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FutureEverything Festival 2012 - Image by TAPE

This year's edition of the FutureEverything festival in Manchester brought a much discussed phenomenon to the fore: participatory culture. From Wikileaks to Iceland's crowd-sourced constitution, to the Arab Spring, participatory technologies have demonstrated their powerful political potential. The world of culture is harnessing the same connected energies with projects that involve citizen scientists cataloging celestial bodies in the Milky Way galaxy, crowd-curated photo exhibitions and of course the many projects created by artists and designers who either directly use collective action or bring it under a new light.

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FutureEverything Festival 2012 - Image by TAPE

The festival is over but the exhibition, titled FutureEverybody, remains open till June 10. It is hosted in the spectacular 1830 warehouse, the world's first railway warehouse, part of the Museum of Science and Industry.

The show obviously focuses on the artistic dimension of new participatory technologies, giving a tangible and very approachable dimension to a phenomenon we tend to associate mostly with online practice. FutureEverybody opens with the work of an artist known for putting them spectacularly into practice: Aaron Koblin who, a few years ago, teamed up with Takashi Kawashima and thousands of online workers to create a $100 bill. But you all know Aaron's work so let me call your attention to some of the projects i discovered in the show:

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Daniel Jones and James Bulley, Maelstrom. View from the exhibition of the FutureEverything Festival 2012 - Image by TAPE

Over 48 hours of user-created audio is uploaded to the internet every minute, a figure that is increasing exponentially. Maelstrom by Daniel Jones and James Bulley draws on these audio-fragments in real-time and broadcasts them through suspended speakers. By organising these fragments based on their tonal attributes, they collectively form a vast instrument, whose properties are affected by global internet activity.

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Moritz Stefaner + Dario Taraborelli + Luca Ciampaglia, Notabilia, 2011

Wikipedia articles, especially new ones, are reviewed by the community to determine whether or not they meet Wikipedia's notability guidelines. Articles nominated for deletion are discussed collectively by the editors before they decided in favor or against keeping them. An administrator then reviews the debate and makes the final decision.

Moritz Stefaner, Dario Taraborelli and Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia analyzed Article for Deletion (AfD) discussions in the English Wikipedia. The result of their research is Notabilia, a visualization of the 100 longest discussions that stemmed from the proposal to delete an article.

I was less interested in the data visualization (which is obviously clear and competently designed) than in learning about the articles questioned and the reason put for forward for their remotion from the online encyclopedia. The entries deleted ranged from the surprising (Islamophobiaphobia) to the downright absurd (List of songs about masturbation, List of Playboy Playmate with D-cups or larger breasts). I've also noticed the high number of articles exposing dubious political or religious agendas.

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Jamie Allen, Refractive Index. FutureEverything Festival 2012 - Image by TAPE

Jamie Allen's Refractive Index is an ongoing art-research project that uses the large scale public media displays as a kind of camera obscura; inverting typical uses of the screen, and showing us what our screens "see" when they peer into the night sky. I'm not sure i understand what makes it a project that deals with collective action but i loved the rigorous research behind it as well as the way it was documented.

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Lawrence Epps, Human Resources. FutureEverything Festival 2012 - Image by TAPE

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Lawrence Epps, Human Resources, 2012 (in Switzerland)

Right in the middle of the exhibition space was a heap of miniature ceramic figures hand-made by 
Lawrence Epps. A few days before i visited the show, the Sykey Collective distributed 8,000 of these tiny workers in the streets of Manchester. Passersby were then invited to bring them to work, home, on business trips, holidays and document the figurines journey online, either on www.sykey.org and via twitter #littleclaymen.

I wanted to steal a figurine from the exhibition pile and take it with me on the train to London but being a stupidly well-behaved girl, i just looked sadly at them and walked away empty-handed.

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Jeremy Hutchison, Extra! Extra!. FutureEverything Festival 2012 - Image by TAPE

Jeremy Hutchison's Extra! Extra! is a collection of newspaper advertising boards with headlines written by Facebook users on the project's Facebook wall. The messages are printed by the Manchester Evening News, and plastered on newspaper billboards around the Museum of Science and Industry site.

