WeSA Festival and Residency, South Korea, January 2024
In January 2024 I was extremely fortunate to be invited to participate in the WeSA Festival alongside a number of international media artists and musicians and also the residency in Jeju Island.
The festival ran from 5th until 7th January and was well curated with a good variety of artists and approaches each of the three nights. Old friends Akiko Nakayama and Eric Raynaud/Fraction were also participating but the other artists were great to see and hear for the first time.
Immediately following the three day festival, on 8th January I was setting off for Jeju Island, which is located over 50 miles/80km off the southern coast of the South Korean mainland. I had wrongly assumed that all the artists selected for the festival were also participating in the residency, but I quickly realised this was not the case! So this meant not only would I be travelling to the island alone and then somehow getting to the residency building, but I would be alone there for the ten day duration of the residency period.
I don't have a problem being alone and concentrating on work, but when you think you are joining a group project and just before you leave discover that's not the case, it was a bit of a shock!
I had met one artist, Joan, who goes under the name Les Machines Noire and had participated in the autumn. Thankfully he warned me that the nearest supermarket was quite some distance away (over an hour to walk!), so on arrival I headed into the city to buy supplies, so I wouldn't starve on the first night!! A convenience store supplied a few essentials and then a taxi ride for almost 20km got me to what I hoped was the correct address - I was given two and only one seemed to work, but even then I was unsure. I was dropped at what looked like the house from having seen it in a post by the female Korean artist collective RE#SISTER. But even when entering the entry code for the door I was half expecting it not to work and a startled farmer to open the door and ask what the hell I was doing there... Thankfully it was the house!
Me outside the house - photo by Yemi Kim
Trying to explain what I am doing with motors activated by sound
After a quick exploration of the impressive minimalist concrete house and the sound studio just opposite, I was happy to be there and have the space and time to concentrate on my work - but what should I concentrate on?? I won't give a day by day account of my activities but the first day, as well as finding a convenience store situated around 20 minutes walk away, I set about working on some compositions I have begun with recordings from the most recent iteration of Successive Actions.
However after a day of this I began to feel that although the studio is great for this, I could also do this in my home studio and should make the most of this situation. So I then tried to work with an idea I have had for the video presentation aspect of the performance. I attached one of the webcams I use to a stepper motor in order to have it move in some way. Regular at first, then random, with the view of it being triggered somehow by the sounds of the performance. As I am using even stepper motors salvaged from discarded printers and scanners, I have no idea of their rating and so have to simply guess and programme them by trial and error. Initially the action worked but the motor quickly overheated and failed in the wrong way (as I am building in inherent failure) so would move a great deal in one direction but not the other. The idea works - I just have to develop it further, and possibly with servos rather than stepper motors.
Another aspect of the live performance is that sometimes I have ground hum issues from the piezo discs I am using as contact mics, especially when using them in conjunction with the Koma field kit. I recently purchased some externally powered piezo preamplifiers that I hoped would suit the purpose, but although they are effective when the piezo is attached to a surface, when placed anywhere near my live setup I hear a strong ground hum. There are ways in which I think I can improve the performance of the preamp, but I simply didn't have the materials and components with me to be able to try further tests.
From the second full day I decided to devote most of the residency period to refining and improving the 'mini' "Channelling" setup which I had built when unable to perform in London recently due to my luggage being stuck in Frankfurt. The mini setup can be carried in my hand luggage along with the Koma field kit, Moto soundcard and Sure mulitchannel amplifiers I always carry, enabling me to be able to perform if there are any problems at all with my luggage. After I initially built it, I performed a show in Paris using it and it was relatively successful, but I felt very limited with it.
Unable to add another motor to the setup, I decided to get as much variation from the ones contained as possible over the remaining week of the residency. The motors contained are: two different types of vibration motor, which drum on a clear plastic panel of the metal DVD case; one small hard disc drive which both the arm and the disc are activated by sound; the centre of a computer cooling fan; and a DC motor with a worm drive spiral attachment. There is also a small speaker but I tend not to use that currently.
The sounds used in the setup have not previously been used in other iterations of the project and are mainly recordings of aspects of the obsolete media players I have been collecting since beginning to work with the "Channelling" project, both running smoothly and malfunctioning.
One reason I chose to work on developing and refining this 'mini' setup was I was to perform at the renowned Ftarri in Tokyo, Japan on 27th January and I would not be able to perform with my full setup as the main power supply runs on 240v - the voltage of the power supply in Japan is 100v... plus I knew that setting up time and space would both be limited. The mini setup takes a fraction of the time to set up compared to the full setup, and even less to deinstall. And the space is small enough that the audience would be able to watch the performance without the need of the action of the machines being projected.
Photos by Bunta Tanaka and Shoko Miki