The Pophorn Crew didn’t have to spend ten weeks in Myanmar (Burma) to realise that free communication is not the highest priority of the current military government. (But people are so generous it’s impossible to leave.) Mobile phones are used in the major cities but most rural areas have no coverage at all. Phones are very expensive and SIM-cards are ridiculously costly ($2500) even by western standards. Still, during the September 2007 pro-democracy demonstrations a large number of people used their phone cameras to document the violent response from the military. A number of these clips reached international media and brought huge attention to the tense situation in an otherwise very isolated and, often, forgotten country. During the major demonstrations of 1988 only one photographer managed to smuggle out photos. Internet and mobile phones have certainly made it more difficult for the government to control what’s communicated within the country and to the outside world. Above is the first proud Burmese Pophornist sporting his Bangkok-bought Nokia. Is it only a coincidence that Corduroid’s mouth is not showing? This is a country where spaces for voicing your opinion is nothing to take for granted.
Foreign phones, like ours, don’t work with the Burmese network but Pophorns don’t need to be online to spread their pocket-sized noise. These novices at a monestary school in Bagan happily sacrificed their lunch-break to fiddle with the Corduroid Pophorn.
The Ophonine Pophorn comes with no predefined audio clips but allows the Pophornist to record any sounds, which are then looped forever - or until someone else records a sound into the same phone. Hooking up three Ophonines to guitar amps at a major square in Medellín (Colombia) soon had people making growling noises, reading poems and shouting political propaganda. Since the installation is open for everyone it is difficult to control or predict what will happen or what will be said. In Burma it was simply not possible to do a similar installation in a public space, but at least the Ophonines were used to giving looping voices to a family of paper people, made out of magazines at a private art exhibition in north Yangon.
Perhaps you didn’t know that Pophorns are loud, idiosyncratic, klaxonish creatures trapped within the plastic confines of mobile phone shells? Now they look the part so now you know.
We would also like to welcome the newest member of the Pophorn family. Corduroid Pophorn is a quiet but shaky character. If you push the right buttons and place Curdoroid on a resonating surface you’ll indirectly create volatile vibrating masterpieces.
Equipped with their fancy faces Pophorns are all very eager to hit the streets:
Wall Street Journal called during the summer but they (wisely) chose a more photogenique artist for the cover of their special report on mobile music making. But media likes Pophorns too: Swedish Radio’s Mitt i Musiken aired an interview with Pophorn-makers Erik and Magnus already in June. Svenska Dagbladet and .SE followed last week. Brush up your Swedish:
SvD: Musikmakare (online, scan)
.SE: Bli din egen artist - med telefonen (scan)
We are currently busy giving faces to the Pophorns. Each Pophorn will get a distinct character - a Poppet - that reflects its sound, style and mood. This is an extremely early prototype singing along to its favourite sludge-metal band.
When local VJ-heroes TV-OUT found out about the responsive, visual potential of the poppetised Pophorns they immediately set up a camera rig for incorporating mobile phone graphics in their VJ sets at Swim Fast Club in Malmö, Sweden.
This is really cool since we like to think of the Pophorns as performance tools - visual as well as sonic. One of our favourite examples of this sort of mobile phone usage is the ingenious rock lighter. Phones in the air y’all!
We met Bora Yoon already in November 2006 while hosting the American Ophoniste Idol at fabulous Monkey Town in Williamsburg, NYC. Despite her amazing voice and obvious loopaholic talent the stern jury didn’t crown her as the official Idol that night, but she won our hearts when she emailed us about how the Ophones kept appearing in her dreams afterwards. Sonic dreams sure are rare treats.
After appearing in Wall Street Journal as the spearhead of mobile music making Samsung gave her a night of her own at snazzy Lincoln Center in the middle of Manhattan. After contacting us we provided Bora with early prototypes of the Ophonine Pophorn and she treated them just right by strapping them to a rotating turntable.The concert was a huge success with some 500 people in the audience. Afterwards the performer was surrounded by press flown in from the Samsung motherland. We wish Bora all the best for future Pophorning (and other) endeavours!Check out some more photos from the evening here and here. Or watch this clip with Mr Big Chin. You’ll see the Pophorns proudly dancing round the turntable by the end.
Two proud UNSWORN Pophornists were awarded the Bjarne Nyquists Minnesfond scholarship at a sunny ceremony in Stockholm this weekend. Swedish soul hero Eric Gadd handed over the big diplomas after a brief Ophonine freestyle session.
The late Bjarne was himself a very active creator in that fuzzy-bordered area of digital media, music, business, research, and art - a place we also attempt to inhabit. The award is handed out once a year to “bold, progressive and realisable ideas which combine culture and technology in innovative ways in the spirit of Bjarne Nyquist”.
From the jury’s statement:
Simple, obvious ideas are the hardest ones to come up with. This year’s award winners are spot-on. We at Bjarne Nyquists Minnesfond are very happy and proud to from an early stage be able to support and take part in something we believe will be a great success.
Try your Swedish by reading the full press-release here.
After the ceremony there was an informal Pophorn jam among the Champagne-toting crowd. We realised that the Ophonine Pophorn can be tons of fun also without using external speakers.
The official launch of the first Pophorn, the Ophonine, happened at two fine Colombian festivals. First we went to the Bogotrax festival in Bogotá, an independent laboratorio urbano featuring ten days of free digital music parties, VJ-spectacles and conferences on culture. Kids, rockers and ravers fiddled with the phones at Parque de los Periodistas, Sake Sano and at the Museo de Artes in Universidad Nacional.
The kids are alright! After learning to scratch and beat-mix in just a few minutes they charged ahead a composed Pophorn music like they’ve been practicing for a year.
We then moved on to Medellín and the Pixelazo festival. Setting up the Pophorns (Ophone stylee) in the main square in front of the church caused quite a stir. At first people were a bit hesitant but soon the square was rocking with looping sounds, everything from guttural garbage to guitar-strumming, greetings to relatives and political diatribes.
VJ and organiser Pata de Perro assembled these moving images from the event:
It’s amazing to see how immediate and unintimidating the cellphone has become - probably globally - as an interface. People who would never have dreamt of stepped on stage in front of an audience produced looping compositions to be heard by hundreds of people in central Medellín. Also, it’s interesting to note that many participants were quite outspoken through the Pophorns - in a country were you normally save political discussions for more low-key private situations.
More photos here. Read Erik’s report on these fine Colombian party laboratories if you’re curious of Bogotrax and Pixelazo.
Thanks to IASPIS for supporting the trip and to Sony Ericsson in Bogotá for handing out some fresh, orange W600s for the show.