Thursday, April 18, 2019

Life in the Adhocscape

Shared Resources and Media Art Production in Manila

L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
                                 Antoine de Saint-Exupery

In a country where institutional support is rudimentary and scarce and where media art is still unfamiliar and very new, the production of media art faces more difficulties than marketable artifacts such as paintings and objects.

For the purposes of this essay we will define ‘media art’ as works involving film, sound, video, and machines and/or made with cameras; sound and video recorders; and computers. There is no deliberate ideological rationale behind this definition, only the brute fact that my own artistic interests and practices revolve around these things, which have in turn determined the circles I move in and the artists I meet, know and talk to. However, it should be noted that the same difficulties surround many minority art genres, particularly any with a large performance element.

In the Philippines, media art is still a relatively minor and unfamiliar tradition, whose products currently face microscopic or nonexistent markets and an absence of friendly exhibition spaces. However, its practice often requires specialized and sometimes expensive equipment and specialized knowledge. Such impediments appear to have engendered three major consequences:

1) a media art scene that is primarily centered around performances and screenings in ad hoc or popup events
2) the sharing of knowledge and resources by its practitioners
3) the creation of informal, ad hoc arrangements that facilitate production

Interviews and discussions with fellow media artists clarified three characteristics of the solutions/adaptations that have emerged in response to the factors of outlined above. The first is:

·      Almost all “shared resources”, whether in the form of space, material, service, or equipment, are owned by a single person who shares the resource out to a selected number of people.

As a result, all those who make use of the resource always have the status of either friend, guest, or some nested variation such as friend of a guest of a friend and so on. There currently are no arrangements of the type that underly the so-called ‘hacker spaces’ popular in more prosperous countries, which are owned and maintained communally by a group of peers. In the case of nearly every resource, it is always owned or administered by a patron -- very often an artist himself--- who possesses and administers the resource by virtue of a) being richer/more successful, b) belonging to a prosperous family or c) being attached to a richer person. Thus sculptor and sound artist Lirio Salvador was the sole signatory of the lease of the gallery and event space known as Espasyo Siningdikato, and did not collect contributions towards its expenses. In the same vein, Terminal Garden, a space which hosted residencies, concerts, performances, and workshops, was the family residence of its director Tengal Drilon. The gallery/event space/studio known as Green Papaya is owned and financed solely by the visual artist Norberto “Peewee” Roldan. The furniture fabrication company Bespoke occasionally manufactures objects for artists, but only and solely at the discretion of its director Jeremy Guiab.

It is worth relating that Tsinelas Labs attempted to transplant the communally-run hackerspace structure to Manila. It closed in less than six months as a result of a lack of subscribers. On the other hand, the Philrobotics Philippine Electronics and Robotics Enthusiasts Club was founded in 2010 and is still going strong as a consequence of being able to use a room rent-free in the offices of E-gizmo, an electronics parts store specializing in sensors, microcontrollers, and industrial automation components, whose owner is a founding member of the club.

The second characteristic is:

·      Physical spaces are constantly in flux.

Spaces are constantly being started, ended, opened, closed, initiated and abandoned. As of this writing, the aforementioned Terminal Garden closed in December of 2015, when the house was turned over to new owners. By the same token, the painters/sound artists Pow Martinez and Manny Megrino built/are building home-recording studios in their residences that they plan to open to friends and collaborators. The art collective WALA (Windang Aesthetics Labor Army, whose acronym means “Nothing” and whose practice centers on public interventions with a heavy media art/performance aspect) effectively spent a four-month residency in 2015 at an abandoned horse stable that the UP Diliman made available for their use. This residency that ended when the stables’ electrical supply was cut off. Because the art made at these spaces currently generates next to no income, these spaces are always dependent on the existence of a disposable surplus. As these surpluses are always in danger of drying up or being channeled to more profitable ends, (the more so if they are formally owned collectively, as for instance by the patron’s family) artists’ access to these spaces is often short-lived.


