I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Some Assembly Required (RSS feed) hosted by Jon Nelson (Minneapolis, Minn.), when I first heard my new favorite digital artist. Her name is Buttress O’Kneel (or B’O’K) and she is rad.
It was her song, Breaking Windows (#14 in SAR #188), made from the default sounds of Microsoft’s world-dominating operating system. Listening to it called forth a number of responses which evolved into varied and conflicting emotions. Initially I thought, “Oh, hey, that’s how Windows sounds when you turn it on.” ….I liked where it was going. Next, I noticed how deeply ingrained and instant my recognition was of these Windows sounds (“Oh, that’s deleting a file,” “Oh, that’s an error”).
These sound recognitions led to a brief reflection on how much time I must have dumped into using Windows-based computers to learn them. Then I was sad. How many hours in pseudo-isolation working on/with/through computers, both in cubicles and at home, did it take for this to happen? How many millions of others have had similar fates?
But, Breaking Windows didn’t let me stay in sullen thought loop for long As the song built upon itself, it suddenly provided a comedic sensation — a feeling like I was in a Jacques Tati film — as I realized how cartoon-like the default sounds of Windows really are and how ubiquitous they are where I work–and in all work places. Now, anytime a co-worker shuts down a computer or throws away a file, I am reminded of the song.
The whimsy I was feeling was soon swept up into the song’s triumphant refrains, growing in intensity with each repetition. This sense of triumph carried through to the end — an audio depiction of the destruction of the Windows machine.
In a May 2007 interview with Jon Nelson for his show’s blog, B’O’K proclaimed that we are all biological samplers and said:
LIFE IS RE-USE! THOUGHT IS SAMPLING! … I do what I do because it’s all anyone can do. But the BATTLE aspect of what I do is a choice. Basically, when we interact with the greater world, we make a choice: Do I accept what is there already, or do I use it to make something else?
Today, our biosamplers are saturated with jingles, logos, sound bites and complex emotional associations with an ever increasing number of products, concepts and meanings. This isn’t necessarily new — as long as humanity has been processing its world through symbols, the powerful have found ways to exploit those symbols to their advantage. But, the fact still brings pause.
B’O’K presents us an interesting project, however — to take what we have been given and make it into a path toward liberation–or at least new, more enjoyable associations. The latter goal is accomplished through this song. Why not have a listen?
Note: Other videos by B’O’K can be found at youtube.com/IWML