Hi, my name is Kyle Machulis and this is some words about some sounds about Pier 9.

To start, let me intro­duce who I am by way of what I do. I have worked in the past as a robot­ics engi­neer, both on small-scale edu­ca­tion­al robot­ics (So if you’ve heard of the Handy Board, or the Xport Botball Controller, or the Interactive C lan­guage, I worked on those.) and I also worked on space plat­form work. So this was a rover that went to a very lunar part of California, or a Mars drill that went to a very Mars‑y part of Spain. I also worked on self-driving cars and large-scale mobile map­ping. In between stints as a robot­ics engi­neer, I worked as an engi­neer on Second Life for Linden Lab. These days I’m actu­al­ly work­ing on web browsers (because those involve a lot of robots?) for Mozilla. I’ve worked on their Firefox OS phone and on hardware-based ini­tia­tives to bring hard­ware to the web.

In my spare time, this is what I do. This being reverse-engineering. Basically, I find hard­ware that already exists, because I’m real­ly lazy and mak­ing hard­ware is real­ly hard. So I find some­thing that already exists, already shipped, but it does some­thing that I want it to but it does­n’t do that yet, or it does some­thing that some­one else wants it to but it does­n’t do that yet. Like the dri­vers don’t sup­port it, the firmware does­n’t sup­port it. I make the dri­ver sup­port it, or I make the firmware sup­port it.

Probably the most well-known project I’ve been a part of was reverse-engineering the Microsoft Kinect. I was part of the team that wrote the open-source dri­vers for the Microsoft Kinect so that any­one could use it for damn near any­thing, as you’ve prob­a­bly seen in many Instructibles, art projects, research projects, whatever. 

In terms of how this comes into cre­ativ­i­ty, though, why am I here as an artist in res­i­dence? That’s kind of a good ques­tion and I’m still pon­der­ing that, too. But I real­ly like to take very expen­sive hard­ware that I’ve reverse-engineered and do real­ly stu­pid stuff with it. So for instance I took all of our scan­ning hard­ware and sen­sors that would make a car dri­ve itself, and took them to a fur­ry con and made a gigan­tic point cloud of 512 fur­suit­ers. It’s all avail­able online, open source data.

I’ve also done things like hook­ing up exer­cise equip­ment to Second Life, so you could ride your exer­cise equip­ment and it would dri­ve your vir­tu­al car. Or reverse-engineered the My Keepon bot so that when you were danc­ing in front of your Kinect it would actu­al­ly dance with you, it would dance like you.

Then there’s what I’m real­ly known for, though. The prob­lem with this (and by the laugh­ter you can tell who knows what this is already) the prob­lem with this top­ic is I’m kind of at a work­place right now. And there’s a rea­son that the term Not Safe For Work exists. I tried to find a good pic­ture of one of the projects that I do in this realm, could­n’t real­ly find any­thing that would fit in this envi­ron­ment, tried to mosa­ic some of the stuff and it still was just a lit­tle bit too graph­ic? So what I did was I just aver­aged all of the col­ors in the pic­ture. This is pos­si­bly the most NSFW col­or you’ll ever see:


So, com­bin­ing all of these things, we come to my artist statement:

Shgruggie emoticon

This was the approach that I took when com­ing to Pier 9. I orig­i­nal­ly vist­ed Pier 9 just to come and say hi to Paolo, but as I was here I saw oth­er artists like Ben Cowden and oth­er peo­ple that I knew in the work­shop and they’re like, Hey Kyle, you should come be an artist in res­i­dence.” And I was like, Okay.” So they intro­duced me to Vanessa and Noah, and they were like you should come be an artists in res­i­dence, and so I’m like, Okay. I guess I do art now.”

The prob­lem is I have to com­bine all of this, the thing that I do, with this gigan­tic work­shop with all these machines in it. And I had some ideas but the thing is then you talk to Vanessa and Noah and you look at the work­shop and they’re like, Feature the work­shop.” And it’s like but wait, I don’t know how to use any of this stuff yet. I’m most­ly a soft­ware and embed­ded engi­neer, so if I was going to fea­ture the work­shop for stuff that I knew how to do, my ass would be in there all day. I already do that at home, all the time. I have a very com­fy chair. This is what my home lab looks like. It looks basi­cal­ly like the one up there. I was­n’t real­ly com­ing here to do that. Not to men­tion there are oth­er ways that I could apply my exper­tise to the work­shop, but then peo­ple were like, No! You don’t put body parts in the water jet.” So that just went right out the window.

