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.

Help Support Open Transcripts

If you found this useful or interesting, please consider supporting the project monthly at Patreon or once via Square Cash, or even just sharing the link. Thanks.