Archives for : Sound

The VECTORS show at Bryce Wolkowitz

14 January – 18 February, 2011
Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery 505 W 24th Street (at 10th Ave), New York, NY 10011


Afghanistan Stability/Counterinsurgency Dynamics (detail)


The idea for Vectors began with my participation in Paul Virilio’s Stop-Eject exhibition in 2008.  Stop-Eject centered around the collapse of geographic and political space in the mobile, connected world, and Virilio wanted the artists to show how people, goods, animals, money, and information flow across borders of all kinds.  This got me thinking about vectors as a way to characterize these flows, and from there I started to see how vectors actually connect much of the work that I do.

A moving train is a vector; the wind blowing from the northeast at seven miles per hour is a vector; the change in the price of Google’s stock is a vector.  When you look at it statistically, any collection of language — a novel, a newspaper, an archive — is packed with vectors.  A vector is an indicator, a hint, a single clue about where we’re headed.  If we could somehow understand the mix of vectors that influence our trajectory at a given instant, we would be able to briefly glimpse the future.


Works in the show


Afghanistan Stability/Counterinsurgency Dynamics
2011; Neon, wood 47 3/4″ x 87″ x 6 1/2″; edition of 3

The design and the title of this work are based on a diagram that appeared on the front page of The New York Times on April 27, 2010, accompanying an article entitled, We Have Met the Enemy, and He is PowerPoint.  The diagram was created in 2009 for the Department of Defense by PA Consulting Group to convey the details and the complexity of the situation in Afghanistan.  According to PA’s website, the London-based consulting firm develops tailored causal maps of key drivers of stability in regions and countries of interest.  PA gives senior decision makers and their teams a shared big picture view and a more structured way to help inform options for intervention.

The character of the PA diagram owes a debt to the work of Mark Lombardi, who created graceful, detailed and meticulously researched pencil drawings depicting complex interconnected webs of influence and financial connections. It was probably Lombardi’s subject matter, which included banking networks, organized crime, and the Bin Laden family, that first caught the attention of the intelligence community, but the PA diagram shows us that they may have found Lombardi’s narrative methods useful as well.  In a 2003 review of the Drawing Center’s Lombardi show, The Times’ Michael Kimmelman, wrote:

 I happened to be in the Drawing Center when the Lombardi show was being installed and several consultants to the Department of Homeland Security came in to take a look. They said they found the work revelatory, not because the financial and political connections he mapped were new to them, but because Lombardi showed them an elegant way to array disparate information and make sense of things, which they thought might be useful to their security efforts.

In my neon work, I’ve removed the text from PA’s diagram, creating an abstract network of vectors that still suggest connections, influence and movements of visual energy.

Anecdotal History No. 1 

2011; Typewriter, video projection 37″ x 14 1/2″ x 19″; edition of 3

The portable manual typewriter, a device used for a century by foreign correspondents and far-flung diplomats, here taps out a series of phrases drawn from the diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks in late 2010.  Together with The Language of Diplomacy (2011), this work scans the text of the leaked cables for lexical patterns and linguistic constructions that may reveal new layers of meaning.



Anecdotal History No. 2
2011; 4 x 5 view camera, projector, tripod 64″ x 30″ x 30″; edition of 3

The slowed-down trajectory of a man fired from a cannon in Mexico, landing ultimately in a net in the US, is projected onto the camera’s focal plane. The man’s body, held steady at the center of the ground-glass grid as it rises and then falls through its ballistic arc, recalls the Muybridge motion studies.

Optical Semaphore
2011; Acrylic, electronics 12″ x 74 1/2″ x 11 1/2″; edition of 3

The visual design and speed of the semaphore’s transmission are calibrated so that it can easily be read, recorded, and decoded by a person using pencil and paper.  Every 8 seconds, each of the semaphore’s four wheels rotates into one of eight positions:  north, south, east, west, northeast, southeast, southwest, northwest. In all, this yields 4,096 possible unique configurations of the four discs (a 12-bit binary number), for a data transmission rate of 1.5 bits per second, which is one millionth the speed of a T1 or cable-modem connection.  Only the artist knows the content of the transmission.

