The Constitute at the Fak’ugesi Festival Music with Sensors

Christian Zöllner and Sebastian Piatza test the Eyesect camera helmet.
Christian Zöllner and Sebastian Piatza test the Eyesect camera helmet. | Filmstill (detail): © Arte Tracks

Seeing the world through an insect’s eyes is possible thanks to the Eyesect camera helmet designed by the Berlin-based think tank The Constitute. In our interview, The Constitute’s  Christian Zöllner explains how Eyesect works, how music can be made with sensors and why he is looking forward to the Fak’ugesi Festival in Johannesburg.

The Constitute from Berlin is a workshop for digital ideas. The artists’ collective led by the product designers Christian Zöllner and Sebastian Piatza has added a helmet to VR goggles to allow the wearer to see the world in much the same way as an insect does. They have also come up with a slingshot with a mobile phone’s keypad which can be used to sling text messages against a wall.
Mr Zöllner, as a member of the think tank The Constitute you travel all around the world for various projects: have you worked with African artists before, or is the Fak’ugesi Festival in Johannesburg your first time?

Previously we have only had dealings with people from Cairo where we presented the SMSlingshot, a catapult for slinging digital messages against a wall. Apart from that the African continent is virgin territory for us – as you can see from the globe in our office. We attach pins to it in all the places we have already run The Constitute projects, and there are no pins as yet in Sub-Saharan Africa, Australia or the Antarctic.
Some members of The Constitute will be exploring unusual sound experiences at the Fak’ugesi Festival: Jens Beyer will be running the Future Sounds workshop at which African musicians will have the chance to experiment with new sounds. What exactly will happen there?
We will be taking six suitcases packed with technology along with us. The equipment will include microcontrollers, as well as various sensors which react to things like acceleration, bending and pressing. In other words, the sensors make sounds when they are moved. The musicians will be able to experiment with them during the workshop: what sounds can be produced if one has a bending sensor on one’s finger and then bends it? What will it sound like if one sends acceleration sensors spinning like a lasso? This experimentation is the first part of the workshop.
And the second part?
In the second part the musicians can incorporate the sounds into their own songs. The new pieces of music that are created will then be performed in public at the end of the festival. It is impossible to say in advance whether the music will turn out to have mass appeal or will only prove popular with a niche audience, however.
How do you hope that the work of the members of The Constitute will benefit from the festival in South Africa?

I hope that South Africa will give us new energy. It may also influence our artistic style. We are like sponges – we absorb everything that happens around us. Naturally we are not going to Johannesburg with any sort of cultural imperialist ideas along the lines of wanting to show people there how to make electronic music properly. Our input is supposed to support experimentation with music.
Are you familiar with the electronic music scene in South Africa?
My impression is that the scene there is developing at a faster pace than ours is. Whatever happens, I am certainly looking forward to hearing lots of exciting new music that one simply has no access to in Europe. We have become accustomed to music played at 120 bpm, but much of the South African music is faster and more hectic.

Christian Zöllner is a product designer and a member of the think tank The Constitute in Berlin. He has been a lecturer at the Gerrit Rietveld Akademie in Amsterdam, at the Muthesius University in Kiel and at the Universität der Künste in Berlin.