John Klima

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Glasbead, 1999-2000

Technologies: C++ / DirectSound, Sense8 WorldUp, Visual Basic

Keywords: 3D, collaboration, interface, music, tool


After graduating from the State University of New York at Purchase with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography, John Klima worked for several years as a software programmer. Freelance jobs afforded him a flexible schedule, allowing him to pursue his artistic practice while paying the rent in New York. But these day jobs also helped him develop skills that he put to use when creating his New Media art works. A stint at Microsoft, the company behind the ubiquitous Windows operating system, got him thinking about alternatives to the desktop metaphor for organizing files and applications on a computer. Klima also had a long-standing interest in three-dimensional interfaces. These trains of thought led him to create Glasbead, a psychedelic online art work that enables up to 20 simultaneous participants to make music collaboratively via a colorful three-dimensional interface -- a translucent blue orb, rendered in three dimensions. The orb contains multiple stems, each radiating from the orb's center like pistils from a flower. There are two kinds of stems: "bells" and "hammers," each of which can be flung around the sphere with the drag of a mouse. The stems move independently of one another, spinning in various directions around Glasbead's central axis. Participants compose music alone or with others by uploading sound files to the bell stems, controlling volume and pitch by manipulating purple rings that surrounds the stems. When a hammer stem strikes a bell stem, the music file plays. The entire spherical structure can be spun by clicking and dragging a ball at the center of the orb.

Glasbead exemplifies the convergent nature of New Media art. Although Klima was trained as a visual artist, his programming skills enabled him to cross disciplinary boundaries to produce a tool for making music. Yet this tool is highly aestheticized and rich in visual detail. Its title and conceptual foundations are indebted to literature. Klima was inspired in part by Herman Hesse's final novel, The Glass Bead Game, for which Hesse won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. The novel, which is set in the twenty-third century, centers around a fictional game in which cultural values are played like notes on an organ, requiring players to synthesize their knowledge of both philosophy and aesthetics. Widely discussed by technologists and futurists, Hesse's Glass Bead Game has been described as a prescient metaphor for the Internet. Despite its obvious references to the game in Hesse's novel, Klima's Glasbead is less a realization of Hesse's vision than a hallucinatory spin-off in which sounds take the place of ideas, a futuristic musical instrument that enables collaborative play.

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