This interview, with G. Mitchell, originally appeared in The Advisor in 2015. The Cambodian-based, English-language newspaper has since folded, but here is the reproduced text.
Binary coding and digital data storage doesn’t exactly evoke visions of dreamy soundscapes and innovative musical creation – except if you’re artist Cissi Tsang. Tsang, aka timeofhex, explains the technique and inspiration behind her original electronic creations.
What if inanimate objects could speak to us? It’s the kind of concept that can make brain cells explode like popcorn. Talk about it and you’ll either be committed to an asylum or offered an honorary doctorate. Yet it’s this notion that Perth-based artist Cissi Tsang, aka timeofhex, is exploring via techniques that give photographs a voice.
Hexidecimal, put very simply, is a system by which text is stored as numbers in digital devices. Sourcing hexadecimal data from photos, Tsang uses a surprisingly organic method to convert images to songs. The result is not the abstract creation you might imagine – it’s a dreamy blend of world music and electronica. During April, timeofhex will bring the hypnotic results of her experiments to Phnom Penh.
“I’ve always been very keen on merging photography and music,” Tsang explains. “Then I came across hexadecimal data, which corresponds very well with music, given it is 16-bit. I usually grab a selection from the hex data, somewhere random, and then I’ll go from there. Tempo, instruments, rhythm and the pitch of the notes are something I control. The notes themselves are up to the photo.”
The music is a blend of atmospheric keys, tribal percussion and contextual effects that appeal to a wide audience while having innovative roots. While Tsang names a few musical influences, including Dead Can Dance, she’s more excited about inspiration for what she describes as “a soundscape” and “narrative.”
“I have been influenced by audio dramas quite a bit,” she says. “I listen to a lot of Doctor Who dramas from Big Finish. They do a lot of the older Doctor stories. I love how they create narratives just purely through sound. It’s fascinating how little sound cues can tell so much.”
Since perfecting her technique during 2014, timeofhex has produced an impressive catalogue, with over a dozen tracks already available online. It seems that wherever Tsang travels with a camera, it’s another opportunity to capture an exotic scene both visually and musically. Cambodia is set to get the treatment when it becomes a six-song album. In the meantime, Tsang promises to provide fresh material to her Phnom Penh audience.
“The songs I’ll be performing in Cambodia are from the Abandoned album,” she explains. “The album was made from a series of photos I took in Vanuatu last year of various abandoned spaces around the island of Efate.”
So, how about that brain-splitting possibility of objects finding a voice through the songs of timeofhex? Is there another level of meaning Tsang looks for when converting her images to sounds?
“Perhaps on a level, yes,” she says. “It’s always surprising to see how the music from data can reflect the photo itself. It’s pretty fascinating. Also, it adds an extra layer of interaction to the creation of the work. It’s like finding the organic element in cold hard data.”
Audiences will witness Cissi Tsang converting cold data into warm compositions when timeofhex performs on Saturday April 11 at Equinox with The Potato Stars and Delta Kong.