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Blast Theory, I'd Hide You. FutureEverything Festival 2012 - Image by TAPE

Blast Theory was premiering their new game I'd Hide You. As is often the case with the UK collective, I'd Hide You is an online/offline game. Only performers play in the streets while the public can log online, follow them and play. Rules are detailed in the trailer:

Who wouldn't want to be one of the three performers with the cool outfits and gadgets running in the streets of Manchester?

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Helen Pritchard + Winnie Soon, Jsut Code. FutureEverything Festival 2012 - Image by TAPE

Previously: An Ant Ballet at FutureEverything.

Entrance to the FutureEverybody Art Exhibition is free. The show remains open at 1830 Warehouse, Museum of Science and Industry, in Manchester until 10th June 2012.

More images by TAPE. I take photos too!

Sponsored by:





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Yesterday i was in Manchester for the FutureEverything festival. Mostly to see the art exhibition. The festival is up until Saturday but the exhibition remains open until June 10. It's a good show. Small but smart and with a sharp focus on artistic and political potential of new participatory technologies. I'll come back to it over the weekend.

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Right now i wanted to have a look at Ollie Palmer's Ant Ballet.

Because of their decentralized organization (swarm intelligence), ants are a good model for the kind of participatory projects the exhibition is exploring this year. In the designer's work however, the behaviour and navigation of the insects are manipulated for artistic purposes. Palmer has spent 2 years observing the Argentine ant, aka Linepithema humile to build the Ant Ballet Machine, a system that enables him to direct ants and make them move in a choreographed fashion.

Using synthesised pheromones and computer vision system, a robotic arm sprays out pheromone powder trails that cause the ants to follow artificial trails in preference to the route they would normally take in search of food.


Ant Ballet

The project is separated into four phases referencing the 1974 scifi movie Phase IV. In the film, scientists are puzzled by the complex designs that ants have started building in the desert. The ant colony have in fact undergone rapid evolution as a result of a mysterious cosmic event.

Phase I of the Ant Ballet (2010-2012) is the one documented at the FutureEverything exhibition, it covers thorough research into ants and control systems, synthesis of ant pheromones and testing of systems with live ants in Barcelona. Phases II-IV (2012-2015) will develop further technologies, chemicals and mechanisms. In 2013 the first public ant ballet performance will be presented at Pestival Sao Paolo.

The designer has tested the system in Barcelona because the UK regards the Argentine ant as highly invasive species (which they are) and wouldn't allow him to bring live ones with him. So what you can see in Manchester are computer-simulated ants laying pheromone trails on a round table, only to be disrupted by the robotic arm spraying synthetic pheromones.

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Views in the exhibition space

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Check out the documentation of the Ant Ballet at the 1830 warehouse, the world's first railway warehouse, part of the MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry), Liverpool Rd, Manchester. Entrance to FutureEverybody art exhibition is free. The show remains open until 10 June 2012.
The project is also on view at Pestival @ ZSL London Zoo, until June 2012.

Antony Hall's projects explore the way we interface with technology, and how our interactions with it influence us creatively and socially. Often collaborating with scientists and technologists, Hall is currently focusing his talent on the investigation of biological and physical phenomenon. Some of his recent experiments involve communication with an electric fish, the creation of life through growing crystals electrically on volcanic stone, hunting for Moss bears and training Planarian worms.

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He gained fame in the media and media art festivals with his electro-acoustic sound art devices and performances. Together with Simon Blackmore and more recently Steve Symons, Hall is a founding member of the Owl Project, a group which combines woodwork with electronics to create performances, musical instruments (iLog , and Log1k) and other physical computing projects.

Let's start with one of your most popular projects: the iLog. How did you get the idea of making it?

