Gijs Gieskes setting up, as I look on (bottom left). Photo courtesy OFFF Festival.

What does it mean to truly democratize technology? When is DIY more than just the creation of an object? That’s the question asked by our friend Julià Carboneras, who curated the new Nerdeferences feature of the OFFF digital design conference in Portugal last week. DIY is more than just cool devices, argues Julià: it’s social hacking, too. He brought together myself, Instructables.com founder Eric Wilhelm, and musical inventor and artist Gijs Gieskes (who stole the show, showing some creations live onstage). But there was a bigger picture, too, that I wanted to share.

Julià wrote, in Catalan and English, an introduction to the idea for the conference catalog that I thought was really compelling. OFFF has allowed this text from their catalog to be reprinted here, and Julià has given us a Spanish translation, as well. (Spanish first, English second.)

I’m actually pleased that on CDM we have the chance to talk about radical DIY and open source ideas alongside more traditional commercial projects. In that way, you see design in a larger context. You can see the tools that allow people to be creative alongside one another. And my sense is that people do find ways to build business models and economic independence around notions of open source and DIY, which is vital in the capital-driven world in which we live. What draws together people, whether using commercial tools or building their own, is some desire for real independence instead of dependence, for expression and not just consumption.

I’ll let Julià take it away, though, because the issues he raises goes well beyond the insertion of some of these ideas (and some very nice, loud sounds) into a design conference. I know many of you working in communities and events elsewhere are thinking along similar lines.

(Photos here from the event itself; we expect to have additional video, too, soon. Let me know if you were there in Lisbon!)

NERDFERENCES [ESPAÑOL]

Desde sus inicios la llamada “democratización” de la tecnología ha estado limitada por demasiados factores para poder considerarla genuinamente democrática. A pesar de que realmente la caída de precios ha permitido un acceso más amplio a sofisticados dispositivos digitales, también ha determinado la manera de utilizarlos impuesta por sus fabricantes. Hoy en día, miles de usuarios están rompiendo estas limitaciones a través de la ética del DIY (háztelo tu mismo).

Desde que Reed Ghazala acuñó el término “circuit bending” en los años sesenta para referirse a la modificación de la circuitería de aparatos electrónicos para generar sonido, la influencia del movimiento DIY en la creación contemporánea ha sido obvia, y algunas de sus invenciones y descubrimientos se han convertido en recursos básicos en el arte digital actual, como el software Processing o las superficies de control Monome. Pero no podemos pensar en el circuit bending y en el software de código abierto como meras técnicas o dispositivos. La naturaleza de su propia existencia está fuertemente vinculada a ideologías que se asocian a movimientos sociales y políticos alternativos. Frecuentemente relacionado con el punk y los movimientos anticapitalistas, el DIY es, ante todo, una postura en contra de la producción en masa y las políticas de comercio multinacional. Pero lejos de usar técnicas de confrontación abiertas y directas, su beligerancia se expresa principalmente a través de estrategias de “copia y mejora”: algunos de los dispositivos más famosos que han nacido del DIY tienen sus orígenes en la reformulación o modificación de tecnologías ampliamente conocidas vendidas por multinacionales. En realidad, cuanto más popular es el producto, más atractivo es piratearlo.

A Gijs creation. Photo courtesy OFFF Festival.

Nerdference es un nuevo panel enfocado al DIY digital que se presenta en el festival OFFF: un movimiento social, ideológico y tecnológico bajo el cual pueden encontrarse múltiples formas conceptuales a través de disciplinas como el circuit bending, el software y hardware hacking, el desarrollo en código abierto, superficies de control de fabricación casera, entre otras muchas. Nerdference es una oportunidad única de dar una visibilidad física y una exposición offline a un fenómeno que vive mayoritariamente en internet. La red ha permitido desde el desarrollo de proyectos colaborativos tan grandes y conocidos como Linux a poder compartir con el resto del mundo dispositivos caseros realizados individualmente como hobby. Una red internacional de tecnologías de dormitorio que ha contribuido substancialmente en la evolución de las herramientas digitales usadas ampliamente en la creación con nuevos medios actual.

Nerdference es un amplificador para una generación de artistas con voz propia. Una generación nacida con un portátil bajo el brazo; adolescentes que han aprendido a programar de forma autodidacta y se han convertido en hackers famosos; músicos que elaboran todo un proceso de producción, con suficiente imaginación y conocimientos técnicos como para crear desde sus propios instrumentos hasta sus redes de distribución musical; artistas que desarrollan su propio software y lo distribuyen libremente…

La primera edición de Nerdference en el OFFF Oeiras 09 tiene el honor de presentar a Eric Wilhem, Peter Kirn y Gijs Gieskes.