·               Cooperation and sharing is based less on physical locations, formal membership and communal ownership than on networks of personal relationships that facilitate arrangements -- ad hoc, temporary, informal, and improvised -- that determine how surpluses are deployed, exceptions made, and fees reduced or even eliminated.

Some detail regarding WALA’s practices may go some way in illuminating this particular notion. It is a difficulty specific to improvised arrangements that they can appear as trivial or inessential, even to those who make and depend on these arrangements. Certainly my own practice, and that of my band/noise collective The Children of  Cathode Ray --riddled as they are with such jerry-rigged transactions, did not prevent me from initially characterizing the current landscape as “experiencing a drought in shared spaces” until the curator Merv Espina suggested to me that in the Philippine context, physical spaces might be a secondary consideration –one among many resources generated by social relationships. I understand that shifting the focus from physical spaces to social arrangements complicates the conversation. However, if art relies primarily on these arrangements in order to exist and function, then these arrangements, however archipelagic, multifarious, changeable, tangled and hard-to-talk-aboutable, -- these arrangements have to be acknowledged as the primary and essential infrastructure. The discourse must adapt to reality.

WALA is a loose collective of some eight core members, who wish not to be named  as they consider the collective to be the primary artistic entity. As has been noted, they focus primarily on public actions/interventions, though this focus generates a variety of media and objects, including videos, zines, musical/noise instruments and sound recordings. In terms of where they operate, they work and meet primarily at 3 locations:

1)   In Green Papaya in Quezon City, where two of the members –a couple-- live as formally employed assistants of the visual artist Norberto Roldan. The two members live in the upper floor, which also serves as their studio.

2)   In a house in Mandaluyong that functions as the offices and storage rooms of Avante Garde Greeting Cards, where another of WALA’s core group  —a friend of the company’s owner—lives. The offices are equipped with a rather gorgeous copier/scanner/color printer, which WALA is suffered to use.

3)   In an abandoned horse stable -- still open to the elements – on the grounds of the University of the Philippines in Quezon City. The stable was given over to the use of artists as part of the Project Bakawan Art Festival in February of 2015. WALA used the space as meeting room and gallery and staged sound/media performances there until electrical power became unavailable in late May of the same year. It is interesting to note that they effectively shared the space with JKS -- a fraternity/gang based in a nearby village that had co-opted the abandoned stables before UP management invited WALA to use the stables during an art festival -- whose members still maintained a proprietary view of the premises.

These details illustrate that the group’s practice relies heavily on resources that they have access to by virtue of personal relationships.  This access often becomes another resource that they in turn share out to their friends, such as to the Cavite-based sound artist Erick Calilan, who stores sound equipment in the living quarters of the Green Papaya contingent of WALA.

These details suggest that in Manila (and possibly in the Philippines) it might be more appropriate to frame the notion of ‘production space’  in terms of a space of production opportunities, rather than in terms of physical real estate. In spite of the word “real” of “real estate” pre-loading the notion of physical space with primary significance, I would argue that a serious investigation of how art is actually produced cannot presuppose that it knows what it is looking for, lest it run the danger of discounting something essential just because it does not accord with one’s prejudices. Sometimes the essential is invisible to the eye; and I believe that the more abstract and dynamic notion of socially-generated “opportunity space” must be considered as the primary and enabling space in which equipment and resources are shared by Manila’s media artists.


Note: A SLIGHTLY shorter version of this article was previously published in a.m. post, issue 115 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

OSCgroups Tutorial

I wrote this because I couldn't find an OSCgroups for Dummies tutorial.

OSC stands for Open Sound Control, a communication protocol that functions like MIDI. It's a protocol that allows computers to communicate with one another. It is much more powerful than MIDI, but at the same time it can be a bit clumsy to use, as it operates over computer networks (rather than dedicated hardware, as MIDI does) and so requires that that the the IP address and port number of the receiver be specified in order for an OSC message to be successfully transmitted. As you can imagined, this can easily become be a fiddly and tedious requirement.

