The Creative Interactions - The MobileMusicWorkshop 2004 - 2008 book is out and every bit as excellent and informative as the annual workshop itself.

Slideshow of screenshots i made from the book:

The publication, edited by Nicolaj Kirisits, Frauke Behrendt, Lalya Gaye and Atau Tanaka, celebrates 5 years of Mobile Music Workshop.

Each year, the Mobile Music Workshop gathers artists, academics, designers, industry representatives and academics who come and present their latest projects and discuss the way ubiquitous computing has been modifying the consumption, sharing and creation of music over the past few years. The adventure started a few years ago with a bunch of pre-walkman-phones and pre-iPhones artists and researchers who were exploring the intersection between mobility, music and the awareness of space. Flipping through the pages of the book, you realize how MMW has grown into a unique community made of creative, inventive, fun and edgy people who will take you from a Tango Intervention to a sonification of the poetic art of cycling, an orchestra made of phones swinging above the heads of the players or the synaesthetic sonification of traveling landscapes. I only attended the 2007 edition but gosh, was it great!

The book collects all the projects presented over the workshops that ran from 2004 to 2008: title, abstract, bio of the artist(s) and some pictures. Super simple, clear and fascinating.

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Performance by Michel Waisvisz (photo)

This way to order the book. And while you wait for the volume to be shipped, here's a PDF of the proceedings of the latest MMW to keep you busy.

p.s. there's a page about me which i didn't write. I never sent my notes from the talk (i never have any notes, it is almost impossible to get me to write anything outside of this blog). So someone else had to invent something to fill in the blank i left. I wish this embarrassingly nice text about me didn't exist but my legendary laziness is the only one that should be blamed for its existence.

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Anna Dumitriu is the Director of the Institute of Unnecessary Research and an artist whose work is deeply grounded into scientific research. I met her a few weeks ago at the Mobile Music Workshop in Amsterdam where she was presenting Bio-Tracking, a mobile phone based exhibition using GPS and a software called Socialight which enabled the placement of virtual sticky notes around various locations in Brighton.

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Anna sampled various locations in the city for bacteria and moulds, revealing this unseen world to us through digital micrographs. Luciana Haill, Ian Helliwell Ollie Glass and Juliet Kac created a series of sound works to accompany the images. Microbiologist John Paul wrote scientific text descriptions of the microbes.

The use of GPS, to map the locations where the microbiological swabs were taken, brought together the microscopic and the macroscopic, drawing a thread between the satellites orbiting the earth and the bacteria at our feet.

Visitors could download the software and wander around the sites receiving SMS, sound files and images to their phones. Due to the nature of Socialight the exhibition is still live and can be viewed now.

I was so impressed by Anna's enthousiasm and the sense of poetry she brings to an invisible world which i would otherwise find as exciting as a citrus juicer that i asked her to give us more details about her work:

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The Bio-tracking Walk Source

How did you get interested in bacteria?

I've always been fascinated with microscopic forms, I think from childhood, but about 12 years ago a key area of research for me was the notion of immortality, that led me to an interest in cell biology, looking at immortalised cell lines such as HeLa Cells and I was invited to do a short residency at St Georges Hospital in London in their Clinical Genetics lab, I became increasingly interested in the differences between our media generated notions about science and the deeper story we don't normally get to hear about. The world of normal flora microbiology is really astonishing, to me it's sublime, there are more bacteria on the end of your finger than there are people in the world, I can't really get my head around that.

You told me (if i remember well) that you collaborated with scientists to develop your project. How do you think they perceive your work? Were they interested in your experiments?

Microbiologists seem to love my work because I am studying the things that they don't get to study. You don't become a microbiologist without the same fascination that I have for the microbial world but because of funding and other restrictions they aren't able to study the normal flora. Clinical Microbiology studies that 1% or so of bacteria that can make us ill, the ones I study are considered to be 'of no commercial or medical interest', it's the needle in a haystack thing, there might be something in that haystack worth looking scientifically at but you'd have to go through a huge amount of hay first, it won't produce the quick results or the scientific papers needed to secure funding.

