Here are a few creative projects I've done that were not related to work.
I've designed and made several pairs of sterling silver eyeglasses for friends, family and myself. No two pairs are made from the same design, and all were constructed with minimal equipment: a blow torch, a hammer, a tiny hand saw, a drill, a tap for cutting threads into metal, and some metal files.
A group of friends and I made a series of letterpressed boxes containing nine small hand-bound books and an iron-on. These were sold in Art-o-mat machines, which are repurposed cigarette machines selling handmade objects in museums and other cultural institutions.
The work also toured with the Mobilivre-Bookmobile and The Brooklyn Museum acquired a copy.
I took a number of photos for the booklet included with The Magnetic Fields' album, "69 Love Songs," including the front and back covers. The album was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time."
I did all of the photography for the Future Bible Heroes album "Eternal Youth." In his blog, the author Neil Gaiman described the photos as "images that ought to be kitsch, or camp, but aren't. They're art."
I am a co-organizer of the Monthly Music Hackathon, which invites participants to create a project relating to music and technology over the course of an afternoon, and in the evening everyone presents their projects to the public.
For my first project, I wanted to break down a video image with a synthesizer and a speaker. Inexpensive DLP video projectors pass the light through a spinning three-color wheel that enables the projector to generate a red image, a blue image and a green image in succession, and most people see the result as a combined full-color image. For some people, including myself, the image can break down into red, green and blue if it moves too quickly or the viewer's eyes move quickly. Better DLP projectors have solved this problem with faster color wheels or by using multiple chips to project all colors simultaneously.
I made a very simple low-frequency synthesizer from scratch (transistors, capacitors, etc.), and glued a thin piece of mirrored acrylic to the woofer of an audio speaker. I connected the synthesizer and speaker to an amplifier, and set up an inexpensive DLP video projector to project the image from a video camera so the image would reflect off of the mirrored speaker and onto the wall. I pointed the video camera down to a piece of white cloth covered with leaves.
For my presentation, I manipulated the synthesizer with one hand, changing the frequency, and with the other hand, I manipulated the leaves that were being captured by the video camera and projected on the wall. The mirrored speaker shook the image at the frequency generated by the synthesizer, and at certain frequencies the image began to separate into its constituent colors. The result was a vibrating image of shadowy organic forms, with rainbow effects around the edges.
For a subsequent project, I started with the synthesizer that I had made at a previous Hackathon. When I initially made it, I used a potentiometer to control the frequency, but this time I added a cadmium sulfide photocell, which provides variable resistance based on the amount of light hitting it. With this modification, the frequency generated by the synthesizer depended on the amount of light hitting the photocell, with more light resulting in a higher frequency.
I then aligned the photocell with the edge of a turntable, attached several LEDs to button-cell batteries, and invited people to position the LEDs on the turntable to create tonal sequences that would repeat as the platter turned. The orientation of the LEDs determined the pitch as well as the attack and decay of the pitch. For example, if the LED was pointed towards the photocell as it approached the cell, the LED would cause the pitch to gradually rise and then quickly drop as it passed the cell. Participants could also use small hand-held lights to further control the sound.
For another Hackathon, I bought an old inkjet printer on Craigslist, removed the plastic housing and disabled the sensors built into the housing, which made the whole thing small enough to fit into a wooden wine crate. I then attached a guitar string to the crate, with a tuner and bridge, and mechanisms on both ends of the string that allow me to adjust the position of the string with precision. I attached a small piece of brass to the print head to serve as a fret, and made a small brass arm with a pick on one end, which I bolted to the paper feed mechanism.
When a text file is sent to the printer, the file is printed, but sounds are also created as the spinning pick plucks the string and the fret on the print head changes the pitch. An electric guitar pickup enables amplification of the sound.
For a New Musical Instruments Hackathon, I made a Player Glockenspiel. I assembled a circuit with photocells that optically read a strip of perforated paper and trigger doorbell solenoids to hit different notes on a glockenspiel according to the length and position of the perforations. The paper is wrapped around a bottle attached to a mechanical meat grinder, and the user advances the paper by turning the crank of the grinder.
I am currently making a documentary about Charles Ginnever, an 83-year-old metal sculptor living in Vermont. I did documentary work years ago when I was working with video and photography in Italy, but I'm doing this project purely for fun. The documentary is still a work in progress, but in the meantime the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art asked me to make a short video about the artist which they featured in a gallery show, and that video was later also shown at the Santa Fe Center for Contemporary Arts.
Here are some stills from what I've shot so far: