Here are some of my custom built, hand-held audio/visual devices called “Snuitcases”. I’ve been making these over the past decades for use in portable sound installations & as performance art pieces.
Car Door LED Projector Hack
I noticed that our vehicle had a downward projecting LED light that illuminated the street below with a _________ Logo. I decided it needed to be modified to project something less corporate, so I set about dismantling and replacing the tiny slide image with another that I cut out from an old Navy Cold War Missile Identification slide.
“FIETSSLOT” (BIKE LOCK) ALPHABET
I found an orphaned bike lock in Amsterdam, and discovered that it could be reconfigured to make the letters of an abstract alphabet. I imagine the characters would have been easier to form if I had been able to open the lock, but it was a fun design challenge nonetheless.
1943 PARACHUTE PROJECTION SCREEN
This broken sand filter machine was discarded in our garage space by a pair of disgruntled fishmongers. A coat of gold paint and an old boiler thermometer was all it took to turn the shell into a beerbot to keep drinks cool on the garden deck.
In 2003, a friend of mine wanted to throw away his laptop that wasn’t working anymore. Some of the keys had gone dead (so he couldn’t even log in) and the battery would not hold a charge. I asked if I could take a crack at fixing it, or at least determine the cause of death, and he let me conduct a “LAPTOPSY”. Pulling it apart revealed a whole range of issues, including evidence that liquid had been spilled onto the keyboard, which had also fried the battery.
I chopped a bunch of stuff out, (including the mousepad and dead speakers), and slowly rebuilt it into a HACKTOP with an external USB mouse/keyboard for use as a mobile visuals processor for use during live projection shows with Aspects of Physics & 3 Mile Pilot.
ETHERNET A/V PORT
For Aspects of Physics band practices, I wanted a way to send & receive Audio/Video (A/V) signals between my studio and the tiny garage space 75 feet away. Instead of buying six 100′ RCA cables, we just decided to use a standard ethernet cable as the conduit, and make twin A/V buses (shown below). I made use of the dead space in a functional weather radio I had found a while before at AMVETS.
A standard ethernet cable has 8 copper wires (4 pairs) inside… so if 4 wires send signal in each direction, (with 1 wire for video, 2 for stereo audio, and 1 triple-shared ground) you’ve got a LO-FI multi directional AV cable! You just have to solder a few dozens connections to mate the standard RCA jacks and find a suitable set of twin housings. Since they are unshielded lines, the cross feedback from the audio and video interlacing looks & sounds pretty amazing.
For a guerilla performance during an art event in NYC, I wanted to mount all the sonic devices from my Cold War Snuitcase onto a wearable/rideable guitar-like instrument, and Skatesynth was born. I also converted a loud set of speakers into a wearable amplifier, with the bass sub-woofer as a jetpack, and stereo speakers attached to the helmet.
This rig allowed me to set up, perform, and break down my gear in record time. It could also be played while skating, as long as I didn’t try to do any railsides.
THE KILLER WHALE COPYRIGHT EXPERIMENT
In the mid 90’s, I would often find slide projectors at thrift stores that had trays of slides still inside them. These were usually interesting, but never as intriguing as a sequence of 8 slides I got at AMVETS inside of an old Kodak 35mm Carousel. The slides were in decent condition, with hand-written numbers & text on each, showing grainy images shot off of a black & white television screen. We posted scans of the slides (with only the original found text) on our website theexperiment.org, and after 6 months we were contacted by a lawyer from Sea World demanding that we remove any and all references to “girl being eaten by shamu” (no such text was ever included in our post). We left the image sequence intact, but redacted the names of the concerned party and it’s proprietary orca. We also sent a letter thanking them for visiting our website.
CHOPPED XBOX PROJECT
For a physical computing class I was teaching in Manhattan, I got the class to participate in the deconstruction of an old classic XBOX. In order to learn how it works, we broke into the console, took out all the components, and put them back together inside a clear housing.The last thing we did was hack into the microsoft OS and replace it with a linux based (non-proprietary) operating system called XBMC that converts it into a networked media center. Voiding a warranty was never so much fun>!
