Mike Ballard

Mike Ballard -The Ultra Nomadic Def Smith Cycle

Edel Assanti Project Space
276 Vauxhall Bridge Road
London SW1V 1BB

Thursday 24th March – Saturday 30th April 2011

All photos NoLionsInEngland except HowAboutNo where stated.
Video by Mark Gostick via GalaxyRays

Hanging a few canvasses and calling it a show isn’t Mike Ballard’s style. Ballard deals in whole room illusion experiences, multi-media sonic and video assaults, challenging conceptual celebrations of “taking without consent” and the intersection where delusional un-hinged jazz weirdoes meet dazzle painting. The whole lot flows through the fizzing circuits of Ballard’s brain and discharges via electrical components melded together by the mad boffin’s own hands.

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The Ultra Nomadic experience starts with a curious framed circular patterned paper, various Ballard themes can be recognised in the concentric circle patterns but the most interesting orbit is the very out edge which has two semi circles of patterns of images, each image remarkably similar to its neighbour but different by some incremental detail like one of those flicker book animations, and the significance of this is revealed as later as you dive into the subterranean space.

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First stop in the basement is a garden shed, a hut – no hiding that’s what it is. Inside set in the middle of the floor is a low level kinetic lightbox. The glossy black box is punctured by a circular screen, a beam sweeps out repeating circles picking out a viscous, boiling universal. Is it detecting the beginning or the end, or a continuous repeating loop between the two? Who knows, some say it marked out an organic intra-cellular voyage path picked out by a navigation system travelling within a mutilated, knifed body. You choose, it’s in the eye of the beholder this one.

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The light arc shows the sweep of the light line in the photoexposure time

The Ultra Nomadic Def Smith Cycle is a bigger, better cosmic traveller, a maker of tangibles and intangibles (Smith as in smithy, forge) and What The River Brings, a poker phrase and also the oldest piece in the show dating back to about Ballard’s All Of Everything era, represents that voyage, the transformer nomad complete with suitcase sets off propelled by energy from the larger older version of himself.

What The River Brings

There are two other minor photographic collage pieces hidden away in an almost un-noticed recess at the rear of the basement, Ballard’s view on these springs from his obsession with music. The images pay tribute through the representation of a mystical figure transformed with visible bizarre inner energies and wizardly properties, the whole referencing the originators of hip hop DJ Kool Herc and Grand Wizard Theodore. Once again Mr Ballard is responsible for me wasting entire minutes googling musical references an indie honky knows nothing of.

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All of which doesn’t so much as define a backdrop as get completely blown away by the main feature of the show. You can’t miss it, its ambience is apparent as the lo fi one note synth-meets-stuck-oscilloscope-drone permeates your head from the moment you commence your descent at the top of the stairs. The source is a new installation but one that very clearly shows its relationship to the LaPlace Transforms sculpture which Graffoto patiently explained after the 2009 Long Arm Gallery Galaxy Rays show.

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In this incarnation, an edition of the circular paper Ultra Nomadic Def Cycle drawing we found at the top of the stairs rotates on a platter with two turntable pick-ups. One tone arm has a scalpel blade resting on the rotating disc, this both creates and picks up the vibrations though unlike the earlier Laplace Transforms, the blade doesn’t cut into and destroy the disk. The signal passes through a vocoder which results in the sonic eminences we hear. A second tone arm holds a small camera and a light.

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Compare the Ultra Nomad Def Smith Cycle above with the LaPlace Transforms from the 2009 show:

Mike Ballard – LaPlace Transform, Bristol 2009, photo: HowAboutNo

The frame rate of the camera, the rotational speed of the disc (78RPM)and the separation of the images around the paper have been critically tuned so that each successive image captured by the camera is dead centre in the frame. The resulting live “time lapse animation” is projected onto a screen built into the housing, Ballard christens the whole thing a sonotrope merging the idea of an image generator and a self noise generator in one device.


The sculpture is topped off with various minute figures signifying a mystical origin or source. The device radiates warmth and a riich lushness, coning you into supposing that the innards must be full of valves and “Elvis at Sun Studio” microphones


So much for describing the appearance, the experience however is nothing without the sound. This whining acoustic screech won’t leave you alone, you can try ignoring it but your subconscious always picks out the tones, some crazy inate Fourier analyser within your nervous system locks onto the frequencies then shifts to pick out some higher harmonic, then a different tone. The effect is as if the instrument is somehow being “played” with a gentle, slow tensioning and relaxing of the “angry flies trapped in a balloon” knob.

Mike Ballard - Ultra Nomadic Def Smith Cycle

Trance like rapture would be a suitable response. If the images generated by the same disc as the sound aren’t perception enhancing enough, then this is probably exactly the sound track for a fairly bad trip on psychedelic grade As. The ambience needed sylph like naked females to slowly whirl around, arms aloft in complete immersion in the mood but none of them could be persuaded. What you really want is to witness! Thankfully, Mark Gostick produced this really slick video which Graffoto has nicked without consent.

from GalaxyRays by Mark Gostick

Interestingly, the inner images, a silhouette figure saluting the sun and some geometric patterns are being illuminated at 50Hz (probably) and are rotating at 78rpm and as you can see in the vid that image moves forward very slowly, a bit like the wagon wheel stroboscopic illusion on film.

This show is about transformations and trance, repetitions and electricians. Compared to past shows it is more about immersion than illusion. If you are a tall slender hippy chick with your own stash of hallucinogenics, please get in touch for the Graffoto guided tour.

A few other photos here.

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