OSCgroups is a data distribution program that simplifies matters by enabling group members to send OSC messages to every other member without knowing or specifying each member's IP address. Group members simply register with a central server, which handles the task of forwarding all OSC messages received to all registered computers. OSCgroups consists of two independent files: a server executable, and a client executable. They are tiny programs that are run from the command line in a Terminal window. This is a very economical form of programming, but not a very intuitive one, which is why beginners can use some tips when getting started. Unfortunately, the files do not come bundled with instructions, which is why something like this tutorial may come in handy to newbies. Interested parties may download the files from here: 

and here:

I should mention here that I am not going to go into detail about OSC. OSCgroups is basically a program for people who are already familiar with and use OSC, and who are looking for ways to streamline their communication routines.

The way this all works is that the OSCgroups client program is run on each of the participating computers. OSC capable software (such as Pure Data, MAX/MSP, and Resolume, to name only a few) running on such a member computer sends its OSC messages to this client program, which passes the messages to a third computer, a central server. It is this server which ensures that all member computers receive copies of every message it receives. (See graphic below)

So basically in order to join a group, a computer needs little more than the group name and the group password. It is not clear to me why a member needs a personal password, but OSCgroups requires each member to make one.


1)    Put the two files OscGroupServer and OscGroupClient in a convenient folder (e.g. on the Desktop, in Documents, etc.)  A convenient folder is one that  can be reached without too many cd operations from the Terminal.

2)    Log all computers onto a common network. This network can be a LAN or a wifi network. The network needn’t be connected to the Internet. On the other hand, the network can be the internet itself. People have used OSCgroups to perform and collaborate while physically being in different countries.

One can use dedicated OSCgroups servers on the internet (see below), but I favor running my own server over a small, private network isolated from the internet.

Paranoia says it would be best to run the server on a separate and dedicated computer, but it IS possible (and, my friend and resource person Chris B assures me, "normal") to run it together with a client on a single computer.

Computers communicate with each other through things called ports. Ports are essentially numbered data addresses in the computer where data is exchanged. When doubleclicked, the OscGroupsServer program grabs port number 22242 for its use. This is good enough for me, but if you want to use a different port, you can specify it (along with other items) by running the program from a Terminal window. Type ./OscGroupServer -h to learn about the other items/specifications.

NOTE: When clients log onto the server, it is possible that the server computer will have to manually be told to accept the connections.


The Client program is the file named OscGroupsClient. To run it, you will have to know the IP address of the server. On a Mac, this is done by clicking on the Wifi icon and then clicking Open Network Preferences on the menu. On Windows, it's easiest to type

ipconfig /all

in a Terminal Window. Terminal is a programming window usually found in the Accessories folder of the Start Menu.

NOTE: the IP address is a special address that basically means "this computer". The word "localhost" means the same thing and can sometimes be used in place of ""  Both terms are used when passing OSC messages within a single computer. 

OscGroupClient cannot be run by being double-clicked, as it requires several arguments to be specified in order to run properly.
OscGroupClient must be run, and the arguments specified, from a terminal window.

Mac: Open a Terminal window, cd to the folder where the OscGroupClient file is located. run the OscGroupClient file by typing
a command like the following:

./oscgroupclient 22242 22243 22244 22245 john abcd beatles wxyz

The ./ identifies the sentence as an executable command.
The arguments following oscgroupclient refer to the following values. 

oscgroupclient serveraddress serverport localtoremoteport localtxport localrxport username password groupname grouppassword

If the Mac insists the file is damaged, Go to System Preferences>Security & Privacy>General, and unlock the lock icon in the lower left corner. Give the Mac permission to run files from “Anywhere”, and lock the icon again.

Windows: Open a Terminal window, cd to the folder where the files are located. Run the OscGroupClient file by typing a command like the following:

oscgroupclient 22242 22243 22244 22245 john abcd beatles wxyz

The arguments following “oscgroupclient" refer to the following items: 

oscgroupclient serveraddress serverport localtoremoteport localtxport localrxport username password groupname grouppassword

When clients log onto servers, it is possible that the server computer will have to manually be told to accept the connections.

