Engine Trouble

Engine Trouble pastiches 1970s and ‘80s television commercials for Castrol GTX engine oil, in which liquid and shiny steel entwine, in an attempt to turn a rather unglamorous product into something all but sensual. In their way, these adverts were celebrations of the driver of modernity, the combustion engine, minus of course any of the consequences, such as pollution, road deaths and global warming.

The visual component for Engine Trouble was a JPEG of a Harley Davidson engine which was first animated using the fractal-based application Artmatic (U&I Software), resulting in footage of a swirling mass of metal, that moves between recognisable piston forms and molten abstraction. Morphing digital liquid metal was first popularised In Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), and was an example of a then ‘cutting edge’ computer-generated effect, which within a couple of years lost its sheen. It seemed fitting to use this effect for a pastiche of a machine-orientated ideology that is similarly outdated. To produce the sound, a Max software audio oscillator patch was created that scans the centre of the image, and as the picture moves, the frequency rises or falls. The engine sound produced is surprisingly plausible; coughing and spluttering as the image slows, and roaring as it picks up speed. As with Guy Sherwin’s optical sound piece Railings (1977), the sound is akin to its ‘real world’ counterpart, but its very plausibility helps reveal the mechanism of sonification, by evidencing that it is the animated moving image (the representation), rather than the actual object, that is the source.

Screened at: Video under Volcano, Milan, Italy (2006), Cog Collective, London, UK (2006), Camera Obscura, Chipendale, Australia (2007), Memorial Art Gallery, Hastings, UK (2009).