Darsha Hewitt is a Canadian artist that makes electromechanical sound installations, drawings, videos and experimental performances with handmade audio electronics. Her artwork grows out of a curiosity for the physics of electricity and an interest in demystifying the invisible systems embedded throughout domestic technology. Her studio practice draws heavily on the techniques and processes of experimentation of early 20th century radio-craft culture.
Darsha is also an avid technologist and educator. Her do-it-yourself electronics workshops are an integral part of her discipline and are presented internationally. In 2013 she founded the DARDI_2000 Mentorship Program in partnership with The Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music (STEIM) in Amsterdam. Darsha recently relocated her studio to Weimar Germany where she also works as an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Media at the Bauhaus University. She is represented by Perte de Signal (CA) and is a member of Le conseil québécois des arts médiatiques.
In 2013 Hewitt’ first solo exhibition was co-produced by Skol and Elektra Festival in Montreal (CA). She recently presented her work at: Modern Art Oxford (UK), WRO Media Art Biennale (PL), CTM Festival (DE) and LEAP Berlin. In the summer of 2014 she will exhibit at Sight + Sound – La Biennale internationale d’art numérique Montréal and at Festival international de musique actuelle de Victoriaville (CA). In 2013 she was nominated for the Marler European Sound Art Award (DE) and completed a Fellowship in the Sound Art program at Hochschule für bildende künste, Braunschweig (DE). In 2011 she was awarded an International Production Stipend from The Edith-Russ-Haus for Media Art, Oldenburg (DE).
Exhibited work: ‘Thinking through Obsolescence’
“Thinking through Obsolescence centres on the technical and aesthetic exploration of The Wurlitzer Sideman – the first commercially available electronic drum machine. Invented by the Wurlitzer Company (known largely for their electronic organs and mechanical metronomes), this rhythm machine that was designed to accompany an organist at old fashion social dance parties. It generates a very unique flavour of ballroom dance signatures with the aid of intricate electromechanical controls, and shimmering vacuum tube technology. However, when the circuitry is cross-wired and the audio waveforms are visualised, Hewitt’s interventions into the device’s workings allow us to inhabit the secret expressive qualities of a machine that time forgot.”
Exhibited work: ‘A Side Man 5000 Adventure’
“The Wurlitzer Side Man 5000, created in 1959, is the oldest “beat box” and heaviest portable musical instrument in the world. Darsha Hewitt explores the aesthetic and innovative potential of reviving the Side Man by presenting this fascinating machine along with tutorial videos explaining how it works. Meanwhile, Nelly-Ève Rajotte offers a lush and immersive multi-projection experience that exposes the complex and unique workings of the Wurlitzer Side Man 5000, accompanied by a composition of sound bites from this instrument.”
Exhibited work: ‘Regarding Obsolescence’
Audio Visual Installation
“‘A drum machine is an electronic musical instrument designed to imitate the sound of drums, cymbals or other percussion instruments. Drum machines are most commonly associated with electronic music and hip hop. They are also used when session drummers are not available or if the production cannot afford the cost of a professional drummer.’
Wikipedia entry for “Drum machine.” 21 Oct. 2015.
The subject of this work is the extremely rare Side Man 5000 – the world’s oldest commercial drum machine, built in 1959 by Wurlitzer. Regarding Obsolescence looks at the Side Man 500 to consider what can be learned from a decommissioned machine and how it can be used as site for making art.”
What aspect of your allotted Human Futures theme do you most engage with in relation to your own practice?
“I am interested in taking apart old machines I find in the garbage or ones that are deemed obsolete. Through the act of deconstruction, I try to decipher their technical function. The fun thing about doing this as an artist is that I often don’t really know what I am doing and I find my way through circuits in an intuitive way and end up inventing more or less poetic hypothesis about what the fuck is going on inside some giant rust radio instead of having to be too anal like a real geek.. In the past I have tapped into the particle acceleration capabilities of old TVs and transformed them into static electricity generators for a sound installation or I have subverted creepy sounding feedback and radio interference from a huge pile of 1980s baby monitors. Right now I’m looking inside the Wurlitzer Side Man – the first ever electronic drum machine. While working my way through it I came across a valve circuit called the Shimmer Generator. I was like. Holy Shit – there is shimmer in this old machine. I like things that sparkle and shine so I am going to research this circuit and think about the how I can draw out the aesthetic potential out of a complicated technical system.”
How do you envisage collaboration and exchange being utilised within your proposed project?
“Sam and I have been doing a lot of talking. Discussing the implications of integrating socially engaged practices into projects that involve public space and lots of gear. For me learning about technology, transferring hand-on knowledge about electronics and the actual art developed from my studio experiments are all integral parts of my artistic discipline. I make art because I like to learn about how things work and I am so passionate about what I learn that I feel compelled to learn about it more by sharing it with others. As I am constantly in communication with communities of nerds, geeks and people that want to do electronics with me such as kids and artists I am constantly looking looking at how these collaborations effects the artwork I present to the public. I am becoming increasingly interested in how I can transform the workshop experience into a site of artistic content and I am also looking at how I can integrate the artistic input from these communities into my work in a sophisticated manner.”