0aa4ailllog.jpgThe iLog was created as collaborative project with Simon Blackmore and Steve Symons, we are the Owl Project. We developed the Log1K in 2001 as a performance tool to attempt rival the laptop in electronic music, shortly after this apple started pushing the iPod and we had to make a response, something which related more to the trend for portable, mobile hand held technologies. We wanted our devices to be a synthesis of craft and technology, as well as functional instruments. The Log1ks were getting increasingly heavy, among other things they used nearly 30 AA batteries, short circuits and fires, and blown-out speakers were becoming common place. iLog 01 came out in 2003. After we started collaborating with Steve Symons, we reinvented the electronics inside the iLog and started pushing the whole project to a new level; the M-Log is out later this year.

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There's now a series of iLog models. Why do you think people buy the iLog? Mainly as a beautiful and quirky piece of art which they would not use too much fearing that it might be damaged (although you provide technical support.)? Or have you found that people use it extensively as any other kind of musical device? Were you expecting your project to have so much success?

I suppose people want the iLog for its quirkiness, something as an alternative to the mass produced items. We had no idea that it would become so popular - people blogged it like mad at the start and like a Chinese whisper it suddenly became what people wanted it to be; typically some kind of alternative to the ipod - But in reality its something quite different. It is intended to be an instrument for performance.

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iLog signal

Our problem is that although there is demand; making them is still very difficult, and time consuming, so our focus is making them better rather than faster. At the moment we are looking at lending these to artists and working in collaboration to develop the iLog further. When we launched them for sale in London at DWB it was a real learning curve. Simple things like which way up it should be held, were completely un-obvious! We had to create extensive instructions regarding use, as well as repair and maintenance. The 24 hour support is most necessary! Its important that its more hands on than your average mass produced plastic device.

The iLog is something people can use, rather than living all its life in the art gallery. The new series, *M-Log, launching this year, looks like an iLog, and is a USB connective interface. So there is scope for programming your own sensor based instrument, which you can use with your own customized patch. The iLog is more of a stand alone sound generator. We are planning an event in Manchester during Futuresonic where other performers (including Leafcutter John) will be using the iLogs & M-Logs. *The M in M-Log stands for 'muio' as in "muio interface", the chip based interface inside which Steve's invention in his words "The muio interface is a modular system for sensing and controlling the Real World".

The wood is quite resilient and very repairable if damaged.

I love The Sound Lathe, a performance which explores the sonic properties of wood. Do you have any video of it?

There is some video here:

It does look like a very physical performance. Did you have to master new skills in order to be able to do these performances? How does each performance go? Are they all different from each other? Does working with wood creates situations and results you wouldn't have expected?

Yes its been really interesting - my self and Simon ended up sleeping in a kind of bivouac deep in the forrest as part or the "R&D" for the project, learning the skills of traditional "green woodwork", (electricity free) with Mike Abbott, master crafts-person. Mike invented a competition for Bodgers (the name for people who use the 'pole Lathe') called 'Log to Leg' (as in chair leg) so this is the new format for our performance - I think the record is 9 mins; transforming a bit of tree stump, into two perfect chair legs! It takes us a couple hours, but then our lathe is connected to copious amounts of sensor interface technologies. Quite a distraction, if like for our last performance at Lovebytes, it rained torrentially for the whole thing. In the documentation you will see a tarpaulin underneath that are 3 laptops and Simon.

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Image Lovebytes

I think for all of us it's a welcome change from sitting behind a screen the whole time - these physical processes are a great compliment to programming and electronics; and they still require a similar kind of focus and discipline. It is quite exhausting, you need a lot a focus to keep the beat in time as well as make a good carving, in this way it becomes quite mediative. Sharpening the chisels and preparing the timber are all equally demanding skills to learn.

Can you tell us something about the wooden objects produced during the performances? Which kind of objects are there? And what do you do with them once the performance is over?

We have a box full of various objects; ranging in description from 'chair leg' to 'fire wood', or specialist 'rolling pin'. Occasionally we have a look inside & discuss what we should do with them. We did make a chair with Mike about the only truly useful thing we ever made. The latest idea is to make some kind of flat pack, or player. Watch this space. You can see what we decide to do with them at The Piemonte Share Festival, 11 - 16 March 2008.

