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Gizmodo Gallery: Console Transformations and More with Ryota Kuwakubo

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"DuperLooper" (Kuwakubo, 2003)

Interview/Article by Jonah Brucker-Cohen

In the multi-faceted world of consumer electronics, objects that question their existence are rare. Japanese artist Ryota Kuwakubo's work attempts to shift this paradigm by combining flawless hardware design with interactivity that makes us rethink our daily relationship to electronic devices. From creating a simple drum machine that knocks beats onto any surface with "Duper/Looper", to integrating animation into a RCA plug with "VideoBulb", Kuwakubo's projects are elegant reminders of the ubiquitous nature of portable devices and the media they support. While his "PLX" project looks at gaming from a collaborative, but conflicted perspective, "HeavenSeed" utilizes a sensor equipped ball that connects wirelessly to a nearby computer. Gizmodo caught up with Kuwakubo to discuss his work with hardware hacks and ingenious interfaces that stand out among a myriad of consumer electronics detritus.

Images and Interview after the jump.

Name:Ryota Kuwakubo
Education:University of Tsukuba, Plastic Art and Mixed Media course 1993, University of Tsukuba, M.A., Design (Plastic Art and Mixed Media Dept.) 1996, International Academy of Media Arts and Sciences, 2001
Affiliation:Independent Artist
Exhibitions (selected):"SIGGRAPH" (LA, CA, 2002), Ars Electronica (Linz, Austria2002), Tokyo Gadget (Tokyo, 2003), Ars Electronica (Linz, Austria, 2003), Japan Media Arts Festival (2004), Rock The Future (Liverpool, UK,2005), Slow Life: John Hansard Gallery (London, UK, 2006), and many more (see URL (below) for full exhibition list).


GIZMODO: Your project "Duper/Looper" is a simple drum machine that responds to its own mallet's force hitting the table it sits on. What was your intention with this project and how successful was it?

RK: I was writing serial article for a monthly magazine, about how to make electronic toys. Duper/Looper is one of examples from it. You can see the text and figure at and -written in Japanese. I welcome someone translates it to English. I wish people enjoy to make their own Duper/Looper. This mechanism is simple feedback system, consists of trigger, sensor and delaying cue. This is so simple that everyone knows how to play at a glance.


"PLX" (Kuwakubo, 2001)

GIZMODO:"PLX" is a a two player battle game where users play two different games on either side of the display but the moving icons are the same for each player, even though one is cupid shooting arrows into hearts and the other is a spaceship shooter game. How did you choose this juxtaposition of play between the two games? Why was the tension between players an important element in the console's design?

RK: The basic motif for PLX is miscommunication. In a conversation, for instance, we often leave misunderstanding each other without knowing it, nevertheless we have talked for a long time. In other cases you sometimes hurt somebody else while you mean to praise her/him. PLX simulates such situations. Another hidden motif is more otakky. In old days, when I took apart Bandai's LSI game — it was submarine game, I found a connecting option on PCB which configures it as tank combat game. I noticed that different things can be described similar in binary world. Concerning console design: These days, in arcades, people (I don't play video game often) are sitting uprightly and seriously against a screen, connected to someone without facing each other. Sometimes they look bureaucratic:) But I don't have negative impression for it. The installation of PLX also represents coincidence of playing game and taking job. By the way, in [the] early 80's, when The Space Invaders came out, video game machines were placed in cafes. I prefer such old style because it is a console but still works as a table for tasting a cup of coffee.


"BITMAN" (Kuwakubo, 2001)

GIZMODO: The "BITMAN" project is a simple "shaker" device that responds to its own movements and animated a small LED figure on its display. The more you shake the device, the faster the man dances and becomes excited. What was your initial intention with this device and how has the public's perception of it changed since it became a commercial product? Were you happy with its evolution from prototype to product?


RK: Maybe you know, the prototype doesn't function like the product version. That is just a 8 x 8 LED sign board. That is my first art work afterward I started to use electronics. At first, there was no special intension for making BITMAN. I just wanted make something exciting with my electronics skill. When Maywa Denki ,the collaborator for BITMAN, planned the product version, we wanted to make something people [could] get involved in. That's why I introduced a tilt sensor instead of buttons. Also I was interested in how to make live animation with only 8 x 8 pixels. So I made an animation editor first.


"LoopScape", (Kuwakubo, 2003)

GIZMODO: "LoopScape" is a game for two people where the action takes place on a 360 degree, circular screen where players have to move around the screen to follow their spaceships. How were you attempting to augment the traditional game interaction with this cylindrical design? What do you think it adds to the overall experience?


RK: First of all, my original interest was make an endless world. It's not special to introduce this idea into a virtual space, like the "Lifegame" or "Defender" does. But I wondered what would happen if it physically existed. One day I patrolled around Akihabara to find curved LED matrix in low price. So I made it. This game has two effects: 1) Physical interaction — As you describe, you should follow a fighter you control. Virtual world affects physical world, and vice versa. I saw some players tackling shoulder to shoulder. 2) Strategy — if you hit a lot of missiles without care, you'll hit yourself. This is much interesting for me. Cause and effect makes a loop.


"HeavenSeed", (Kuwakubo, 2003)

GIZMODO:"Heaven Seed" is a plastic ball with embedded sensors that monitor its own movement and transmits this data wirelessly to a computer that generates sounds based on this movement. What is your vision for sound design in physical objects and how do you see this manifesting itself on a human scale?


RK: I wanted digital toy without any button or pad, like classic tools or natural objects. When you see some widgets on an object, you'll notice that you have to / can do something and it has some purpose. On the other hand if you grab a simple ball — less purpose defined object — for a while, you'll unconsciously make some action with it. I think such moment can be a beginning of a fantasy. I imagined an object that increases such relationship between itself and a person.


"VideoBulb", (Kuwakubo, 2000)

GIZMODO:"VideoBulb" is a simple device that plugs into any RCA input on a television and produces animations of the "BITMAN" character running around on the screen. How did you come up with the concept for this project? How do simple video devices play into the larger theme of customizing consumer electronics devices?


RK: When I made my animation project Bit-hike, I wanted to make some device that contains and plays animations by itself. I hope someone wants to use it as fliers.

GIZMODO: What projects are you currently working on? How are they similar or different than your past projects?


RK: [My] past projects were not for innovation but for observing the innovating world. I'm always interested in how people behave when new technology comes out. (I always refer to a change with cell phone. How our life changed with it, how we were excited to bring our private space into a public area, how we see other people talking loudly on a crowded train...) Now I'm trying to make something evokes our latent imagination.