Multimedia artist Kelly Heaton practices what she calls “creative electrical engineering” to make life-like circuits. Passionate about art and science since childhood, Heaton uses analog electronic hardware to produce printed bird circuits. These technological sculptures actually “chirp” and “sing” just like our avian friends, but with sounds entirely produced in an analog fashion. Akin to a vintage synthesizer, these dynamic sculptures show the life-like quality of technology.
“When I say that my bird circuits ‘sing,' I mean that they generate audible waveforms like a musical instrument playing itself,” Heaton explains to My Modern Met. “There is no software or audio playback involved, only the natural behavior of electronic hardware vibrating in ways that sound remarkably like a feathered friend.”
Heaton is even able to alter the birdsong by adjusting knobs to change the resistance of a circuit. This action is akin to a real bird firing neurons in its brain in reaction to different situations. As the birds sing, circuits across their body light up, giving a visual to this auditory delight.
By connecting a living creature that is so familiar to a technology that is, for many, difficult to comprehend, Heaton makes circuitry accessible. Suddenly, the hardware is no longer opaque. These sculptures help build a bridge that connects something familiar with raw electronic devices. “A singing circuit demonstrates fundamental principles of machine intelligence and brings us into a closer relationship therewith,” acknowledges Heaton.
Currently, Heaton's circuit birds are on view as part of Circuit Garden at New York City's Manhattan West (450 West 33rd Street). The piece, which is visible through June 3, 2022, features many of Heaton's circuit birds, as well as chirping crickets, embedded into a human-scale artificial lawn.