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Documentation of first ENKI event at the Museum of Science and Industry Manchester, 7th October 2006

You are also interested in bio-digital medicine. That sounds very different from a project like iLog. Can you explain us what it is and how you started to be interested in this field?

Well this is my own personal project, although I have always working with biology or technological experimentation in some way; with ENKi I decide to humanize what I do. This was a decision to move into medicine and treatment technologies. Really its the same things that we work with in the owl project; looking at how technology is consumed and sold. The notion of bio-digital medicine is just one example in hundreds, of how science, or even the suggestion of science is used, and misused to sell ideas. Faceless corporations feed on our anxieties, our basic need to feel contentment or feel complete. I find it interesting that, just as some people turn to religion, others will look to technology or science to provide answers and solutions.

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ENKI uses the bioelectric information from an Electric Fish to trigger human Brain-wave Entrainment. It generates sound and light pulses to induce a state of relaxation similar to the way traditional relaxation systems work, but the electric communication signal comes from an electric fish rather than a chip.

Did you test the system on other people? How do they react?

So far we have tested it on about 40 volunteers,most of them members of the public who had no prior knowledge of the project. We did this in the context of the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry; people enjoy the experience generally. I was surprised at the range of people who were up for it!

By this point I had started working with Greg Byatt as a collaborator. He has experience of using this kind of technology and administering similar treatments professionally. Greg has equipment which can monitor your physiological state and a brain-wave visualiser (EEG); we were trying to measure results this way. We only really came to one solid conclusion. We had to do more tests.

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Isn't the idea of putting one's "brain-wave entertainment" into the fins of an animal scary? Do you feel that people would trust any other electronic device more than a fish or any other type of animal?

That is a good question. It's an exciting notion this whole idea of "wet-wear" interfacing - but not something that should be taken lightly. I don't like to be on my own if i am doing a test run, and yes I find it very unnerving. I never quite got used to the idea of connecting strangers up to electrodes and the fish. I also worry about the fish. The fish needs to be content and 'happy' for this to work.

In my opinion that most of these commercial devices are made by various humans all of whom have different intentions and issues, namely cost efficiency; and so effectively using quite crude means; cheap microchips. The Black Ghost knife fish is the result of millions of years of evolutionary refinement; but you could still say the same of micro chips.

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A Down poker

Is that project completely developed or is it still a work in progress?

It's in progress. I started working with "electrogenic" fish in 2005; ENKI technology was the title I gave it in 2006 when I was in residence at ENSAD in Paris. This was the point I realized I could create a treatment technology that might actually be functional. I had a bit of pressure to actually finish something and so launched the basic concept of ENKI technology. The funny thing was that reflecting on it now - that just marked a new beginning. (It took a year just to convince the director of Pepiniere that it was in fact a real project and not some conjecture in science fiction!). Coming to think of it I have never really finished anything, I am much more excited by the notion of continued experimentation. I don't want to finish discovering. The more I work on ENKI - the more things there are to do and try, it keeps opening up. There are always more questions.

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What is there left to achieve? And how much have you learned about cross-species communication?

There is still a lot to achieve. The 'treatment' side is just one layer of the onion. I started the project with the aim of communicating with the fish, generating an electrical signal and transmitting this in the fish in the tank, to the fish. Then I watch the the fish, looking for behavioral 'interactions' with the electrodes - generally if there is an electrical (connective) change to the electrodes, the fish is aware of this and investigates the electrode by swimming near it and around it (motor-probing responses). I also listening for a 'chirp' response. The 'chirp' response is a subtle modulation of the Electric signal, a specific fluctuation in the wave. The 'chirp' is used during like species interaction and communication. This is closer to the idea of language we have.

Experimentally there are factors which make this difficult to measure - The fish learns to associate the vibrations created by me entering the studio & opening the tank with a food reward. So any approach to the tank needs to be made silently, and the fish needs to be 'conditioned' to learn this over a long time. As the project progressed I became more interested in communication as something closer to an idea of commune. For the fish I see the communication signal they make more as a deep expression of self; a projected physical extension of the fish body, rather than 'language' in an anthropological sense. This communication is happening at a more primal level. In terms of the ENKi project I am thinking about this as a biological, or physiological connection between living organisms.