0aabact56.jpgEpistemologically it's an interesting issue, where do we draw the line about what is studied? Money draws that line. But art is judged in other ways by funders, a questioning of our epistemology can be an important issue, the aesthetics of the work, the way the public is engaged is important (in terms of Arts Council England who fund alot of my work), so I can be funded to look at this area as an artist. In terms of scientific support I've been working with Eastbourne District General Hospital (through Arts in Healthcare) and The Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton as well as a number of other collaborators and institutions. The use of digital media is also important to me (I'm looking at looking computer modelling of bacteria and artificial life technology) and I am currently Artist in Residence at The Centre for Computational Neuroscience and Robotics at Sussex University, one of the leading Artificial Life research groups in the world, which is an amazing experience.

I should mention here that I am absolutely an artist, I don't consider myself a scientist, or a hybrid. My relationship to science is that I would rather not collaborate (actually I am not sure if that's entirely true), but what I mean is that I don't feel an artist is fully able to respond to scientific information without a proper knowledge of that subject. I am very hands on, I do all my own lab work (to me it's part of the making) and I am studying clinical microbiology as part of my (Fine Art) PhD, so rather than a superficial engagement with the concepts (a few chats with a scientist where an artist hears about some 'cool' ideas and goes about representing them) I'm basically trying to understand the issues and concepts from the inside and respond to them as an artist in the most informed way. There are equally valid arguements for remaining an outsider, I accept that, and interesting work is being made in that way but it's not how I want to go about it, not something that would achieve the results I am looking for.

I feel very strongly about engaging with the widest possible audience and use my skills to get these issues and concepts out to the public, I don't like the way that scientific language almost seems designed to be incomprehensible (or incommensurable), I believe anyone has the ability to understand anything if it is explained properly. Creating threads and networks of knowldege fascinates me, like bringing crocheters and scientists together to crochet a bed cover based on the light microscopy of the bacteria on my bed. It's a learning curve for everyone but the results, in terms of both the personal exchanges that take place and the resulting art object it's very worthwhile.

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Bio-tracking: Using the GPS and Playing the sound works

How much in general do you think that the science world can learn from the art world and vice-versa?

As far as I'm concerened the "claim to truth" that science has made since the Enlightenment is really now open to question. Notions of rational empiricism seem to be under attack as unachievable. The phenomenological relationship of the experimenter to the experiment is now becoming increasingly key. The ability of art to express multiple layers of meaning, from the analytical and the philosophical to the emotional makes it an ideal method to investigate knowledge within this new paradigm, acting, I believe, as a form of meta-knowledge.

Thanks Anna!

Still trying to catch up with my notes from the Mobile Music Workshop. I doubt that i'll manage to post everything, the workshop's blog and flickr account and tag might be helpful if you want to fill in the blanks.

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Yolande Harris and gps trace of a boat on anchor

One of my favourite talks was Yolande Harris' presentation of Taking Soundings - Investigating Navigations and Orientations in Sound. During her presentation she explained how she connected live sounds to a gps receiver and discovered that although the gps doesn't move the sounds revealed changes in the reading of the satellite. She then mapped the traces of these sound over a certain period of time and it turns out that although the device is static, the readings indicate movements over relatively large distances. In such context, a building seems to be a "mobile" entity. Which leads to questions such as what does the word "mobile" actually mean? Is the entire system actually floating?
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Atau Tanaka, Guillaume Valadon and Christophe Berger presented their paper Social Mobile Music Navigation Using The Compass, an interface that seeks to fuse elements of proximal interaction, geographic localization and social navigation to allow groups of wifi-equipped phone users to intuitively find friends, network connectivity or new music. Precursors of the project include TunA and Push!Music, Malleable Mobile Music, net_derive. Compass would facilitate music sharing tendencies witnessed when students use bluetooth or IR to exchange music on their mobile phones. A user of Compass seeking music to listen to would turn to its Compass to seach for friends who might be nearby. The user selects which friend he wants to contact and follows the Compass direction to walk within range of his or her friend. The system will then propose the two users to bootstrap a proximal network. Once this spontaneous private network is established, the two users compare playlists based on various musical criteria. A song of interest to the first user is then copied using the phone Wifi connectivity.

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Dan Wilcox demoed the robotcowboy, a human­computer mobile performance that consists of a “one ­man band? wearable computer system which allows him to perform computer-based music without being tied down by the computer on stage. It is composed of a computer and input devices such as midi controllers, game controllers, and environmental sensors.

Wilcox' paper (PDF) mentions previous music projects that focused on soundwalk such as Sonic City, Sonic Interface, Bodycoder - a body sensor array which controls live sounds through Max/MSP environment, the MIT musical jacket, and CosTune (PDF) - a wireless jam session with users wearing mobile gestural instruments such as gloves, jacket and pants.

