Jeff Wookey

Jeff Wookey
How do you define "soundtoys"?
Any interactive or performance piece of digital software or series of analogue devices that incorporates sound and reorganises it. It may or may not have a visual component.

On a personal level, why do you make this work?
I am very interested in any kind of digital work that demonstrates a level of personal expression, even if (or especially if), it is purely gratuitous. Historically, I have felt that much of the work on the web has been a bit technologically dependent/centred. I like work that breaks away from the predetermined mould and shows more individual response. I am pleased to say that I discover this kind of work on the net and in general digital art practice more and more often these days.

What is you project and your work about?
My work is a purely personal expression of my own ideas and what fascinates me. On a creative level it reflects my own practice - which was mostly photographic, but has now moved more into a field of design and interactivity. Much of it relates to literature because I feel that it is a more personal and reflective expression than that based on image. Books express ideas differently and more honestly in my opinion. I seek to imitate that openness.

My work is also about interactivity in its purest sense. I have seen (and made) a lot of interactive work that is lead very much by the author- i.e. it's very prescriptive and didactic. I wanted to make an interactive piece that was all about the freedom of the viewer. This piece allows the viewer to make any kind of sound that they like, and to move it on to another place. They can record it or just play with it. Ideally they would be able to load in their own samples. I would be very keen to develop that function although I could incorporate emailed sound now.

I like the way that the piece creates new work. I have used it to create sound when the user was unaware that they were making it -it was working invisibly in the background when they were working on something else. Some of my Music technology students recorded and incorporated the sound samples into their own work. Authorship becomes an unimportant issue then and the work moves on somewhere else.

How long have you been working in this area?
I have been working with Director as a creative tool for six years. I have been working mainly with image and text. Interactive sound has been part of the process from the very beginning. Again, my notions stem mainly from literature, fictions from books or my own. Working with the net came later. I wanted my work to become more widely accessible. Now I am beginning to appreciate the unique character of the medium.

Were you an artist/ musician first who got into using computers/the net, or did you respond to the net as a medium in an artistic way?
Although I 'got into' computers as part of my voluntary post in a media Centre and then began to deliver courses to student and freelancers/employees in a very 'software centred way; I, and all of my colleagues have used them as an expressive tool from the very beginning. Some element of expression or individuality or originality has to be there to make it worthwhile spending all that time. I've used the same philosophy in education. I look on software programs as tools or palettes to work with. I just move the work around between them until the job's done - then I find an appropriate outlet -usually CD or the Net.

What/ who has influenced you in your work?
I was pretty naive at the beginning. I didn't recognise the characteristics of the medium, although I am much more aware of them now. That's been good in the long run. I've used literature, photography, film, painting and installation as my main sources of inspiration. Because of that I've tended to work more in a 'fine art' way than a 'teccy' one. I've been very pleased that people have seen my work in that way, even when the outcome is commercial. As far as influences are concerned they are mainly authors - I could list them but there are so many, -Carson MacCullers, and Alice Hoffman especially. Photographic influences tend to be post war Americans mainly, Robert Frank, Gary Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Pfahl, Jan Staller, but you can't ignore the earlier ones like Walker Evans. I think a lot of my design comes from that, especially the use of text within my work.

My art influences are visual and design based. You can't ignore the Constructivists and the Bauhaus but my leanings are very wide especially in contemporary practice.

There is a lot of fab stuff on the net these days. I have a weakness for typo houses like T26, Fork, and Fountain. Futurefarmers, SAS21, die gestalten verlag, alrt etc. are great also.

Are there any other artists covering the same field as you?
Loads, but not necessarily using sound so much. Also there is a lot of reluctance to engage in lingo or any other form of scripting. Many of my friends simply respond by using different media altogether. Andy, my best mate, solders CD stacks together and mixes/samples live. It's all good stuff. Other friends do similar things but with video and images. Anything goes. I don't think anyone or any medium has a monopoly. If you want to do it, you'll find a method appropriate to your skills.

Do you see this work as art?
Oh Yes.

With regard to 'soundtoys' especially, why do you think the audio-visual form is so key to the net?
Because it encapsulates what the net can do best. I don't hold a lot of truck with trying to move creative practice onto the very leading edge of technological innovation. For me I think it's important to get to grips with what already works well. Image and sound work well. I think it's important to embrace that and utilise it for creative rather than 'teccy' development and practice. I think 3d and video need time to develop in the net space before they become dependable media for self-expression. There is often a tendency to showcase technological rather than creative achievement at the so-called leading edge.

