Eli Backer

Self Portrait

Self Portrait

As a performer, the fountain would rather not be seen. Like people singing in the shower with no one to hear them, it franticly hides when it realizes someone is around. It's not happy that so many people pass near it.

Self Portrait lived for a day in the lunchroom at my work (WET Design).

A computer vision software system observed the area around the fountain. When the system saw more than one person in the space (see green boxes), the creature switched to motions of panic or fear.

A soundscape accompanied the fountain through speakers under the table. As the creature recovers from its exposure, the soundscape becomes morose, trying to let go of or explain its pain and confusion. Given time, the panic fades, the soundscape calms, and there is a slight glance at positivity.

Self Portrait was a collaboration with Genevieve Marsh, who designed the basin and the performer. A video of the entire performance may be found here.

Acrylic, Electronics, Pump, Computer, Camera

The Thirty Percent

The Thirty Percent

We type every day. We type so often that it sometimes feels as effortless as talking. We type so often that we do not consider on what we type: touch screen, laptop, phone, etc. Behind all the flash of consumer electronics are people working to make typing this natural, optimizing it for imperceptibility. These keyboards present two alternatives.

The Thirty Percent is a joy to type on, using Cherry Corp. switches from workstations of the late 90s. They have good travel and a satisfying *click* when they engage. It's small (about 30% the size of a full keyboard) and easy to travel with; an alternative to a phone or tablet's touch screen. While the layout is a bit unusual, all the keys are labeled and the backlight gives an inviting impression of warmth.

Yet, for all this, there is no space bar, which for most people leads to many run-on words. If you press J, K, and L all at once you get a space, just as S, D, and F make a backspace, but none of this is intuitive or conventional. This is a keyboard optimized for feel and size, which lets it be only modestly approachable.

Electronics, Aluminum, ABS Keycaps

The Modern Electric

The Modern Electric

The Modern Electric (short for Modern Electric Typewriter) is almost the antithesis of The Thirty Percent. Where The Thirty Percent's keys are a joy to use, The Modern Electric's are brutally stiff. It is dark and heavy with somewhat sinister lighting. Yet the keys are in familiar places, spacebar and all, despite being unlabeled.

Forgive its stiff keys and it would be usable, but for a design quirk: when you type, the letters don't go to the computer but instead to the little display in the top left. Once the display is full, characters are sent one by one to the computer. If there is a typo, backspace only works in the eight character buffer that is the little display, living up to its name.

Electronics, Aluminum, 8-Character LED Display

Calm Place

Calm Place

Calm Place is an audio installation that arose from my desire to preserve the quiet I had gained from a summer meditating every Monday night. When I was meditating I would always let the outside sounds pass through my mind and echo about. I wished they were more frequent as I liked their passing by.

I had an "opening" for the piece in the spring of 2015. There was a cheese plate, friends passed through to sit, to listen or not. As the sun set, people moved along and the place calmed me again.

Rug (8' x 11'), Meditation Bolster, Speakers (four, for quadraphonic sound), Laptop

Five Minutes

Five Minutes

Five Minutes was the first piece through which I tried to share my emotions. As a prototype for expression it holds some interest, but I decided to revisit it this past summer, adding an addendum to reflect how I view the work now and part of what I hoped to show then.

Audio, Digital Image Sequence (orig. Vellum, Pen)

Sound Mass

Sound Mass

As a DJ, I have been fascinated by the exploration of audio through non-visual means, particularly since I've started to play more vinyl. With computer software and waveforms I can play any song fairly easily, given the visual cues on the screen. On a record, the only visual cues are at the start and end.

In Sound Mass, there are four antennas and speakers, but no other real visual information. For audio you can walk around Sound Mass, or you can hang back. Some sounds will follow you, others hide, others wait in their own corner of their invisible world.

Given the participatory nature of the installation, the soundscape is a little different every time. However, it is based on a composition I wrote for the culmination of two years of music theory study. Though much of my personal work is electronic, this composition had to be written for traditional instruments. Thus, dot became an ode to the electronic instruments I missed, with Morse code tapped out on their lifeless buttons and switches.

