Here's my notes of the talk that Atau Tanaka gave about Mobile Music: Creating New Musical Forms For New Infrastrucutres at Futuresonic. I was particularly thrilled to hear him talk as one of his works, Bondage, was my favourite piece at last year's edition of Ars Electronica.
Part of his current research draws on Mobile Music workshops held over three years and revolves around the concept of re-creating the experience of mobile music, making it more creative that its current market manifestations (mainly ringtones.)
Tanaka hopes to blend his expertise as an IA researcher and artist and come up with new applications for wireless infrastructures. Clearly the addition of iPod with mobile phone wasn't such a success. Motorola iTunes wasn't a commercial success, no mobile operator wanted to play, there was a lack of "vision" in the Motorola iTune product. In the 1970s, the walkman was used by many users to create a private sonic universe, it allowed them to live in their own sphere, isolated from their surrounding. Now, in the 2000s, we have the mobile phone. The device is inherently a networking tool, it facilitate communication and connection with others.
So on the one hand we have the personal sphere and on the other the networking device. What stands between the two? How can we use Human Computer Interaction, Mixed Reality technology and social software to conciate the two?
So far new mediums have led to new musics:
The iPod hasn't changed music, it has just added a convenience factor.
Muci mobility calls for interaction and connectivity. These two characteristics are absent from the iPod experience, although music inherently exhibits them because we play in groups, go to concerts together, share our favourite music with friends. Music is a living form of cultural expression, not a commodity to be sold and copied in a file system.
Tanaka wants to bring "musicking" to mobility. Musicking, a term coined by Christopher Small, is the activity of living out of music, of enjoying it in an active way.
Tanaka then gave an overview of his work to illustrate how he has so far explored the concepts of interaction and connectivity.
He first showed the BioMuse (1990-), a bioelectrical musical instrument that allows the performer to create music with muscular and neural activity. Tanaka was the first musician to be commissioned to work with the biomusical interface created at Stanford University. He used it during the performances of the Sensorband he formed in 1993 together with Zbigniew Karkowski and Edwin van der Heide. In this sensor instrument ensemble, there's no drummer, no singer, no guitar player. Each member uses his body as an instrument to play music. Tanaka plays the BioMuse. Karkowski plays an invisible cage of infrared beams that, when broken, trigger a sample of sounds. Van der Heide plays a MIDI conductor using joystick-like controls.
Ten years later, Cecile Babiole, Laurent Dailleau, and Tanaka created a dynamic sound/image environment called Sensors_Sonics_Sights. Using sensors and gestures, the trio create a work of sound and sight, a laptop performance that goes beyond with the intensity of bodies in movement. Cécile Babiole generates images ans uses ultrasound sensors, Tanaka plays BioMuse again and Laurent Dailleau plays the theremin.
Along with performances, Tanaka also worked on installations, one of them is Constellations that connects the physical space of a gallery to the imaginary space of the internet through sound and image. "Visitors in the gallery navigate an onscreen universe of planets, invoking audio to stream into the gallery. The planetary system is the interface to a library of soundfiles existing on servers throughout the internet. Each planet represents a contribution from a different composer. The sounds coming from the network space resonate in the acoustical space of the gallery, connecting these two universes."
In 2002, he worked with Kasper Toeplitz on the Global String, a musical instrument wherein the network is the resonating body of the instrument, through the use of a real-time sound-synthesis server.
The musical string spanned the world. Its resonance circles the globe, allowing musical communication and collaboration among the people at each connected site. A physical string is connected to a virtual string on the network, it stretches from the floor to the ceiling of the space. On the floor is one end-the earth. Up above is the connection to the network, to one of the other ends somewhere else in the world. Vibration sensors translate the analog pulses to digital data.
The projecy will use IA: using technology of sensors, accelerometer and gyroscope to allow for body imput. The system would use this live gesture and add it to the mobile device. All this would of course be enjoyed in a social context. Each member of a community of users would have such device and freely move (they can even be far away from each other). Three elements that form the chore of locative media will be integrated in the musical work: mobility, location awareness and social networking.
