sexuality shrinks down to the scale of your work.â€
â€œAphanisisâ€â€”the title is a psychoanalytic term meaning â€œthe fear of losing oneâ€™s sexualityâ€â€”was the first piece of artwork Shone created, in 2005, as a masterâ€™s student at UC San Diego. Prior to that, he was a frustrated mechanical engineer, working in a lab for a start-up in Boston, playing in a metal band at night and trying to come up with a way to combine his engineering skills, longtime interest in music and artistic inclination. At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he earned his bachelorâ€™s degree, heâ€™d studied under Chris Csikszentmihalyi, now a professor at MITâ€™s media lab (and author the engaging edgyproduct.org blog).
â€œHe was highly technical, but he was an artist,â€ Shone says. Csikszentmihalyiâ€™s masterâ€™s in fine arts came from UCSD, so he suggested that Shone get out of the lab and spend some time creating art.
Fast-forward four years. Itâ€™s a Thursday night in late July and Shoneâ€™s in a Little Italy warehouse, trying to put finishing touches on pieces that heâ€™ll be taking to Sao Paulo, Brazil, for the File Festival, an international electronic-arts gathering. Right now theyâ€™re just sculptures that heâ€™s spent months designing and building. Within a week, Shone needs to turn them into sculptures that make sounds for two 20-minutes sets heâ€™ll be performing in Sao Paolo on July 31. Heâ€™s been up until 4 a.m. for the past week, fine-tuning his workâ€”heâ€™s exhausted and way behind schedule.
â€œI was supposed to be done with these by July 1 so I could practice the whole month,â€ he says.
In music-technology-speak, Shone creates midi controllersâ€”pieces of hardware wired to send a message to an interface, or brain, that interprets the controllersâ€™ movements into sound. One piece (pictured, below), which resembles a post-modern two-tiered organ, has six ebony keys that slide along metal bars. When he gets it working, itâ€™ll produce sounds ranging from a ghostly drone to visceral rumbling, depending on where Shone positions the keys.
Technologically inclined musicians building their own instruments isnâ€™t a new thing; what sets Shoneâ€™s work apart is the fact that he puts as much emphasis on how each piece looks and moves as on the sounds it produces. Many of his designs draw on mechanical engineeringâ€™s best practices (his day job, currently, is at the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research at UCSD). Heâ€™ll be working with a piece of optical equipment, for instance, and heâ€™ll fixate on the design and mechanics of a tiny lens positioner. Heâ€™ll then take that concept and use it as the basis for building one of his sound machines.
â€œWhen you build this stuff, you geek-out on little features,â€ he said.
“Rotary Encoder”If the piece Shone created for the Scottsdale exhibit was about a lab workerâ€™s fear of stasis and atrophy, his sound machines are what happens when the lab worker pushes back. Each machine requires some measure of physical activity beyond what you might assume if you only heard the sounds on record. â€œRotary Encoder,â€ for instance, one of the pieces in Shoneâ€™s â€œdrone machinesâ€ series, is, basically, a large metal cylinder that produces a different sound depending on the direction and velocity of its spin. Once Shone gets it spinning, the cylinder will resist his attempts to change its directionâ€”but in its resistance, the machine not only produces new sounds, but also becomes more visually appealing as Shoneâ€™s hands polish its metal surface.
â€œItâ€™s man and machine working together, rather than one wearing the other downâ€ is how he put it in an interview with Ground Control magazine.
Shone, who performs under the name Author and Punisher, has played and exhibited his instruments at events like Make magazineâ€™s annual Maker Faire and San Diegoâ€™s Spring Reverb festival and was part of the San Diego Art Prizeâ€™s 2008 New Contemporaries exhibit showcasing emerging artists. Heâ€™ll perform at Kava Lounge on Sunday, Aug. 16. Though the music he plays can be dark, heavy and dissonant, heâ€™s finding that the sound machinesâ€™ visual appeal broadens audience interest; he refers to the Kava Lounge show, which also features experimental musicians Braden Diotte, R. Jencks, Clew of Theseus and Zsa Zsa Gabor, as more of a â€œcurated sound event.â€Â (read the entire citybeat article here)