Monday, September 28, 2009

The Undulation of Movement and the Perception of the Machine

I have been working on a collaboration with LEVYdance, taking to new levels my skills with computer vision and interactive video programming.

I've come a long way with handling video input to get good video for tracking, using IR to avoid video feedback and combining different kinds of video processing to best suit my tracking purposes. I use the IR video, then apply background subtraction or frame differencing, which allows me to locate the dancer and quantify their movement. I generate video within Max/Jitter that is determined by the dancers' movement and also export their location to Processing, where drawing algorithms which change over time swirl around and stick to the dancers.

I'm now to the point of pinning down and debugging exactly the tech that the project needs, expanding everything I have worked out into the work itself. At the same time I am fleshing out the actual video content to be detailed, shifting, beatutiful, and conceptually interwoven with the choreography and the text.

Chunky Move's Mortal Engine

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I have so many swirling thoughts

More fun with video subtraction, now with flocking algorithms.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Arthur Ganson "Machines and the Breath of Time"

I attended Arthur Ganson's talk, "Machines and the Breath of Time," presented by the LongNow Foundation at Fort Mason.

It was beautiful, each piece so elegantly engineered. Ganson's exquisite mechanical art was matched only by his zen-like explanations: "all of these machines are self-portraits," "[I don't make machines that are utilitarian, I make] machines that are contemplation."

His wire machines, like line drawings in motion, play with repetition through time and space. They create complex poetic paradoxes and parables of immateriality: of infinite speed and fractional gravity. My favorites are Machine with Concrete, Margot's Cat, Cory's Yellow Chair, and Machine with Wishbone.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Anomaly Installation for Park(ing) Day

Digitally interactive parks are the Future.
I set Anomaly up for Park(ing) Day this year. Park(ing) Day, established by ReBar, is a day where people reclaim the streets by converting parking places into parks.

Anomaly is an interactive installation: a steel bicycle tree made entirely of scrap metal and bicycles which controls digital media. My friend Yosh made digital birdsong and designed how it would be controlled in Ableton.

Overall it was a success. People really enjoyed it, it was a little different than the other Park(ing) Day installations, which typically feature more prominently urban design. The random socially-interactive quality of the event reminded me of Burning Man in a way I really liked.

It didn't take too much work, just a little preparation and some sensor-repair.
Ideas for future installations abounded, as did ways to tweak the control parameters to make it less of a shifting aural landscape and more of an instant-feedback instrument. It would be easy to collaborate with more sound artists and musicians now that I know how to connect Anomaly to Ableton. It also reinforced my desire to put more art on the street.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Passing Conversations, An Improbable Monument

In San Francisco's Union Square would be installed as an ephemeral monument Passing Conversations. This would me a monument the lives of everyday people who pass through the square, represented in the random ephemeral phrases of their conversations captured by the microcontrollers and projected as text on the surfaces of the space. This reflects the dynamic, shifting aspect of our public spaces and translates to a visualization how people and language pass through space.

“Within the rhythms of a city, monuments become like a strobe light: they have the capacity to freeze moments of time, capturing the vectors of our experience for our examination and contemplation. Monuments have the capability to pass on, from generation to generation, memories and events that have transpired, and thereby contribute to the creation of a collective cultural consciousness.”

As a transitory monument, it passes on digitally captured experience to the next passerby, the experience a trace in the sand which fades relatively quickly. It is a monument on a compressed timescale, collecting moments and their, re-displaying them as a trace of their presence.

The microcontroller would record sounds above a certain volume threshold, transmit them wirelessly to a nearby computer where sound would be analyzed with speech-to-text programming. If the recording was what it determined to be language, it would be converted to an image of the text and transmitted back to the microcontroller and stored. These bits of conversations we will call language strings.

After dark the microcontroller would project language strings from the day and continue to collect more strings. At night when it received a new string, the new string would be immediately projected. Giving passerbys the satisfaction of automatic feedback and thereby making it clear what the project was. This would encourage people to leave messages for future passerbys. It would do this in many languages. Each microcontroller would have the capacity to store about 100 strings, and would write over them randomly, so most strings would be from that day, but some could conceivably remain in memory for a week or more. Each unit would cost about $400, plus the cost of the main computer, so an installation of ten of them would cost $4,200.

