Prankophone is a work created by ::vtol:: that calls random or preset phone numbers and plays the person who answers algorithmic melodies generated from their phones and the sounds they make when they answer the call. The call recipient can only hear the synthesized sounds, not their own voice. The Prankophone device is a combination of a synthesizer, telephone, and logic module.
The Prankophone itself is a smaller device, around the size of a laptop. It sits within a large gallery space a top a table, but the small device can really fill the room. ::vtol:: explains that he enjoys when lots of people interact with his work by accident and his smaller works can occupy a larger space and overcome the typical gallery atmosphere. When looking at the Prankophone there are two main surfaces. The bottom surface (like the keyboard of a laptop) has a few piano keys and a number pad. The top surface (like the screen of a laptop) has four digital screens stacked on the left and a wireframe to a basic cell phone on the right. The top of the four screens gives directions, the second dials the phone number, the third tell you which mode you are in, and the forth shows you the synthesized sound pattern. Coming out of the top are two large antennas. Playing the piano keys and setting modes with the number pad can operate the Prankophone.
The four modes applicable to the Prankophone are autonomous, manual, keyboard, and live. Autonomous mode produces the phone numbers and calls them to automatically play the recipient sounds if they answer. Manual mode allows the person interacting with the work to dial any number by using the number pad and then allows the device to play the recipient sounds. Keyboard mode allows the person interacting with the piece to dial a phone number by pressing ten keys on the piano (one-octave) keyboard. Each key then corresponds to ten digits that form a phone number. Lastly, live mode allows the participant to input a phone number through the keyboard, number pad, or autonomously by the machine. The main difference is that this mode does not allow the Prankophone to generate the sounds the recipient hears. Instead, the participant can communicate with the person on the other end of the phone call by creating his or her own sounds.
This work forces people outside of their comfort zones and puts prank call recipients in new and uncomfortable situations. Phone calls usually occur between two people with human voices and music and melodies usually only occur as a ring back tone. Therefore, when people answer a call and are greeted with a melody it feels unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable, even though it is just a mixture of the humans voice and phone sounds. Prankophone deals with the content of communication as well. While these sounds may feel like ring tones or hold music, it’s also important to think about tones as a form of communication. Computers used to communicate with each other by using tones. Some may interpret this machine as being lonely and attempting to communicate with other small computers, such as telephones, through this melodic system.
Prankophone was influenced by history and makes a statement on how music and the telephone systems are interconnected. ::vtol:: explains, “The project was based on several historical references. From its very inception, electronic music owes a lot to the development of telephone and telegraph connection and equipment. Even now the most common format of connector in the musical industry is called Phone Jack, – such contacts were used on the manual phone stations, and later through laboratory equipment were introduced into the musical devices” Morozov, Dmitry, (2015) Prankophone.
The cultural importance of the Prankophone is that it not only makes a statement on our historical progress in terms on music and telephone systems, it also makes a statement on human expectations. In his work Prankophone, ::vtol:: is working to overcome people’s idea’s of what should happen during a phone call. People expect to hear another persons voice and have a conversation when they answer their phone. The Prankophone introduces a new conversation, a conversation between a person and electronic noises that act as a unique sound message. While some people will accept that each micro-noise piece is unique to each phone number it managed to reach, other people find the device to be more of a nuisance. Fact magazine says,
“A Russian artist has spliced a synthesizer with a telephone to create a contender for the world’s most annoying apparatus. The Prankophone dials a number and blasts the person on the other end with a unique melody created from their phone number. The speakers on the device transmit both the synthesized sounds and the sound from the person at the other end, but the other person can only hear noise from the synth” Fact (Nov. 3, 2015) The Prankophone is a synth for making prank calls.
There is certainly an overlap between artists and pranksters, and ::vtol:: and Marcel Duchamp have this in common. The first and undoubtedly most famous piece of prank art is a sculpture called Fountain by Marcel Duchamp, which is simply a urinal, hung upside down in a gallery. Fountain was created in 1917 and was a readymade sculpture, whereas ::vtol::’sPrankophone sculpture took a lot of work to build and program. Another main difference between these works is that Duchamp’s Fountain was merely to be observed while ::vtol::’sPrankophone is meant to be interacted with. However, both sculptures can be considered prank art and explore the ideas between concept and technique. These two works have very common ideas that they are building upon, which make these pieces successful. Both works play on the idea of prank art as a source of communication with the viewer. Duchamp communicates that art can be inorganic and bare to provoke thought and discussion about what it means to be art and how various sculpture works impact society. ::vtol:: also explores the idea of communication by using tones and melodies as a form of communication, similar to how computers used to communicate. Overall, both of these pieces of prank art go deeper and explore ideas of communication in two different methods.
Allison Burtch’s Mic Jammer is another interactive piece of physical art that deals with audio manipulation. However, instead of synthesizing noise from phones, it mutes them. In this work, Mic Jammer, Burtch explores surveillance and Big Brother always watching by creating a device that mutes your cell phone microphone so no one can listen in on your conversations and collect the data from it. This is an interesting comparison to ::vtol::’s Prankophone because both devices deal with audio manipulation of telephones and the invasion of privacy. Prankophone synthesizes sounds and collects data from the person answering the prank call to create the sounds. Mic Jammer emits white noise that overwhelms the mics of nearby phones so no one can collect that data and manipulate it as an act against unsolicited surveillance. Conversely, Prankophone dials random numbers and floods the recipient with strange tones and melodies created from their phone and voice. These custom tones are also making a statement on unsolicited surveillance, like Mic Jammer, because Prankophone is collecting data from the recipient and manipulating it to create custom tones. This is the exact idea that Mic Jammer tries to protect its users from. It is very interesting that two pieces of robotic art within a similar field seek to achieve such different goals, while both dealing with unsolicited surveillance.
Oficinas do Convento, Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal, 2015 (Gallery Show)