A few weeks ago i was at the LABoral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón to visit Datascape, a new exhibition which looks at the way the constant stream of data now available at the touch of a screen or keyboard is adding new layers to the physical world and is reshaping our perception and interpretation of it. In fact, whether we fully realize it or not, this ever flowing information becomes an integral part of our experience of the world.

The artists who participate in this exhibition follow into the steps of painters who have dedicated their art to depicting our environment but they also reflect upon the complex overlay of information that enables us to live seamlessly in the physical dimension as well as the virtual dimension. The result is 'datascape', a new landscape where invisible information augments and enhances the physical world.

Michael Najjar, High Altitude

David Claerbout, Oil workers (from the Shell company of Nigeria) returning home from work, caught in torrential rain, 2013

David Claerbout's work is worth the trip itself. Both the image and the title of Oil workers (from the Shell company of Nigeria) returning home from work, caught in torrential rain, come from a JPEG image found in an online news story. Through 3D computer techniques and a simple camera movement, the photo gets slowly animated. While the men have been stopped on their way home by monsoon rains, the water at their feet seems to be endlessly flowing. The dirty liquid symbolizes both the water we never tend to associate with Africa and the oil industry which activity isn't to be stopped neither by human rights nor by ecological concerns.

Karin Sander, XML-SVG Code / Source code of the exhibition wall, 2014.

With Source Code, Karin Sander, demonstrates rather elegantly the opacity lingering behind digital technologies. She covered a wall of the exhibition space with its own source code. Look at it and i doubt you can make any sense of it but the small smartphone in your pocket shouldn't have any problem translating the arrays of characters back into the image of that same wall. The work reminds us that every single object, whether it is a 2D or a 3D one, we see onto our computer screen and take for granted hides a source code. In this work, the source code escapes the virtual and becomes a fresco, a decoration for a physical space.

Angela Bulloch, Antimatter³ In the Negative Zone, 2003

Angela Bulloch uses 50 by 50 cm 'pixels' to create mesmerizing sculptural screens displaying abstract light composition. Each pixel box houses luminous tubes and an electronic control unit. The result is a screen that plays a sequence of Ang Lee's film The Ice Storm.

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Thomas Ruff, Jpeg NY 15. Photo: LABoral/S. Redruello

Thomas Ruff, jpeg NY01, 2004

The basis for Thomas Ruff's monumental Jpegs series are low-res images sourced on the Internet and overblown until they become almost abstract the closer you get to them. The process unsettles the meaning and effect of the photos, whether they reproduce soothing landscapes, porn or tragedies (such as 9/11 attack on New York twin towers) .

The distortion of the image brings, once again, the pixels to the forefront, allowing viewers to disconnect themselves from the subject of the image for a moment and question the reliability of the digital medium to represent reality.

Harun Farocki, Parallel. Photo: LABoral/S. Redruello

Harun Farocki, Parallel

Harun Farocki, Parallel (extract)

With Parallel, Farocki brings side by side the history of computer-based animation with elements of art history. The two-channel video installation exposes how the development technology translated into increasingly sophisticated representations of the essential components of a landscape (a tree, the wind, the water, etc.) Details of the landscape that were nothing more than symbolic forms in the early days of computer animation have now reached realistic dimensions, to the point that they are now about to outperform cinematographic and photographic representations. And maybe also reality itself.

Burak Arikan, Monovacation, 2013

Burak Arikan's Monovacation highlights the clichés of the tourism industry in all their syruppy glory. The artist compiled official tourism commercials of countries in competition with each other (and in particular with Turkey) and sliced them up into clips lasting no more than 3 to 4 seconds. The segments were then coded with tags. Through a network diagram which runs as a software simulation, these tags are connected to each other via shared clips positioned on a map. A new sequence is then generated transversally in the network map, jumping from one node to the next, following the path of the most central tags. Beaches from Egypt to Portugal, women from Israel to India, mythological figures from Thailand to Turkey, here comes an extracted fantasy of "vacation"...

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Michael Najjar, High altitude (exhibition view.) Photo: LABoral/S. Redruello

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Nerea Calvillo, Polen In the Air. Photo: LABoral/S. Redruello

Nerea Calvillo, Pollen in the air

With Pollen in the air, Nerea Calvillo visualizes invisible elements of the landscapes that affect us. The artist mapped clouds of pollen suspended over the streets of Gijón. Pollen in the Air can act as a tool for public information for people with asthma, but also as a way of navigating the city through the rhythms of its vegetation.

Pablo Valbuena, para-site [6 columns]

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Enrique Radigales. Primer diagnóstico taxonomico. Photo: LABoral/S. Redruello

David Claerbout, Oil workers (from the Shell company of Nigeria) returning home from work, caught in torrential rain, 2013. Photo: LABoral/S. Redruello

Datascape was curated by Benjamin Weil. It remains open at LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial (Art and Industrial Creation Centre) until 21 September 2014.

Sponsored by:

The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired tomorrow Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.

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me and my shadow at the National Theatre in London. Photo credit JP Berthoin, via body>data>space (and via)

My guest in the studio will be Ghislaine Boddington, an artist researcher, dramaturge, curator and thought leader specialising in body responsive technologies. Ghislaine is also recognised as an international pioneer in full body telepresence. A co-director of the Creative Guild, she is a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts and an Artist Research Associate at ResCen, Middlesex University since 1999. but the reason why i invited her in the studios of ResonanceFM is that Ghislaine is also the Creative Director of body>data>space, a collective of artists and designers that looks at the future of the human body and its real-time relationship to evolving global, social and technological shifts.

In this episode, we will talk about experiences in telepresence, digital culture in London and gender (im)balance in tech careers (believe it or not, we're still there!)

The radio show will be aired this Wednesday 22 January at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud one day.

Image on the homepage: ATMOS // Outreach : Crystallising Movements.

I'm back from Asturias which was as lovely as ever. We even had real vegetable to eat this time. The LAboral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón was opening Banquete_nodos y redes, Interactions Between Art, Science, Technology and Society in Spain's Digital Culture, an exhibition initiated by Karin Ohlenschläger and Luis Rico.