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Bernhard Garnicnig and Gottfried Haider took us to the nearby park for a demonstration of Craving, a Spatial Audio Narrative. Wearing headphones and a portable computer equipped with a software that determines their position via GPS, users can listen to voices and sounds placed in precise locations.

Image of the robotcowboy stolen from Christophe Berger's flickr stream.

0crackelmich.jpgNow i'm back home, i can finally sum up some mental strength and blog the rough notes i took during Michel Waisvisz' fascinating presentation at the Mobile Music Workshop last week. One of the co-founders of STEIM which co-hosted the MMW, Waisvisz is a composer/performer of live electronic music, who has invented new ways to achieve physical touch with electronic music instruments, for example by literally touching the electricity inside the instruments. Forget all i've ever written about my favourite artist/researcher/designer/nightcream, this guy is officially my new hero. He illustrated his quest to find and develop a physical relationships with electronic musical instrument by performing an improvised electronic piece using The Hands, an interface he conceived in the early 1980s. The aluminum plates worn like some kind of gloves contain touch sensitive keys, thumb pressure sensors, and tilt and proximity sensors. Both large overt body motions and small fingertip control influence the music. His demo showed how the sound and words he made in the microphone could be transposed, scratched and re-arranged. If you pronounce a sentence very clearly you can navigate details of the words on the go.

0crakotapppe.jpgIn the '60s, when he was a teenager he would do some musical experiments with his brother: putting a piano upside down and playing the isntrument just by touching his strings or they would stick a trumper in a bucket of soap and discover interesting sounds.

He showed us a fantastic picture of him becoming literally a tape reading machine using "The TapePuller" instrument (image on the right). He was live sampling, scratching 2 tape heads using footpedals. He'd pull one forward with a foot to create music while rewinding the other tape unheard of the public with the other foot.

He discussed his fascination for the VC3, a synthetiser that can be used without a keyboard, adding that the idea of the keyboard comes from church music and thus carries a series of connotations with it. He bought a Putney VC3 synthesiser, opened its back and put his fingers inside. He thus used the body to extend the circuitry and modified the sound in ways he found interesting. The manipulations gave him the feeling that the sound was floating in the room and that he could grab it. He decided that instead of opening the instrument back he should better customize it. This was the inspiration for what later became the CrackleBoxes. he was fascinated by the idea of a human being who is turned into a variable electronic conductor/resistor, and a thinking [wet] element of the musical instrument. This idea of changing the circuitry by using body conductivity has now been patented by Microsoft!

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The theremin, developed by Russian inventor Léon Theremin in 1919, was the first musical instrument that really engaged the body.

In 1973, Waisvisz arrived at STEIM and worked on the Crackleboxes, handheld instruments based on the same principle of body conductivity. Still in the mid '70s, he took STEIM on the road for a Cracko exhibition in a gallery in the South of France.

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All sort of Crackle objects could be manipulated by children. It was such a success that many other exhibitions followed. Among the artefacts (some of which are re-invented by young interaction designers and shown today at events such as the Milan Furniture fair) shown were phones that distorts your voice according to the strength you use to squeeze the receiver; a musical bike which generator was connected to speakers instead of the lights; a series of connected crackle boxes that makes melodies when you pour some tea in the cups; a cuckoo clock producing scratchiy sounds, etc. The favourite being a Cracko Jail that only opens when you find the right musical combination. This cracko mania gave way to the "Crackle family of the future" who creates music by eating out of empty plates. The sounds came from the loudspeakers in the pots. Changes of sound were controlled by putting the spoons and forks deeper in their mouths. Their children created music by pouring tea in cups. The tea comming out of the pot connected the circuits of the pot and the cups; the amount of tea influenced the musical sounds.

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In 1981, he was performing the first part of a concert of Brian Eno in Bologna. He thought he couldn't compete so he unleashed a robot among the public on the Piazza Magiore. The robot was running around and transmitting music among the audience.

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He mentioned several projects that investigate this (still under-developed) physical relationship with musical instruments: Jon Rose's Hyperstring bow; Nicolas Collins' "trombone-propelled electronics", the Lady's Glove by Laetitia Sonami.

Another of Waiswizs' famous projects is the Web where each thread in the spiderweb-like instrument is a sensor. People can play it and manipulate the timbre in a very intuitive way by grabbing the strings. The first prototype is still at the Science Museum in London. He made a version for kids where each thread corresponds to the sound of an animal. According to the way you grab the thread, the sound is modulated and morphs toward the sound of a human being imitating that animal.