Eric Wilhem es el fundador de instructables.com, un web de referencia mundial donde todo aquel que quiera puede mostrar sus dispositivos caseros hechos por ellos mismos. Instructables.com es, tal como Wilhem declara, “el web de Muestra y Explica más grande del mundo”, y se ha convertido en la Biblia del DIY. En él se puede encontrar lo más inimaginable: desde como se diseñó y programó la propia web, a como customizar instrumentos musicales o como fabricarse uno mismo el detergente para lavar la ropa. Esta será una oportunidad única para disfrutar del amplio conocimiento de Eric sobre DIY.

Peter Kirn es el nombre que está detrás de createdigitalmusic.com, createdigitalmotion.com y
createdigitalmedia.com. Estos blogs son puntos de encuentro esenciales para artistas, programadores y VJs, y son una guía para conocer las últimas novedades tecnológicas y de DIY. Y por último, pero no menos importante, el artista holandés Gijs Gieskes nos mostrará como lleva el circuit bending al extremo en Nerdference. Aprenderemos como concibe, diseña y construye sus extraordinarios artefactos y software de modificación de navegadores web.

Julià Carboneras

Me, talking about the potential of mobile and Linux to bring code creations to any platform – not just a few devices. I actually finished this Android OpenSoundControl app two days before leaving, then shot a video the afternoon of the presentation in the staff office, so it’s fresh. Photo (CC) Anna Fuster / Tartanna.

NERDFERENCES [ENGLISH]

Since day one, the so-called “democratization” of technology has been constrained by too many determining factors as to be considered genuinely democratic. Although it’s true that the prices drop has improved a wider access to sophisticated digital devices, it also has determined the way of using them through the limitations set by their manufacturers. Today, thousands of users are breaking these limitations through the DIY (Do It Yourself) ethos.

Since Reed Ghazala coined the term “circuit bending” in the sixties to name the modification of electronic devices internal circuits to generate sound, the influence of the DIY movement in contemporary creation has been obvious, and some of its inventions and discoveries have become basic resources in today’s digital art, like the Processing software and the Monome control surface. But we can’t think of circuit bending or open source software as mere techniques or devices. Their most intimate nature, their existence itself, is strongly connected to an ideology that deals with alternative social and political issues. Often related to punk attitude and anti-capitalist movements, the DIY is, first of all, a stand against mass-production and mainstream trade politics. But far from openly confrontational techniques, its belligerence is mostly expressed through copy-and-improve strategies: some of the most famous devices born in the DIY scene have their origins on the re-formulation or modification of already existing and well-known technologies manufactured and sold by multinationals. Actually, the most popular the product, the most attractive the hacking.

Nerdference is a new panel at OFFF focused on the digital DIY: a social, ideological and technological movement whose multiple formal and conceptual traces can be found on disciplines like circuit bending, software and hardware hacking, open source development and homemade control surfaces, among many others. Nerdference is a unique opportunity to bring physical visibility and offline exposition to a phenomenon mostly living on the Internet. The net has been a determinant platform for the development of so big and well-known community projects as Linux or the worldwide sharing of self-made devices made out by individuals all over the planet. An international bedroom technologies network that has become a substantial issue in the evolution of digital tools massively used in today’s new media creation. Nerdference is an amplifier for a generation of artists with an already own voice. A generation born with a laptop in its hands; teenagers who learned how to program by their own and have become famous hackers; self-taught music producers with enough imagination and technical skills to build up their instruments and create their particular distribution networks; artists that develop original software and give it out to like-minded others.

Nerdference’s first edition at OFFF Oeiras ‘09 proudly features Eric Wilhem, Peter Kirn and Gijs Gieskes.

Documenting process via Instructables. Photo (CC) Anna Fuster / Tartanna.

Erik Wilhelm is the founder of instructables.com, a world reference site where anyone can show his / her self-made devices and applications. instructables.com is, as Wilhelm himself declares, “the world’s biggest show and tell website”, and it has become the bible for the DIY believers. It covers almost every imaginable topic: from designing and programming the site’s pages themselves to customizing musical instruments and creating your own washing powder. This will be a unique opportunity to enjoy Erik’s broad knowledge of the DIY industries.

Peter Kirn is the man behind createdigitalmusic.com, createdigitalmedia.com and createdigitalmotion.com. These blogs are essential meeting points for artists, programmers and Vj’s, and extremely useful guides to check today’s DIY state of the art.

Last but not least, Dutch artist Gijs Gieskes will show his extreme take on circuit bending at Nerdference. We’ll be able to learn how he conceives, designs and constructs his amazing artifacts and web browsers modification software.

Julià Carboneras

Julià, thanks for bringing us together. Photo courtesy OFFF Festival.