View of the LABoral shop and of the inauguration party right above it

The press conference started with a string of surprising figures listed by LABoral's Director Rosina Gómez-Baeza Tinturé. In its 14 months of activity, the centre -which has given itself the mission to foster the interaction between art, society and technology- has hosted the work of 261 creators (45 of them come from the region of Asturias), 54 workshops given by some 90 teachers to more than 3000 participants. Add to that many concerts, conferences, debates and other activities. Amazing, even for a space that covers more than 14.000 m². Which reminds me that it would be good to come back one day on the design and architecture of the centre. The public bathrooms only are worth the visit, i feel like stepping inside 2001: A Space Odyssey each time i enter there.

LABoral bathroom and a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Banquete_nodos y redes presents more than 30 digital and interactive works that critically and creatively explore the notion of Network as a shared matrix, not just from a technological perspective but also from a socio-cultural perspective. I'll be back with a lengthier overview of the exhibition and a small interview with its curator, the art critic Karin Ohlenschläger, later on but right now i wanted to share with you one of the best projects i saw in Gijón last week.


You've probably read about Clara Boj and Diego Diaz before, either in some media art catalog or on this blog, i interviewed them a few months ago about their project AR Magic System, their Lalalab studio and their interest for the visualization of wifi networks.

For the LABoral exhibition, the Valencia-based duo developed a sightseeing telescope named Observatorio (Observatory).

Observatorio builds upon Boj and DIaz' 2004 project Red Libre Red Visible (Free Network, Visible Network) which was born in an optimistic time when it seemed possible to achieve an utopia made of wireless, open communication networks managed by social groups offering services to the local community. At that (not so distant) time, several city governments offered free access to the WiFi network, sometimes in the entire city. The CMT (Telecommunications Market Commission) denounced those city governments for unfair competition with telecom companies, the free wifi municipal projects were canceled, and grassroot groups started installing, maintaining and extending open WiFi networks throughout Spain.

Today, some companies have adopted new tactics based on the deceptive slogan "Share your WiFi". Companies like FON, and commercial projects such as Whisher and Wefi exploit the current infrastructure of access nodes to the Internet in urban space to provide coverage to the whole city if it were an open, shared structure.


Obervatorio reflects on this scenario by informing viewers about the current state of wireless networks located in the area where the device is installed. The sightseeing telescope, installed on the Laboral tower, tracks and shows where Gijon's wifi networks are located in real time. You can visualize them on the screen of the telescope, swing it around and see which areas have a denser wifi coverage, and get additional data such as which ones among these networks are open or private. Because Observatorio is programmed to try and connect to any open network available in the area, it can send the information from the observation tower to the exhibition hall, where it is displayed on a big screen. If there is no open networks detected in the area, Observatorio remains separated from the main exhibition space, located in another building. A modification of these networks is also offered, showing an ideal configuration in which the local residents of large areas in the city could gain or share access to it.

Image courtesy LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial

After having installed Observatorio, the artists discovered many more open nodes than they expected. While testing the project at their studio in Valencia, they couldn't find more than 5% of open networks. In Gijón the percentage is higher, around 30% in the LABoral area.

From the tower Observatorio can reach theoretically almost the whole city of Gijón. The device comprises a high power uni-directional WiFi antenna with a 30º aperture, able to detect wireless networks within 1 to 4 kilometers depending on the number of obstacles encountered; a video surveillance camera with a telephoto lens with the same aperture as the WiFi antenna; and a viewer which, like a periscope, offers a real time image taken by the camera, with the WiFi networks detected by the antenna placed geographically on it.

Banquete_nodos y redes runs at LAboral Art and Industrial Creation Centre in Gijón, Spain, until November, 03, 2008. The exhibition will then travel to the ZKM | Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, March-July 2009.

More sightseeing telescope: The timetravel telescope, the Jurascope and the Elastic time and space telescope.

Also related: Wifi Camera Obscura.

A few months ago, i started covering in details the projects developed at the Interactivos? workshop which took place at Medialab Prado in Madrid in June (btw they have a Visualizar workshop going on this week, with a Communication Applied Data Visualization Seminary on November 23 you might want to check out if you're in the neighbourhood). Well, i had kept another project in my closet for you.

Based on an augmented reality system, AR_Magic System allows users to exchange head with their neighbours. You stand in front of the computer screen, next to one or more persons and after a few seconds, your head appears on the shoulder of someone else and you get a new face yourself. I swapped head with Edgar Gonzalez while i was there and as i didn't like the look of myself with a beard, i'd rather show you a video of other experiments:

Video of AR_Magic System

Clara Boj and Diego Diaz work together since 2000. They have developed and exhibited their artistic and research projects all over the world. They have been artists in residence at the Mixed Reality Lab, National University of Singapore and did some research at the Interface Culture Lab at Linz University.

I've been following the work of Clara and Diego for a couple of years and because i was curious about their other projects, i decided to run a longer feature on their work.


You started working on Free Network Visible Network in 2004. The main objective of the project was to "ask for the free access to the net and at the same time to make actions in the urban landscape as a way to create new meanings in the public domain." When you look back at your ideas at the time, how do you feel? In particular about the free access issue(s)? What were the biggest challenges you encountered and were not expecting while working on the project?

0aaaaawert6.jpgAt that time several situations happened in Spain that brought us to start the Free Network Visible Network project. Some city councils started to offer free wifi acces all over their territory and there were plans to extend this network to other places. But the Telecommunications Market Commision (CMT) denounced this situation as a kind of illegal competence for the phone companies. Even when in some cases those networks were only offering access to the services of a local Intranet, not to the Internet. All this kind of projects supported by the small cities administrations were brought to a stop, and only some voluntary groups continued creating wifi networks all over the Spanish territory. The same situation was happening in other places in Europe and USA.

We were really worried about the privatization of digital space, due the control that some economic powers make over one of the more basic rights of citizens, the free use of the public space. So mainly we started the Free Network Visible Network project to collaborate with those groups of free wifi networks users and somehow to spread the idea of public space as something more than streets and parks.

Now, once the project is technically finished and has been installed in several places we still think that actions need to be taken to somehow make use of the digital public space with freedom. The situation with the big communication companies and legal practices it hasn't changed much. Even is much more restrictive than before and in some places of Europe people have been fined for using their neighbours' open wifi network.

