Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos — Interview with Kristen Roos
— Tristan Whitehill
With his ornate multi-media weaving, Kristen Roos is an artist with a holistic perspective that draws from textiles, early computer art software, and digital pattern generation. His newest record, Universal Synthesizer Interface, utilizes a MIST FPGA, a Commodore Amiga 500, and a Macintosh Plus to run software the legendary Laurie Spiegel sent him. This software sequences early digital synthesizers and patches to intentionally acknowledge the time period of their creation. Kristen now resides in Vancouver, BC, Canada, and during the last year under isolation created a body of work that is deeply insightful into the archeology of early digital art creation and simultaneously beautiful. Kristen wrote for us some insights into his production. You can listen and purchase the tape via fellow Vancouver residents Hotham Sound Recordings
Tell us a little about your history as an artist. How did this lead you to creating your recent work with Universal Synthesizer Interface ?
In 2020, just prior to the pandemic, I had started digging around on the Internet to find algorithmic midi sequencing software for personal computers from the mid 1980’s into the early 2000’s, with a focus on software for Commodore Amiga, 68k Macintosh, and Atari ST computers. I had been acquiring these old computers for a number of years, and had primarily used them for visual work. Up until this time, I had written off using these computers for the sound work that I do, as my memories of using much of this era of computer were from my first experiences in one of the Electro-acoustic studios at Concordia University in the mid 1990’s.
As far as giving a bit of history on my practice, I have been creating both audio and visual work for a number of years, which stems from a few things. First, going back to my initial training at an arts high school, which really allowed for a unique level of interdisciplinary as a teenager. It’s really where I feel my roots are in terms of feeling supported and gained confidence as an artist, as well as my first experiences working in photography, printmaking, video editing, painting and drawing and creating music for dance choreography. I was also experimenting with sound at home as a teenager, and was using a Casio SK-1 and a Moog, and creating no input mixer sounds with a realistic mixer, and making noise with my friends. This also paved the way for me to move to Montreal when I was 19, and go into an interdisciplinary arts program at Concordia University. This allowed me to combine a lot of disciplines that I am still working in today, I was in the Electro-acoustic music program, taking courses in the history of video art, learning how to screen print, and also dabbling in performance art. Since this time, I have also completed an MFA and focused my work on sound, radio art, and transmission art for around 16 years. There’s a mini retrospective of my radio and transmission work you can stream on the Athens based Movement Radio here
My latest work in transmission art is called Anti-Wave
I’ve also created a number of sound installations, including a large site-specific sound installation that focused on infra-sound, which took up an entire subway station called Ghost Station
Before the pandemic my sound arts practice for gallery exhibitions could be described as site-specific sound installation/performance. I really enjoy arriving in a new location, then collecting sound and creating an installation based on the sounds that are found, as well taking into account the objects, and the architectural space that I’m working in. If possible I also use these installations as spaces to perform in. This way the audience is immersed in the work, and I often walk around and through the audience who is usually seated on the floor. I use different kinds of listening devices and receivers, and also use some custom made speakers that I use to resonate the space.
I have also been creating electronic music since the 1990’s, and have always just created music for myself on the side. Sometimes this has been incorporated into my practice, like the sounds used in the installation Transduction.
and I have released albums and perform as a duo with my partner in KR75.
I’ve also maintained an ongoing interest in media archaeological research, and used this when I write about my work and grant writing. Right now this research and writing is focused on the birth of the personal computer, and like I said earlier algorithmic MIDI sequencing software for early personal computers. I’m interested in the point in which the computer became “personal” and made its way into the home, and the subsequent software that was developed for this home market. There are a number of reasons why I feel this is interesting, especially in terms of computers being so ubiquitous, and fact that the personal computer/smartphone has been completely normalized. I also like looking back to the point when the idea of an algorithm was first being used creatively with personal computers, rather than the current way that algorithms are predominantly spoken of today, which is mainly in terms of social media, etc. That is really where Universal Synthesizer Interface has emerged from, as well as looking to the history of electronic music and the invention of MIDI. It’s fascinating to look at this history, and then create work out of this research.
Since you already have been utilizing vintage computers and their respective software for visual artwork, does music with these tools feel like a natural extension or present a new set of challenges?
I think it feels like a natural extension, but has definitely presented me with new challenges, which has me tinkering a lot before actually getting everything working. Some of the technology is similar, in terms the computers I’ve collected over the past few years, and the floppy disk emulators that they use.