So I spent a lot of time think­ing What the hell am I going to do?” How am I going to take the work­shop and kind of make it my own, fig­ure out how my prac­tice works in here, and then also fea­ture the work­shop on top of all of that stuff. There was a lot of cry­ing, and a lot of pan­ic. I end­ed up just kin­da tak­ing class­es, walk­ing around the work­shop look­ing at things. One of the things that I noticed the most was Iris Gottlieb’s draw­ings of the work­shop. The thing that I loved about that is that it recon­tex­tu­al­ized the work­shop in her eyes, and in her aes­thet­ic. So instead of just being this place of tools and pro­to­typ­ing and things like that, it was still a place of tools and pro­to­typ­ing and things like that because they worked real­ly hard on mak­ing it that, but it came through her eyes. One of the won­der­ful things about reverse-engineering is it’s basi­cal­ly apply­ing what you want on top of hard­ware. It’s recon­tex­tu­al­iz­ing hard­ware. So by tak­ing that approach, it’s like okay that’s real­ly cool. Maybe I can kind of take the work­shop and do a thing that’s more me with it, instead of try­ing to throw myself at it and come up with something.

So through those many walks through the work­shop, I kept notic­ing this sign. It was like, wait a sec­ond. If I need to learn all of these machines, and all of them edit mate­ri­als or change mate­ri­als or make mate­ri­als or sub­tract mate­ri­als or what­ev­er, every time you do some­thing like that, it makes a sound. And the real­ly won­der­ful part is when­ev­er you fuck up it makes a real­ly big sound. So you have a fail-safe of out­put when you use sound, because I could go and try to make a chair and the chair could fall apart and…that’s prob­a­bly what would hap­pen. But the sounds that came from mak­ing that chair, that process, that’s real­ly intrin­sic to the work­shop. So with that, I was like wait there it is. That’s what I can do. 



So I decid­ed to go ahead and apply sound to the work­shop. What kind of sounds can the work­shop make? What kind of sounds can the work­shop edit? I could just run around and record every­thing, but it felt like it need­ed some sort of direc­tion, even though this place is made to make sure that any direc­tion you have will change five sec­onds later.

So I came up with a project called Industrial ASMR. Who’s famil­iar with ASMR? That’s kind of what I fig­ured. ASMR is Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. Now every­one gets it, right? ASMR is actu­al­ly kind of hard to explain. There’s a real­ly won­der­ful This American Life episode on it. Whenever you hear a cer­tain sound, some­times you get this tingly feel­ing. It’s not quite goose­bumps, it’s more in your head, kind of the back of the neck region, though dif­fer­ent peo­ple feel it dif­fer­ent ways. And it’s repeat­able, so every time you hear that sound that thing hap­pens. That is ASMR. The rea­son there’s a pic­ture of Bob Ross here is because Bob Ross is actu­al­ly cit­ed as the most ASMR‑y per­son. Most peo­ple say Bob Ross is the per­son that gives me that feel­ing.” And the aes­thet­ic of Bob Ross has come through in the ASMR com­mu­ni­ty. In the videos, you get a lot of qui­et speak­ing, qui­et sounds, things like that. I have a demo video here of what ASMR looks like from a YouTuber known as GentleWhispering. These videos have mil­lions of views. This com­mu­ni­ty is huge. 

A lot of peo­ple are like, That’s kind of creepy.” But there are some of these videos that are four or five hours long of just all sorts of very minute, very qui­et sounds, pre­sent­ed in this way. But you find that one you like and you will find oth­er videos of it, let me guar­an­tee you. Because the response is so inter­est­ing. It’s almost a hap­tic response to sound. It has a bit of a synaes­the­sia feel to it. It’s def­i­nite­ly some­thing you want to go out and find more of, which is why this com­mu­ni­ty has got­ten so big. I def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend going to YouTube, search ASMR.” It’s blown up; there’s like, apoc­a­lyp­tic ASMR now, because some­one likes zom­bies this way. I don’t even know.