One of the biggest challenges for us, apart from the technical difficulties, it has been the relations with institutions when we were showing the project at museums or official art spaces. It is not always easy to convince people from institutions to create a open wifi network and keep it running after the exhibition is finished. The notion of private property is very strong even for something as invisible as waves.

Free Network Visible Network in Kyoto

What did the project teach you about the concept of public space?

Basically, this project not only represents the public space but it also allows people to experience it, in a hybrid dimension, as a combination of physical places and digital communication spaces. At present time we cannot talk anymore about public space without including all this non physical places that emerge when people talk, exchange information or play through digital networks. The combination of those territories, physical and digital, creates a new public sphere much more dynamic and changeable, rich in relationships and meanings. Free
Network Visible Network
is a very useful tool to help understand those relations, and what is our situation, as users-citizens in this new domain.

You have used augmented reality technology in several of your projects, one of them is BE CAREFUL, FRAGILE. How was it like to present a high-tech art work in ARCO06, a "traditional" contemporary art fair? What did you try to convey with that particular artwork? How did the audience react to it?

This project had a great success among the ARCO visitors. At some point we were even asked to shut it down for a little bit because so many people were playing with it that they were collapsing the area.

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It was our first time exhibiting at ARCO and we were really concerned about traditional art market and digital media collectionism. It is a very old issue and we ourselves were very interested about how the traditional art market system should be applied to interactive installations. Questions like producing pieces in series, technical needs and maintenance, etc were some of the questions we were discussing with the gallery owner and it was clear that digital media have specifications that need to be carefully addressed when selling a piece to a private or institutional collector. For us it doesn't make much sense to create a limited number series of a digital artwork when most of the time it can be contained in a cd and easily installed in any computer, even more when we are usually working with free software and our projects are registered under creative commons license. The
question was how to preserve the value of the uniqueness that traditional art market appreciate if anybody can download our source code from the web and make it themselves? It is traditional art market ready for this kind of situations?

So we did an interactive installation were a digital 3D modeled traditional vase was projected as it really was over a real pedestal. When visitors tried to touch it the vase fell down to the floor in a realistic way and finally was broken making a big noise. People were
very surprised when two pre-recorded persons (that were us) entered the scene bringing a new vase exactly identical and placed again over the real pedestal. This loop was repeated again and again each time people broke the vase. Somehow our piece exhibited at ARCO was a digital object and it could be infinitely reproduced.

It was really appreciated by the general audience and also by professionals and gallery owners. The audience was continuously playing with it, making the vase fall down again and again.

During the Interactivos? workshop in Madrid, you developed the very fun AR magic system. Can you explain us what made the work "magical'?

0aaaacviuh.jpgThe magical aspect of this project is that it uses a very intuitive interaction for playing with the identity of the users. People just need to look at themselves in the video projection, that it acts like a mirror, and they will see their face interchanged with another person.

It is really amazing how people react when they look at themselves and see another face that is smiling or talking and they can not control the expression. It is as if somebody had supplanted your identity. For us it was a real surprise how people enjoyed this very simple idea and they played during long time and called their friends for see how it feels to be the other. During the time it was exhibited at MediaLab in Madrid and later at Sonar Festival in Barcelona, almost everybody who played with the piece took a picture of their transformed face. We found dozens of those pictures at flicker, which for us is a sign of how people enjoyed the experience.

One of the most magical aspects of this piece it how it plays with technological simplicity but with a really complex universe of meanings about identity.

Do you plan to develop that project any further?

Actually the project as it was developed during Interactivos? it is just a small part of the whole idea due the very limited time of the workshop and the difficulties we found with some technical aspects.

We would like to thanks Zachary Lieberman, Martín Nadal, Damien Stewart, Javier Lloret, Blanca Rego, Julio Lucio y Jordi Puig for their help programing the software which is written in C++ using the openFrameworks library.

Basically we wanted to create a complete set of magic tricks, based on one of the first tricks registered on the history of magic. In ancient Egypt a magician interchanged the head of chickens and ducks and made people believe it was really magic. We will continue working on the piece; adding new tricks were users can play magic in a very intuitive manner.

You mentioned that you want to establish a new media community in Valencia. Can you tell us more about that project? Which shape will it take? What are its objective and what do you hope to achieve?

Valencia is a very dynamic city that is growing really fast but the media art scene is really unstructured, not to say non-existing. There are very good artists, of course, but there is no place to meet each other nor is there any kind of network to meet and collaborate. We have been living in Valencia during the last 10 years but with extensive periods overseas. Recently we decided to come back and install ourselves for a long period of time. We just opened our studio, LALALAB, and we would like it to become a kind of meeting point for digital media artist where they can produce their work, or find collaborators.

LALALAB is not an institutional media center but the idea is to explore the connexions with other production center as MediaLab Prado in Madrid or Hangar in Barcelona to create this network and to dynamize the Valencia media art scene. In Lalalab there will be workshops and artist presentations and we have a good collection of production tools to help other artists develop their works at the same time that we continue with our personal production.

Thanks Clara and Diego!

On 28/11 Clara Boj and Diego Díaz will give a talk on Research art: nuevos modos de hacer en las prácticas artísticas contemporáneas at the Fundació Pilar i Joan Miró in Mallorca.

0portraitcati.jpgWhen i asked her what she does or drink to have so much energy and creativity Cati Vaucelle simply told me that she is spending the nights playing World of Warcraft. Well, i'm sorry Cati, it doesn't work for us mere mortals! Hanging around with druids and having a stroll through Dun Morogh on the back of a tiger doesn't usually results in projects that i'd want to blog. And if Cati's avatar kills monsters and completes quests as fast as she engineers new projects then she might be one of the most formidable players around. One day she's working on a touch-sensitive dress for sensory therapy, the day after she announces that she's just finished collaborating with Hayes Raffle on a rubber stamp that children can press onto the page to record sounds into their drawings.

I don't know which label i should put on Cati Vaucelle: is she a researcher? an artist? a designer? Something in between?

I am a knowledge shopper. I studied philosophy and fine arts, applied computer science, psychology, and computational linguistics starting in Paris with a B.S. in mathematics and economics. At MIT I took classes in engineering and programming, recently graduating from Harvard University in product design and architecture. Juggling among degrees triples my inspiration. I feel empowered by applying this knowledge in my research. Now I define myself as a researcher, an inventor and an artist at the same time. I collaborate frequently as I find it extremely enlightening. My work has implications for fields as diverse as HCI, architecture, fashion, learning and health care treatment.

