User Preferences: Tech Q&A With Folk-Machinery Artist Peter Flemming
Each week we chat about the tools of the trade with one outstanding creative to find out exactly how they do what they do. The questions are always the same, the answers, not so much. This week: Peter Flemming.
The Creators Project: Who are you and what do you do?
Peter Flemming: My name is Peter Flemming and I am an artist based in Montreal. I’m a ‘folk-machinery’ artist… I do electronics handcraft ‘by ear,’ tinkering intensively and intuitively in the studio. Most recently, I’ve being working on a series of experiments about resonance explored via sound, electromagnetically activated materials, mechanical performers and makeshift amplification devices. My past work has included lazy machines, solar-powered artwork, and hypnotically repetitive automata.
What kind of hardware do you use?
Hmm. Just about anything. I’m a packrat. For example, a recent installation included aluminum, brass, steel, nuts, bolts, plywood, 2-by-4’s, custom circuits, electric motors, paperclips, sticky tack, mason jars, roller chain, panes of glass, pails, salt water, a sound mixer, piezo microphones, guitar pickups, cedar shims, hot melt glue, and other stuff. I also like cinder blocks a lot.
What kind of software do you use?
My work is mostly hardware/physical based, so boringly, I find myself using mostly things like office software, internet stuff, occasionally drawing programs etc., but all within the Linux operating system. The only really specialized software I use on a regular basis is KiCad, which is a free, open-source CAD program for designing circuit boards. Definitely a favorite, and it just keeps getting better and better. Sometimes, I will program micr-controllers. Sometimes PICs with assembly and BASIC, or sometimes AVR with Arduino code.
What piece of equipment can you simply not live without?
Though a more fun answer would be a tie between my Myford ML7 metal lathe and my oscilloscope. I also really love my Ashina drill press. It was made in Hiroshima, a hand-me-down from a friend’s father who was an Air Force pilot. I wish I knew more about its origins.
If money were no object, how would you change your current set up?
I would probably not change my working methods too much, but I would hire a few people to help me so I could make more and better art faster. I would buy a building complex with separate studio, living environment, and pool/solarium. The studio would have distinct areas for different processes, eg. metal shop, clean room, electronics room, etc. I would pay back my debt to society by starting some kind of full educational scholarship in the arts for kids who normally wouldn’t have access. I would also specifically pay back my debt to the Ontario College of Art by establishing a yearly Soldering Iron & Power Supply Scholarship For Promising Young Electronic Artists to make up for the ones I stole from the lab when I was a student there. They really helped me to get started.
Is there any piece of technology that inspired you to take the path you did?
The 555 timer as introduced to me by Norman T. White.
What is your favorite piece of technology from your childhood?
The family piano.
What fantasy piece of technology would you like to see invented?
Food replicator from Star Trek. Or (odorless) poop-powered cars… that fly.
Peter Flemming, Instrumentation, 2012. Installation at Centre des arts actuels Skol, Montréal, QC. Photos by Guy L’Heureux.