State Boundaries as Audio Waveforms
2011; Oscilloscopes, audio electronics 27″ x 82 1/2″ x 18″; edition Unique

An array of five oscilloscopes displays a succession of the 50 US state outlines, with a new group of states displayed every few seconds. The audible tones from the speakers are the same signals that are being fed to the oscilloscopes to generate the images.

To create this work, I begin with a set of connected vertices (latitude, longitude) that define the outline of each state.  I normalize the longitude values and convert them into a short audio sample; I then feed the looping audio signal to the horizontal input of an oscilloscope (and to the speaker to the left of the scope).  I do the same for the latitude, and I feed that audio to the oscilloscope’s vertical input (and to the speaker to the scope’s right).  In the end, each state has its own unique stereo sound, and each oscilloscope functions as a vector graphic display, repeatedly tracing the outline of the state as defined by the two sound waves.  I add occasional distortion, mixing, or processing of the audio signal to create intermittent disturbances (both heard and seen) that interrupt the orderly progression from state to state.

This piece is at the center of the set of ideas at play in this Vectors exhibition; vectors define the state boundaries, their images are made visible using vector graphic display techniques, and the states in turn each represent complex sets of political and historical vectors.

The Language of Diplomacy
2011; LED lights, custom electronics 61″ x 244″ x 4 1/2″; edition of 2

Here I’ve extracted 4200 unique 6-letter words from the 2010 Wikileaks release of diplomatic cables, and they are presented here in the order that each first appeared (1968-2010).  I’ve color-coded words that are names, places, or other centers of influence (government agencies, NGOs, corporations, publications, etc.).

Times Square Trajectories:  46th Street and 7th Ave
2011 (Boundary Conditions series); Video Projection, optical equipment, ground glass. 74 1/2″ x 13″ x 31″ (overall installation measurements); edition of 3

Inspired in equal parts by Jaques Tati’s well observed wanderings, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, and 19th century entomologist John Lubbock’s obsessive records of the movements of ants, bees, and wasps, I shot a set of high-resolution videos from the roof of the Condé Nast building 52 stories above Times Square in June, 2010.  The circular glass screen shows a series of shots that begin at the same time and place; each shot then zooms in to follow a single individual who passes through the frame, following that person as long as he or she stays within sight.  The lower screen shows a series of overviews from the same time and place.

For more information, please contact the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery.


Art in America Magazine

VECTORS opens January 13, 2011

Feb 5, 2011:  New photos
videos, and descriptions
are HERE

Preliminary press information and background is below:

Ben Rubin

Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery
14 January – 18 February, 2011
505 W24th Street (at 10th Ave), New York, NY 10011
Opening Reception:  13 January, 6-8pm

Detail from Trajectories Series (2011), Mixed media, dimensions variable

Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of new work by multi-media artist Ben Rubin.

In his first solo show at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, Ben Rubin uses mid-20th-century technological artifacts, miniature image projection, sound, and electronic text displays to reveal vectors of movement, language, politics, and information.

The show will feature all new work, including The Language of Diplomacy (2010-2011), a 24-foot text wall that mines the newest Wikileaks collection of diplomatic cables, searching for lexical patterns and linguistic constructions that may point to new layers of meaning.  This work is the next in Rubin’s ongoing series of large-scale language visualizations that began with his groundbreaking installation Listening Post (2002), and has continued with Moveable Type (2007, commissioned by The New York Times for its lobby), and Shakespeare Machine (2012, for the lobby of the Public Theater).

In 2010, Rubin began An Anecdotal History, a new series of sculptural work based around pre-digital media and communication artifacts (oscilloscopes, typewriters, cameras, loudspeakers), and these works will be shown here for the first time.