Can you tell me something about your career: how you came to be interested in tangible interfaces, digital technology, augmented "everyday" realities?

I started to use microcontrollers to augment everyday objects back in Paris. I searched for prior inventions in the domain, and discovered the work of the MIT Media Lab. After a few years of research in physical augmentation via computer means I found that a new materiality emerged based on our physical limitations supported by digital possibilities. This new materiality was also created through the possibility to keep memorized an impossible number of data. I was fascinated by the power of computation in recalling memories. I designed a range of computational linguistic tools from toy design, storytelling systems, to performative text instruments to record stories of experiences. Gradually the six exteroceptive senses became part of my design principles. I like to engage people’s associative memory for elements in their life that can be recalled through AI tools and products.

In my sculpture work, I combine the material representation of a souvenir and its effect over time. I print a series of clothes in plaster molds and in life-sized frames. The pieces of clothing carved in the plaster come from people I care for. Their prints represent their passage in my life at a point. The mold essentially keeps the shape and the textural significance of the clothing.

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Memento Box: Outside and inside

I designed a series of kinetic and architectural installations, electronically mediated clothing, and smell collector systems in relation to my take on memories. I created the Memento Box, a kinetic installation that symbolizes a view on my relationship to souvenirs. This kinetic and electronic Box represents an attractive passage from door to personal space of souvenirs.

0breathingwallll.jpgThe Breathing Wall kinetic piece that I created with Ana Aleman consists of a wall made from thin transparent tubes that react to the public space. Made out of architectural objects that work independently or dependently of one another, it deploys and retracts soft fabric. The wall remembers the sense of the public and reacts accordingly.

In Touching Memories, I originally wanted the system to capture the memory of touch represented by its pressure and warmth. This system, later called Taptap and built with Leonardo Bonanni, Jeff Lieberman and Orit Zuckerman, supports the remembrance of a lost one, sharing physical prompts to recall a souvenir of touch for distant lovers. This work resulted in a series of prototypes: Squeeze Me, Hurt Me, Cool Me Down and Touch Me with implications for support in mental health care treatments. I continue independent research on Seamless Sensory Interventions for the treatment of mental and neurological disorders. Haptics are the key to bringing treatment into the social sphere through devices, providing new ways to mediate between the patient and the therapist both in and outside of therapy. Self-mutilation is a perfect test-case, because of the definitive “physicality? of the symptoms. However, the broader solutions that I am proposing have implications for diseases as diverse as autism, depression, and schizophrenia.

Cool Me Down

Together with Yasmine Abbas I explore the design of a touch-sensitive dress for massage and sensory therapy. The research focuses on the material - how the structure and the embedded components of the garment participate in pushing its function to become an envelope or cocoon for one's well-being. Touch·Sensitive is a haptic apparel that allows massage therapy to be diffused, customized and controlled by people on the move. It provides individuals with a sensory and alerting cocoon.

I design the Odora Storyteller, a smell collector. It encompasses the experience of the everyday collector and creates an associative memory of smells, places and objects. The first prototype is conceived for children to collect samples from their environment. The children can reveal and create associative connection between smells, textures and visual components of elements that they gather. The collected elements are then used to create and recall stories. I also envision this concept for persons suffering from Alzheimer's disease. People with Alzheimer’s could benefit from associative memory between smell and souvenirs of places.

The smell collector became a collector of everyday sensations. The collector allows a child to also collect temperatures - from the heat of the sun to the cold of the ice, invited to capture more complex temperature such as the soil.

I am designing Jewelry in the form of arial patterns of a city. My vision is to have in miniature the multitude of patterns that one can see from a distance. The research implication/discussion is now that we constantly travel by plane, use GIS, google map, satellite imagery, our vision is expanded. We now consider differently objects, we have a different representation to them. As much as the car has influenced painting and the representation of space and movement, I want to show how the use of new technologies can change our way to design objects.

Crazy toys allow children to voice out their drawing construction. Crazy toys capture the pitch and loudness of the child's voice and generates patterns on a screen. I am working on a database management of the child's pre-drawn pattern that she could decide to use for her compositions. I am currently making a generic doll whose body reacts to the sound input and generates digital drawings. I link max/msp to processing. The digital patterns from processing flow through the body of the doll as a metaphor on how digital technologies invade our everyday space and body.

One of your prior researches was concerned with the underlying mechanisms regarding the improvisation of narratives by children. This gave way to some pretty imaginative projects. What have you learnt from that experience with children? How much did their interaction with the objects/devices you gave them modified your perception of the subject?

I learned that tools for children need to be designed to support their evolving skills. Electronic toys, toys with AI and digital applications for children could benefit from multiple levels of learning including different layers of complexity.

As a research associate at Media Lab Europe from 2002-2004, I designed Textable Movie with Glorianna Davenport. In the framework of computational storytelling, Textable Movie promotes the idea of maker-controlled media and can be contrasted to automatic presentation systems. By improvising movie-stories created from their personal video database and by suddenly being projected into someone else’s video database during the same story, users can be surprised as they visualize video elements corresponding to a story that they would not have expected. With Textable Movie, users make their own inference about these discoveries rather than using artificial systems that make the inference for them. They can then create a personal mode of interaction with the system, e.g. mapping keywords to videos, and incorporate new video clips and sound samples to their database.

0textabemoih.jpgThe complexity, power and flexibility of Textable Movie can be seen in how novel projects presented themselves through its use. The immediate response from the system by the children made it comparable to a video game. I created Textable Game that extends the concept to the realm of video games. This application aims to engage teenagers in building their own games, e.g. action games, exploration games, mystery games, using their own video/audio footage, and allowing them to create their own rules and scenarios. The goal of Textable Game is to invite teenagers to be their own video game producers.

Evaluations with Textable Movie informed me that more fusion between creating an idea and producing it was necessary. For a revisit of Textable Movie, I wanted to couple mobile technologies to a platform that could materialize ideas and retrieve them seamlessly had to be implemented. I explored the concept of tangibility of digital data as a way for children to gather and capture data around the city for later retrieval. In this case, tangible objects become metaphors of captured elements. I conceived a device using mobile technology combined with tangible objects as metaphors called Moving Pictures: Looking Out/Looking In. This project became a team project that I developed with Diana Africano and Oskar Fjellström, both researchers at the Umeå Institute of Design in Sweden.