RFID Readers and Tags, Speakers, Laptop, Monome



dot was written for my final music theory class, Modern Theory. After two years of music theory, I was very excited to use electronic instrumentation and extended techniques in the piece, as those had long been a personal focus. However, we were only allowed to use non-powered instruments.

Because of this, dot is a piece for those instruments I miss, with morse-code lyrics played by pressing the keys and buttons of those devices. A piano and upright bass play a polyrhythm over each other— the piano in 2/2 and the bass in 7/8. On top of all of this is the constant pitch of a wine glass. The recording above is just a computerized approximation of the piece as it was only performed once for our class. The score may be found here (PDF).

The Sun Watch

The Sun Watch

The Sun Watch has never really worked. Originally intended to show the position of the sun in the sky along a series of lights, it has only ever managed to do that one day at a time, and then never far from a computer needed to reprogram it. Job fairs, conferences, and portfolio day it has sat, proudly on my wrist, barely getting by.

Much of my work is self-reflective in character, but all of it is something I want in my life. The Thirty Percent is great on the road; Calm Place is a welcoming return. The Sun Watch came just after my Self Portrait, when a friend accused me of being addicted to time. I don't have a clock on my computer anymore, nor do I have a clock on my wall. Instead, I made a light that sits by my bed, turning on with sunrise and off with sunset called Sun Light.

I live with the things I make, they exist beyond the resume, interview, and portfolio. It's been so long, I can't wait to live with this one.

Electronics, Anodized Aluminum, Nylon Strap

Eurorack Weather-Band Radio

Eurorack NOAA Weather Radio

The Weather-Band radio was my first step into the eurorack format of instruments. I'm really pleased with how the well the simple module works in my modular. The digital tuner is very good at tuning the stations so there's not a lot of interest in tuning, like you might find in a single sideband radio. However, the human voice is not something frequently found in the format and I'm glad to bring it to eurorack, not only as an event in itself, but also as a modulation source.

While it functions well as a single-purpose module, the electronic design was such that it can be expanded or repurposed for many other uses, with additional patch points and controls. Additionally, the board is done entirely with thru-hole components so anyone may easily assemble it.

Algorithmic Composition for Drums

Algorithmic Composition for Drums

This project is a python script that takes in a file of a drum pattern and returns variations on that pattern, based on the orignal. The program creates a probability table that a drumbeat will occur and then randomly removes drum hits based on that probablility, a bit like subtractive synthesis, but for rhythm. The original report may be found here and all code from the project is on github.

On Film,

On Film for SLOIFF

The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival (SLOIFF) had its 20th anniversary in 2013, the same year that Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) celebrated its 30th anniversary. To mark the occasion, the festival directors invited ILM's employees to attend opening night of the festival, which included many pieces paying tribute to their work over the past years.

In addition to these tribute films, I was asked to produce a score incorporating lines from ILM's portfolio as well as other famous films. Knowing that this would play at opening night and at other times throughout the event I worked hard to temper my typical composition techniques with other styles so as to create something enjoyable and interesting for all ages of attendee.

Bike Hand-Signal Light

Bike Hand- Signal Light

When riding my bike to and from high school every day I realized that I was pretty hard to see in the dark, especially when signaling, so I created this glove to give drivers a better sense of my intended path to keep me more safe. The circuit used two flex sensors to detect when the hand came off the handle bar and an accelerometer to detect the direction the hand was pointing and adjusted the arrow accordingly.

Unfortunately for this project, the intensity of a car's headlamps far outshone that of the LED array used to indicate so drivers struggled to see the direction of the arrow. However, with my increased knowledge of surface mount soldering from other projects, I believe this concept could be reimplemented quite successfully with some high-power LEDs.


Contact/ Resume

If you'd like to be in touch, please write to me: ebacker [at] calpoly [dot] edu

If you would like to know more about my technical and work experience, please take a look at my resume (opens in new tab.)