Jeff Morton Doing Several Awesome Things at Artengine

Regina-based artist/performer Jeff Morton’s installation All The Horses and The Egg welcomes interactivity through the one irresistible object that begs to be pushed: the button.

Toy farm animals (and the odd T-rex) have been re-wired and fitted with buttons and sliders, sorted into groups, and then presented on eight pedestals in a kind of fantasy tableau.

Each animal produces a distinct sound that represents one element of a whole musical composition.

Part of Morton’s inspiration for the piece stems from the idea of synergy: the combination of several different parts producing a final product greater than the sum of their individual effects.

The title of the installation (All the Horses and the Egg) brings the theme of synergy full circle through the clever association with the children’s nursery rhyme: Humpty Dumpty.  Just as a broken egg can never be perfectly reassembled, a circuit-bent children’s toy can never accurately reproduce a Beethoven masterpiece.

Luckily, perfect reproductions are not what Morton seems to be after.  Rather, the work favours improvisation, experimentation, and participatory composition over musical precision.

Presented until May 7th as part of Prairie Scene, this imaginative installation by the very talented Jeff Morton  really must be seen…and touched, and heard.  You have until Saturday, so GET ON IT.

All the Horses and the Egg
Tuesday, April 26th 2011 – Saturday, May 7th 2011
Artengine – Arts Court, Room M70, 2 Daly Avenue, Ottawa Ontario
Gallery Hours: 12pm – 6pm, Wednesday to Sunday
Free admission

Morton also shared his expertise last Wednesday night at a subterranean circuit-bending workshop at club SAW, culminating in an improvised on-stage jam with workshop attendees and their modified instruments.

The ‘workshopees’ represented a broad range of experience, from expert circuit-benders to curious rookies, but the evening really hinged on the spirit of experimentation.  A lot of it was trial-and-error: choose a toy instrument, deconstruct it, solder, play around, and try to achieve an appealing or distorted sound.  Oh – and then put it all back together again.

Although the smorgasbord of colourful plastic parts, wires, and circuits seems intimidating from an outsider’s perspective, getting started with circuit bending doesn’t have to be complicated at all. “Go to Value Village, pick up some old toys or electronics, then take them apart and just see how they work” – this is Emily Daniels’ advice to anyone interested in getting started with circuit bending and technological experimentation.  Daniels is currently working as an artist-in-residence at Artengine, running a series of community workshops called Awesome Indies.

The one uncompromising rule that circuit-benders follow?  Never plug it in to the wall.  Or, alternatively, always use batteries!

Britta Evans-Fenton, an emerging new media artist, was first introduced to circuit bending in the BFA program at the University of Ottawa, and has participated in a few similar Artengine workshops.  She is currently trying to develop a small collective of new media artists in order to encourage more tech-savvy ladies to get involved in the practice.

Below, Jack Coghill, an instructor in electronic music at Carleton University takes apart a keyboard and runs the exposed wire along the circuit board to produce a scale of distorted, grainy-sounding notes.

Finally, the army of zombie toys and their makers gather on-stage for a performance orchestrated by ringleader Jeff Morton.



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