The Hacktory Blog

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Guest Post: Unknown Territory Artist-In-Resident Michael Kiley

Today’s blog post comes from Artist-In-Resident, composer and sound designer Michael Kiley.-Lee T.

A month ago I was introduced to something called poetic computation, or, the writing of computer code for artistic purposes. I used to believe that I would never be able to understand how to write code or create a program, and more importantly, that I would never want to. However, my artistic practice has recently run into the wall that is programing, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. This shift in my thinking was brought on by my acceptance into the Artist In Residence (AIR) program at The Hacktory, run by Lee Tusman and Georgia Guthrie. I applied to the program wanting to know more about the code that went into making my first two soundwalk pieces: The Empty Air and Animina. As a result I am learning how to code in an application called Processing, a programming language geared towards artists.

After our first meeting (there are 5 other AIRs) I said to myself; “This residency is going to change my life,” and here’s why: I am adding value to my artistic practice. As a sound designer, composer, performer and voice teacher, I possess a wealth of highly specialized skills. Unfortunately, this does not always mean that my skills are valued. I am underpaid for my work (sometimes less then $10 an hour), and am forced to take on more jobs then I am capable of. Sound designers are the lowest paid designers on most theatrical productions, and are also allotted the least amount of the budget to spend on a project. My theory around this is that sound is the only design element that is not visual, and we inherently have a difficult time discussing, budgeting and valuing things that we cannot see or hold in our hands. Coding has value. We can read it. It makes concrete things occur. People get paid to write it, and get paid well. It is my hope that by adding coding to the skill set of my artistic practice, I can increase the value of what I do. It will also open me up to more diverse employment opportunities.

The other Artists In Residence are all amazing and inspiring. I have never been more excited by a group of people than I am by my fellow residents. Each one of them has a practice that is radically different than mine, and they are all super passionate and articulate about their work. I’m seriously honored to be included in this group and their ideas have already changed how I think about making work. The sheer fact that this residency exists is making me work hard. If there is one combination of events that makes me thrive it is the opportunity to work hard toward something that does not have a tangible goal, and a support network to do it. I have no idea where learning how to write code will take me, but it will be somewhere I have never dreamed of. I would NEVER have started doing this if it weren’t for Lee and Georgia getting me in a room with the above group of people and telling me: “You can do this.” Do you realize how rare that is for an artist to hear? It is because of their belief in me that I feel I will not fail at this. So far, Processing has taught me how to make things that look like this: KileyProcessing By the end of July I hope to have manipulated sound using code. By December I hope to write my own program. And that feels amazing.

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