Tom Sherman on Sun, 20 Jul 2014 17:52:32 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Understanding Media was our First Big Mistake (a reflection on new

Excerpt from ?Understanding Media was our First Big Mistake,?
published in Centerfold magazine (Toronto), 1979.

Tom Sherman

Miami. Here I am. Sitting on the 5th-storey sunroof of the Wandolyn Motor Hotel. Taking in the (squint-eyed) panoramically framed view of the quiet, mid-afternoon light. Laid back in a chaise lounge, drinking a gin and tonic, interviewing Maria Del Mar, greater Miami artist and successful media entrepreneur. I?m the one who is staying in this Hotel. I?m living it up on the magazine?s expense account (Centerfold). Maria preferred to come to meet me. She said she was looking for a reason to get out of the house. As well as being the 11th wonder of the world, Maria is a very active artist who works directly with the highest forms of available technology in a potentially full, creative sense. She loves her equipment, and the machinery she designs really puts out for her. Skip Olson, a flashy programmer from Boca Raton (educated at Cal Tech under Harold Proctor), does most of Maria?s super tech. It was actually Olson who put the final touches on Maria?s ?Spinal Ray Gun?. The ?SRG? is an e
 lectro-acoustic transducer that literally makes the body, as Maria says, ?speak in tongues from head to toe.? This ?fun gun? is based on Olson?s patented (1975) digitally focused transducive floating head assembly. Make no mistake, the ?SRG? was Maria?s own invention, and still is.

She has been working with various electro-acoustic transduction techniques since emigrating to the United States from Caracas in 1974. Maria explained that she had felt stifled by the total lack of activity in the experimental technological arts in her native Venezuela. She originally landed in New York where she found work with Pan American Airlines (on the ground) while she looked for the access she needed to continue her creative work in the States. It took only six months for Maria to decide New York was not for her. Her move to Miami in the winter of 1975 was based on the weather, and as it turned out it was a stroke of good luck. She ran into Olson at a computer conference that same winter. He was lecturing on his developing digital focusing mechanisms. His floating head assembly proved to be the missing interface between Maria?s transducive ideas and the spine of the general public?.

As she has just taken the real thing out of her purse, Maria Del Mar?s ?Spinal Ray Gun? looks like a cross between an electric finishing sander and a Princess phone at this reading. Ivory. Although they have taken the idea quite a ways, the machine is obviously still at the prototype stage. What the ?SRG? is, in plain English, is a very articulate and powerful vibrator held firmly in place at the base of the spine by a thick nylon belt around the waist. A smaller control unit, looking a lot like a miniature cassette player, is connected by cable to the ?SRG?. 

When I say the ?SRG? is articulate, I mean it is capable of ?injecting? a wide frequency of vibrations into the central nervous system with a sophisticated articulation of power far beyond the actual surface transduction. I am not talking about fancy massage. As I have said, this floating head assembly, developed by Olson, without practical application before Maria figured out the way, bestows the ?SRG? with its awesome potential. Olson?s ?head? enables vibrations to be injected into the sensitive base of the spinal column with just about all the depth and power you can imagine. The physical interface of the transducer itself is a 4 x 7-inch soft rubber pad, perfectly smooth on the surface. Underneath this pliable pad, which fits any lower back perfectly, is over an inch-thick layer of liquid crystal membranes. These ?membranes? undulate under directive electrical stimulation to form an acoustic ?lens? for applying pinpoint concentrations of pressure locally by frequency.

This ?locality by frequency? is the key to the ?SRG?. It is as if this floating head is an electrostatic body of ?liquid? pressure. Behind this floating head is the power transducer, which is an electromechanical vibrator set to a control frequency of approximately 15,000 cycles per second. Maria wouldn?t tell me the exact frequency of her control vibration. These ?localities of frequency? set up in the head assembly are directed by digital computer according to the program Maria chooses to insert in the cable-connected remote control unit. Maria creates her own programs for the ?Spinal Ray Gun? to play back in anyone?s particular body. As I thought out as much as she would tell me about the specifics of the ?SRG?, I came up with a hitch in her sketchy elucidation. She wanted to strap the thing on me?I just wanted to talk it through a bit more before I committed myself. I told her I thought the rubber interface pad would transfer with restrictive uniformity any such diversity of said
 -to-be ?local frequencies? underneath it. Why? Because of the absorbent qualities of the rubber interface itself. It was at least a quarter of an inch thick. So that makes the ?SRG? just a vibrator. So ?thanks, but no thanks, Maria.?