Moving Pictures: Looking Out/Looking In
allows children to gather outside and look around in their environment to collect visual clips, capture short videos using video cameras, and then come back inside to a video editing station where they reflect on and play with their media collection.

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Recording with the camera and uploading videos on the table

With Moving Pictures the experience for the user is transparent. The cumbersome process of capturing and editing becomes fluid in the improvisation of a story, and accessible as a way to create a final movie. I integrated different layers of complexity, from digitizing the media, performing a movie, to storyboarding a more complex narrative. Elements of design such as cards symbolizing the composition of the screen are used to offer the children the potential to become video artists, understanding and playing with the frame as they go.

Based on our evaluations with children, I found that Moving Pictures suffers from several limitations related to the problem of how to best digitally support meaningful interactions in the physical space. First the scalability of such a system at a networked and international level is flawed. I need to redesign the software technology to centralize the linked data and distribute the nodes of contained data in an organized fashion. To have the technology better assist how an individual moves about the physical space while capturing content their platform needs to be mediated by a centralized software architecture.

Second, system centralization implies new communication technology to mediate the video platforms and allow them to communicate with one another. The RFID technology in the wireless cameras could be redesigned into a pattern based technology using the video camera of any device.

Lastly, I would like to escape the hardware limitations of commercial video cameras. Users could use any phone, any camera or text based device to exchange material. The system should be designed to generalize despite different input modalities. All of these modifications shift the emphasis of the system from a simple, transparent, video platform, and into an architecture for supporting content generation that reflects the physical environment of the user through multiple information platforms.

What are the challenges, pecularities and pitfalls when working with children (compared with projects you'd develop for grown-ups)?

It is complex to work on projects for children because of our responsibility as adults. The video game world is very attractive to kids and it can also easily be allienating without any parental and environmental support. I also wish that companies could facilitate their console hacking for kids, by protecting certain parts of their market, but making it hackable for more creative projects. Kids could still use the console for its game purpose but could appropriate its design to make their own. As an example, experimented adults can hook up applications to the new Wii console using emulators, but this is not being hacked by children.

Also the Wii is an example of interesting design because it uses body motions and physical space as part of its design principles. I recently saw multiple generations, from the young child to the grand parents, play with it and everybody enjoyed it. It seems fully integrated within the family context as much as traditional board games have been in the past. In the realm of PvP video games, World of Warcraft has a nice goody for its users: they can take a break and double their experience the next time they come online but to not forget their addiction, WoW only doubles it up to two levels. This is smart, it allows users to go away from the computer screen for a few days and engage back into their addiction. However, sometimes this time is also used to create other characters…

There are also challenges for electronic toys. In 2002, a friend of mine commented beautifully on the matter:

"The most beautiful thing happened on Tuesday night. I was babysitting for Colum, Jenny's little boy, he's 5 (and three quarters!). We made up 2 new super heroes Lava Man and the other Lava Man! We were just having a really good play with lots of jumping around and shouting. Anyway, later we were just sitting down and talking more quietly. He was showing me this little dinosaur that has tiny batteries inside and when you open his mouth he roars. Colum said the batteries were wasted and I said I can get new ones for him. He said 'no, its terrible when the batteries work because every time he opens his mouth all he can do is roar, even when he tries to eat something all he can do is roar so he can’t even eat anything so lets leave him with the wasted batteries, he’s better that way'. All I could do was smile the widest smile." Andy Brady

0puppppppets3.jpgTraditional toys such as puppets and dolls encourage young children's storytelling in the form of pretend play. Unfortunately, the majority of commercial technological toys do not provide the space for children to tell their own stories; rather they tend to tell stories to them or constrain their play pattern. Children could benefit from creating stories rather than listening to them. The quote from Andy Brady is an example of how technology can be useless and, worse, annoying or constraining to the child. In this example, technology is not contributing anything to the play pattern of the child except the repetitious dinosaur roaring which apparently is not pleasing for anyone! The child voices his complaint by asking not to use this technology anymore.

In my work, I aim to add technology to prompt the child in a way that allows the child to be an active participant in story creation. When a system for authorship is well designed, the technology is not invading. In 2000 I created Dolltalk (PDF), a set of computational puppets designed for storytelling. Dolltalk captures the child's storytelling though motions made with puppetry and the voice of the child. In this work, the challenge was to combine the right balance of technology coupled with a narrative structure inspired by the toy. I have worked on business applications of this project with Mattel, Fisher Price and Lego.

Kids today grow among mobile phones, computers, sophisticated video games,... we didn't. How do you think it affects their perception of the frontier between virtual and physical world?

This current question reveals that each time there is a change, it transforms our ideal image of ourselves.

A useful historical metaphor exists in photography. At the inception of photography, the new medium was equally feared and admired. It was reduced to the status of being useful, but devoid of meaningful interpretations of reality, which was the provence of the fine arts and painting in particular. However, over time, the status of photography changed, and gained its independence from painting. Eventually, the photographic medium was accepted as having its own formal and aesthetic values. The end result was a revisitation of what painting could be, driven by the new aesthetic findings in photography, as exemplified in some of Duchamp's work, such as le nu dans l’escalier. The paradigm shift was not limited to painting, but provided social change as a new form of expression in the arts.

I gave this example to say that with photography we realized it was not an anti-art, it was another art. It is a medium. Children use these tools. It is important that we understand what they are. Digital is a revolution. It creates children's expectations of their interaction with their environment (virtual and digital) that can be different from ours (because we have not grown up in the same environment as the children of today).

When i go to tech conferences, i only see a tiny minority of women. how is it like at Harvard Design School? do you feel like you're part of a minority of geek girls? does it affect you?

