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Observations With Pixelh8

The latest project from Pixeh8’s extends far out into space, literally.

Pixeh8’s latest project stretches the thinking of a curious circuit bending gamer beyond the bedroom into outer space. Last year he made music out of the world’s most famous and old computers at Bletchley Park for Obsolete? using the most lo fi video editing software available on Windows 98 for the visuals and requiring fluency in over 30 different programming languages to play the machines as instruments. Even if you don’t think you have heard Pixelh8’s music before you will have most certainly heard his software in use on tracks by Imogen Heap, VV Brown and Little Boots, he even counts Damon Albarn as a fan.

Observations is part of Cambridge Science Fair and is the conclusion of multi-media investigation into the people who study the stars as well as space itself, recording and processing data from in and outside of the observatory to produce an audio-visual answer to the question “What does it mean to be an Astronomer?”.

Dazed Digital went down to the V&A last weekend to speak to Pixelh8 and to hear more about Observations during his Q+A sessions there.

DD: What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
Pixelh8: Find chocolate, find my phone, find out where I am and what I have to do for the rest of the day.

DD: How did you get from making music from playing around with the insides of machines to academic projects like this?
Pixelh8: I went to the National Museum of Computing to play with the “big toys” for “Obsolete?” after I had hacked my way through most home computers. It was a change from purely electronic sounds to include electro-mechanical, with “Observations” it's electro-mechanical, mechanical and now even human sounds. With “Observations” I wanted to observe the people at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, how they worked and what they worked on, and in turn make the music from their environment.

DD: What’s your favourite thing that you’ve circuit bent?
I have recently been fortunate enough to re-create the very first “accident” that got me into all of this, a circuit bent NES, you can turn different channels on or off, get the NES to hold the current note, and all kinds of crazy visual stuff.

DD: What are your survival tips for extended programming sessions?
I have what is called my “sweet box” which is a combination of Malteasers, Peanut M&Ms, Minstrels and Haribo, if I have that I don't have to cook or clean and I can usually do four, one and a half hours intense sessions in one day, yes that is only six hours but that is pure sugar wave concentration.

DD: Who are your top 3 favourite musical innovators?
I love Marvin Gaye, I love the fact he would just go into a studio and some times just humm and sing the parts to other musicians, I think that is what makes even the instrumentals he has so human. His soul was literally screaming out in his music.

Aphex Twin, I was maybe twenty when I heard what he was doing, and I thought finally some one is making music similar to how I want to make it, I didn't want to be him, I wanted to be as experimental and confident as him with it, he continues to inspire me to this day.

Prince, as a child like in 1984 I wanted to either be Prince or Peter Venkmen from the Ghostbusters, I feel over time I have managed to somehow in part fuse these two heroes in to my “career”. I am a musician who uses and makes very geeky technology. I don't catch ghosts but my last album “And The Revolution” was a very geeky nod to Prince.

DD: What’s your favourite star?
I have a favourite planet which is Jupiter, and it's the one planet I always look out for, hoping that one day I will see the arrival of the monolith.

DD: What does the universe sound like?
Pixelh8: Everything at once, it is up to you to filter it. It would great if it was simple, like “the universe sounds just like David Bowie”, thinking about it, it probably does sound like David Bowie.

DD: What person’s creation have you seen or experienced that has made you wish you had that idea first?
Pixelh8: I am going have to say it, La Roux's “Quicksand” when I heard it was so annoyed that they had managed to nail what I consider to be a perfect song, urrghh, I was so angry in a not so angry way I think I listened to it like fourty times in a row. I still listen to it probably daily, it is amazing.

DD: What’s next for Pixelh8?
My fourth studio album “The Schematic” I will divide it will be divided, almost a double album in that one side is quite “fluffy” and “nice” and the other be mental chip tune glitch. “Hardware” and “Software”. I have no record label poking me so that is always a nice way to do things. I will do another music based artist residency next year in hopefully another scientific institution and this time it will be quite a dangerous project, but that of course is top secret. More software for people to make their own music, more workshops, more lectures more writing. I don't really have a plan, I never have and it has worked so far.

DD: What are you looking forward to the most?
It really might sound a bit cheesy but, I am actually really looking forward to helping other musicians with their music, getting them to really look at their “sound” and what they want to achieve. I get to go to places like the V&A and teach children how to circuit bend toys to make music with, take my students to Maida Vale so they can see what goes on behind the scenes. I love making and performing my own music, but helping others has really helped me learn about myself more so more of the same again please.

Observations will be performed by Pixelh8 on March 12th & 13th,2010 7.30pm at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge