March 25, 2011  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions

Looking at Music 3.0 invites interaction. Visitors select songs to hear (and dance to), videos to watch, and zines to read. Three digital art projects go one step further, allowing user and machine to take an active role. Laurie Anderson, The Residents, and Perry Hoberman harnessed what in the 1990s were the latest digital tools to make truly interactive works.

Engagement with Anderson’s Puppet Motel (1995) CD-ROM (created with designer Hsin-Chien Huang) begins in the Hall of Time, the program’s navigation center. Cryptic instructions are written on the walls. Past and future meld together, as we get to role play with the artist’s alter egos and voice-changing devices, and even strum her modified violins. As you wander from room to room, your challenge is to figure out what task is to be completed in a particular location before finding the exit and moving along. As we carve out our itinerary, we are caught up in Anderson’s gripping stories about life’s foibles.

The Residents. Freak Show. 1994. Image courtesy of the artist

The Residents, a San Francisco–based collective known for avant-garde music and multimedia artwork, made the Freak Show (1994), a CD-ROM exquisitely illustrated by Jim Ludtke. After a series of zany circus acts, everything heats up as, ignoring the circus barker’s objections, we push behind a barrier. Now free to roam around backstage, we enter the performers’ caravans. This behind-the-scenes world, complete with diaries and old love letters, radios with sad songs, and answering machines with forlorn messages, is better than a Gothic novel.

Perry Hoberman. Faraday’s Ghost. 2000. Image courtesy of the artist

In Perry Hoberman’s Faraday’s Ghost (2000), a bar code wand becomes a musical instrument, activating the distinctive sounds of obsolete appliances. The whir of blenders and egg beaters, the blips of toasters and the roar of vacuum cleaners combine to form a kind of musique concrète. Hoberman’s title refers to Michael Faraday, the 19th-century natural philosopher who contributed to the fields of electromagnetism and electrochemistry and was one of Albert Einstein’s heroes.

Puppet Motel, Freak Show, and Faraday’s Ghost encourage users to meander and interact with image and sound randomly. Rather than be perused from beginning to middle to end, sections are experienced in much the same way that novels are now being written on cell phones and tweeted.