[The User] (USA)


The Avanto contribution of architect Thomas McIntosh and composer Emmanuel Madan, also known as [The User], is a symphony for 12 printers. The members of the orchestra are not trendy streamlined design products but large and noisy 1980's dot-matrix printers. These clumsy and durable means of production are 'conducted' by a network server, and use ordinary ASCII text files as a score.

The music produced by the printers sounds, at times, like extreme minimal techno; sometimes it reminds one of John Cage’s 1940's compositions for a prepared piano. Live, with good acoustics, [The User]’s symphony can sound by turns tender and gloomy. The peculiar experience is heightened by real time footage filmed by small video cameras installed inside the printers; close-ups of the different parts of the mechanism working frantically are projected onto a screen.

[The User]’s post-industrial spectacle has many predecessors in the history of the avant-garde; projects that have tried to break out of the ivory tower of the art world, from the Soviet factory whistle symphonies of the 1920's to, for example, the building site crane ballet that Matti Knaapi realized in Helsinki in 1982. The genius of [The User]’s Symphony for Dot Matrix Printers lies in the graphic manner it uses to create a continuation from the nostalgic, smoggy 20th century industrialism to the world of the “microserfs” of the present information society; from the factory to the paperless office.

Here are some excerpts from [The User]’s website and their interviews:

“The operative word is slave. Slavery is this continuous thing that never really went away. Basically, it's changed forms and now, instead of people being bonded labourers, they are slaves, in that they have no choice but to go to the office every day. They're completely in debt... they're slaves. You're punching numbers into a screen or writing these lines on a sheet of paper, and you don't know why you're doing it."

“[The User] takes its name from a term employed by our technocratic society, especially in design-related fields such as engineering, architecture and software development. The term 'user' objectifies and reduces individuality to an abstract and generic ideal. This reduction is employed wherever abstract rational methodology is applied to situations involving real people. Once this reduction is made, it becomes much easier to treat the faceless, formless 'user' in an inhuman fashion.”

“We can speak of three classes when it comes to information society. At the top are the systems designers, the elite who not only possess the ability to function in this multiplicity of systems but also are empowered to create and change them. 'The Users' are the vast middle class, understanding and obeying rules, those for whom the systems are designed. Frequently forgotten are the non-'Users', an even larger group, functionally illiterate of the proliferating technological (and social) codes.”

The Symphony for Dot Matrix Printers can be regarded as one of the classics of the late 1990's media art. It has been performed at ZKM in Karlsruhe, Sonar in Barcelona and Ars Electronica in Linz where it won the jury’s special award in 1999. AN

Thursday 8.11.2001 - Kiasma Theatre
17:00 and 20:00 - Symphony for Dot Matrix Printers

farmersmanual and [The User] will participate in the Avanto Academy series of workshops. For more information about the programme of the workshops, see the Olento web page.