The refurbished and grandiose old opera house Gaîté Lyrique has already developed a nice reputation as an international cultural institution dedicated to digital arts and new music—that is until German installation artist and circuit-bending master Niklas Roy, a self-described “inventor of useless things," decided to give the Gaîté Lyrique a rougher edge. As a high-speed artist-in-resident, Roy took the opportunity to turn the cube’s first floor into a cross between a craftsman’s workshop and a garage, overflowing with his traveling tools: a laptop and smartphone, a soldering iron, some printed circuit boards, a bunch of LEDs and a solid length of tin wire. As our Parisian offices are only a few athletic strides from the Gaîté lyrique, we decided to pay him a visit.
Though he usually prefers to work in a neat and tidy space, Roy welcomed us as guests into a chaotic version of his workshop/inventors lab. Using measuring instruments such as an analog oscilloscope, microcontrollers, video cameras and old TV screens, Roy manipulates video signals in real time to create electronic signals for video games. It looks easy, but it’s not.
After a preliminary demonstration came a more playful satisfaction: Roy brought out his low-tech augmented reality video game Ping. This Pong-inspired project is an augmented reality system connected to a video camera that’s controlled by an electronic device that projects your image onto a screen, allowing you to play directly with your arms, hands, head or any other object you can put your hands on.
Roy says his ideas generally take shape when he crafts DIY experiments over the weekend, taking a break from his more serious projects. His DIY experiments, not to be confused with the contemporary use of that abbreviation among punks and artists, are created with literal “do it yourself” craftsmanship, using hammers and steel materials. For instance, he showed us his Pocket Sound Performer, which is a video game that you can play “to kill time when you’re alone.” The small noise object is operated by two analog joysticks taken from a Playstation controller, which influence several parameters during the real-time synthesis of sound. We were already puzzled, in a singular combination of awe and admiration, when he introduced us to his latest crazy project, My Little Piece of Privacy.
Right before our eyes, Roy turned the well-known concept of a light pen, an instrument that allows you to interact with a TV screen, into a synthesizer designed for noise music.
And before we left, we had our mandatory Electronic Instant Camera shot taken by Roy, but we’re too shy to share our pixelated mug on a international platform.