MAKE Interview: Modding consumer electronics devices into DJ tools with Gijs Gieskes

MAKE Interview: Modding consumer electronics devices into DJ tools with Gijs Gieskes

“Spinning beach ball of death” and “Loading PCB” – video, (Gieskes, 2007)

Interview/Article by Jonah Brucker-Cohen

In the illustrious world of case-mods and console hacking, artists and makers are re-inventing the design and function of these ubiquitous consumer electronics devices by creating hybrid systems and creative artifacts that challenge the corporate status quo. Taking this credo to an extreme with his inventive hardware projects is Dutch artist and maker, Gijs Gieskes. From casting a Nintendo Gameboy in concrete in order to build a garden path with “GameBoy Bricks” to creating an analog version of the hated spinning cursor in the Mac OSX operating system with “Spinning Beach Ball of Death”, Gieskes’ work and live performances are an inventive look at how closely entrenched we’ve become in the world of glitchy hardware and scrambled noise producing machines. MAKE recently caught up with Gieskes to discuss his practice, philosophy, and exactly how important the current crop of hackable consumer electronics might be to future generations.

Read the full interview with more videos by clicking below.Name: Gijs Gieskes
Age: 30
Education: Industrial Designer
Affiliation: Independent Artist
Exhibitions: I mostly give concerts, workshops. For a list go here:

MAKE: “Spinning Beach Ball of Death” and “Loading PCB” both attempt to emulate the icons typically found on the Mac OSX operating system when something is loading or something “bad” happens and the computer becomes unresponsive. Why did you decide to make a physical versions of these often ominous icons?

GG: When I give concerts, I usually use Gameboy’s (running “Little Sound DJ”) (LSDJ) for generating the sound and my camera sequencer for making visuals with the Gameboy music. The Gameboy’s need some time to load their songs so when I am loading songs I can’t control the camera sequencer at the same time. That’s when I switch my video output to show the “Loading PCB”. Everybody who is on the internet or has a Mac recognizes the loading symbol and will know I am loading something.. and am not currently using the camera sequencer to generate visuals.

The “Spinning Beach Ball of Death” (a.k.a. “the spinning pizza”) was made for no particular reason. Ironically.. the last concert I gave, there was a PAL to NTSC problem and this symbol turned from a colorful pizza into a black and white pizza.. rendering it unrecognizable for the audience(I think)…

“Sega-Seq-1-1” (Gieskes, 2007)

MAKE: “Sega-Seq-1-1” is a custom sequencer that gets its clock speed from a Nintendo Gameboy running the sequencer Nanoloop or Little Sound DJ (LSDJ) so that the visuals and music are in sync. The sequencer also controls the Sega controller so the character’s on-screen movements are connected to the incoming beat sequence. Why did you decide to connect up these “competing” gaming devices to create this installation? Is the end result of the game playable?

GG: The end result is definitely playable, although much harder to control than with the normal controller. For instance in the game Sonic the Hedgehog.. sometimes you can get stuck at a point in the game where you have to run and not jump.. or in the game Yogi Bear.. you can fall into gaps quite easily. The games I use with this sequencer are selected for playability with the sequencer. Games like Sonic and Afterburner work the best because you don’t die easily and there are no hard to navigate menus. Surprisingly the games that were the most popular are the games that are most compatible with the sequencer.. (Sonic!) So I guess the “Sega-Seq-1-1” could have been used for testing games for commercial success. I used to have a Sega when I was younger and played a lot of Sonic on it, LSDJ came a lot of years after my Megadrive period, so I was quite exited to be able to combine them both into one thing. The Sonic game that is on the Megadrive has also been Tile Edited.. The flowers in the first level have turned into Gameboys merging the two even more.

“Gameboy Brick” (Gieskes, 2006)

MAKE: With “Gameboy Brick” you created replicas of the Nintendo Gameboy out of clay and used them to create a buried wall or path in the ground. Why did you choose the Gameboy design as the brick shape? How did people react to stepping on the bricks while walking around the yard?