What defines the aesthetics of new interactive art?
The artist hopefully! Obviously there are a whole load of aesthetic conventions or decisions that are determined by the nature of the medium itself. but I would like to think that a creator working within every medium works with, rather than against these characteristics.
Often the limitations and characteristics of a medium become its defining qualities. I like to think that web-based work should have an enduring quality that does not mirror every technological advance and development. There are always going to be characteristics that define the medium however such as resolution and file size and I?m fine with that.

How important is the visual aspect in the 'new' relationship of the audio-visual?
It depends on the intention of the creator. There are two clear aims of visual content on the web, in my opinion. The first is for it to become an integral part of the experience that cannot be separated from the performance without diminishing it. The second is purely as a functional framework for the operation of the piece (which is probably the category in which this piece fits best).

Because of the increasing exposure of people to computers and machines in general, we are a lot better educated in the interpretation of ?stripped-down? visual information. This may take a number of different forms. On one hand, all the icons on cars, washing machines, videos etc. whilst a little cryptic, do offer a clear and concise explanation of function that transcends language. On the other, increased exposure to computers has made it possible to use minimal visual information to indicate conventions of function and operation.

I try and exploit these conventions to minimise ?clunky? visual content. However I do recognise and celebrate the fact that this utilitarian convention has become very much a new aesthetic of its own. At best I would like interactive work to be attractive, functional and intuitive. Too much unnecessary choice and embellishment is an evil that is all too prevalent in many fields.

Does the net promote visual awareness that is unique to it?
The net certainly has visual conventions that are unique to it, but people in general are getting used to that. When you build a commercial piece it is predetermined what needs to be incorporated into the site. Whilst recognising that people need to understand what is going on and how to use it, ideally it would be good to break or challenge conventions in a new way. It never hurts to go against the flow. That?s the best way to break new ground. (I do have a grudging respect for anarchy it must be said ? I like it when people pull against accepted norms or just do something crazy).

How novel do you feel generative music and interactivity is?
That?s a difficult one. In some ways it?s simply a logical development from AV performances that have been part of gigs and club culture for years. I especially like esoteric and ?one off? events that have used it in the past. You don?t need digital technology to create profound installations in fine art practice either. They have been around for years, thank God.

What is probably the most important aspect of these developments is the environment in which they are made. The way that people will experience work on the web is completely different. Things aren?t tied to a time and a place any more. I like the way that creativity on the web can lead to the development of ?virtual communities? and the work can evolve through intervention and co-operation between parties who will never meet each other.

There have always been elitist overtones about fine art AV practice in the past and these have probably been deserved. What we mustn?t forget though, is that the web is an institution as well, with its own conventions and difficulties. I still can?t hold with all this ?democratic medium stuff? although I do believe that access is probably much better.

Do you think there is a history to audio-visual work?
Of course, for all the reasons that I outlined above. Film has always been very effective in marrying elements of sound and vision as well, and that?s got a long history. So has theatre.

Creatives always use the tools that they have available and they?ve been using a combination of sound and image for years. All that?s different now is the context, and that?s mainly because it wasn?t there before.

Would you describe yourself as a multimedia artist, a net.artist, programmer, or none of the above?
Yes (does that matter?)

What software do you use most and why?
I use Director and Lingo. Only because that?s what I began with. I really like the way that all of the media elements can be combined in one format. I also like the way that Lingo can be used to control all the elements very tightly at one moment and then be used to completely randomise them the next.

I also appreciate the way that you can use Director as a pasteboard that you can bring stuff in and out of, as much as you like. I never do much creating within Director; I just use it to tweak elements that I already have ? or to program the way that they interact with the viewer. I was lucky in that I was forced to learn PASCAL in the 80?s ? Lingo?s exactly the same ? or it is the way I use it anyway!

SoundEdit is pretty funky too. I like the way that it has such a simple interface and so few palettes. Frankly, I don?t know a great deal about sound, so I appreciate the ease with which it can be created/manipulated /combined in SoundEdit.

As far as image making is concerned I use PhotoShop. I like pixel editing programs. I?ve never taken to vector-based images. They look too clean to me.

Can you recommend three urls to soundtoys?
I could recommend more than that but how do you choose?

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