She told me I did not understand how the machine worked and unfortunately, with patents pending, she could tell me no more. I did get her to admit that the control frequency functioned as some sort of bottom-end for a deep shaping of these various ?frequency locales?. I can only speculate that the device induces a sympathetic flow of bioelectrical current through the fluid channel of the spinal cord. As resonance is achieved, the initial charge is in all probability reissued (fed back) on the neuro-microscopic level of the ganglia and below. But in order to make only the smallest areas move independently, this would have to take us into the radio spectrum. And the fact that the thing is called a ?Ray Gun?... I don?t know. 

We move from the interview to the demo, from the rooftop to my room. The first time I was under the ?Gun?, I was lying face down on my bed with only my swimsuit on. Maria sat in a chair by the open balcony window. She held the control unit in her lap as she talked me into her first program. As gentle as her voice was, I was  apprehensive. ?Ataques de amor? (my translation, ?Needles of love?) was just another mini-cassette until she ran it though the ?SRG? and into my entire body. It was the first recording she had ever made for the ?SRG?. She explained how rough it was as she turned up the volume. It was all I could do to keep from inhaling the sheet I was lying on! ?Oh my God,? was what I would have said, had I been able to exhale. I can?t begin to tell you what she was doing to me. ?Ataques de amor,? she told me after, was just under 4 minutes long. I had no sense of time, as I had never been on top of the sensation. I asked her why the world ?love? was in the title. She said there
  was ?love? because of the ?hug of the chest? effected by the needles? penetration. From the smile on her face I knew I should get up, but this was the most interesting position I had been in for quite a while.

I asked her what was next. She seemed to lower her voice for ?un hombre que esta muriendo nunca se equivoca? (?A Dying Man is Never Wrong?). It was only 2 minutes long, but all I can remember coming out of it was that my hands? wait, my arms were straight out to my sides and my legs were also straight with my feet resting slightly apart. All I can remember is that my hands and feet seemed to press themselves hard into the mattress and I felt like I was rising from my centre as if my ass was being lifted by a crane. After I had come down, I checked the bed. I could tell from the lack of wrinkles on the sheet that I hadn?t moved an inch. 

Then she took me through a piece called ?El ultimo suspiro? (?Swan Drive?). It made me cry. It was very beautiful. On the way out of ?El ultimo suspiro? I could remember being briefly conscious of a plateau of pleasurable sensation before the plunge I had to forget. She was explaining to me that these things she did to me (through me, actually) did not have compositional form in a normal sense, but that time was simply filled until it passed away. I never even considered getting up from the bed. I wanted ?El ultimo suspiro? again. The second time through I found myself dancing?at least I thought I was dancing. My eyes felt as if they were opened, but I could not see. I remembered?actually I heard Maria?s voice playfully chanting ?Me divierte ver el gringo bailar? (?I love to see the stranger dance?). How was I to know ?El ultimo suspiro? was a comedy?

It was over. Maria was sitting with her eyes closed, her lips cracking a smile as she laughed with her arms and legs crossed. I rolled over to my side. I could feel the power cord of the ?SRG? twist between my thighs as I undid the belt and removed the heavy ?Gun?. All I could think to say was to ask her was what did she do before she did this?

She told me to support herself as an artist she had worked as a reporter for a newspaper in Caracas.


Professor Tom Sherman
Syracuse University
Department of Transmedia
102 Shaffer Art Building
Syracuse, NY 13210-1210
tel  315.443.1202
fax 315.443.1303

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