“Gargurgle”-9Arches Building, Bushwick
I made a strange bird sculpture out of old plumbing parts to try and keep pigeons away from our building. It had no effect, and was later sheared from its perch and smashed through a neighbor’s window 150 feet away in the 2010 tornado that ripped up the neighborhood.
HACKED LABELLE DUO 16
Around the spring of 1994 I found a bizarre old combo-projector at a secondhand store called thrift village in Linda Vista. It was called a “Labelle duo 16″ and was about the shape and dimensions of medium-sized suitcase. Having a thing for strange old multimedia devices, and since it had a weird mixed-media cassette still in its feedport, I picked it up for perhaps 6 dollars.
The player was in perfect operating condition, with the ability to either project an image on a screen/wall or serve as a television-style viewer by re-angling the image towards a rear-projection screen built into the side. It had a handle, a built-in lengthy power cord, a built-in speaker, and a 1/4″ audio output for an auxiliary speaker (not included).
It’s feedport was a wide mouth that could accommodate a strange media cartridge of perhaps twice the thickness of a videocassette and about as long. The media cartridge consisted of two media…one was a 16-mm filmstrip that was intricately looped in the case, the second was an 8-track cassette attached to bottom of the first. Once inserted, as the audio (music, narration) from the 8-track played, it also sent cues to advance the sequence of the filmstrip loop for a multimedia show. As such it could be projected on a screen while also using an external speaker (presumably for larger audiences) or viewed as a “TV.” (for more intimate settings). The cartridge that was intact when I got it was some sort of traveling salesman setup, (I forget selling what).
Needless to say I had a gem on my hands…but I wanted to make it play more thematically appropriate to what I was doing at the time.
During those years I was busy as the touring/performing visual component of the band “three mile pilot”. While primarily using dissolved 35mm sliders, 16mm, and 8mm film in projected collages to accompany the live set, I would also add subtle devices/lights/textures/
For the 16mm slideshow– I took apart the case and replaced the images. To do this I shot a slew of color slide 35mm pictures in groups that were arranged like 4-square collages (thus roughly replicating the 16mm format when cut into 4 pieces, as a 35mm slide is approx. 4 times the area of a single 16mm frame) I then cut out all the images and adhered them individually to a length of clear 16mm leader to form an image-sequence. (The pictures were largely abstract aerospace, science fiction, or natural scenes arranged in no particular order, ambient visuals tied to some of the musical/thematic undercurrents of our performance array). I then spliced the length of leader to itself and sealed the loop back into the cartridge.
For the 8-track soundscape–I took apart the lower part of the cartridge and realized that an 8-track is a crazily looped coil that is a hell to put back together. In order to do away with the irritating found-audio track, fellow experimenter Jason Soares and I decided to make our own custom audio-scape. Using a (cassette) four-track we composed a mixed-sound sequence that featured a collage of short-wave radio tones, synthesized frequencies, and assorted other bleeps and clicks, periodically adding the left-channel tone required to advance the slide show. With this final tape in hand I returned to “Thrift Village” with a blank 8-track (I needed to use an old 70′s era stereo to record the sounds from our cassette to the proxy blank 8-track). Once the 8-track had been filled I replaced the old 8-track loop in the duo cartridge with the new one and let it rip…. in the end the result was worth all the finagling.
With an added external speaker hidden somewhere nearby, in “TV.” mode, it would get many a second and third take, often engrossing people for minutes on end. It was a pleasure to incorporate such a bizarre yet subtle appendage to a live audio-visual performance.
The “hacked labelle duo 16″ went on a number of tours with three mile pilot throughout the United States over the course of about a year between 1994 and 1995. It was quite robust, taking a few tumbles and spills, though always providing a stable, strange addition to the host of images and tones encountered on any given evening.