You can test that the client file is working by logging onto a server on the internet, e.g. or

Sample command: 
oscgroupclient 22242 22243 22244 22245 john abcd beatles wxyz


Configure the software to route messages to and from the local txport and local rxport allocated to the client.
See below for an example in puredata.

click to see full image

If multiple users are behind the same NAT and you experience difficulties. you
might like to try all using a different value for localtoremoteport
for each user, although this shouldn't usually be necessary.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

2016 Venice Architectural Biennale


This is a post about the work I contributed to "Muhon: Traces of an Adolescent City", the exhibition (curated by Andy Locsin, Sudarshan Khadka and Juan Paolo de la Cruz of LVLP ) that was the Philippine Pavilion in the 2016 Venice Architectural Biennale. The work is a tripartite video sculpture I titled "Gillage", a meditation of socio-architectural issues examplified by the informal structures built on and around the Pandacan bridge. The exhibition consisted of 3 rooms of objects representing conjectures and meditations on the history, current state, and possible fate of various iconic pieces of Manila's architecture, which rapid development has been flattening like pancakes. 

“Gillage” is a portmanteau word composed of “gilid” (which means “border” or “edge” in Tagalog) and “village”. The word “village” in this case refers to the exclusive, gated communities that dot Manila. Gillages are the informal settlements that inevitably surround the gated communities. The architect and historian Paolo Alcazaren points out that gillages arise in the peripheries of gated villages, because the villages require an army of laborers that need to be housed. Since low-cost housing and efficient public transportation is unavailable, all workers who are not live-in domestics have to make their home in informal settlements near -- sometimes literally just outside the walls of – these gated communities. This state of affairs means that the gated villages effectively sustain, and possibly even generate the informal settlements that are conceived as their opposites. It is a particularly ironic detail of this arrangement that many of the security guards that these villages rely on to maintain their borders make their homes in precisely those settlements that their employers regard as the dwelling-places of criminals and undesirables.

It was a small step to realize that iconic buildings, which house businesses with their own labor requirements, participated in the same paradox. It was clear to me then that an exhibit that focused on iconic architecture ought to have its own gillage somewhere.

This realization merged with a long-simmering curiosity about the so-called “trolleys” that ply the tracks of the Philippine National Railway, which I had often seen crossing the Pasig river in the Pandacan area. “Trolleys” here refer to the makeshift, foot-propelled vehicles that, like jeepneys, have arisen in response to the shortage of  public transportation. The trolleys are  made of wood and bamboo, light enough to be carried by a single man, and strategically padded to facilitate this operation. They are equipped with umbrellas and a braking system, and they ferry passengers on the rails for a fee. Students of the nearby Polytechnic University of the Philippines avail of them to cross the Pasig for the princely sum of ten pesos (U$ 0.21) . Some of the students are children of the trolleymen, and help out with the family business when their schedules allow.

As an act of architectural hacking, the trolley is in the same class as the informal house. However, unlike houses, the stringent weight requirements of the trolley trade eliminates all extraneous details except those that directly address the needs of the enterprise. As every gram of the trolley’s weight is a gram that must be pushed and carried by the operator, the trolley has evolved into a distillate of successful, low-cost engineering choices in a strong, light, and stable frame. While ingenuity and improvisation are also called upon to make any sort of house from scratch, the trolley’s minimalist construction make these powers easily visible. Representing informal dwellings with structures made of trolley parts seemed a way to make visible the ingenuity and resilience that informal dwellers call on every day to make headway under the difficult circumstances of life outside the edges of property law and government interest. Finally, I want to say I find the trolleys beautiful in and of themselves. Their spindly, skeletal appearance reminds me of the way planes looked in the early days of powered flight, and the image of trolleys flying above the river is a moment of air and light in existences generally conducted in cramped spaces and dark interiors.

In Pandacan, a man called Tongkie builds all the trolleys for the area. My team and I tracked him down and commissioned him to build three of them for us. After we agreed on the terms, we asked if he might find three friends who might be willing to trade their old, patinated trolleys for our new ones. This Alladinesque proposal (“New lamps for old!”)  was initially met with some puzzlement, but three takers were eventually found.