But ASMR is not real­ly my aes­thet­ic. So in talk­ing about the indus­tri­al por­tion of ASMR, I’m a huge fan of indus­tri­al music. The won­der­ful thing about being in an indus­tri­al work­shop is it’s very easy to make indus­tri­al music. But the type of indus­tri­al music I’m talk­ing about here is very spe­cif­ic, sort of second-wave indus­tri­al, so Einstürzende Neubauten, very ear­ly KMFDM, things like that. For those of you that are more used to the 90s synth stuff, this is what the indus­tri­al that I lis­ten to sounds like:


God, it’s won­der­ful. I love Blixa Bargeld way too much.
So obvi­ous­ly you can see the cor­re­la­tion between ASMR and this, correct?

My goal was to take the sounds of work­shop and not just throw a mic in there and record what’s hap­pen­ing, but put mics in real­ly weird places you’re real­ly not sup­posed to, and fig­ure out what sounds can I extract from these machines. And also make things on these machines and see what hap­pens in the process of mak­ing these things. So the thing is you make some­thing on the Bridgeport, for instance, and if you’re tak­ing off too much mate­r­i­al it’s a very cer­tain sound. If you’re doing just enough mate­r­i­al, it’s a very cer­tain sound. If you’re work­ing on one of the CNCs and you real­ly break some­thing, you get a very cer­tain sound from both the machine and the shop staff run­ning at you scream­ing. It’s amaz­ing. You can get a choir with it.

So what can I do in this work­shop to cause that kind of ASMR response? It’s not some­thing that you can real­ly aim for, because you nev­er real­ly know what kind of sound is going to cause what reac­tion in some­one. But the fun part is try­ing to come up with as many sounds as possible.

So the equip­ment that I did this with. This is a very nice record­ing sys­tem called a Sound Devices 722, and around it are non-acoustic micro­phones. You’re prob­a­bly used to see­ing micro­phones like this where there’s the big ball on the end of it and it picks up sounds com­ing through the air. The thing about non-acoustic micro­phones is that they’re aren’t pick­ing up sound com­ing through the air, they’re pick­ing up vibra­tions, or in the case of the lit­tle thing that says Radio Shack,” it’s actu­al­ly pick­ing up elec­tri­cal fields. So I’m not just record­ing exact­ly what you hear in the work­shop, I’m record­ing things that are far out­side of the human acoustic pick­up range, or things that aren’t even acoustic in the first place.

Of course, I did use acoustic micro­phones in places, to pick up motors and things like that, but it turns out that the peo­ple that designed this work­shop put absolute­ly no thought into the fact that maybe I would need a lit­tle qui­et. So acoustic micro­phones did not actu­al­ly work too well here, because you pick up a lot of shop noise and things like that. You real­ly actu­al­ly have to get into the machine and mine for the noise, mine for the sound. Find where you can put a mic where you’re going to pick up one cer­tain thing instead of just the whole din of the work­shop, and that was what I did.

The thing with these sounds is they’re not going to be specif­i­cal­ly har­mo­nious, or melod­ic, or things like that. You have to think about what is the tex­ture of the sound, what we call the tim­bre, the qual­i­ty of the sound. Usually when you explain tim­bre, it’s some­thing like what’s the dif­fer­ence between the sound of a vio­lin and the sound of a French horn. They can both play the same note, but you will be able to iden­ti­fy the two of them, and the dif­fer­ence between those two, that is the timbre.

You have to think about that kind of lis­ten­ing when you’re lis­ten­ing to these sounds. I will say these are best lis­tened to on head­phones. All these sounds are on my SoundCloud account, and I also have many many hours of record­ings that I’ll be post­ing on the Internet Archive soon. All of the sound data that I took from this res­i­den­cy will be open-source so any­one can do what­ev­er they want with it.

