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User Preferences: Tech Q&A With Media Artist Martin Bircher

Type Case, a low-resolution display with 125 rectangular pixels of different sizes.

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: Martin Bircher

The Creators Project: Who are you and what do you do?
Martin Bircher:
I am a Swiss media artist living in southeast Finland. In my work I combine my technological background, fine art education, admiration for the quality of old crafted items, and affection for electronic media. I mix antiquated items, values, or ideas with electronic components and some lines of code. In this way I convert them to objects with a new purpose, to “objets trouvés numériques” as I like to call them. Being a lecturer in digital media at the local University of Applied Sciences generates most of my income, helps me to keep my feet on the ground and motivates me to keep up with the latest tools and methods. Recently, I have also enjoyed travelling to universities and festivals to host workshops about the use of technology in artistic work.

What hardware do you use?
My daily companion is an old, white MacBook. I also own a netbook, which I use for applications that require Windows OS. My workroom is full of electronic parts and tools as well as measuring and testing equipment. I often use the Arduino platform for my projects. I build most of my own circuits so I appreciate having a decent soldering station at hand. I think in general the use of good tools can be seen and felt in the quality of the final work. In the past years, numerous hardware synthesizers, voice processors, microphones, and audio cables have been gathering around my desk. I have been exploring building electronic musical instruments—but so far this has mostly been for fun. Despite being drawn to technology, I am still a firm believer in the experience of printed books.

What software do you use?
Communication and self-education make big demands on my time, so Chrome, Skype, and Mail are always open. I teach programs from the Adobe Creative Suite. In addition I also use Processing, Arduino, Wiring, Pd, and Logic. A friend noticed some time ago that I had become more and more a ‘hardware’ guy. I like the idea of dedicating a single object to one task. It is hard to find much character or charm in something which tries to be too many things.


Digital Enhancement

If money were no object, how would you change your current setup?
I am quite happy with the tools I have at hand. I try to be aware of the ecological nonsense behind the blind desire for the latest and greatest. I hope to afford a big old wooden house in the countryside one day. It would be an exciting project to renovate it and then to have plenty of studio and workshop space as well as room for family and friends.

What fantasy piece of technology would you like to see invented?
I am waiting for a materializer of some sort to be developed. It would be really handy, to print out that much needed adapter, replacement light bulb, or carton of milk I forgot to buy.

Is there any piece of technology that inspired you to take the path you did?
During my childhood I had LEGO, train sets, electronics, and construction kits. These toys really brought the inventor out in me. I am glad we did not have a computer until I was around 14 years old as I got time to play with actual things. Back then of course I thought differently.

What’s your favourite relic piece of technology from your childhood?
I still have the same child-like fascination and desire to explore and understand I had 30 years ago. Looking back, my father’s screwdrivers played a key part in introducing me to new worlds. They made it possible to take stuff apart and occasionally to put back together again.

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