Other works in the show include One Bit Per Second (2010), a mechanical semaphore transmitter, Afghanistan Stability/Counterintelligence Dynamics, a diagrammatic abstraction of the coalition forces’ war strategy, and Boundary Conditions (2010), a new series of miniature video projections that focuses on the dynamics of borders (political and otherwise).

The Boundary Conditions series is a direct outgrowth of the work I did for Paul Virilio’s Stop-Eject exhibition in 2008, says Rubin.  That show centered around the collapse of geographic and political space in the mobile, connected world, and Virilio wanted the artists to show how people, goods, animals, money, and information flow across borders of all kinds.  This got me thinking about vectors as a way to characterize these flows, and from there I started to see how vectors actually connect much of the work that I do.

A moving train is a vector.  The wind blowing from the northeast at seven miles per hour is a vector.  The change in the price of Google’s stock is a vector.  When you look at it statistically, any collection of language — a novel, a newspaper, an archive — is packed with vectors.  A vector is an indicator, a hint, a single clue about where we’re headed.  If we could somehow understand all the vectors that influence our trajectory at a given instant, we would be able to briefly glimpse the future.

Ben Rubin (b. 1964, Boston, Massachusetts) is a media artist based in New York City. Rubin’s work is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Jose Museum of Art, and the Science Museum, London, and has been shown at the Whitney Museum in New York, the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris, and the ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe. Rubin has created large-scale public artworks for the New York Times, the city of San José, and the Minneapolis Public Library.  He is currently developing a site-specific sculpture called Shakespeare Machine for the Public Theater in New York, and just completed Beacon (2010), a luminous rooftop sculpture commissioned for National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.

Rubin has worked closely with major figures in contemporary culture, including composer Steve Reich, architects Diller+Scofidio/Renfro, Renzo Piano, James Polsheck, and James Sanders, performers Laurie Anderson and Arto Lindsay, theorists Bruno Latour and Paul Virilio, and artists Ann Hamilton and Beryl Korot. He frequently collaborates with UCLA statistician Mark Hansen, and their joint projects include Moveable Type (2007), and Listening Post (2002), which won the 2004 Golden Nica Prize from Ars Electronica as well as a Webby award in 2003. In 2011, Rubin and Mark Hansen will join forces with the Elevator Repair Service theater ensemble to present Shuffle, a new performance and installation that will re-mix text from three American novels of the 1920s.

Rubin received a B.A. from Brown University in 1987 and an M.S. from the MIT Media Lab in 1989.  He is on the faculty of the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU and has previously taught at the Bard MFA program and the Yale School of Art, where he was appointed critic in graphic design in 2004. During the Fall of 2010, he taught a new graduate seminar, An Anecdotal History of Sound, at NYU/ITP.

For further information, please contact Amanda Bhalla Wilkes at (212) 243 8830 or by email at

An Anecdotal History of Sound and Light

In the fall of 2010, I taught a graduate seminar at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program wove threads through the creative and scientific histories of sound and light.  The course blog is here.

Moveable Type

Moveable Type by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin


Moveable Type, by New York artist Ben Rubin and U.C.L.A. associate professor Mark Hansen, is an artwork commissioned for the ground-floor lobby of The New York Times Building in New York City. It is a dynamic portrait of The Times. Statistical methods and natural-language processing algorithms are used to parse the daily output of the paper (news, features, editorials) and the archives, as well as the activity of visitors to (browsing, searching, commenting). The resulting refracted view of The Times is displayed on 560 vacuum-fluorescent display screens installed in the lobby.

Moveable Type is located in the lobby of the New York Times Building on Eighth Avenue between 40th and 41st Streets in New York City. It is free and open to the public in the public Monday – Saturday, 8am – 7pm.

Moveable Type



Photos of Moveable Type on Flickr


The New York Times
Media Bistro

Listening Post

Listening Post

Listening Post is an art installation by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin that culls text fragments in real time from thousands of unrestricted Internet chat rooms, bulletin boards and other public forums. The texts are read (or sung) by a voice synthesizer, and simultaneously displayed across a suspended grid of more than two hundred small electronic screens.

