Pieter Francken

In collaboration with the Department of Nuclear Science & Engineering and the MIT Media Lab, ACT presents Resynthesizer, a performance, installation, and public tour series of MIT Media Lab Professor Joe Paradiso’s modular synthesizer, temporarily installed within MIT’s internationally known Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC). Resynthesizer will incorporate a month-long series of public tours of the synthesizer at PSFC intended to highlight a participatory dialogue between the varying departments—and the public—concerning transdisciplinary research efforts engaging one of the 21st century’s most pressing challenges: to produce the next clean, economically efficient, and sustainable energy.

The Paradiso Synthesizer, arguably the world’s largest homemade modular synthesizer, produces sounds which are “programmed” manually by running wires between various outputs and inputs. Unlike today’s digital synthesizers, which normally hide their many capabilities behind menus or graphical interface screens that allow for changing only one parameter at a time, the modular synthesizer exposes all aspects of sound creation and modification simultaneously via the physical modules.

In Resynthesizer, the Paradiso Synthesizer will utilize final data gleaned from PSFC’s legendary fusion device, the Alcator C-Mod tokamak—one of only three domestic tokamaks housed within a US Department of Energy funded user-facility. In 2018, however, C-Mod lies dormant due to a completion of operations and termination of previously obtained government funding in 2016. Nevertheless, containing a wealth of data archived from more than 20 years of operations, C-Mod continues to exist on the MIT campus as the world’s only compact, high-magnetic field, diverted tokamak, allowing it to access unique experimental regimes and influence the direction of the world fusion energy program.

With this collaboration and contribution of PSFC data, the synthesizer’s modules will produce complex and varied sonic environments from the complicated “patch”—the set of connections—that Professor Paradiso creates. The patch determines both the sounds and how the sounds are controlled and triggered, ensuring that the sonic environment generated by the synthesizer will never be repeated. Made evident by Paradiso’s installation and performance, this experimental and artistic process of creation and modification is ultimately what connects both the history of fusion energy at PSFC and Professor Paradiso’s exploration of sound as a malleable product of digitized data.

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