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  • Report from Signal Culture / New York

    It’s been a magical month! Let’s start with the weeklong Signal Culture residency in the small village of Owego, NY. I showed up on Thursday, July 21 with few expectations, just a general idea that I would play with the analog and digital video imaging tools available at this special center for experimentation with signal processing. I had no idea my exploration would take me down such unexpected, thrilling paths. I have long been curious about these mysterious analog video processing devices that had been available at the Experimental Television Center prior to the close of its residency program in 2011. Jason and Debora Bernagozzi started the Signal Culture residency in 2014, carrying the signal processing torch. 

    It is important to note that I arrived in the thick of the 2016 Republican and Democratic National Conventions - Trump gave his speech the night I arrived in Owego and as I write this, Clinton is gearing up for her big speech tonight. I do not generally follow these spectacles that accompany electoral politics, I am much more invested in following actual grassroots movements for social and environmental justice. However, this year’s circus that is the presidential election has been just too fascinating to miss.

    When Hank Rudolph showed me how to use the analog tools on Friday, such as the wobbulator (developed by Nam June Paik & Shuya Abe ) and the David Jones colorizer, my first impulse was to pull up Trump’s speech from the previous night as material to manipulate. As much as the speech was sickening, it was also something I felt comfortable messing with. I was excited to destroy it. Also, it was still on my mind from the night before - it contains so many creepy lines.

    Trump with the wobbulator from Julie Perini on Vimeo.

    During those first few days with the equipment, I became compelled by several aspects of the Signal Culture studio: the constant streaming of images on multiple channels simultaneously, the realtime manipulations that are possible with the digital and analog tools, and the idea that the video signal itself is a material. This last idea, about the materiality of video, made a profound impact on me. The signal is voltage, it’s electricity, and we can manipulate it. For more than twenty years I’ve been working with video and manipulating signals, but I had never become intimately acquainted with this fundamental fact, I’d never seen the raw signal on the screen, the wave form vibrating on a monitor. 

    By the time Signal Culture’s Debora and Jason took me to visit David Jones’ studio on Saturday night, where he showed off his latest signal processing system, my mind was completely blown. 

    On Sunday, an idea occurred to me: What if we rigged the studio to use the processing tools to manipulate the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week…live? I was now invested in this political spectacle. It was like bad a TV show where I had to see what happened next. Since I planned to watch it anyway, so wouldn’t it be more fun to enhance the signal with Signal Culture's psychedelic colors and processes? And then turn it around immediately to share with the world? Jason and I set up the system on Sunday night to turn tfhis idea into a reality. I set up a Ustream account and The Real DNC channel was born.

    The next night, Day One of the DNC, Jason and I jammed the signal all night long, using every combination of digital and analog processor we had at our fingertips. It was a blast! Our social media feeds were blowing up. This 5-hour session was exhilarating and exhausting. 

    The Real DNC @ Signal Culture: Day 1 from Julie Perini on Vimeo.

    I spent the following day a bit stunned, filled with ideas for future such live broadcast processing. I was on another planet. It was just so fun do be in the moment, live with the television feed, manipulating it and playing with it and sharing it with friends in the room and around the world. I did think about the political or critical dimensions of this act. It didn’t feel as pointedly political as other media work I’ve done. Indeed, at times it felt wrong to mess with images of really powerful and moving DNC speakers - at those times, we used the processors to enhance their image or message, attempting to make them seem even more powerful or supernatural. Overall however, I felt a kind of engagement with mass media that I don’t typically feel. I felt, however slight, more like a participant than usual.

    By Wednesday I had calmed down, and decided that I would go it alone for one more night of The Real DNC broadcasting. Since I do not understand the Signal Culture studio super well, I was limited to the analog tools, but I actually really loved the limitation and the solitude in the studio, it allowed me to familiarize myself more deeply with these few tools and get to know their responses better.

    The Real DNC @ Signal Culture: Day 3 from Julie Perini on Vimeo.

    By the end of the night, I was making completely abstract compositions. My friend the artist Sarah Paul was cheering me on through texts and social media all night long. 


    Some speeches, like Tom Kaine's, seem to drag on forever, so I did some live actions in front of a camera with objects. Check it out:

    Tom Kaine with Toothbrush from Julie Perini on Vimeo.

    Other New York updates: I did fun talks with the students and faculty (Bob, Ghen, Billy and more) at the New York State Summer School for the Media Arts, and at the New York Arts Practicum (run by Michael Mandiberg). Visited some museums: MoMA, 9/11 Museum (bizarre-o!), International Center for Photography, Frances Lehman Loeb Art CenterHessel Museum of Art, and the Memorial Art Gallery. I assisted with install of Sarra Brill’s latest curatorial project, which is just lovely, at Kristen Lorello

    Thank you to the Regional Arts & Culture Council for supporting my travel to New York in July. I certainly feel the professional and artistic development. And thank you, Signal Culture, for keeping the signal processing alive!