In Paris, I studied with a majority of men. Women seemed to fear technical matters. It was clear that this was perpetuated socially. I graduated from Harvard University, Graduate School of Design (GSD), with a Master in Design, Product Design and Architecture. I had previously studied at the MIT Media Lab for a Master of Sciences. I am now back to the MIT Media Lab as research assistant and PhD candidate with Dr. Hiroshi Ishii in the Tangible Media Group. I can compare the impact of women in these environments. Women are less represented in general at the professorship level. A woman with engineering skills and with the same qualifications as a man seems to always be strangely discredited. On my side, I try to avoid this polemic and just develop my engineering work on my own. At the GSD, there are lots of women as students, but not that many as faculty members. At the Media Lab women are under represented in general. There is a mix between designers and geeky girls at the media lab, but the majority have a background in CS or electrical engineering and if not they all learn on the fly. I like working with women a lot at Media Lab, especially because I like seeing a feminine sensibility empowered with the technicality of engineering.

You're working mainly with technology: computers, rfid, even robots. Are you interested in emerging technologies like nanotechnology, biotechnology, synthetic biology? or is it too far from your own sphere (one only has 24 hours per day after all)?

These topics are fascinating and I am interested in everything that is emerging. I am a knowledge shopper after all! Maybe I will follow a degree in nanotechnology …


How do you think that digital technologies make us re-evaluate the physical world?

We are perceiving a new physicality through digital materials. This modification of our perception of the environment is developed thourgh our experience with the digital.

As an illustration of this new area consider the usual RFID tagging. RFID tags have been used throughout the physical space for cuing purposes. Beyond that, I argue that the presence of content cues throughout the space redefines our very perception of that space. Now an alternative to RFID tagging is possible, such that arbitrary physical properties of objects can be used as tags to content. One promising line of work is using mass to arbitrarily define tags. Any object can be assigned tag status by linking the mass of the object to some content that the user likes to represent from their environment. By reintroducing the appropriately weighted object to the system, the content can be recalled. Tagging serve as a means for feedback from the physical environment back to the virtual community. This line of thought is now possible by having been digital, conceptually, and subsequently discovering new design principles within the physical space. Tagging with the mass of the object uses technology to link the intrinsic physicality of the material to new conceptual possibilities regarding how we perceive physical space, content of physicality and extended virtual communities.

What did you try to achieve with "The Texture of Light"? Was it just a project you had to develop for the Smart Materials course at Harvard or do you plan to go further and exploit the idea in novel ways?

0textureoflight.jpgThe Texture of Light is a tangible system that exploits lighting principles and the exploration of life feed video metamorphosis in the public space using reflection of light on transparent materials. This project is an attempt to fight the boredom of everyday life and employs the simple use of chemistry, Plexiglas, and plastic patterns to form a visual reconstruction of reality, giving it a texture and expressive form. The tangible potential of the direct use of light on Plexiglas lenses and transparent materials presents three opportunities that are critical to this project. First is the collaboration in the public space facilitated by tangible means. The second opportunity is the improvisation and experimentation space offered by such tangible and mechanical systems. The third is the reinvestigation of the physical texture of light materialized, allowing a direct understanding of the effects of light properties on transparent materials e.g. reflection, color transformation, density, and diffraction.

I am implementing my vision of this project on a larger scale such as building-size panels the public could mechanically control using remote devices. Each panel will be pattern and transparent material specific. Two Plexiglas sheets could embed a water-fall, or viscous transparent material the user could distribute along his/her selected point of view. The software will allow media distribution among cities so that the outcomes of the public performances could be exposed on the panels of other cities.

Your work involves augmenting the physical using the digital. aren't you having nightmare of a physical object that does more bad than good because its digital "layer" is running amok?

The digital has suffered by trying to be too physical, trying to justify its existence by refining itself with physical rules. There are fundamental limits between the form and function of the digital and physical. This step was necessary to combine the digital to the physical without independence between these two modes of interaction. Now that the digital is part of our everyday life, it is the perfect moment to study how it can inform the structure of the physical and how it can drive new conceptions of the physical. The goal is to strike a balance between digital technologies and their physical components, such that despite their fundamental differences of form and use, the two can be seamlessly integrated and mutually inform one another.

I only augment the physical with the digital in certain conditions, because I also care about interdependencies between the digital and the physical. With each other they have a function. Without each other they also have a function. This differs from current considerations of physical and tangible representation by allowing the virtual and the physical to exist independently from each other, or, rather, to co-exist in a way that informs one another.

Specifically, the challenge is to augment the physical using the digital by maintaining a reason d’etre of the physical with the digital. Consider a scarf that warms up if a friend is missing. This computational scarf, even without technology, can be designed so it remains useful as a scarf, and keeps a memory of the interaction with the digital without detracting from its design as a physical object. On the other hand, the warmth generating sensor module, if removed from the scarf, can have another digital function and be integrated into a bedding to provide some warmth as well. Both the physical platform and the technology are dissociable, although the combination of the two generates the impact of the application.

My work incorporates materials that borrow rules from the digital and offer a sense of magic in the physical world. Smart materials are a reasonable platform for our desire to have the digital and physical inform one another simply due to the technical opportunities, such as scalability, computational power, and extensibility. However, in addition to having digital and technical possibilities, smart materials offer a relatively unexplored opportunity to drive new conceptions of digital and physical by adhering to intrinsically physical properties of material. Our concept of materiality can be intelligently redefined by the introduction of technical extensions to the material platform.Digital and virtual applications are changing our very conception of the physical space. A new materiality is emerging, based on our physical limitations supported by virtual possibilities. Digital has changed our perception of the physical, as in surface, light and texture, and also our body, as in its ideal representation. However, I believe that an incredible opportunity is being lost. Combined virtual and physical applications are not being designed with their independent principles of physical and virtual in mind. My research explore the fundamental differences between these worlds, and how, as the line between them blurs, we can take the lessons of the virtual space and redesign the physical space.

Merci Cati!

0takashimatsumoto.jpgI met Takashi Matsumoto in a charming village somewhere in the Swiss Alps for the Collaborative Artefacts Interactive Furniture workshop. He was presenting a very exciting object called Z-agon, a small cube which is in fact a video player. Each face of the cube is an high-res display for multi-media contents (video). I then started to follow from afar the activities of the Keio University and discovered so many nice projects that i asked him if he'd have time to answer a few questions. Somehow, between a laptop battle, his research and maybe a couple of turntable sampling he managed to find a couple of hours to unveil what he and the other designers in his laboratories are working on.

Can you tell us a few words about you? How did you get to work at Okude Lab? What is your role there?

