The power and ubiquity of technology has bred complacency among those who use it regularly (i.e. virtually everyone in the developed world). While most would agree that we should not place too much faith in machines, in reality we can't help taking for granted that the light will go on when we flip the switch, the car will start when we turn the key, the plane won't fall from the sky, .... Yet the capacity of machines to misbehave is endless.
In fact, it's their nature. While this is a consequence of the laws of thermodynamics, it should be obvious that the engineer, the programmer, the operator, the maintenance person, all must work to coax the assemblage of metal, plastic, and electrons into performing the desired function, and keep performing it. Tossing the components of a personal computer into a bag and shaking won't yield a personal computer. Normal use, however, (of a PC, a drill press, a blender) will lead to erratic behavior and, ultimately, failure.
I'm fascinated by this tension between what we want, and expect, a machine to do, and what the machine "wants" to do. I call it "machine tension," or just "McTension." I explore McTension in my work by making things that behave unexpectedly, though not strictly randomly. While the behavior may be easier to infer for some of my machines than for others, they all tend to have an unpredictable (or, at least, difficult-to-predict) element to them. Whether it's calculating prime numbers on electromechanical counters, causing falling dominoes to stand themselves up again, or generating organized sequences of clicks on a relay (but at random intervals), the effect is simultaneously familiar and surprising.
There are several other themes which run through my work, though all may not be present in any one piece:
I consider many of my pieces studies for much larger works for public spaces. The drama that would come from a large-scale installation would enhance McTension in ways not possible on the more intimate scale on which I normally work. I've designed pieces with thousands of relays or hundreds of servos that would be tens of feet square or hundreds of feet long.