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Mad Scientist 

Dr. Aaron Wolf Baum turns modern technology into a weird amalgam of sound and image, music and art

Wednesday, Jul 18 2001
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Dr. Aaron Wolf Baum stands naked in front of a screen on which fragmented colors morph and melt together. He moves his hands, covered in "motion capture gloves" that resemble high-tech armored falconer's gloves, and an eerie, metallic sound emerges, as if he were conducting an alien orchestra.

"What if we were to encounter a form of life we'd never seen before?" asks Baum in a video sample of his work. "What if we coexisted with another form of life but neither of us recognized the other? Could this be happening with our own technology?"

It is such questions that inform his musical explorations. Baum, who studied physics at Harvard and Stanford, has found his calling as a cutting-edge artist using state-of-the-art technology to explicate his ideas. His first project in this vein was a system that used fractals (repeating sound waves) to process found-sound samples culled from popular culture; the result, Nebulous Entity, became a hit at the 1998 Burning Man Festival.

Since then it's only gotten weirder. Applying notions of gene-splicing and spontaneous regeneration to audio technologies, Baum has created textural sound environments that shift without any intervention. His latest project, presented in collaboration with the tech-heavy "LifeLike" series at New Langton Arts, answers some of his most intriguing questions. Using a system of computers, cameras, and microphones, Baum has fashioned a self-sustained environment of sound and image that feeds off itself, yet can be influenced by the viewer. By walking in front of his camera, one alters the loop of cascading images; by donning the motion capture gloves one can orchestrate the loop of sound. More than a fun-house for the Burning Man set, Baum's creations are a profound statement about control of and collaboration with the technology that dominates modern life, for better or worse.

About The Author

David Cook

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