First of all, I am really happy to get an interview for WMMNA! I am checking the feed everyday.

I am now a Ph.D. student of Keio University, Media Design Program and I belong to Okude Lab. In Shonan-Fujisawa Campus (SFC). I am designing user interfaces for network-based mobile gadgets. Those designs aim to provide simple embodied interactions for everyday objects to access web resources and to make our everyday lives more entertaining. My research interest is to produce an integrated design between hardwares, systems and business models for such devices.

My works like Z-agon and Pileus are futuristic but trying to be fit into a market right now. In my teenage years, I was living in Shibuya, a big commercial district in Tokyo. I have been watching how industries drop marketing to us, and I was aware of that there was a big chasm between product planning, marketing processes, and real user needs. So I studied marketing and intellectual properties in my undergraduate days. Then I realized we need a "design" of entire social and market systems to solve that problem. For example, Sony's Walkman and MTV were medias changed a market balance and our life styles in '80s music industry. I wanted to make such medias to change our life.

00okjh.jpgThen, I moved to Okude Lab just before I went on to master's course. Okude Lab. is an interesting laboratory researching a media design with such a wider vision. It has been developing actual works but also concerning humans and social factors. It's recent research focuses are designs of embodied interactions and social systems of communication media products. Okude lab. have a design method of ethnography and prototyping skills of assorted technologies to make concepts of works. Now It's quite a big laboratory having 50 students (incl. undergraduates and graduates). Each work is designed in a collaborative team of 3 to 5 people. My works are also developed in a team.

Okude Lab is a member of Media Design Program of Keio University (a.k.a. KMD). KMD now has 10 laboratories and we are collaborating in a big research project named "Ubiquitous Content". I am also working as a research assistant for the Ubiquitous Content project.

What is Ubiquitous Content about? What does this expression mean? Which area does it cover exactly?

"Ubiquitous Content" is a project designated by a governmental grant of JST-CREST (Japan Science and Technology Corporation: Core Research for Evolutional Science and Technology). This is one of the biggest projects of KMD.

0fucvgbhnj.jpg"Ubiquitous Content" is an idea of a new design objective of our lives in the post-PC era. In 20th century, a notion of media contents has been meant contents like movies, music, animations, video games etc. Figuratively speaking, such contents were entities supplied in containers designed as "boxes". But now, a spread of networks and a
realization of ubiquitous computing technologies are going to change those styles of media. The container is not like a "box" any more: It will change its forms freely to give us advanced computer augmentations in a specific context and it will be sometimes invisible embedded into our environments. It is more appropriately called Ubiquitous Media and it will be a new style of media. When we design such Ubiquitous Media, we need to think about the container as our environments in which many things are cooperating rather than a single hardware, a single software or a single standard. Users will not need to be conscious of those medias, therefore such containers emerge for users as "their lives" themselves. "Ubiquitous Contents" are contents for such media. Those must be "experiences" in "their lives".

As Ubiquitous Content project focuses on our lives and experiences, all things in our everyday lives are targets of the design. The 10 Laboratories of KMD are working on this wide subject from different perspectives.

For example, recent works of Ubiquitous Contents include the following topics: Yoshiro Sugano's ShootBall (Okude Lab) implemented a new sport using a ball with a built-in sensor and goals of visual projections. Midori Shibutani's Fabcell (Wakita Lab) is developing a new fabric changing colors for cyber fashions. Projects like a LivePic (M. Katsura for imgl; video) and BiblioRoll (Okude Lab) are introducing a new interaction techniques for both environmental and mobile media. It also includes research topics like Cyber Sound Project (Iwatake Lab) and New Ambience (Hiroya Tanaka Lab). Topics of Ubiquitous Contents are very wide.

Each design and research works from 10 laboratories are working separately under the concept of Ubiquitous Content. And we are collaborating together to make its design theory and a platform for the basis of Ubiquitous Content. Several a year, we hold demonstration events of Ubiquitous Content works together.

0bibiobiub.jpg 0breaihubhj.jpg
BiblioRoll and LivePic

Most of the projects you and your colleagues have worked on are very original. There's a magical and fairy aspect to most of them. Where do you find the inspiration? Many brainstormings? Observation of and discussions with technology users? Reading science-fiction?

The design approach of Okude Lab is based on phenomenology, which requires designers to expand their experiences and to find meanings in interactions. In particular, we go to a ethnographic fieldwork of participant observations. We participate in one activity as an apprentice finding a master of the activity in a field to find a design concept from our experiences. Then we describes a scenario to be a vision, and we iterate prototypings and its improvements. We do not do problem finding on existing designs with examinee like interviews and objective observations. The important thing is that we "designers ourselves" need to be changed in an experience in a field.
We do not start a design from a technology either. To achieve our vision for us, we will learn necessary new technologies to implement a demo. Yet we are not engineers having high-tech, we have a skill to bridge very wide technologies and know-hows between hardware, software, network technologies, form modeling, branding etc. In most of our cases, one work is implemented with numbers of programming languages, numbers of chips and hacked device modules, numbers of materials, and numbers of expression styles such as demo, video, and online.

A lodge of Okude Lab is filled with fun, free and energetic atmosphere and we are collaborating in a joyful way everyday. We don't have hierarchies and divisions of roles in a team, and all members required to be produces with responsibilities. Some members start to live in the lodge when they get into the swing of it, and we often have a meal together, plan a short trek, and sometimes get up to mischief (did you see MacSaber video of us?). We also knows what's up to members out of the lab sharing Flickr photos and blog RSS, and we creates edgy local and global buzz words in a lab. Such a relationship between members are making creative circumstance.

Do the researchers at Keio University Media Design get green light on whatever project they propose? What are the basic rules to respect? Do you have to come up with a marketable product for example?

In many cases, our research target is a development of a core concept of new media, but actually we eye the possibility of makertable products. However, many of our works are concepts for future and those will have some challenges to be marketable products now. So, each team manages project's intellectual properties (such as patents) based on their long-term strategies.

We do not always have to think up a maketable product. We also have fundamental research projects, for example a design of an ubiquitous computing platform and a development of a Bayesian network engine.

