About the approach to digital resistance and the do-it-yourself concept, experiments with sound and media space and more …
The space of the world wide web is unpredictable and can give out completely unexpected information about curious things and people in the immediate vicinity. And so it happened during the next fleeting web walk. Material about an extremely curious gadget caught my eye. We will certainly discuss it in an interview, I will only say that it perfectly fit into the canvas of blocking in the Russian segment of the network amid a wave of protest sentiments of various nature. The first desire was to find out if the project is commercial, whether it is possible to personally test the device somewhere.
So I ended up on the site of Dmitry Morozov, acting under the pseudonym vtol and who is the author of this project, as well as many other interesting installations and devices. After a few minutes on the site, my interest only increased, I wrote to Dmitry with a proposal to conduct a web interview, to which he kindly agreed.
In the course of our web conversation, we will try to get to know the creator of the device, his projects, find out his attitude to the current problems of the modern technological world and the people in it.
– Dmitry, hello! Thank you very much for agreeing to take part in this interview. To be honest, I'm a little lost in terms of how best to introduce you to our readers. How do you position yourself? A man of creativity? Device developer and hacktivist? Techno sculptor? Musician and instrument maker? Or is this framework useless and there is a different understanding?
To be honest, I myself sometimes get lost, or, to be more precise, for a long time could not decide on the designation of my activity, but now I have come to understand that 'artist' is the most appropriate term in Russian. In English there is an even more precise “artist”, which has a little more freedom of interpretation. Since I do performances and really work a lot with sound both as a sound artist and as a developer of sound instruments, then, perhaps, the English concept of “multimedia artist” would be the most accurate.
As far as 'hacktivism' is concerned, it is more of a genre within a wide range of vectors of technological art, and, in one way or another, I refer to it from time to time. In general, a very capacious term 'technological art' has recently been used in the world – a genre in which the main tools of artists have become certain modern technical means, new media (video and computer graphics, programming, synthesized sound, mechatronics, etc. ., etc.) and even scientific developments, and sometimes not yet released from laboratories: this concerns a practice called 'art and science' – a genre that operates with the widest range of tools, from synthetic biology to nuclear physics. I also periodically visit this territory whenever possible.
– It is indicated on your website that you have been doing creative work since 2007. What path preceded this?
Now I am more and more coming to the understanding that all the practices that I have been doing now, more precisely, since 2007, are a harmonious continuation of the process of accumulating interests and ideas that took place from early childhood. 10 years ago I didn’t realize this, but recently I realized that this is a concept emerging and realized, which originated in school. I have always been interested in the history of science and technology, science fiction, electronic music and, let's call it everyday, 'hacking' (not for the purpose of profit, but as a process of learning and testing the world for strength) – in short, I was a bully. Typical set for a teenager from the 90s.
– How did you become interested in technology?
A banal story – I got sick in 4th grade, found a plastic model of an airplane at home for gluing, assembled and realized that I really like airplanes (hence, by the way, vtol) and really like designing. After that there were hundreds of models, then rocket planes assembled from fireworks, explosions, electric motors, arson. In 1998 I got the Internet, I immediately started making websites (fortunately, it was already narod.ru). The very first resource that I created turned into a gigantic encyclopedia of experimental aviation, for which I drew information from copy-paste from other resources, gradually began to engage in translating foreign materials, scanning books and even working with archives. Then foreign like-minded people appeared – in general, there was such a teenage pseudoscientific attempt to systematize information. This instilled excellent skills in basic understanding of programming, information retrieval, etc. He even worked as a web designer at the age of 17-20.
By the end of school, the vector shifted more towards art, but I did not have any data in classical forms and genres, so I entered art history at the Russian State University for the Humanities, received a very classical education in this area, but even there, through the history of architecture, my interest in technologies. I was very fascinated by modernist architecture – architecture created under the influence of scientific and technological progress of the 20th century. So I got carried away by studying the work of our constructivists, the German Bauhaus school – and there it was already a stone's throw to kineticism and the synthesis of arts.
– Remember your first art project?
Honestly, my first works were objects that had no direct relation to art, or rather, when I made them, I did not think of them like that at all. These were small electronic devices for creating rather strange electronic sounds – while studying at the university, I was very fond of writing electronic music, but I didn't want to do it with the help of popular programs, but I wanted something very individual. So, about 10-11 years ago, I started producing homemade synthesizers, which I first created, reworking and modernizing children's toys, and then independently developing circuitry.
At some point, I began to visit the Theremin Center laboratory, which once existed at the Moscow Conservatory, through which I began to get involved in various media art festivals, first as a music performer on my homemade devices, and then as an artist.