The final piece has already a name: Net_Derive and will be launched in Paris this Autumn (on October 6 and 7 at Maison Rouge, Paris). Net_Derive will be a piece of "Musicking mobility" that will extend IA music beyond stage and concert hall.
Last image from this PDF document.
The project combines different datasets in a single interface to reveal the rhythm of the city in real time. RTR aggregates mobility of people according to their mobile phone usage and visualizes it synchronously with the flux of public transit, pedestrians, and traffic to better understand patterns of daily life in Rome and show how technology can help individuals make more informed decisions about their environment.
The data of the movements of a mobile phone location will be anonymously visualized on a map. The algorithms used are able to spot the difference between a slow mobile phone in the pocket of a pedestrian or the phone of a driver stuck in one of Rome's monstruous traffic jams.
Using this instrument, one would be able to choose the fastest street to get to lunch but also the quietest restaurant. An analysis of country codes gives detailed information about the flow of tourists: where are Germans going? how do Japanese move in the city? Combining traffic and public transport data will help understand if the number of buses available matches the density and requirements of usage. Users would be able to check on their phone screen the nearest taxi or parking space.
Rome was chosen as test bed for the project because "in 1748, Nolli's map of Rome introduced modern cartography," explains Carlo Ratti, Director of senseable. "The maps of the future will be huge database that will enable us to extract fragments that suit our needs, like we can do today on Internet".
Maps of Rome.
For their Metal Phone project Jack Schultze and Matt Webb (blogo-famous for their Availabot work) have been using a low-melting point alloy to cast and recast a mobile phone shell using only hot air or water.
Metal Phone comes with a machine that melts and reforms a phone around the internals of a standard Nokia handset (the 5140i). The idea is to discuss the local factory angle of personalisation: Could purchasing a mobile phone be more like a performance of manufacture? Could it be more like a vending experience?
Using the Metal Phone is not meant to be a piece of cake. The phone is really heavy because it’s mostly lead so you’ll need strong pockets to carry it around. The metal reduces the effectiveness of the aerial so you’ll need to be closer to the transmitter. If you leave your mobile on the dashboard of your car on a hot day, you’ll come back to find the components in a pool of liquid metal. It’s not advisable to hold the phone in your hands for too long because cadmium is present in a low concentration.
The Nokia 5140i is an illusory object. Disconnected from the network when you’re underground, it becomes a lump of plastics and metals. Although safe in your hands, you wouldn’t want to eat the components. It, too, would lose its shape in an oven—in time, it would break apart anyway.
Metal Phone seeks to undermine the current experience of choosing a plastic replica fastened by a security tag to the wall of a handset outlet. The machine represents a vending model for fabrication of the phone in-store, extending the production line to the buyer’s palm. Metal Phone proposes and experience when consumers witness and participate in the fabrication of their products through novel techniques at the point-of-sale and subsequently.
Metal Phone is an extension of work for Chris Heathcote of Nokia, Insight Foresight Group (now NEXT) to develop prototypes exploring personalisation in mobile phones.
Graduation show of the IDII in Milan, project number 8.
Ana Camila Amorim's uni.me project is a mobile communication service that supports the user in the management of their social network and the definition of who, how and how much others can access to them and their information.
The main touch point of the service is the so-called "Presence Phone". Each element on the screen corresponds to a contact and its size represents the amount of communication shared between him/her and the device’s owner. Contacts are organized around tags.
Other people availability to you is visible by the color change of the bubbles. In case a contact is not on the visible area of the screen, you can search for it based on name or related tag. Several tags can be combined in order to reduce the number of results. Once you've found the contact, you can open the contextual menu where one of the options is ‘see details’.
The notification of missed communication appears in a pop-up window listing the missed events by chronological order. Events are identified in relation to the current time (e.g. 5 minutes. ago).
Incoming calls will be notified in full screen with clear information: name, photo, company logo, most recent tags (personal, automatic, local and communication) and last communication event.