For my contribution to Muhon, my team consequently took three well-used trolleys to the garage of a friend’s house and proceeded to break them down into their component parts. The parts were combined to make the stands for three video sculptures whose silhouettes fit into the dimensions dictated by the curatorial brief, and which allude to the shapes of office buildings and skyscrapers.

1)   The sculpture my team and I referred to as “History” was a structure of robustly joined trolley parts above which were raised two 32” video screens in portrait orientation that displayed video of a) Sketchup images of the Pandacan Bridge rendered in a style that alluded to paper blueprints and b) footage of trolleys and informal structures built on and around the bridge. The sculpture was intended to contrast the quasi-Platonic architectural vision of the structure with the messy augmentations produced by its collision with the sociopolitical realities of Manila.

2)   The sculpture we called “Modernity” is much bigger, alluding to the progressive expansion and accumulation of architectural hacks on formal structures. Four video screens feature looping videos of details of informal houses and trolley construction and use. Close inspection is rewarded with a view of jerry-rigged media players based on the Raspberry Pi microcomputer, encased in a way intended to reflect the improvised and recycled nature of informal settlements.

3)   The sculpture we nicknamed “Futurity” recapitulates the form of “History”, except that the video screens are suspended above a loose and amorphous pile of trolley fragments. This sculpture hosts video of a) An animated Sketchup perspective for an informal dwelling and b) video footage of the demolition of an informal dwelling by its inhabitants, who as a rule accede to demolition orders so as to maintain possession of their building materials. This final sculpture focuses on the cycle that informal settlements are embedded in, and the fate they meet when market forces raise the value of the land they occupy to the point that the profits that ensue from demolition outweigh the political benefits of inaction.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Uwang (Formerly called "Eye of The Storm")

 "Uwang" is an interactive media installation. It is a new work created for Art Fair Philippines 2015. Formerly called "Eye of the Storm", "Uwang," which means "Coconut Weevil" in the dialect of Luisiana Laguna, consists of two parts. One part is made of real matter,  while the other part is a computer program.

The 'real matter' part is a log harvested from a kaong tree, . Uwang lay their eggs in the ubod, or pith, of toppled kaong trees. The eggs become larvae, which are called "kuok". The log on display is filled with live kuok, who feed on the pith, and occasionally exit into the basin on the left. The headsets above the log play a recording made of kuok harvested from the log. Funnels filled with water hydrate the log in order to keep the kuok alive.

The computer program part is an interactive audiovisual instrument. The viewer interacts by putting headphgones and scribbling lines on a graphics tablet with an electronic pencil. The lines form virtual kuok, which crawl across the screen, creating sounds as they repeat the viewer's scribbled line. A maximum of 4 virtual kuok can be drawn, creating evolving sounds and graphics that translate and reflect the life and situation of the real kuok inside the log.

The piece was created with the idea of enabling the viewer to jam with the kuok with a digital instrument I coded. The code builds on the work of Golan Levin, a pioneer in the field of software art. In the town of Luisiana in Laguna province, both ubod and the kuok that feast on it, are considered delicacies. Humans plant and harvest kaong. Uwang lay eggs in the kaong, which become new uwang, and another food for the humans. The tree, the insect, its larvae, and humans are tangled in a cyclic web of eating and reproduction. "Uwang" reflects and celebrated this tangle with both real and digital materials.

On February 8, at the close of the Art Fair, Uwang will be dismantled by harvesting and cooking the kuok in The Link. Viewers are invited to come. The harvest takes place at 4 PM, at the roof deck. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Bell is an interactive installation named after Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the audio speaker. It imagines an alternative future where speakers are not transparent conduits of sonic information, but architectural artifacts that generate specific experiences.

In its first iteration as Bell 1.0, the "clapper"  --an electromagnet pressed to the cylinder by a metal armature-- vibrates the cylinder at the frequency if household current. This frequency is 60 Hertz in the Philippines and 50 Hz in countries like Singapore, whose electrical protocols were formed under English rule. This causes the cylinder to hum. However, because the cylinder is an imperfect physical artifact, other frequencies arise in it, filling the hum with other sounds and frequencies.