I recently discovered that I might be having a problem with what is known as 'superstitious' behavior in the fish; if I was a scientist in the academic sense, this would be a serous flaw in the project; something to fix, but for me it was a fantastic turn, giving the project a new angle all together. Its now becoming an experiment into animal Psychology, not just electro physiology. I don't want to say too much about this next phase but next year the project will look quite different.

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You recently developed the Opto-acoustic modulator and used it for an interactive work at FACT and Liverpool John Moores University for the National Science and Engineering Week. Can you give us more details about this interactive piece? How does it work? What were you trying to achieve with this project?

The commission was to create and interactive art work that used something other than keyborad or mouse. I was determined not to use a video camera either. The the Opto-acoustic modulator basically turns sound-waves into light-waves. It can take 10 audio channels and convert these into "AM" transmissions through 10 Light Emitting Diode arrays. I am fascinated by the notion of 'Amplitude Modulation' sending data using light waves. The idea was to use 'Hyalite' salt crystals, to broadcast sound through their 'ionizing' ambient glow. You interact with the light and can detect the data as sound using wearable sensors. Additionally, using Steve's 'muio' interface again, 8 light sensors detect movement around the crystals using a lens and light sensor (based on the idea a simple biological 'camera eye') these feed into MAX MSP controlling a soundscape.

I read on your statement page that you are currently "working on new experiments relating to the creation of life through growing crystals electrically on volcanic stone, hunting for Moss bears (Tardigrades; Fresh water extremophiles) and training Planarian worms. " Could you already tell us a few words about these experiments?

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Tardigrade

I have been researching the work of William Cross for quite a while, and finally decided that I needed to recreate his experiments (with a few modifications) It's quite interesting trying to work out what he did - the only way to know is to recreate it. In 1837, he found these creatures "Acari electors" as he called them infesting an experiment, he believed that these things "spontaneously generated" within his experiment, several eminent scientists of the time recreated the experiment with the same results! My experiment is basically a recreation of this experiment, augmented with a little more technology - with the aim of capturing this phenomena of electrochemical abiogenesis. The only problem is the experiment has to run for many months.

I am interested in all sorts fresh water microscopic life; its a great 19h century tradition. With a decent microscope, you can take any roadside moss cluster and explore the interstitial oceans of liquids trapped between damp moss filaments. Here you might be lucky enough to find a Moss Bear ( "Tardigrade" ) an obscure form of extremophile that lives in moss. Believe it or not, it really does look like a bear! This in its self was a reason for laboring days over a microscope just to see if it was real! They don't fit into the zoological classification system, and have been given a phylum of their own. It is believed it is able to survive space travel, and at this moment a small space capsule orbits the earth containing some "Tardinauts" (its hard to compete with that) I simply enjoy looking for them. I like to go looking for moss growing in all kinds of areas, from urban waste lands, to the Peak District. "Tardigrades" are able to survive about 120 years in a dehydrated state; I was sifting through very old moss samples from Manchester Museum to see if I could reanimate 100 year old dehydrated Moss Bears. apparently it is possible. I had a lot more luck looking for the living ones. Unfortunately my one Planarian worm recently went missing in the tank. It is 8mm long, and I dont have the heart to keep it in a petri dish. I am not sure where it is.

Is there any artist or researcher whose work has been particularly inspiring for you?

I don't know where to start! Louis Bec for sure. I am really into what SymbioticA have been doing over the past few years, and what they are doing for the "Bio-art" movement. Otherwise, at the moment I am looking at the work of William Bebe. To be honest - I have been trying to read a lot more science fiction lately, particularly 19th century science fiction, and science writing. Often the science fiction tells you a lot about the popular understanding of science at the time. More importantly, its a good antidote ploughing through contemporary research papers.

Thanks Antony!

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Related: El Niuton has a slideshow dedicated to the work of Simon Blackmore.

If you've never found any reason to go to Lancaster, the upcoming Perimeters, Boundaries and Borders might be a good one. The event will present new types of objects, buildings, and products stemming from the increasing use of digital technologies by artists, architects, designers, and others.