More resources:

Instructables.com

Trackmate Tangible Controller: A terrific example of documenting a tangible music interface project via Instructables (which in turn this group linked back to their Sourceforge page, a case of using the right tool for the right job)

Gijs Gieskes

Links from my presentation:

Adobe Rants Produces Unexpected Glitch Art
(proof that having tools that don’t always work perfectly, or that can be pushed past the point at which they function properly, can make them more powerful)

TUIO + reacTIVision: a protocol and open source vision library for touch, tangible interfaces

opensoundcontrol.org: a means of making devices and software more intelligent, more expressive, and more connected in a way that benefits artists and musicians

Save that Old PDA: Run Reware, Play Pd Musical Creations, Android (OFFF, NYC) – a way to harnass open source software to make supposedly “disposable” devices powerful again

handmademusic.noisepages.com: an opportunity to work on this stuff with other people, live, in person – and a call to extend this around the world, beyond Brooklyn, has already resulted in a number of cities in the US, plus London, Berlin, and Porto, Portugal

http://paia.com a source of DIY kits, including solder-free, business-card-sized kits that can be used to teach kids about electronics and sound early

Finally, here’s my presentation via SlideShare, complete with (some) of the embedded videos:

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  • DooKoo

    Ha! When I read this, the Google ad at the bottom of the page was for a 'cyber security' solution: "Helix3 Enterprise is an easy to use cyber security solution integrated into your network giving you visibility across your entire infrastructure revealing malicious activities such as Internet abuse, data sharing and harassment…Helix3 Enterprise allows you to quickly Detect, Identify, Analyze, Preserve and Report giving you the evidence to reveal the truth and protect your business."

    -dK

  • DooKoo

    "Often related to punk attitude and anti-capitalist movements, the DIY is, first of all, a stand against mass-production and mainstream trade politics."

    Visit this page: http://offf.ws/#sponsorship

    and scroll down to see the real manifesto(?)

    dK

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    That ad is coming up for me, too. Just blocked it. ;)

    I'm not anti-sponsor. But I felt under no pressure to mention how I used my Wacom tablet with CS4. That's not to say that doesn't happen at conferences — sometimes it does. I didn't get that feeling at OFFF. On the contrary, Processing and openFrameworks (open-source, community-based projects) got more shout-outs onstage than any of the sponsors.

    (Oh, Joshua Davis DID talk a lot about Red Bull, but he was indeed drinking a lot of them.)

    I'm not personally anti-capitalism or punk myself, but I appreciate that viewpoint. My feeling is that you don't have to be "anti-business." Why do we ship, say, musical instruments from across the other side of the world, at a huge environmental cost? Why don't we have sustainable, small-scale manufacturing closer at home? We're so entrenched in these businesses in one way of doing things that it takes DIYers doing something else — and, indeed, building *new businesses* so they can sustain their projects — to get us onto a new model.

    Part of the reason the US and Europe are in the huge economic hole we're in is that our governments decimated our manufacturing base and stopped making things. You can get the most ideological capitalist together with the most purist socialist, and they'll both agree people need to have jobs making stuff. I think the DIY movement, because it can be outrageous and experimental, has a lot of ideas that suggest how that can happen.

    So I don't see a conflict here at all.

    This was ultimately not what we talked about on the panel — we were focused, more simply, on how you can be creative with building your own tools. But I think those deeper questions are worth asking, and as we all look for ways to feed ourselves and our families, pay for our (cough, in the US) health insurance, and dig out of this economic crisis, I think we're all more aware of them.

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  • http://rekkerd.org ronnie

    I've seen some of Gijs' instruments for sale on a local marketplace website. Was very tempted to pick up one of his wonderful creations.

  • http://www.myspace.com/tooltablist Mudo

    I'm in the same way Peter.

    "Potser serà perque soc català? ;) "

    (Maybe is because I'm catalonian?)

    I believe in "these" new concept of "Electronic Luthier" doing myself and building for 3rds… sometimes they could be Corps but there are conditions.

    I'm not punk but I'm spiritual human and I work with passion for human being.

    My projects will be:

    commercial (for those who doesn't want to learn/understand, just play) in a closed ready to play form (but full hackeable).

    Open source/ DIY (for those who wants to learn and "think" they could do itselfs) in a "kit" form

    Collaborative (I will continue working with blogs like yours)

    Conciousness (Everybody must be responsable of theirselves and their choices)

    Future is custom, everybody choose their one.

  • Julià Carbone

    I am not saying that people who practice DIY is punk, I just say that part of its origin comes from punk attitudes, like customizing clothes….

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  • http://www.nbsp.es Marc Palau

    Uploading Gijs HD video 500MB – 22minutes :) (40 minutes left)

    Coding peter video 35 minutes … A few hours left

    Later I will give u the URL

    Nice to met you Peter!!

  • http://www.myspace.com/tooltablist Mudo

    Customization is in Bboys and turntablist dj too… and in human being itself.

    The important is the "spirit" of DIY itself (and custom tools)

    ;)

  • http://www.nbsp.es Marc Palau

    Here you are:

    http://www.nbsp.es/videos/Gijs%20Gieskes%20offf20

    Tomorrow yours Peter, I'm uploading right now the 700MB video.

  • http://www.nbsp.es Marc Palau

    Hey Peter, here you are:

    http://nbsp.es/videos/Peter%20Kirn%20offf2009%20O

    I wish you like it!!

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