Ryan Jordan is crouched over an abandoned coffee table underneath a flyover at the end of Pitt Street in Yau Ma Tei. In front of him are a pile of wires, a wooden block, a couple of rocks, and an audio mixer. A security guard wanders up to peer over his shoulder, perhaps wondering if he is wiring up a bomb.
In fact, Jordan is an artist who makes sounds from his "DIY electronics". His "instruments" are simple electric circuits built using basic metals, which produce various sounds and sparks when electricity passes through them.
He points at a rusty solar cell that looks very different from the smooth solar panels we see in textbooks. When hooked to an amplifier, it produces a static hum in the presence of strong light. Fire some pulsing strobe lights at it, and you have a completely synchronised audiovisual experience.
Using bits and pieces of whatever he can find, which include bottle caps and even the foot of a plastic doll, Jordan produces crackles and bangs which he incorporates, "quite loosely", into a 30-minute performance. His circuits are based on early models of radio and sound systems, but he says they don't require an education in electronics or music.
"You just need to build it so you can plug it into speakers," says the laid-back 32-year-old, who comes from Britain. "It takes some skill to play with and sculpt the sound you have coming out."
The dizzying strobe lights, mildly diffused by a smoke machine and accompanied by discordant electronic sounds, may seem like a science experiment gone horribly wrong, but Jordan says people enjoy the disorienting experience.
"Initially it is really intense, but then it wears off and you allow yourself to go with whatever is happening," says Jordan. "I think it's a release."
Jordan never records his performances, because he says it's pointless without the whole experience. "I don't think I'd like to just listen to what I make in my own time," he laughs.
Sometimes the electrical current gets too heavy and the power is cut off. "Then I stop, say 'sorry', and try to fix it," shrugs Jordan.
Jordan grew up with a love for EDM, and did university degrees in sonic art and computer art. He tried using software to create music, but found that he lacked talent as a musician.
When Jordan and some friends extracted the raw materials that make up a computer for a recycling project, he began experimenting with these materials, and tried to use them to make music.
"I sat there with a pile of different materials and sent electricity through them to see which one would make a sound," he recalls.
Two years later, he's conducted Derelict Electronic workshops in several cities across the world. Last Saturday, he held a workshop at 18 Pitt Street, an experimental art space. Attendance was low, but Jordan isn't discouraged. "People should do the things they are interested in, even though it's just a niche, even if just one person shows up," he says.
Jordan likes experimenting with new material, and plans to explore some of Hong Kong's old mines to see what treasures they hold. Ultimately, he hopes to build an entire sound system by himself, instead of relying on modern amplifiers and speakers.
For now, he's working towards his PhD at City University's creative media school. "Sometimes it's good to have some structure around you and have critical feedback," he says. "To finance your work and put it into a different [academic] area, where you have to write about it and justify it on a deeper level."