The programme is rather yummy. Among the projects exhibited is Light Sensitive Disk Drive, a custom-built LSD Drive able to read lost data on apparently useless CDs. It was designed by Simon Blackmore whom you might remember as one of the developers, together with Antony Hall, of the iLog,

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"A CD drive taken from an old PC has been taken apart. The complex motors have been made to function again using hand coded microcontrollers. The laser that reads the data of the CD has been replaced by a light sensor that detects changes in light levels through the disk. By detecting the amount of light that falls through the disk, the drive is able to read the areas of lost data on a disk. This information is sent to a computer as midi data and then processed by a custom program written in the OS software application SuperCollider. The result is a fully functioning piece of computer hardware with accompanying software that allows users to make music with the hands-on process of scratching the disk."

The work was shown at Futuresonic in July, here are the pictures i took at the time. See it at Perimeters, Boundaries and Borders, CityLab, Lancaster (UK), from 29 September – 21 October, 2006. Organised by Fast-uk and folly.

If i were to go to ISEA this year (but i won't have to as Sascha is going to cover the event for the blog!), the one installation i'd rush to see would be Shawn Bailey and Jennifer Willet's Bioteknica Laboratory Remix with Teratological Prototypes, in collaboration with Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr of with Tissue Culture & Art Project.

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Bioteknica is a fictitious biotech corporation that projects its viewers into the future, where within a virtual laboratory designer organisms are generated on demand. The mock organisms produced are irrational and quite frightening. They are modelled on the Teratoma (comes from a Greek term meaning roughly "monster tumor"), a cancerous growth containing multiple tissues like hair, skin, teeth, and vascular systems. Monstrous as this may seem, teratomas are genetically identical to humans, making them key in cloning research. Several biotech companies have been working with teratomas for years, although public awareness of this is slight – for now.

Until 2003, Bioteknica was a purely multimedia production. During the summer of 2004, the artists further enhanced the slippage between fiction and reality by working with tissue culture protocols in the production of artwork as was pioneered by Tissue Culture & Art Project. With their assistance, Bailey and Willet practiced utilizing existing tissue culture technologies towards developing a series of "soft" sculptures. The organic sculptures were both fabricated from store-bought meats, and cultivated in the laboratory utilizing tissue-engineering technologies.

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The Bioteknica Laboratory Remix is a complex functional laboratory installation – built to sustain cellular life within the gallery environment. Utilizing tissue culture and tissue engineering technologies, the artists have developed a series of small sculptures (Teratological Prototypes) that will be grown live in the gallery environment with an accompanying installation, laboratory protocol performances, and video. To prepare the installation living cells have been extracted from the body of Shawn Bailey. The biopsy of dermis contains fibroblasts, viable keratinocytes, etc. They are used as primary cell source to be grown and proliferate in-vitro. Cells are placed in bioreactors and given fresh nutrient serum to allow them to develop. The complete prototype will be exhibited from August 7 in San Diego.

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Bioteknica Laboratory Remix both embraces and critiques evolving biotechnologies, considering the contradictions and deep underlying complexities that these technologies offer the present and future of humanity.

The 4 last pictures are video stills of Willet and Bailey preparing the Teratological Prototypes at SymbioticA. All images courtesy of Jennifer Willet.

I've always admired Bioteknica's attempts to break down the barriers between scientific research and the public and their effort to raise awareness about the research done by biotechnology companies and about how fragile life is. Their work is deeply grounded in scientific research and although Bioteknica is a parody of a corporation of the future, the work is not such a far cry from what is going on in research labs today.

