I met Jiffer, creative technologist, musician, artist, and educator for an early latte at Boxcar. He is a talented member of the Boulder community, who teaches, experiments and brings art and music into our public spaces. I sat down with him to get the scoop on exactly what’s up with Jiffer Harriman.
Can you give me a quick overview of what you do and why you are an artist, the 411 so to speak?
Yeah, sure. It’s hard to do a quick overview. I’d say I’m an artist because of music first. I work to make sound installations and sound technology. I should say, I come from an engineering background and am also a musician, so that combination is what allows me to explore this hybrid artwork of musical robotics.
Musical robotics? Very cool. I am a musician myself; I play the clarinet.
Very neat! So yeah, something I might design is what I’d call a controller for a woodwind. You could play the clarinet, and the device could control the sound digitally. That is the world I started in. Digital musical instruments is a more straightforward term.
Do you have any projects in the works right now?
Yes, one active project I have was installed at The Dairy Center for Arts over the summer. It’s a series of boxes which have a bunch of motors on them and when you move in front of the boxes they play music and rhythmic sounds.
The boxes are being used for a dance performance that is going to happen later actually. I was approached by Frequent Flyers, and they said they wanted to do a new performance in which they incorporated new technology into their performance.
It is amazing how you manipulate the concept of music in general. It seems that you have been able to produce work uniquely.
For sure! I think I attribute that to my time at Stanford. I was introduced to so many ideas there. The program I was in is called the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. There is a rich history of experimentation with what a computer can do in a world of music, and that just blew my mind.
Have you always considered yourself an artist?
I have definitely always considered myself a musician. I remember in high school I got my dad’s guitar out of the closet and once I did that it was over, I was all in. It took a while though to consider myself an artist in the different sense of presenting in other settings.
Okay, here is a big question, how do you think your work plays with the greater discourse of music technology right now?
Hmm, I think one of the biggest phenomena is this proliferation of data and the encroachment of algorithms in our life. Algorithms know when it’s time to go to work, how to work-out. They are learning what we like and nudging us constantly. A lot of this technology, however, is employed by efforts to control people or influence their decisions.
While my work uses computers and data to produce in a similar way, I am playing with those ideas by letting people explore art, music and visual experiences, in the service of art. It’s a way to connect people in a space, or potentially even in remote spaces, in order to collaborate with technology and each other in a meaningful way.
Is there any element of your artwork that you want to talk about that should be known?
I don’t know if this is something that comes through—I hope this is something that comes through—but what is important to me is to create interactions that are approachable. I hope that people can find ways to explore and play. The music I create is something anyone can play; you don’t have to be a musician to use these instruments. I try to make them so that everyone can have the opportunity to create, share and interact.
I like that a lot, do you think that everyone has the ability to be a musician?