I made my first purely art project in 2009 for the Abracadabra festival of electronic music and art, which took place at Winzavod in Moscow. It was, in fact, a giant synthesizer, more precisely, the synthesizer itself was very compact, but its controller was huge – it was 4 torsos from full-height mannequins, to which I attached knives from meat grinders to my chest as metal touch sensors. People could touch them, which triggered generative algorithms for creating sound. The more and the longer people touched, the more actively the composition developed. Now, of course, all this sounds very naive, but then it was an interesting experience that demonstrated how interesting it can be to create something like this for festivals and exhibitions, how it can encourage people to take action.
- Do you adhere to DIY / indie principles in your work? Is there a commercial component to it?
I've always been a DIY adept. At all levels. This is not a political statement, but rather my way of knowing the world. Self-education, open source propaganda, etc. I never thought about the commercial component. Yes, I love it when the work is paid, whether it is participation in an exhibition or the development of an interactive object for a museum or some kind of presentation, but this has never been the main thing for me. Otherwise, I would have continued with the production of synthesizers, which were very easy to transfer from the category of handicraft to the category of those made in China. The market for electronic musical instruments is currently experiencing incredible growth.
- I confess that I am very impressed by the nature of your activity, whether it be experiments with sound and sound production or the creation of new scenarios for the application of technologies or sound installations. Do you work alone or do you attract people to your team?
I try to do only what I can do myself, or at least what I understand that it is possible to do it myself. This is a very important part of my creativity, which allows me to constantly learn and not depend on anyone. Although, it happens that I involve assistants to work (like additional hands during the assembly of something complex). But, of course, there is a community, the Internet is a giant helper.
– Creativity is a conductor of ideology. What can your projects tell the world about?
I think that the main idea is that technology is a reflection of ourselves, individuals and the whole society. And through technological artistic practices, it is possible to show how ambiguous, diverse and multifaceted everything is. Sometimes it can be a very critical statement, and sometimes, and vice versa, it can be ironic or even comical. But in general, this is still operating with aesthetics shaped by technological revolutions.
– Let's go back to technology. As I said, I'm very impressed with Hot Ninja. Can you tell us about it?
The agenda of the last days prompted us to do a little bit of programming and make our own alternative messenger / network device for autonomous activity in urban environments. The main purpose is communication and propaganda using the standard of wireless networks Wi-Fi. This is a hacktivist response to the attempts of the authorities of different countries to control the Internet. The project serves as an example of possible opposition and decentralization of networks to ensure communication and information, regardless of the presence of a connection to the global Internet.
The device consists of 3 autonomous WI-Fi access points based on the esp8266 chip and the Arduino Mega board, which serves as the brain of the system. The device is also equipped with a keyboard for text input and an OLED screen for ease of use. It can work from the built-in battery (up to 8 hours) or from any powerbank / charger for phones.
Principle of operation:
By typing on the keyboard, you can create / change network names at any time using the Latin or Cyrillic alphabet. This allows you to use the names of the networks themselves as a way of broadcasting certain information: a personal message, appeal, slogan, notification or other other statement. Since all modern smartphones, tablets and computers are equipped with Wi-Fi modules, with a high degree of probability this message can be read within a radius of up to 100 m, depending on the space conditions. Each network name can be up to 32 characters long, with all three networks up to 96 characters. In addition, in crowded places (for example, the subway), many users are constantly looking for networks, and since there are usually very few extraneous networks underground, it is highly likely that many people will see the message at the time of choosing a connection.
If the user connects to one of the networks (all networks do not have passwords), then the captive page (the welcome / registration page) is forced to him. This page can have any known content, any volume, and, including, lead to other pages located on the autonomous servers of all three points. This allows you to convey large amounts of information, in fact, being an autonomous Internet. The demo page used in the video documentation contains the text 'Cyberpunk Manifesto' by Christian Kirchev (1997).
If I create network names that completely repeat popular city networks, for example, MT_FREE (Moscow transport) or Onlime (a popular provider), then the devices of a huge number of people will connect to my device automatically, as they recognize the networks by name. Accordingly, the captive page pops up for them by default, which makes it possible to convey information forcibly.
In popular spaces like cafes, you can create networks very similar to the original chains of these establishments. It is enough to add only one space at the end of the name, and the networks become outwardly absolutely indistinguishable from the original ones, but the devices are recognized as separate networks. This allows them to compromise the networks of these establishments and instead attract people to their autonomous networks, where they will be asked to familiarize themselves with certain information.
