TED2004

Golan Levin: Software (as) art

Filmed:

Engineer and artist Golan Levin pushes the boundaries of what’s possible with audiovisuals and technology. In an amazing TED display, he shows two programs he wrote to perform his original compositions.

- Experimental audio-visual artist
Half performance artist, half software engineer, Golan Levin manipulates the computer to create improvised soundscapes with dazzling corresponding visuals. He is at the forefront of defining new parameters for art. Full bio

Imagine spending seven years at MIT and research laboratories,
00:27
only to find out that you're a performance artist.
00:30
(Laughter)
00:35
I'm also a software engineer,
00:39
and I make lots of different kinds of art with the computer.
00:42
And I think the main thing that I'm interested in
00:44
is trying to find a way of
00:46
making the computer into a personal mode of expression.
00:48
And many of you out there are the heads of Macromedia and Microsoft,
00:51
and in a way those are my bane:
00:56
I think there's a great homogenizing force
00:58
that software imposes on people and limits the way they think
01:01
about what's possible on the computer.
01:07
Of course, it's also a great liberating force that makes possible,
01:09
you know, publishing and so forth, and standards, and so on.
01:12
But, in a way, the computer makes possible much more
01:15
than what most people think, and my art has just been about
01:19
trying to find a personal way of using the computer,
01:22
and so I end up writing software to do that.
01:24
Chris has asked me to do a short performance,
01:28
and so I'm going to take just this time -- maybe 10 minutes --
01:30
to do that, and hopefully at the end have just a moment
01:33
to show you a couple of my other projects in video form.
01:35
Thank you.
13:11
(Applause)
13:13
We've got about a minute left.
13:24
I'd just like to show a clip from a most recent project.
13:26
I did a performance with two singers
13:28
who specialize in making strange noises with their mouths.
13:31
And this just came off last September at ARS Electronica;
13:34
we repeated it in England.
13:37
And the idea is to visualize their speech and song behind them
13:39
with a large screen.
13:42
We used a computer vision tracking system
13:43
in order to know where they were.
13:45
And since we know where their heads are,
13:47
and we have a wireless mic on them
13:48
that we're processing the sound from,
13:50
we're able to create visualizations
13:51
which are linked very tightly to what they're doing with their speech.
13:53
This will take about 30 seconds or so.
13:56
He's making a, kind of, cheek-flapping sound.
14:01
Well, suffice it to say it's not all like that, but that's part of it.
14:43
Thanks very much. There's always lots more.
14:46
I'm overtime, so I just wanted to say you can, if you're in New York,
14:48
you can check out my work at the Whitney Biennial next week,
14:50
and also at Bitforms Gallery in Chelsea.
14:52
And with that, I think I should give up the stage,
14:55
so, thank you so much.
14:57

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About the Speaker:

Golan Levin - Experimental audio-visual artist
Half performance artist, half software engineer, Golan Levin manipulates the computer to create improvised soundscapes with dazzling corresponding visuals. He is at the forefront of defining new parameters for art.

Why you should listen

Having worked as an academic at MIT and a researcher specializing in computer technology and software engineering, Golan Levin now spends most of his time working as a performance artist. Rest assured his education hasn't gone to waste, however, as Levin blends high tech and customized software programs to create his own extraordinary audio and visual compositions. The results are inordinately experimental sonic and visual extravaganzas from the furthest left of the field.

Many of his pieces force audience participation, such as Dialtones: A Telesymphony, a concert from 2001 entirely composed of the choreographed ringtones of his audience. Regularly exhibiting pieces in galleries around the world, and also working as an Assistant Professor of Electronic Time-Based Art at Carnegie Mellon University, Levin is unapologetically pushing boundaries to define a brave new world of what is possible.

His latest piece, Double-Taker (Snout), is installed at the Pittsburg Museum of Art.

More profile about the speaker
Golan Levin | Speaker | TED.com