Keio University is encouraging ventures from university research. Now start-ups of small innovative team is getting easier in Japan by the New Corporation Act and a diffusion of broadband internet. We are going to bring some businesses from our design research in near future. If someone interested in global business partnership and investments, please get in touch with us. We wanna make money not art.

Our aim is to give a social solution with our design proposing a new lifestyle. And recent design challenge is to learn how to design a social system. We think businesses from Keio Media Design should be a way to make a contribution to society. This is a school philosophy of Keio since inception.

Your graduate thesis was the amazing Cubic Display Device "Z-agon". What have you learnt from this project? What were the biggest challenges of the design and construction of Z-agon?

0azagont.jpgZ-agon was the first work at Okude Lab for me. The project was started during the summer of 2002. Our team was thinking about a portable media of next generation, and we decided to design a new video player as we all agreed that our needs are shifting toward video (multi-media) contents like music clips and animations. The first inspiration was a 6-channels-TV-Cube, and it did not take time to find a target of the "Wi-Fi based video cube for social-sharing contents".

The concept is that 6 displays of a small cube get vide displays, and it is operated by physical turns of the device.

Most parts of Z-agon's design are envisions. Its goal is to provide high-res color images of movies, music, animations and games, and the 2.5 inch size was also necessary for its interaction and its element as an accessory. However it was almost impossible to realize Z-agon at the time when the 1st-gen music ipod just appeared to the market with a black and white display. When we introduced our concept to public, there are many company engineers who are really critical for it.

However, as we have had experiences feeling needs for this concept and we believed from surveys that technologies evolves to this direction in few years, we thought we should not throw off this concept. The first prototype was in a 12 inch cube that was quite big apart from the concept. And we filled in the gap making a conceptual movie with a futuristic scenario, and studying interaction research on a 2.5 inch cube. We got a patent for the basic device of the interactive cubic display. Then its design has been progressed. Z-agon has a dream that one day it has a quality of a commercial product. In that regard, our handmade prototypes are still functionally incompletion with technological difficulty. But now 5 years after the project started, it is obvious that the concept is getting more realistic, here, we already got similar devices like iPod Nano and Nintendo DS.

We already excepted that users want to share video contents on the Internet. (See the concept movie in 2002) It was because we found that needs from experiences and observations as new generation in Tokyo. Now, you see a big boom of YouTube. We hope Z-agon will be a wi-fi video player for such content sharing services. We feel this kind of predictions and envision on design were really important to drive the project.

What inspired Pileus: The Internet Umbrella (video)? What did you want to achieve with this project from the KMD Okude Lab? How will it evolve in the near future?

0flicrumbre.jpgPileus is the most exciting project for me right now. This work is designed in a team with Sho Hashimoto, who has a unique engineering skill in the lab. We started this project in a kick-off camp of a spring semester in 2006. the initial concept and the first scenario movie were completed in just 3 days of the camp.

We have many rain in Japan. So the umbrella is one of the closest article of everyday use, but it is also a bulky article in such a climate. Traditionally we have been feeling many kinds of air and mood in a rainy day, and we wanted to expand that feeling to be more fun and vivid with the re-design of an umbrella. From that perspective, we came up with the idea of umbrella to take photo-logs and to browse internet contents in a rain. Me and Sho already took notice of that we can provide many kinds of services in a real world with Web2.0, and also had a technological vista to mash-up those with a mobile hardware. Additionally, it was another target that this can be the first example of a hardware mash-up to indicate a new economic solution for mobile gadgets joining into an economy of Web 2.0. We do not want a small "Cellphones" (Smartphones, whatever) squashing up many functions inside, but we re-designed an object of everyday use from scratch to be mashed-up with web services.

At the end of last year, we founded a spined-off LLC for the project, and we are thinking how it will go a business exit.

As the ideology of the design of Pileus, we would like to show that design is not about its shape any more; an apt assortment of modules and interactions are more important factors for the design. So, our prototype is showing off the circuits to see how modules are combined rather than covering it. Some people suggest us to give a beautiful surfaces for it as a "design", but that is not what we want to do now, we are meticulous about the interaction of information visualizations on the screen though. Fortunately, this rugged look is loved by many audiences at demo sites.

As an exclusive info, we have builded a new version of Pileus with GPS. A new function with GPS is geo-tagging of photos taken by Pileus. It will help to users to check and share records of their walks in the rain. Another function is a map display of an area. This will be used for a big-screen navigation in an umbrella, and it will be able to show local pictures and local ads are loaded on the umbrella. Of course, this function is also realized by a mash-up technique. Now we are using Yahoo! Maps API, but we may switch it to Google Maps API because Japanese map on Yahoo! maps has bad scale ratio. We are going to go an experiment in a city in a rain, however, unfortunately we have had few rainy days this year yet.

Can you tell us a few words about Post-Bit: Multimedia E-paper Stickies? (video 1 and 2)

I have participated in an internship at FX Palo Alto Laboratory Inc. (FXPAL) in Silicon Valley in 2004. Post-bit was an e-paper device designed at the intern. As you will see, it is a small e-paper memo and It is named after 3M's "post-it".

When I studied a working space, I found paper post-its are still heavily used in a office although PC and digital gadgets are diffused. As FXPAL and the Xerox group has a technology of e-paper, I thought about a design of tiny memos of e-paper. I imagined making paper prototypes that encrusting multimedia contents on tiny papers in a physical workplace must be be useful and kawaii.

The design theme was to integrate the advantage of tangibility of papers and the advantage of dynamic usages of digital data. There, I invented "drop-beyond-drag" which is a exchange system between GUI and TUI. It enables users to directly drag-and-drop a file from GUI desktop to an e-paper putting on the display flame, and reversely user can just squeeze the memo to splash a content onto the GUI desktop from a memo on the flame. I made a prototype and a concept video with helps of Maribeth Back and Tony Dunnigan, and the video was introduced on a video track of ACM multimedia 2005.

0ipodjkk9.jpgAre you an ipodj?

Haha, Yes, that was a funny trial with my high school friends. This idea is still popular. As we got busy for our primary jobs, the project has been stopping after the creation of tiny DJ mixer for ipods, though.

I do DJ sometimes at my friend's home parties and parties in the lab with analog turntables. I like scratching on it. By the way, to do mash-up on a design is really similar feeling to do sampling on turntables, you know...

Thanks Takashi!

More images.

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