On one of the versions of the captive page, I created a form for sending messages, which allows me to receive feedback from people who have connected to my networks. I see these messages in the server log file and can respond to them by changing the network name. In another version of the offline resource, I brought all incoming messages from the log file to a special page, which the user goes to as soon as he sent a message, which made it possible to implement a full-fledged offline and anonymous chat, where only IP addresses of devices are visible as usernames.
Thus, the device hidden in my pocket is my little wireless pocket internet. The only way to block access to it is to physically jam radio frequencies of the Wi-Fi standard. Moreover, the device allows you to conduct propaganda, alert people, penetrate a little into their devices and create a resource for communication.
Field tests of the device have proven high activity of users looking for free Wi-Fi, as well as successful hunting for devices that remember the names of the networks, which I pretend to be the same name. A special log file (inaccessible to anyone except the network administrator) saves all the mac-addresses of devices ever connected to my networks.
– Here it is – the extracted digital resistance! As I understand it, the device was released in a single copy? How long did it take to create it?
2 days. Yes, in a single copy, but I have laid out the diagram and the code, so anyone can try to recreate it (simplify or modernize). Hopefully the first clones will appear very soon.
– Interestingly, in my search for information about the Hot Ninja device, I did not find any Russian-language references (except for your VK page). I came across material about him on a foreign resource. And your site is in English. Coincidence?
In Russia, such creativity does not find a special response – yes, there are separate local festivals and resources that sometimes pay attention to something like that, but in general, the genre is ignored by both large authorities and the media. I think there are objective reasons for this – people hardly understand art, there is a gap between it and society, it needs to be popularized and explained why it is an important component of culture. On the other hand, there is no time for culture when you need to survive. But this is a very difficult question …
– Do you often use Hot Ninja yourself?
I walk around the city. Fun enough. I look at the log files – everything works well. I have no purpose to shock, offend, offend or scare someone. Moreover, steal information or something like that.
– Has interest in the gadget increased in connection with all the known events with the blocking of the well-known messenger by the well-known supervisory authority? Didn't you offer cooperation for the purpose of mass production?
The idea of the project appeared a long time ago, but decided to implement the idea in the wake of the latest events around the messenger. This context is easy to grasp, and the device resonated with many friends and followers on my social networks, but nothing more. Some foreigners offered to do it in series, but I don't see the point in that.
– What is your opinion on the above events? Will they have a big impact on society? Should we wait for a new wave of locks?
It seems to me that they do not care about the messenger – they just, hiding behind it, tested technical means of blocking large network segments. I liked the reaction of both ordinary people and companies – the blocking was so stupid that it could not cause anything but outrage. I think there is still a fight for internet freedom.
– Can you call yourself a geek? What gadgets do you prefer in everyday life?
To a certain extent. Gadgets for the sake of gadgets interest me a little. I still consider them as tools and means for creativity. For many years I have been using the technique Apple, I partly continue, but now it becomes obvious that they are beginning to give up their leading positions in recent years.
– Are you waiting for the announcement of any device / technology in the near future?
Globally, I am concerned about the fate of the monitor and projections. More precisely, I am really looking forward to when they will disappear as unnecessary and the screen culture will disappear altogether, and direct projection into the eyes will come to replace it (first), and then neural vision. Accordingly, the interfaces for interacting with visual content will also change.
– The brightest modern technological trend for you is …
Wearable and invasive electronics and the Internet of Things. Well, the resulting cyborgization. On the one hand, there are popular trends, on the other, technologies that are quite common in everyday life, especially rapidly developing in medicine.
– If you look at the current situation in the world of technology, what is the main problem you would highlight?
The dictate of large companies is too strong – they need profit, which is why they gradually and dosed improve devices so that they are updated every couple of years (if we talk about the consumer segment). I think that the future belongs to medium-sized companies, created by half scientists and engineers, half managers and businessmen – that is, such a balanced system that resists monopolies.
– At the end of the interview, by tradition, the following question: what advice would you give to novice inventors and just creative people at an early stage of the development of their skills?
This is probably a banal thought, but I think the most important thing is to realize that failure is a very important stage on the way to a positive result. If something turns out right away, then, most likely, someone has already done it before you (if this is an important factor).
Summing up our short interview, I would like to thank Dmitry once again and note the versatile nature of the creativity of the hero of today's conversation. I am always very interested in people who are able to actively and successfully develop in several areas / incarnations, whatever you like. Very unusual projects, I advise you to wander around the site, a lot of interesting things. You can leave questions in the comments to the material, Dmitry will definitely answer as far as possible.
Thanks for attention!