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A last work he mentioned is Kristina Andersen's'ensemble, a suitcase full of sounds and clothes. Seven garments are fitted with wireless sensors that control sound samples and their modifiers in real time. The sensors are fitted in the garments in such a way that the function of the sensor is conceptually supported by the form-factors of the garment. The dress holds an accelerometer, the hat tilt switches etc. The garments are using hacked and modified game-pads as wireless signal carriers (images).

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A Cracke Box and The Hands

Many people are now experimenting with touch interfaces. Waisvizs's own research is more "crude." There are now better tools and better softwares around so he and STEIM are moving into a new research area which explores the way effort and energy can be harness to create new musical experiences.

0martinpucilj.jpgMartin Pichlmair's presentation of TRATTI - A Noise Maker for Children at the Mobile Music Workshop. I blogged about that piece a while ago but it was great to listen to the "behind the scene" stories.

One of Laura Beloff, Erich Berger and Martin Pichlmair's previous work was the inspiration: the Seven Mile Boots, a pair of interactive shoes with audio allowing their wearer to wander through virtual space.

Tratti would have been something similar but in a more musical way. However, they decided that the project would involve too much (fragile) technology for kids' boots.

They opted instead for an amplifier of noise made by children. New feature: according to the colour in front of which the child is, the noise modification will be different. In front of something red, they can record noise; blue plays samples slower, yellow plays them faster, green is for reverse, and something black will silence the Tratti.

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Another source of inspiration was Toshio Iwai's sound lens, a portable device that turns light into sound.
At some point they realized that the piece looked too much like a design or commercial product which wasn't good as the grant they had received was a media art one. Unlike Japan which has no fear of producing works that mixes both fine art and product qualities, Occident doesn't have any device art culture.

0intonerssss.jpgPichlmair then had a look at the use of megaphone and hornspeaker in art. Because of all its political implications, the megaphone is often used more as a statement than as an amplification device. Some of the works he mentioned:

Futurist's "noise-machines" or "intoners" (intonarumori), for use in avant-garde musical compositions that were aimed at working against the musical heritage. Each made a preset "roaring, bubbling or bursting" noise when its handle was operated.

Benoît Maubrey's Audio Jacket and Audio Peacock.

Mark Bain's Acoustic Sound Gun which amplifies what it ears in just one direction.

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Other pieces: Troika's Exploded Monologues and Tool for Armchair Activists, Fur's Earworm Assault Devices.

Frauke's notes on Martin's talk.

We had 3 yesterday: TokTek, alias Tom Verbruggen, The HandyDandy and Cathy van Eck's Hearing Sirens.

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The Handydandy (Bernhard Bauch, Florian Waldner, Gordan Savicic, Julia Staudach, Luc Gross, Nicolaj Kirisits) made a pretty fun gig by playing music on their mobile phones as if they were rock guitars. The phones, used only as interfaces, are connected via Bluetooth to a computer network, a virtual opposite to the "human network" music-band.

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TokTek's performance blew everyone's mind. The artist explores new modes of interaction in live performance. He structures the unbridle clicks and cuts of his circuit bend gadgets to a fragile disturbance. Sampling with a joystick Tom creates unlogic dynamic compositions. Started by playing an old vinyl of lessons of french, then went wild with buttons, keyboards and knobs, later grabbed a joystick, then had a go at a guitar, kid's toys, etc.

0moedercak.jpgBy looking for information about Tom Verbruggen online i discovered another of his work called Moederkoek, which translated is mother-cake but refers in English to the placebo. Tom performs while his mother bakes a cake in a self-assembled kitchen. Tom samples his mum's baking and the sounds its produces in real-time to realize an improvised composition. At the end of the performance, the cake is baked and served to the audience.

He also creates installations such as the Crack-Canvas. Using STEIM crackle box hardware, the artist has created paintings that produce sound. Each painting can produce sound by itself but when connected with other paintings forms a ‘painting orchestra’. By connecting cables between the paintings, the sound changes, while the cables length, colour and form, form a drawing on the wall or in the space the paintings are hanging.

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Crack Canvas and Crackle Canvas

In the live version of the ‘Crackle-Canvas’, Tom invites the public to grab the cables and make their own compositions.

Tom Verbruggen is part of the New Interfaces for Performances programme.

Images of The HandyDandy performance and of TokTek's.

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