Text messages can be responded through the dedicated inbox on the contact detail, by adding a field on top of the previews message. Other people can be added to this message and copies of it also appear on their inboxes.
uni.me comprises of:
1. Personal card
Each user is issued with a single ‘identifier’ that responds to all of his/her digital communication needs (voice, text). When initiating communication the caller/ sender uses a single ID and a distribution engine diverts it to the most convenient device according to the callee’s preferences.
Contact initiation can be done either by online invitation or card swapping. By accepting a uni.me card and approaching it to the phone, the receiver allows the link to be created. Each uni.me card has a RFID tag, that when in proximity to a NFC enabled device, validates the user in the card owner’s contact list.
2. Hot spots
uni.me also allows you to communicate their level of availability to different people according to your context and willingness to be reached. This definition can be done manually or automatically by defining different profiles that are activated during specific periods of the day, or by location awareness or other day to day events. RFID tags placed in different locations (working place, home, cinema, church, etc.) allow the phone to be aware of its environment and adjust accordingly.
Matt Adams started by giving a brief history of Blast Theory then explained with more details their latest work: The Day of the Figurines.
In the beginning, Blast Theory was particularly interested in British clubbing culture, they were trying to make out art in clubs in the early '90s. Clubbing at the time wasn't a branded activity like it is now (clubs selling their t-shirts and other "merchandising".) Matt background is in theater and he was interested in how people were staging themselves in clubs. In clubs you have a certain control: you can decide to be and stay a spectator or to be the center of attention, to become part of the show. Clubbing were a very fluid space. THe other main interested was: how do you find and build an audience? how does it form? Visual art is usually shown in galleries, galleries have their audience. Artist have a very personal dialogue with their work and get their audience via the gallery. So matt wanted to find other ways to find new audience.
This reflected also a political interest influenced by the Russian constructivism of the '20s and also by the radical forms of theatre that emerged in the 60s and 70s.
Matt wanted to see how culture could have a transformative role and to make art works which are not narrative. Stories have limits. None of us lives a linear life, our life is more fragmented. Looking for works which would be non-narratives while being also accessible for a broad public, he found out that there was already something out there that had these two qualities: Games!
Games are entertainable, readily understandable, interactive and non-narrative.
In the meantime, he had lost interest in clubs which had lost their fluidity.
Blast Theory's first attempt to use the street and mobile phones was Can You See Me Now?, commissioned in 2001 by the Art Council of England and the BBC. Why using mobile phones? in 1998-1999, the use of mobile phones was rising, they were becoming ubiquitous and thus became a new transformative technology. Internet is not as transformative as mobile phones. A small number of people have internet at home in some countries. Mobile phone is accessible, there's a very low barrier of entry (unlike the walkman which was a status symbol when it was launched). A study in the UK showed that the proportion of homeless people who own a mobile phone is higher than the proportion of people who have a home and a mobile phone. The mobile phone is also the first thing that immigrant buy when they arrive in the UK. The device is unusually well disiminated in our culture.
In 2000 and 2001, location and 3G were coming with all kinds of promises. Blast THeory wanted to come up with uses of these technologies which were not revolving around commerce and marketing (find the nearest McDonald's, etc.)
As Sadie Plant said "The mobile phone has privatized the phone book." It's an act of trust and reciprocity to give your phone number. In 2001, Blast Theory was thus looking for ways to address these factors. Matt Adams said the Can You see me now was rather primitive, it's a chase game in which online players and players in the streets compete against one another. Why such a simple format? Two reasons: the technical challenges were big and it was necessary to make players easily understand what was going on.
The game was developed in collaboration with the researchers of the Mixed Reality Lab in Nottingham.
People found the game very adrenaline-charged, even if they were only playing online. The walkie-talkie audio element made the game very compelling: listening to the player in the street struggling with traffic, snow, breathing heavier because he or she was running up a hill, etc. The audio element made the players feel intimately connected.
