For her project as a graphic design student at ArtCenter College of Design, Pearlyn Lii aimed to push the boundaries between physical and digital space through an interactive installation dedicated to musician/composer Brian Eno.
In a span of 14 weeks, Lii dove deep into the life of one of her favorite ambient musicians. Eno was born in 1948 in Woodbridge, Suffolk, England. The musician, composer, record producer, singer and visual artist is perhaps best known as one of the innovators of generative and ambient music. The Guardian also describes him as an “…intellectually mobile loner, scene-setter, systems lover, obstinate rebel, techno-prophet, sensual philosopher, courteous progressive, close listener, gentle heretic, sound planner, adviser explorer, pedant and slick conceptual salesman, and devoted fan of the new, undrab and surprising…”
Lii’s research led her to a 2013 interview at the Red Bull Music Academy in New York, during which Eno cites the behavior between our sympathetic (fight or flight) to parasympathetic nervous system (digest and rest). Because fast-paced urban spaces require our constant attention, Eno strives to stimulate the latter through his music and light installations, bringing forth the concept of surrendering. The sonic and physical spaces Eno creates allow people to surrender, meaning that they actively choose not to take control, giving themselves up to the process.
Inspired by the interview and Eno’s music and life, Lii designed an interactive spatial installation featuring a sound-reactive drawbot that continuously draws portraits of Eno. Located in a semi-public atrium adjacent to the ArtCenter lecture hall, it collects ambient sounds such as the tapping of feet walking by, a snap of a finger, or the draw of a breath—capturing sonic moments that impact the line quality of its drawings. To create the drawbot, Lii—using Arduino, Processing and Motors and with programming assistance as well as guidance from her advisor, Brad Bartlett—adapted the Polargraph Drawing Machine developed by Edinburgh-based artist Sandy Noble.
The drawbot component was part of a larger project in which Lii created a 250-page book based on her Eno research, as well as an interactive triptych promoting an imagined Eno lecture at an exhibition at his alma mater. For each visitor, the drawbot produces a unique drawing they can use as a dust jacket for the exhibition book. The full project is documented at http://pearlyn.pl.
Like Eno’s music, the drawbot asks for surrender, says Lii. Her main project challenge was “to surrender to the drawbot” as it passively collected ambient sounds in a semi-public space to use as variables to determine the pen’s line quality. “The drawbot definitely has a mind of its own. I loved that I too had to surrender to its ways while sending type and portraits for it to draw.” She says she overcame the challenges through “some serious trial and error, coffee, food and perseverance—repeated in that order for weeks at a time.”
"Developing such a cohesive experience spanning multiple mediums is done perfectly here. Each component ties in to the initial concept beautifully. The sound-reactive drawbot and triptych posters inspired by Brian Eno’s innovation in the field of ambient music and composition is brilliant."
"I love this project. It's irreverent and experimental and beautifully illustrates generative art and sound with both humor and discomfort."
Brad Bartlett (mentor, professor), Nik Hafermaas (chair of Graphic Design)
Sandy Noble (programmer, designer, and maker of the Polargraph), Phil Enzler (interaction designer who assisted with modification of the Polargraph to be sound-reactive)