This past summer, when Vancouver was in Covid lock-down, I started really focusing on researching the Atari ST world of DIY MIDI sequencing software. This brought me to contacting some of the creators of software from this era, people like Eric Ameres and John Zicarelli (Intelligent Music), Laurie Spiegel (Music Mouse). Everyone was very supportive, and Laurie sent me a full version of Music Mouse that I was able to use on a Macintosh Plus that I own. Laurie seems to be one of the few people with archives of her work that are still accessible on current computers. She also sent me an archive of Atari ST midi sequencing software from Tim’s Atari MIDI World Yahoo group archives. Since Yahoo group archives had been disbanded in 2019 (and as of 2020 the groups are now completely gone) I was in search of the files that were missing from some of the websites download links. This was a website set up by an Atari ST enthusiast Tim Conrardry, which still exists and has lots of software available to download, but anything that linked to the yahoo groups archives is now broken. One of the DIY programs that I discovered through delving into the Tim’s Atari MIDI World was David Snow’s MIDI Master Drummer. One of the tracks on Volume I was created with this program. David Snow also created several other unique MIDI sequencers and programs for the Atari ST. I have been in touch with David Snow who has continued to compose, and still keeps a link up on his website to download his programs for Atari ST. Master Drummer is a rhythmic sequencer, with a nice self generating feature for creating randomized/algorithmic patterns, and multiple midi outputs for each instrument.
I also purchased new hardware – a MIST fpga to run all of the Atari ST software that Laurie sent me. This was a real breakthrough in terms of running old software on new hardware, since the fpga has MIDI ports on it, and the Atari ST was the first computer to come with built in MIDI ports. This the same sort of technology that we are seeing being used to create new clones of vintage video game consoles. (For more info you can read about fpga’s or the MIST fpga online). So, a lot of the technology that is helping my work with vintage computers actually comes from the world of gamers, and the current use of vintage video games. Things like getting old computers to work with new monitors, etc.
The challenges really lie in the fact that each computer has a different set of protocols to access the software, and different ways of saving, and different ways to use an operating system, if there is an operating system at all. There is often an external operating system on a floppy disk, and sometimes like in the case of an Amiga, software will not run from a floppy emulator unless it is a bootable disk that is running from the primary internal drive. So after finding the software disk images for programs like Intelligent Music’s M, I then had to copy it to an actual 3.5” floppy disk, and run the program from there. So a lot of educating myself on the different ways that each of the platforms from this vintage era work.
It seems very logical that your work with weaved lattices and programming would also include sonification of these ideas, I'd love to hear your perspective on this. Can you share some additional inspirations in the world of textiles, graphics, or music software that brought you to your current mindset?
The textile work that I’m doing is directly tied to the history of computers, as well as the history I’m researching into the dawn of digital paint, draw, animation and image digitizers for personal computers. The loom that I’m using to weave is an AVL Jacquard Loom, which is basically a handloom with circuit boards attached to it, which are controlled by compressed air that is controlled by a computer.
As I talked about earlier, I’m also involved in media archaeology, and research into the history of digital paint, and draw, animation and image digitizers for early personal computers.
I’m really into the historic SYSEX files for the DX7, I’ve been searching through these libraries to find sounds that were used at the same time as the computers that I’m using. Other than that, I’m also a big lover of drum machines, and getting the right kick, snare and hat sounds from 80’s drum machines is also something I am meticulous about. I’m really diving into MIDI on this album, and although the vintage computers are sequencing the midi data, the midi cables are sent to a number of things, like hardware, and also software instruments in Ableton live.
As far as time, this album was created during the Covid 19 pandemic, and while in the lock-down that didn’t allow for going out except for groceries. All of my spaces that I teach at closed from March-September, and I was living off of the benefit money that was coming in from the government. So I was staying up extremely late, sometimes going to bed at 3-4am, and then getting up as late as 2pm. I was shopping for groceries after midnight when the shops were quiet, and really feeling like I was in a different space and time since I was using computers that were from a different era, and also not needing to abide by any schedule whatsoever in terms of work. So, all this being said, I’d say that time, and my emotions were all very strange at this time, everything was turned on its head as far as work, my daughter and my partner, and also very unknown as far as the future. So I just focused on creating art.
Yes, there will be a second volume of Universal Synthesizer Interface! The Music needs mixing, and then mastering, and we are figuring out release dates later this year. But I am really creating a ton of sounds based on this way of working, and I think the music is getting better and better. I’m focusing on getting a unique sound out of Music Mouse, one that doesn’t necessarily sound like it came out of Music Mouse. I’ve been sharing these tracks with Laurie Speigel and she’s had a positive response. I’m also interested in maybe sharing some of the interviews I’ve been conducting with some of the creators of this early algorithmic MIDI sequencing software, and may do this with the second release on the Hotham Sound site.