The Electronicists - Gallery

Techno-aesthetic Encounters for Nonlinear and Art-based Inquiry in HCI
Kang, Jackson, and Pinch (2022)


We invite you to become an electronicist with us.
So, it's an invitation rather than a manifesto.
If you like the idea of the Electronicists, please join us in this venture.

- Trevor Pinch
in the show The Electronicists (3/24/2019)

Hello, there! Thanks for visiting our online gallery space.

How can we best engage artistic senses and approaches within HCI and the broader STEM fields? And, are there alternate modes of inquiry and collaboration that can better support artistic practices (and practitioners)? Through this art-based HCI project 'The Electronicists', we build a theoretical and methodological framework of ‘techno-aesthetic encounters’ that supports nonlinear (situated, materially-driven, and multi-sensory) and art-based modes of inquiry in the fields. This approach mainly promotes event-based creativity through the mediation of engineering, art, and humanistic engagements. We also suggest trust-based experiments, error-engaged studio, and art-based ethnography as promising methodological tenets of this inquiry process.

If you would like to learn more about our approaches, please find our paper published in ACM CHI 2022. Hope you enjoy the contents in this gallery.
Kang, Laewoo, Steven Jackson, and Trevor Pinch. 'The Electronicists: Techno-aesthetic Encounters for Nonlinear and Art-based Inquiry in HCI', Proceedings of CHI '22: CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 2022 --- doi: / download: [pdf]



Want to be an ELECTRONICIST?

 “An electronicist is anyone who uses electronic circuitry and instruments to make a work of art.” – (Bob Moog letter to Hubert Bognermayr, 10.23.80, Moog Archive Box 60 Folder 86-29)"

We have long thought that there is no good name to describe what we and our friends and collaborators do. “Digital art” isn’t helpful because digital is a term laden with hype and ideology, and also because it can apply equally to a wide range of earlier technologies, including the player piano (which used punched tape rolls and therefore discriminated between ones and zeroes). “Electronic music” is too restrictive, as it does not cover other art practices and has also been subsumed in the massive commercialization of Electronic Dance Music (EDM). “New media art” draws on visual and kinetic elements missing in some of the above – but our media can be old, many of our objects are found, and the term itself, from its heyday in the 1990s, is feeling dated. “Sound art” is getting closer, but also seems to rule out visual and haptic practices – and anyway does not capture the importance of electricity, electronics, computing, and robotics to our work. And none of these capture the importance of bodies and human movement – for example, through dance.


We also need a term to capture people not usually thought of as artists or musicians at all. Conny Plank was a German recording engineer/producer who in the 1960s ran a farmhouse studio 30 km into the countryside near Cologne. Plank was legendary for the production of the particular sound of bands and artists such as Cluster, early Kraftwerk, NEU!, D.A.F., Gianna Nannini, the Eurythmics, and many more. “Engineer/producer” does not capture Plank’s art. Plank thought in terms of sound. He had what you might call a “sonic imaginary” – a way of developing his socio-material practice by thinking about, imagining, and manipulating sound while also learning how the materiality of sound influenced and changed his imagery. Sound was emergent in his practices, and experimentation was the key. He mixed electronics with found objects and materials new and old. Brian Eno at one moment played synths but at others evolved sophisticated (and simple) practices involving recording gear. Nam June Paik emerged from the experimental music world to gain fame as a progenitor of the media art movement – but he was also an early and experimental adopter of media technologies like the Sony Portapack. Then there are Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, and Hugh Davies – artists and inventors who made music through machines and objects not traditionally defined as musical instruments. Davies famously used an egg slicer – but it had to be a German egg slicer of the highest manufactured quality! What are we to call these people?


But to speak only of these people is to miss a large part of the point. All of these now-famous names were held up by the people and things around them – from the friends and partners who cooked and hosted, to the record and parts stores that fed them components, gears, and ideas, to the audiences and wider ‘scenes’ that gave their work meaning and value. These were networks (back when the term still meant something, and when participation in a network involved more than clicks). Because they built and sustained meaning, value, and lives, they were also worlds. As we know from work in the academic field of science and technology studies, worlds take work – and much of this work is invisible. As with science and engineering, the spectacular moments of art and music – the unique sound, the killer performance – are built on a wider, slower, and less-heralded foundation: call it the iceberg of the ordinary, where most of us live most of the time.


We also need a term for the passion, curiosity, and wonder that connects us to the devices and objects around us, from the absolutely mundane to the barely (yet) imagined – the elusive feel for the thing that forms the three-way meeting point of engineering, craft, and art practices. Call this curiosity, call this passion, or call this love (but it’s complicated :)): the point is that imagination – and the possibility of the new – stem from an attachment and commitment to “listening forth” to the worlds around us, including technological ones that we might guess (though erroneously) lack the soul to speak. Making passion and curiosity the starting point also opens up the field of participation: anyone can do and think and imagine the worlds described here. This point is not anti-expertise but a recognition that the expertise needed here is not hidden behind advanced degrees in music or engineering, computing, or art history (though it is remarkable how effectively the disciplinary organization of our institutions disguises this fact). Where our institutions tend to break these worlds apart, our work seeks to draw them together, one local bridge, kluge, or riff at a time. Re-making these connections may spell new things for teaching, for research, and for collaboration in the contemporary university (and beyond). But it also means remembering our own histories, and thinking back to moments of encounter in which the disciplines seemed less far apart – for example, the seminal “Experiments in Art and Technology” that brought together Bell Labs engineers and New York artists in the 1960s.


So with a nod and wink to Robert Moog, we give you the electronicists – humble workers in light and sound who mess with, move, and mash up electrons. Like Moog and his contemporaries (and the myriad electronicists who have gone before), electronicists cross boundaries: digital and analogue, materiality and idea, instrument and machine. They cook with light and sound – tasting this, bending that, until the mix and blend feels right. Working in studios and rehearsal, hardware, and code, they suggest new ways of drawing together the sonic, the visual, and the haptic. They are committed to experiment, improvisation, learning, and surprise. While humans are involved, the electrons are the stars of the show – and on any given day, the electrons may flow differently. Experimental, ordinary, inclusive, and engaged. We invite you too to be an electronicist. Or perhaps you already are?

With love – Trevor, Jim, Leo, Annie, and Steve Nature
Featuring Artists:
The Electric Golem, Kang & Jackson, Powerdove, JAIE, Chris Corsano, Rob Snyders



A Day of The Electronicists - Documentary Film

Presented by Kang & Jackson
Videography by Jen Liu, Ji Hwan Seung, and Leo Kang

A Day of the Electronicists, Part #1

A Day of the Electronicists, Part #2

A Day of the Electronicists, Part #3

A Day of the Electronicists, Part #4

A Day of the Electronicists, Part #5

Sunday Rehearsal





We would like to thank James Spitznagel, Annie Lewandowski, Chris Corsano, Chelsea Chan (JAIE), Rod Snyder, Jen Liu, Ji Hwan Seung, Adele Durham, and Carriage House Loft for their avid participation and kind support in this project. Finally, and with sadness, we note that the third author of this paper passed away shortly before the camera-ready version of this paper went to press. This paper is dedicated to his friendship and memory – Trevor Pinch, electronicist extraordinaire.