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At Futuresonic, a couple of weeks ago, Anthony Dunne explained how the new department of Interaction Design he's now heading at the RCA in London could play a similar role by shifting away from their usual task of solving problems and making products ready to market. His "Design For Debate" talk was about imagining fictional spaces that would be relevant to our everyday life. The scenarios created shouldn't be shocking but slightly disturbing. He focuses on the role of designers to get the debate on biotechnology, and explained how designers can make tangible a technology that doesn't really exist (yet) in our daily life. He illustrated the concept with projects such as Victimless Meat, by James King, Jon Ardern's project (can't remember the name of it) that would explore the untapped market potential of in-vitro culture adult toys, the Evidence Dolls he created together with Fiona Raby for an exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and a last project which have kind of hauted me ever since i heard about it: Michael Burton's Memento Mori In Vitro is inspired by the Victorian fashion to keep hair of someone you love in a locket. Except that this time the hair of a deceased person would be kept alive. They would be fed at breakfast, washed regularly, you'd stroke them while watching TV, etc. Some might find it is spooky, others would say it's quite romantic. So what if the idea of romance was transformed by technology?

Related: Future Worlds: Better by design?, Bioart - Taxonomy of an Etymological Monster, Extra Ear 1/4 Scale, Victimless leather jacket.

4zach.jpgMy notes from Zach's Making the invisible visible, a talk that he also dubbed "How i came to loose all of my hair in the last 5 years."

"I travel a lot and never know what i should write or say when i'm asked about my occupation. "Artist" sounds too egotistical, so i'd prefer to define myself as a "researcher" as i feel that my artistic practice is a kind of research. I use technology to augment the body, the intellet and extend ourselves. Unlike other instruments, like guitars, computers are a relatively new tool, we've just started to explore their creative potential."

Together with Golan Levin, he has created TMEMA. A fisrt series of their projects revolves around the voice.

The Hidden Worlds of Noise and Voice (2002) was influenced by one of Czech animator Michaela Pavlatova's works Reci Reci Reci (means "Words, words, words"). The drawings make visible the words that goes out of the characters' mouth.

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The augmented-reality speech-visualization system reveals the relationship of speech to the ethereal medium which conveys it. Each of the six persons around a table wears special see-through data glasses (equipped with microphone and position sensor), which register and superimpose 3D graphics into the real world. When one of the users speaks or sings, colorful noodles appear to emerge from his or her mouth. The graphics are tightly coupled to the unique qualities of the vocalist's volume, pitch and timbre.

That same Summer they made a second project called RE:MARK. This time their enquiry is shifted towards a more symbolic representation of the spoken and written word. Sounds spoken into a pair of microphones are analyzed and classified by a phoneme recognition system. When a phoneme is recognized, the written name of the phoneme (for example, oh, ee, ah, etc.) is projected on the installation's display. If the user's sound is not recognized by the system's classifier, then an abstract shape is generated instead, based on the timbral characteristics of the vocalization.

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As the visitor speaks, the phonemes and forms appear to emerge from the shadow of the speaker's head. A computer-vision system permits the visitors to interact with the sound fourms by using the shadow of their own body.

After that Levin and Lieberman were wondering what the next step could be. The works were quite successfull in a museum context but what would a professional vocalist do with such instruments? They worked with Jaap Blonk and Joan La Barbara on a 40-minute long performance called Messa de Voce. Not a single word is uttered but the whole performance was about language and communication. A software transforms every vocal nuance into correspondingly complex and highly expressive graphics. While the voice-generated graphics become an instrument which the singers can perform, body-based manipulations of these graphics additionally replay the sounds of the singers' voices — thus creating a cycle of interaction that fully integrates the performers into an ambience consisting of sound, virtual objects and real-time processing.

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Liberman then briefly talked about Drawn, a performance/installation in which ink forms appear to rise off the page and interact with the very hands that drew them. The work explores the musicality of drawing by turning brushstrokes of ink into complex and energetic life forms. Video.

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Zach is currently looking into ways to use these technologies for in the classroom for children with profound multiple learning disabilites as part of a NESTA education grant. He's working on a low cost version of the installations, designing a software that uses motions as an input to interact with the children. The software is adjustable to have a relationship with the children. So far the kids like it, it's an empowering experience for them: they are unable to make big motions but they can see that they are able to control the whole installation.

Related: Golan Levin keynote at Cybersonica in 2005.

Interview of Zachary Lieberman: pintar la voz. Scroll down for english version.

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