In addition, the cylinder sways and wobbles when touched. This motion affects the sound experienced inside the cylinder, which wobbles in response to such motions.

(This text/post/entry is part of an experiment in using QR codes to tag art objects with metadata) 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Notes on Translection

So: in my previous post, I coined the word "translection" to describe what I thought might be a computer-native form of musical variation, which I had previously been referring to as "tag-shifting". I like "translection" better because it contains a word fragment ("lect") that  comes from legere, the Latin verb for "reading", which is the crucial operation here. The tags are not changed (as the word "tag-shifting" seems to imply). In translection, the way the tags are read is changed.

I might as well try to make a short definition for translection here. Literally, it means to change the way a signifier is mapped to an operation. Put mathematically, this is equivalent to changing the transfer function. To changing the algorithm by which one set of symbols is mapped to another set of symbols (or, in the case of a computer, to a set of operations). It's a case of remapping that specifically refers to remapping the data of time-based media. Translection differs from Translation and Interpretation in that it involves using clear and defined algorithms to change the meaning. Translation and Interpretation invoke much fuzzier forms of remapping. They invoke an art reliant on using judgement, rules of thumb, code-shifting between various mapping systems. Translection refers a more literal, more transparent form of remapping.

So why take such care in defining the word? I'm thinking it is already a way of talking about a specific kind of variation, and could be specifically useful in talking about/thinking of glitches as a source of  musical (and possibly extramusical?) variation.

 It occurs to me that playing a traditional score in a different key is an instance of translection.

I also realize that my sequencer's translective variations were the consequence of  a feature of MIDI data structure, specifically of  its feature of defining the note's duration with velocity (a note-on command consists of the note-number accompanied with a nonzero note-velocity, whereas a note-off command consists of the note-number accompanied by zero note-velocity). While traditional Western musical notation treated note duration as an atomic unity, MIDI grammar split note duration into note-on and note-off,  i.e. two grammatical units. Doubling the number of signifiers that defined duration opened the possibility of performing operations on the two signifiers which not only were previously impossible but literally unthinkable in terms of traditional notation,.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Translection: a computer-native form of musical variation

My collaborator Malek Lopez and I were playing around with some MIDI sequencer code. Based on his desire to have a rhythm generator, I kludged a 16-step sequencer that would spit out a sequence of 16 commands. For the sake of simplicity, let's say the sequencer did this by randomly choosing a number between 0 and 2 sixteen times, and putting its choices into a list.

So for instance, it might spit out: 0112 1020 2201 2021

The number sequence was then read as a sequence of tags/commands according to the following system:

 0= start a note;  1 = end a note;  and 2 = do nothing.

Now, if we assume that the numbers determine the gating of a single sustained pitch, then the sequencer would output a sound that could be represented as:

 Where a stretch of blue squares indicated a sustained pitch, and a stretch of white squares indicated silence.
After listening to the sequencer do its thing for a few hours. I realized that changing the way the sequencer interpreted the commands would create musical phrases that would differ from one another, and yet be related by rules of translation.

The most obvious variation would be produced simply by inverting the interpretation of the start and stop tags, ie

0 = stop note;    1 = start note;     2 = do nothing.

 Well, I said it was the obvious variation. It produces a negative of the previous sound, where previous tones are replaced with silences of equal length, and previous silences are replaced with tone.

However, if we use a different system of tag interpretation, say

0 = do nothing;   1 = start note;   2 = end note;  

 then we get something like this:

Which is a sonic product with a different and less obvious relationship.

I'm currently referring this kind of variation as Translection, as it consists of changing/shifting the way the tags are read ("lector" = reader, from the Latin verb legere:  "to read"). I find the idea of translective variation interesting because this kind of variation is native to music made with computer code. As far as I know, it is not a named, known or acknowledged form of musical variation. Still not sure where it goes from here, but tag-shifting functions will definitely be coded into the coming sequencers we'll be making..