Listening Post cycles through a series of six movements, each a different arrangement of visual, aural, and musical elements, each with it’s own data processing logic.

Dissociating the communication from its conventional on-screen presence, Listening Post is a visual and sonic response to the content, magnitude, and immediacy of virtual communication.

Listening Post can be seen at The London Science Musuem and The San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, Calif.


Photos of Listening Post on Flickr








Sound is produced as if each disc were a phonograph record. As each disc spins fast or slow, backwards or forwards, speeding up or slowing down, its sound follows accordingly.

Presented at the Bumbershoot Visual Arts Exhibition, Seattle. August 26th – September 1st, 2003



Look and Listen: Ben Rubin gives shape to sound The Stranger, week of August 28th, 2003, by Emily Hall

Open Outcry

Sonic Garden artists:
Ben Rubin, Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, and Marina Rosenfeld
Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders


Commissioned by Creative Time for Sonic Garden

World Financial Center, New York
October 17th, 2002 – November 30th, 2002

Winner of Best Documentary: Honorable Mention at the 2003 Third Coast International Audio Festival / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition.

Featured on Chicago Public Radio’s Third Coast Festival under “What We’re Listening To:”. Includes an interview with Ben Rubin.
April 29 – May 12, 2003

A few months after 9/11, I was asked to create a sound that would commemorate the reopening of the Winter Garden, a huge atrium space in the World Financial Center that was destroyed when the towers came down. The place was still in shambles then, and the World Financial Center complex was mostly empty, but one building on the far end of the complex was already filled with people. And those people were doing something curious. They were standing around in huge circles, hundreds of them, and shouting at each other, for hours, every day. It turns out that this shouting has a name; it’s called open outcry trading, and through it these people, almost all of them men, set the price that the world will pay each day for a barrel of oil, a gallon of gas, an ounce of gold, and a few other things. Although their building was surrounded by wreckage and accessible at first only by boat, the traders of the New York Mercantile Exchange had come back to work only a few weeks after 9/11. When I thought about what sound represented that place, it was this: the sound of these men shouting, each doing his best to buy low and sell high, a music of call and response that had been produced in lower Manhattan by generations of traders since the 19th century. More recently, it’s here that the traders have been reacting to rumblings of war, and then to actual war, the prices of energy and precious metals lurching and trembling as events unfolded in Washington, at the U.N., and in Iraq. This piece was made before the war; it was first played last fall in the Winter Garden.

Credits Featuring the voices of Madeline Boyd, J. Robert Collins, Jr., David Greenberg, John Hanneman, Vincent Viola, Elisa Zuritsky, and others.

Special thanks to Mark Hansen, Nachamah Jacobovits, John Kilgore, Andrew G. Milmoe, Charlie Richmond, Julie Rottenberg, Richard Schaeffer, Guy Taylor, Marc Wise, Jamie York, New York Mercantile Exchange, and the New York Board of Trade.

Weeks of April 25th and October 24, 2003, The Next Big Thing included Open Outcry as a feature on their weekly program.

Architecture Based on Sound Principles

“Joel Sanders and Karen Van Lengen should run for office. They’re two of few leaders we can think of who practice what they preach.”

(from UVA Today)

So says a new article about the architects in the magazine Interior Design. EAR Studio agrees! Sanders and Van Lengen’s new Sound Lounge at the University of Virginia School of Architecture’s Campbell Hall plays with and into the increasing tendency toward public withdrawal facilitated by devices such as iPods. Now students can share private soundscapes in public, using specials sorts of sound booths situated throughout the common space of the building. You can read more in Interior Design or on Sanders’ website.

Ben collaborated with Sanders and Van Lengen  in 2006 on Mix House for the Open House: Intelligent Living by Design show at the Vitra Design Museum, Art Center, LA. Check out Mix House for another great example of thoughtfully and playfully sound building.