Going into some of the machines that I worked on. The MCOR was real­ly inter­est­ing because I actu­al­ly had to cre­ate the plat­form to put the micro­phones in. As I was doing this project, one of the things I end­ed up want­i­ng to do was tak­ing the expe­ri­ence of the mate­r­i­al as it was in the machine. With the MCOR, for instance, it’s how can I get the expe­ri­ence of paper as it’s in the MCOR? Can I actu­al­ly get the sound of the glue wheel run­ning, the knife run­ning, things like that. Here’s what it end­ed up sound­ing like:

That is the sound of the paper actu­al­ly being cut, and you can kind of hear the motor in the back­ground. The way that that plat­form is set up, the mics are set to right and left chan­nels so if you lis­ten to it on head­phones, it sounds like your head is direct­ly in the mid­dle of the paper, what’s known as bin­au­r­al recording.

The next sam­ple that I have here is from the Objet. The Objets were super inter­est­ing because there’s a lot of com­plex­i­ty in the print head. Using the induc­tion coil mics, which pick up elec­tri­cal fields, you pick up all sorts of real­ly amaz­ing sounds from the motors and the fans: 

That’s from hav­ing the two induc­tion coil mics set apart, mix­ing the sounds to either chan­nel, and you can hear the print head going back and forth between them. That is noth­ing but the motors and the fans and the print head. But every­one’s like, Oh hey it sounds like the 3D print­er is singing.” It real­ly anthro­po­mor­phized the 3D print­er for quite a few peo­ple that I talked to.

Then, because can’t just stop there, we decid­ed to 3D print on a mic to see if we could get the sound of a print being made:

So being 3D print­ed on sounds like hav­ing a slight­ly asth­mat­ic per­son breath­ing in your ear. Combined with the singing, it makes it sound like you’re being sung to by a slight­ly asth­mat­ic fairy right in your ear, or some­thing like that.

The last exam­ple I have is from the water jet, because the water jet can cut any­thing apart, includ­ing micro­phones, and I absolute love the sounds that I got out of it, but I tend to appre­ci­ate noise like that more than some oth­er peo­ple that I’ve let lis­ten to it. They were just, That was very noisy.” It’s like I know, right!?

One of the projects that I worked on inside of these record­ings was actu­al­ly edit­ing sounds using the machines. The nar­ra­tive here is can we use machines that nor­mal­ly edit mate­ri­als to edit sound? What I did was put two sur­face trans­duc­ers on a piece of met­al. A sur­face trans­duc­er basi­cal­ly push­es sound into a mate­r­i­al, so it turns a sin­gle sheet of some­thing into a speaker.

I put two sur­face trans­duc­ers on it, two micro­phones on it to pick up the sound. The sur­face trans­duc­ers are play­ing two dif­fer­ent tones, and then I just cut it right down the mid­dle. By doing that, I’ve cut the trans­fer medi­um for the sur­face trans­fers. So tech­ni­cal­ly I’ve tak­en two dif­fer­ent wave­forms, mixed them togeth­er using the sur­face, I cut the sur­face, I cut the wave­forms apart. It sounds a lit­tle bit like this:

And if you lis­ten to this through head­phones, the waves are mixed to the dif­fer­ent chan­nels so you can hear the stereo sep­a­ra­tion hap­pen between the begin­ning and the end.

To show this I end­ed up mak­ing head­phone hold­ers on every sin­gle machine that I had a record­ing for, and made the hold­er on the machine that it was play­ing the record­ing for, which is one of the best and worst ideas I had here.

So that was that project. I have now been kicked out of the work­shop, and exist back in the real world where all of these tools are very expen­sive. I would like to first off thank Autodesk for run­ning this pro­gram in the first place. This was an amaz­ing, amaz­ing expe­ri­ence. I’d love to thank the shop and artist and res­i­dence staff for mak­ing this easy, and for deal­ing with me say­ing, I don’t remem­ber there being this much blood in the usage of this machine when I took the class.” And of course all of the oth­er artists in res­i­dence, with­out whom I prob­a­bly would­n’t have had a project, and the amount of inspi­ra­tion, the amount of help that we all gave each oth­er was real­ly wonderful. 

Further Reference

Kyle pub­lished a col­lec­tion of projects at Instructables relat­ed to the work pre­sent­ed here.