ABOVE: noteNdo installation of RESET v2.0 For 2 Prepared Nintendo Entertainment Systems at Playlist @ iMAL Bruxelles, BE 2010
in conversation w/ the GLI.TC/H organizers, i (jonCates) interviewed noteNdo AKA Jeff Donaldson who has been glitching in realtime since 2001. His hardware modifications of 8bit NES and 16bit SEGA Genesis/Master Systems have shown all over the world in the contexts of Glitch Art, Art Games and New Media Art. noteNdo is based in NYC and this interview took place primarily over the internet via email in 2011.
// jonCates, CHICAGO, 2012, COPY-IT-RIGHT
jonCates: when did you 1rst become excited by glitches +/or involved in Glitch Art?
noteNdo: The very first time I remember becoming excited by a glitch was in the late 80s - sometime in 1987. I remember it vividly - I was at a friends house playing Metroid on NES late one night and while ascending the golden tunnel in the Fortress Of Zebes, the screen suddenly rearranged itself into a beautiful geometric pattern. I remember staring at the screen, captivated, not upset in the least about the game crashing. It was like an intelligence that wanted to be seen, that old ghost in the machine.
It wasn’t until 2000 while studying music composition at university did I become involved in Glitch Art. A friend of mine, who was also a guitarist in my rock band, turned me onto Mego records and audio bending. Mego led to Mille Plateau which led to groups like Pan Sonic which in turn led to buying cheap electronic toys to audio bend. Since I was planted firmly in 20th century classical music and extended guitar techniques, audio bending was a logical progression for me.
Not long after, I actually had a dream and in it I was making abstract, glitchy video with a NES. At this time the only computer available to me was the same NES I had had since I was 12 so I went about glitching it by bridging solder points with aluminum foil and recorded hours and hours of footage to VHS tape. The original impetus for doing this was of course this dream I had but also my friends Michael and Dawn’s blocky flash animations. I was operating from the memory of NES game crashes and intuited where to short the system. It was really quite logical, as everyone who grew up with the NES remembers, blowing on the game cartridge helped get the system to read better so interrupting the signal between to cartridge and the NES was rather obvious. Then reading Wire magazine one day I came across a review of Nanoloop and Little Sound DJ and decided to work on creating abstract audio/visual works using re-purposed Nintendo hardware.
jonCates: this raises the issue of performance, musicality + instrumentality. you use your bent consoles as musical instruments, can you talk a bit about them in that context? is there a relationship to extended guitar techniques in your use of the consoles? the term ‘prepared’ is used similarly to refer to ‘extended’ instrument techniques. do you consider your consoles to be ‘prepared’?
noteNdo: Yes, absolutely. I prefer to refer to them as prepared systems in homage to John Cage’s prepared piano. Just as the prepared piano has had different objects added to it - inserting things like nuts and bolts between strings to transform the timbre of the instrument - I am adding wiring to my consoles in order to transform them into new audio/visual instruments. So in this case I would say yes, this falls under extended technique inasmuch that by adding wiring, the video game computers function is extended in an unintended and unforeseen way.
As instruments, it’s really all about the interface and that is something I’ve been refining throughout the past 9 years. The systems I’m using really are prototypes. Over time, I’ve tried different designs - one system has potentiometers and switches which I use to trigger and dial in different effects and the other two have patch-bays. It’s been a matter of finding out what works best and learning this in performance settings has proven to be best for me.
To create an instrument out of, for example, a prepared NES, the first part of the process is finding different usable effects. Some are extremely unstable and last for only a very short amount of time. Others are generative loops which can go on indefinitely. The next step is creating the interface which can be anything from wiring each effect to either a potentiometer, switch, banana jack, etc.
jonCates: the prepared consoles you describe are performance instruments for your live preformances + are optimized + customized to your needs as a performer. how do these considerations (of instrument building) influence your work in the context of installation + exhibition?
noteNdo: It varies. My early installations were quite simple. The first one, “Patch Me” for Bent Festival 2005, utilized my SEGA Genesis prepared with a DSUB breakout box which was affixed to the front of the monitor enclosure. The breakout box was the same interface I used at the time for live visuals. What this did was provide a way for people to interact with my system and view it in real-time. I had the video output to 5 television monitors which were all fed the SEGA output. At the time, “video bending” was not as prevalent as it is now and “Patch Me” seemed to me a nice way to present the concept in an interactive way that was very easy to grasp.
As I acquired the means to digitize footage, I recorded and created DVDs for use as installation video loops at group shows as well as for screenings at events.
Then for Bent Festival 2009 in NYC I decided to do something a bit more challenging and began the RESET series of installations. The concept behind RESET is taking a room or open space and turning *it into the interface, creating what I refer to as an audio/visual Glitch Environment. To realize this I used effects developed over time while VJing but instead of interfacing with control boxes and/or traditional pots and switches, effects were controlled by laser lights and photo-cell resisters that were installed on or in adjacent walls. Viewers become participants by walking through the installation space, their movement interrupts the laser beams which therefore trigger different audio/visual effects.
So far I have done four iterations of RESET: Bent Festival NYC 2009, READY>RUN at the Esther Klein Gallery, Philadelphia 2009, Playlist at LABoral in Gijon, Spain 2009, and again for Playlist at iMAL in Bruxelles, Belgium 2010. The series has been as simple as one prepared NES system wired to one photo-cell and triggered by one laser which was beamed down a hallway via a series of broken mirrors and as complex as two prepared NES systems wired to a total of seven photo-cell/laser arrays. At LABoral I also had printed wallpaper of one of my noteNdo patterns and at iMAL I had a smoke machine set up so the laser light could be seen in order to be played like an instrument.
jonCates: what directions are you interested in taking these projects or approaches or collaborations now or in the futures?
noteNdo: Currently, I am producing textile renders of patterns generated with the prepared NES systems. This is something I’ve been interested in doing since I started the work in 2001. It’s been a long road to figuring out the best way to realize this; printed vs knit or woven fabric, direct image transfers vs illustrated/composite compositions. I am dedicated to this as a new paradigm in design and see applications for it everywhere. I’m hoping to one day see cheap knock-offs in Chinatown so that I know I’ve succeeded (;
I still have interest in mining the NES and SEGA for new effects as well as working with other systems. There are expanded iterations of the RESET series I would like to realize as well.
I’m also very interested in collaborations. So far I’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate with incredible artists like Melissa Barron and Phillip Stearns and I have some new projects I’m beginning with Laura Wickesberg, Rolf van Gelder, Carmin Karasic, and Nina Wenhart.