Blast Theory had some frustrations about the game: it was a short and specific experience, not intellectually engaging over a long period of time. The group wanted to extend this kind of experience, so they came up with Uncle Roy All Around You. The players are not competing anymore but collaborating to search the city for Uncle Roy. 20 players online and 12 players swapping information. Uncle Roy is always one step ahead and players never find him. They will finally get to his office but will have left already when they arrive there. Blast Theory ask people: if someone you don't know asks for your support, will you offer your help? They took the phone numbers of the people who said "yes" and gave each number to another person, saying that during one year that particular person would be there in case of need. Blast Theory was interested to see what kind of community they would be able to build like that. Two or three years ago people were not sure that it was safe to shop online, there's also still questions about trusting people on the net and in chatrooms. Matt Adams gave the example of suicide chatrooms. He commented in particular the famous example of Japanese chatrooms where depressed people get in touch with each other and arrange to meet and commit suicide together. Paradox: online space is accused of being hooribly corrupted, sick and twisted example of the worst internet can offer. On the other hand, many people around the world feel depressed and find confort in discussing with other people who feel the same and won't jude them.
Back to the mobile phone numbers swapped for Blast Theory's experiment: some people did meet as a result, other never used the number but kept it and felt a connection with the stranger out there who had agreed to be there in case they needed to talk to someone.
There was a frustration with Uncle Roy: developing works on phones is extremely difficult: mobile phones are hostile to people working on then and phone operator do not want you to mess around with the devices either. So for Uncle Roy, Blast Theroy was lending the phones. As they only had a small number of phones, the performace was always on a small scale.
Besides it's difficult to develop something new for every mobile phone that exists. You must make 32 types of the same ringtone to cover the different handsets. So for the Day of the Figurines, Blast theory had to use something that all mobile phones had in common: either the voice or the SMS. They chose the SMS.
Last July they tested the Day of the Figurines in London, at the Laban Center. They improved the game for Barcelona. The next Day of the Figurines performance will be in Berlin in September and it will last 24 days (only 3 days at Sonar.)
Blast Theory's concern is to let people play whenever they want to. They want to look at the culture of SMS: they can be either annoying or a welcome intrusion. FOr the new project, they wanted to keep the balance right. The goal is to have players regard the figurine as part of their life. Another concern was to make it simple, to let any kid break into the game and have fun with it. There's no more rule than necessary. For example, one of the players had decided that his figurine had stolen a BMW.
The game, set in a fictional gloomy town, unfolds over the three days of the Barcelona festival, each day representing an hour in the life of the town that shifts from the mundane to the cataclysmic: Scandinavian metallists play a gig at the Locarno that goes horribly wrong and a gunship of Middle Eastern troops appears on the High Street. How players respond to these events and to each other creates and sustains a community during the course of a single day in the town.
The centrepiece of the game is a 3.5 x 5 meter model town - at the Centre de Cultura Comtemporània de Barcelona - created using pop up metal buildings, overlaid with computer graphics.
Once there, you register, choose your figurine, give it a name, personalize it (kind of shoes it wears, favourite place when it was a kid, name, nickname) and your character is placed into the model town. Mine is a black lady with green boots, she's called Morphine and is in distress. Throughout the day, you get text messages from the game asking where you'd like to go in the town or how the figurine should react to the people it encounters and to some rather unpleasant situations. So far it's really compelling. My poor character started her adventure by being dropped by a truck at the edge of the town. So i made her run to the timber yard, but men in sharp suits are arriving with jerry cans. I decided to look for some timber to use as a weapon, etc.
Your tiny figurine, as well as those of the other players are moved by hand on the model town every hour for the duration of the game.
The game uses emergent behaviour and social dynamics as a means of structuring a live event. It invites players to establish their own codes of behaviour and morality within a parallel world. It plays on the tension between the intimacy and anonymity of text messages, building on previous projects such as Uncle Roy All Around You, I Like Frank and Can You See Me Now?
Just received an SMS that informs me that my figurine could only find a broom. But the shaft breaks and the thick nylon bristles sweep across the side of my face. What should i do?
Blast Theory will be speaking tonight, at 7, at the Art Centre Santa Monica. Just before them, there will be a talk by Jose Luis de Vicente then by Michelle Teran. The full day 24 day version of Day Of The Figurines will be launched in Berlin in Septembre.