NIO: A Review

By Joseph Gunulfsen

Jim Andrews’ “Nio” is a kinetic, interactive audio visual piece, consisting of two different verses in which Andrews invites the viewer or experimenter to utilize 16 different melodies, each represented by a corresponding visual icon. In the first verse, the icons form a perfect circle around what becomes the stage of the visual counterparts. The melodies can be started or stopped at will, and as many as six can be played simultaneously as desired. Also, the sounds are automatically synchronized which eliminates timing difficulties. The starting of each melody triggers its own visual correspondent which dances to the rhythmic sound toward the centre of the screen.

In verse two, the icons can be strategically or creatively arranged in any of the four provided loops. Each of the four loops is limited to only four different icons, but unlike verse one, the sound level of each component or melody within the same loop can be altered, enabling the experimenter to create different effects. For example, if the experimenter wishes to have the high-pitched, whiny sounds overpower the more deeply pitched sounds, he can adjust the levels of volume accordingly. And just as in verse one, the visual pieces are produced by activating the icons.

First of all, I must say that I was intrigued by this piece. Each melody or sound is an actual product of the artist’s own vocal cords. Andrews’ decision to cover the entire audio portion with his own voice helps to create a very original piece. The possibility of the viewer to conduct an orchestra while using the designated melodies of the artist was unlike anything I’ve seen before, other than maybe the Choose Your Own Adventure novels. “Nio” however is much more complex, offering countless varieties and combinations.

I checked out some other interactive works and came across an interesting piece titled “Neonlight”, by Macoto Yanagisawa. I found that although I was quite fascinated, especially with the correspondence or chemistry between the audio and visual aspects, it lacked both the complexity and originality that is offered in “Nio”. In “Neonlight”, with each click of the mouse I was taken to the next stage, whereas in “Nio” there are no stages. There is a beginning but no end; thus, the piece is unfinished.

As Andrews, the interactive video artist explains, “unfinished works constitute a subset of interactive works” and that the problem with using the term “interactive” is that it “refers to a large assortment of types of digital work”. Clearly, the artist would prefer not to be categorized under such a broad term, but rather have his work seen and analysed on a more individual level. Personally, I don’t blame him for feeling that way. “Nio” was well done and more importantly was extremely creative. As far as I am concerned, the piece qualifies as being a form of literature. After all, the components of the work were created by the artist, and each of the melodies has a special value or significance to the artist. This notion however is certainly debatable.

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