contribution of architect Thomas McIntosh and composer Emmanuel
Madan, also known as [The User], is a symphony for 12 printers.
The members of the orchestra are not trendy streamlined design
products but large and noisy 1980's dot-matrix printers. These
clumsy and durable means of production are 'conducted' by a network
server, and use ordinary ASCII text files as a score.
The music produced by the printers sounds,
at times, like extreme minimal techno; sometimes it reminds one
of John Cages 1940's compositions for a prepared piano.
Live, with good acoustics, [The User]s symphony can sound
by turns tender and gloomy. The peculiar experience is heightened
by real time footage filmed by small video cameras installed inside
the printers; close-ups of the different parts of the mechanism
working frantically are projected onto a screen.
[The User]s post-industrial spectacle
has many predecessors in the history of the avant-garde; projects
that have tried to break out of the ivory tower of the art world,
from the Soviet factory whistle symphonies of the 1920's to, for
example, the building site crane ballet that Matti Knaapi realized
in Helsinki in 1982. The genius of [The User]s Symphony
for Dot Matrix Printers lies in the graphic manner it uses
to create a continuation from the nostalgic, smoggy 20th century
industrialism to the world of the microserfs of the
present information society; from the factory to the paperless
Here are some excerpts from [The User]s
website and their interviews:
The operative word is slave. Slavery is this continuous
thing that never really went away. Basically, it's changed forms
and now, instead of people being bonded labourers, they are slaves,
in that they have no choice but to go to the office every day.
They're completely in debt... they're slaves. You're punching
numbers into a screen or writing these lines on a sheet of paper,
and you don't know why you're doing it."
[The User] takes its name from a term employed by our technocratic
society, especially in design-related fields such as engineering,
architecture and software development. The term 'user' objectifies
and reduces individuality to an abstract and generic ideal. This
reduction is employed wherever abstract rational methodology is
applied to situations involving real people. Once this reduction
is made, it becomes much easier to treat the faceless, formless
'user' in an inhuman fashion.
We can speak of three classes when it comes to information
society. At the top are the systems designers, the elite who not
only possess the ability to function in this multiplicity of systems
but also are empowered to create and change them. 'The Users'
are the vast middle class, understanding and obeying rules, those
for whom the systems are designed. Frequently forgotten are the
non-'Users', an even larger group, functionally illiterate of
the proliferating technological (and social) codes.
The Symphony for Dot Matrix Printers
can be regarded as one of the classics of the late 1990's media
art. It has been performed at ZKM in Karlsruhe, Sonar in Barcelona
and Ars Electronica in Linz where it won the jurys special
award in 1999. AN
Thursday 8.11.2001 - Kiasma Theatre
17:00 and 20:00 - Symphony for Dot Matrix Printers
farmersmanual and [The User] will participate
in the Avanto Academy series of workshops. For more information
about the programme of the workshops, see the Olento