GG: The Gameboy classic has the shape of a brick, and is quite heavy, that’s why Gameboy musicians often call it “the brick”. This snowballed into me making real Gameboy bricks. The bricks also exist, to preserve the Gameboy as a object for a longer time than the plastics will last. In the future all information might be lost on what a Gameboy is.. so then people can still see the Gameboy and wonder what it was used for.. Thats why I buried the Gameboys as a symbol of what archeologists might find in the future.

Another plan that I had, was to make a tutorial about how to make such a “brick boy”. Making this tutorial went well until I got to the phase of baking the bricks in a self made oven without using any specialized (expensive) oven materials. This was more difficult than I expected.. the brick would explode to easily (probably because of uneven spreading of temperature and that the temperature was rising to fast). This made me drop the whole tutorial thing. Right now I am trying to spread the bricks around the world so the chance of survival increases. The bricks in my garden are over grown by now.. and they are also buried on a spot where no people walk.. But peoples reactions are positive.

“Camera Sequencer 1” – video (Gieskes, 2007)

MAKE: “Camera Sequencer 1” connects up a Nintendo Gameboy’s internal clock while running the “Little Sound DJ” sequencer to a large bicycle headlight that blinks along with the beats in the music as well as a camera that rotates according the music. Why did you decide on the Gameboy as an input to this system? How effective are the visuals in syncing up to the sound and what has been the response?

GG: I made the camera sequencer as experiment to see if I could create visuals in a kinetic way, that would look a bit like the visuals generated by a computers. VJs mostly use software to make there visual, generating 3D, looping clips, and adding effects.. You need quite a powerful computer to do all this (I think). My camera sequencer films everything directly in reality, so that’s the benefit.. The sequencer is synced to LSDj because I use LSDj to make my music,. When I play live, the music is pre programmed.. so standing on stage having to do very little always makes me nervous.. The camera sequencer helps me with that.. using it for visuals with my music makes me have to work hard on stag.. demolishing all my nervousness. The visuals sync quite well, but it depends very much on the music, if the visuals look in sync with the music. My music changes quite often in a verity of ways.. making the sync hard to detect.. for some people.. Some newer songs are more repetitive and fit well with the sequencer, the plan is to make more of these repetitive tracks specifically for the camera sequencer.

“TapeSeq2”- (Gieskes, 2005)

MAKE: “TapeSeq2” also connects up to LSDJ as a source for its master clock speed while the 8 potentiometers control the playback speed of the built-in cassette deck. Why did you decide on an old cassette deck as the sound input medium? What is your opinion on the future of outdated music systems? What do you think the future will bring to musical hardware after the MP3?

GG: The “TapesSeq2” actually generates clock pulses for the Gameboy to sync to.. I used a walkman because it is cheap and easy to control. The samples that can be put onto it are also very long. The first thing I made using a walkman was the “Gijstron”, a melotron using a old keyboard and a walkman to play the tape back at different speeds, for every key. This evolved into the “TapeSeq1” and the “TapeSeq2”. Out dated music systems will always be used to make music.. if people can make music without any tools, then every instrument will always be used by someone to make music. What instruments may come in the future? I have no idea.. The easiest way to make a musical instrument, is by using a computer. But because the micro-controller/AVR are probably getting better fast, everything made in software now, can be put on such a small computer (AVR) later.. (I hope).

MAKE:What projects are you currently working on? How are they similar or different than your past projects?

GG: At the moment I am working with PHP and micro-controllers. Not in combination yet, but I hope to do this soon.. I have a lot of ideas that take a lot of time to to realize and I skip projects a lot, I work on something and then move to the next project if I get stuck on the one I am working on at that time, so I have no idea what I will put on my site next, other than the stuff that is already finished, but is not documented yet..

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