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James Tindall: Play

James Tindall is an artist who has been blipping on my radar for the past year. He studied interactive art at the University of Wales, Newport, graduating in 1998. When I started to see his name in connection with Warp Records and groups such as Leftfield and Boards of Canada, I began to zoom in on those blips. The deeper I went into the world of James Tindall, the more connections I could make between him and some of the most interesting and provocative web content to which I have ever been exposed.

His work was the driving force behind the designs and animations for Warp Records’ website has guided me through electronic music and fascinated me since 1999. Though one may argue the website itself is too functional to be considered art, its core idea came from “Warp,” a work by Tindall ( Warp is an incredibly concise collective of the basic structures required to make navigation effective. Through interaction, the viewer becomes aware of how the navigation works and then they can play a video game! It is the most successful appropriation of operating system norms (aspects of an operating system we take for granted that make us assume one thing is a button and the other is a menu) I have ever come across. What amazes me is that this site design has stayed unchanged for half a decade but still seems cutting edge. Warp makes me wonder if there is what I would call web classical in web work.

When won an Award of Distinction in the Ars Electronica (AE) Golden Nicas in the category “Net Vision / Net Excellence” in 2003, James Tindall became a household name for me. Tindall created an immersive experience built around the ambient beats and loops created by the music group Boards of Canada (BOC). The various sources of BOC’s music are isolated into nodes inside 3D worlds. The viewer is given simple navigation controls, allowing for an interactive experience that changes the nature of the music. In some worlds, as you fly towards a node, its sounds get louder. Other worlds are more abstract like extreme close-ups that are warped and stretched.

There can be a major pitfall in making web work focused on audio interaction. The web is relatively young and it's still constantly evolving. Therefore, creating navigation controls and interactive elements that allow the user to work with the sounds can become so loaded that the sound is secondary. There is a fine line between interactive audio art and just a clever collection of switches and controls that make noise.

Ingenious interactive controls set James Tindall apart. He has a history of making controls that are intuitive, that blend into the background so that you only recognize them only when you need them. For more examples of this, is a fascinating collective of his work and collaborations. Sound usually plays the lead roles in the web works listed here, but they do so because the controls are so ingeniously simple and effective. As our culture gains a more intuitive relationship with computer technology, artists like James Tindall are on the forefront of naturally bridging the gap between interactive web art and the viewer.

(Dec 12, 2004)