Jon Adams and his digital masterpiece(s)

a screen shot from the film shot at night, the lights of cars form streams of light in the darkWe asked Jon Adams what his digital masterpiece was – and he gave us plenty of food for thought.

First thought, Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, is a 1982 film directed by Godfrey Reggio with music composed by Philip Glass and cinematography by Ron Fricke. Wikipedia describes it as follows:

The film consists primarily of slow motion and time-lapse footage of cities and many natural landscapes across the United States. The visual tone poem contains neither dialogue nor a vocalized narration: its tone is set by the juxtaposition of images and music. Reggio explains the lack of dialogue by stating “it’s not for lack of love of the language that these films have no words. It’s because, from my point of view, our language is in a state of vast humiliation. It no longer describes the world in which we live.

There is a trailer for the film here which gives you a good sense of what the whole is like.

an old calculator, very basic.His second thought, the wonder of a calculator sitting in a child’s hand in 1975, when they were just starting to become available to the masses. I am of this generation too and can remember marvelling at the wonder of this small box that could replace mental maths in a moment. (My mum used to challenge the calculator, trying to add up a string of shopping prices faster than I could type in digits. Often she won in those early days).

Jon has other thoughts too – the complexity of a Yamaha DX7 (the first commercially successful digital synthesizer), or the social media sharing of photos – without the need for the time and cost of ‘development’ (do you remember finishing the film, getting it out of the camera, taking it down to the shop and then waiting, waiting, waiting to get your tiny images back? I do).

a three pronged transistor - three 'legs' hold a small metal cap.But for Jon, the top award for digital masterpiece goes to the humble transistor and hence the ‘silicon chip’ – enabling a digital metamorphosis with software.


A transistor is a semiconductor device used to amplify and switch electronic signals and electrical power. It is composed of semiconductor material with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit… The transistor is the fundamental building block of modern electronic devices, and is ubiquitous in modern electronic systems. Following its development in the early 1950s, the transistor revolutionized the field of electronics, and paved the way for smaller and cheaper radios, calculators, and computers, among other things. (Wikipedia)

a huge circuitboard As Jon says:

“Inspiration for me is the process, the ability to turn the ordinary into the previously unseen or unheard – creation – more than renewal – melt, reduction into elements and recombination crystallizing out to offer delight, fear, revulsion, wonder anything but ignor-ance – but the control and choice of this process remaining in falable and warm hands.”

The digital and the human. What wonders we create.

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