This monument is inspired by Listening Post by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin, the work of Krzystof Wodiczko, The Sixth Sense by Pranav Mistry of Media Labs, and “Microphones” by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

This is Improbable because the technology is not quite here yet. Specifically speech-to-text in this situation would probably have low accuracy, which could only be partially filtered by programming. Microcontrollers are not used to give images to projectors.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Response to Bill Viola Videos

In class Thursday we watched Anthem (1983) and The Space Between the Teeth (1976) by Bill Viola, an excellent artist to study for the theme of Time.

Anthem was a pretty random assembly of subject matter: a tree in a forest, heavy machinery, a girl, surgery, x-rays, oilrigs, a flag, people on the beach. Throughout was the slow sound of the girl screaming.

This sort of non-narrative abstracted video sequence is not engaging. It requires one to sit with the piece without convincing one to do so.

I wouldn't make something like this, and I don't think other people my age would either. I would pick either something experiential, which I would not present as a film, or I would make something that is more direct, cohesive, appealing, or visually exciting. Art is past the point of being abstract, obscure, or inaccessible. It is no longer about the artist or even the art object, it is about the experience of the viewer. Or so I generally think. Few, few people would take the time to watch a film like Anthem when there are millions of other things on YouTube.

It's important to break away from convention in art, but I value narrative as a primary mode of human understanding.

That said, Viola has a way of making one spend time with the piece that was especially apparent in Anthem. His revealing of rythmic visual details long enough for one to be with them but mostly not to the point of one being bored (with that particular scene) before cutting to something new is skillful. He has a way of revealing beauty over time that is breathtaking, even if this was not one of my favorite of his pieces.

The Space Between the Teeth had more narrative, and agian worked with rhythmic assembly of shots in an intimate way. There was something so bizarre about what was happening and simlultaneouly incredibly mundane. I liked that, I felt like his yells in that context embodied the sort of existential angst I sometimes feel. The random inclusion of the scenes from the kitchen with the TV noise is a lot of where I get that context.

This is the first I've been exposed to Viola's earlier work. I've seen some of his work of the last two decades that was pretty simple and beautiful and touching, about meditation and spirit, life and death, more direct and sincere somehow in their immediacy. They seem to have shed the extraneous parts of his earlier work and very elegantly work with time to move the viewer. The Passing, 1991, is one of my favorites.

LoveTech Sept 12th

LoveTech is a monthly event that showcases live electronic musicianship, and, increasingly, digital video and interactive art.

Last night's music included Edison, Moldover, Vapor Mache, Mad Zach and R2 the Specialist.
There were VJ mashups by CSTING SHDWS, MZO, and Mediapathic, a crazy music-controlled hologram animation-generator called Hologlyphics by Walter Funk, and my own piece, Gaze, an interactive video installation.

The evening started with TradeMark of the Evolution Control Committee talking about his sound installation for the Burning Man base. He used very similar strategies to those I have been using for Carbon Garden and Anomaly. He made it in Max, but generally thinks that Max is unwieldy for music. He mentioned some interesting things like the California Library of Natural Sounds at the Oakland Museum.

The musicians pretty awesomely incorporated handmade and modified electronic instruments, one of the best applications for physical computing, surely. It was a real cornucopia of good beats.

The event was great for meeting people/networking and getting technical suggestions for the piece. I'll definitely go again.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Self-Perception is an Illusion

It is the process of examining the self that frees us from it.

I made this video in Max/Jitter. It's a recording of the video of an interactive installation, "Gaze," a program plus a projection.

Using video tracking, "Gaze" explores new possibilities of the gaze through digital technology, suspending the subject/object dichotomy as the work looks at you. The effect is a juxtaposition of intimacy and surveillance.

I continue to be fascinated by the aesthetic and social possibilities and implications of digital technology which I explore through interactivity programming, digital video, and physical computing.

"Gaze" is achieved with a combination of computer-vision face-tracking, video positioning, loop-points, and chromakey.

I'll be showing it tonight at LoveTech at Il Pirata and at the ATA Film & Video Festival in October.