Sonic Bike Hacklab Part 2: FM accelerometer transmissions

[Continued from part 1] On day one, after we introduced the project and the themes we wanted to explore, Ryan Jordan had a great idea of how to prototype the bike-bike communication using FM radio transmissions. He quickly freeform built a short range FM transmitter powered by a 9v battery.

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The next thing we needed was something to transmit – and another experiment was seeing how accelerometers responded during bike riding on different terrains. I’d been playing with running the fluxa synth code in Android native audio for a while, so I plugged the accelerometer input into parameters of a simple ring modulation synth to see what would happen. We set off with the following formation:

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The result was that the vibrations and movements of a rider were being transmitted to the other bikes for playback, including lots of great distortion and radio interference. As the range was fairly short, it was possible to control how much of the signal you received – as you cycled away from the “source cyclist”, static (and some BBC radio 2) started to take over.

We needed to tune the sensitivity of the accelerometer inputs – as this first attempt was a little too glitchy and overactive, the only changes really discernible were the differences between the bike moving and still (and it sounded like a scifi laser battle in space). One of the great things about prototyping with android was that we could share the package around and run it on loads of phones. So we went out again with three bikes playing back their own movements with different synth settings.

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Fluxus at Falmouth University

On Friday Cornwall Locative Arts Network, Cornwall Creative Skills and I took over The Academy for Innovation & Research at Falmouth University with a Fluxus workshop, teaching creative coding via recursive procedural 3D modelling for people new to programming. The thing I like most about Scheme as a programming language is that you can very quickly cover the fundamentals of programming (naming values and processes, recursion, and scope) in a 2 hour course with very little time spent on learning syntax or other fiddly things. We had a great spread of attendants, from local artists and designers to lecturers and PhD students, everyone ending up with their own animated procedural shapes.

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This was followed by the Cornwall Locative Arts Network meeting at which I presented with Tom Goskar, a digital archaeologist, who uses 3D graphics in fascinating ways to read inscriptions and patterns in ancient monuments. I talked about borrowed scenery, doris and sonic bikes and discussed using ushahidi and beagleboards in artistic and scientific projects.

Later on we were invited by Jowan Sebastian Parker to experience Falmouth University’s MakerNow Lab which is opening soon, providing laser cutters, 3D printers and an electronics workshop. I’m hoping to find time to make extensive use of the lab in the not too distant future! The photo above is of their ‘synths on postcards’ example project.

Random notes from the Live Code Festival, Karlsruhe

During his talk at the live code festival Karlsruhe 2013, David Ogborn (to paraphrase from my faulty memory) said that livecoding seems a very current thing, that something about it seems to be in the air, so much of what we are doing seems to stick and thrive like a form of bacteria.

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Yorgos Diapoulis talking about his minimal interface for live hardware coding.

This festival made it obvious that communities surrounding livecoding are thriving, with representation from Australia, Mexico and Canada as well as European regions and accordingly a wild variety of approaches, techniques and styles that now make up livecoding. The symposium was fundamentally a celebration of this and a chance to experience the diversity directly.

From my scrappy notes and in no particular order, Andrew Brown focused on a describing livecoding technique as an interplay between ‘complexity and succinctness’ in the context of musical research involving data mining large quantities of musical material. Here, as in many issues of creativity in livecoding, the critical decision is where to abstract away details in order to provide a usable and flexible creative environment. His approach is to look for patterns in musical data in order to provide a ground truth, and then make subjective decisions based on practice and performance to build a livecoding interface. Andrew mapped out other useful dichotomies we battle with such as the tension between modelling and simulations of creative understanding vs inspiration, which can come from many places.

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A rare appearance of Click Nilson (the British tabloid press was unfair to him.)

Catching up with the rapid development of the phenomenon that is Benoit and the Mandelbrots, their side project “Delbots and the man” is a doomcore livecoding band involving a live drummer – a promising new sonic direction for livecoding. Also on a more technical level their drop function provides a means to allow code to be executed simultaneously in all performers machines, used as a way to accelerate or amplify ‘from scratch’ livecoding techniques in groups.

Propelling livecoding into the chaotic world of web development, Chad McKinney‘s project Lich.js is a new general purpose programming language for browser based livecoding, built on top of javascript. The recent explosion of programming languages based on/built with javascript is due to the fact that it’s interpreter is available everywhere, and this will be (IMHO) increasingly be where livecoding happens in the future.

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Section 9 live coded both progressive and recursive house, simultaneously.

In contrast, Andrew Sorenson demonstrated the potential to provide liveness and ‘hot swapping’ of code down to the lowest computing levels with Extempore, which can now run on a large number of architectures and levels of concurrency, and now generates code approaching the efficiency of C compilation in many situations.

More reports on the festival, and associated Algorave events to follow.

Little J at the Book and Print Sandbox

Pictures from the Book and Print Sandbox workshop in Bristol’s Pervasive Media Studio – a meeting of 8 projects commissioned by React, of which Little J is one. This was an opportunity to get together with the other people involved in the wider project, and try out each other’s prototypes.

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algoravin in the UK

A short trip around the UK for slub over the last couple of days, a livecoding gig in London at Bartlett Nexus in UCL at an event concerning architecture, games and hand made technology. A full video of the event (with us at the end) is here.

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Also collected along the way, a photo of the xname manufacturing lab:
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Then up to Birmingham to attend the Network Music Festival and do another performance late on Saturday night. While there we had a chance to meet the members of The Hub, pioneers of networked music and livecoding. It was inspiring to chat with such experienced musicians in this field. The NMF included a huge range of performances, for example Melatab who used Kinect cameras for networked performance in a shared virtual space. I’m planning some Kinect hacking soon, so I took some photos:

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/* vivo */ musings

So much to think about after the /* vivo */ festival, how livecoding is moving on, becoming more self critical as well as gender balanced. The first signs of this was the focus of the festival being almost entirely philosophical rather than technical. Previous meetings of this nature have involved a fair dose of tech minutiae – here these things hardly entered the conversations.

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One of the significant topics for discussions was put under the spotlight by Iohannes Zm̦lnig Рwho are the livecoding audience, what do they expect and how far do we need to go in order to be understood by them? Do we consider the act of code projection as a spectacle (as in VJing) or is it Рas Alex McLean asserts Рmore about authenticity, showing people what you are doing, what you are interacting with, and an honest invitation? Julian Rohrhuber and Alberto De Campo discussed how livecoding impacts on our school education conditioning, audiences thinking they are expected to understand what is projected in a particular didactic, limited manner (code projection as blackboard). Livecoding could be used to explore creative ways of compounding these expectations to invite changes to the many anti-intellectual biases in our society.

Luis Navarro Del Angel presented another important way of thinking about the potential of livecoding – as a new kind of mass creativity and participation, providing artistic methods to wider groups than can be achieved by traditional means. This is quite close to my own experience with livecoding music, and yet I’m much more used to thinking about what programming offers those who are already artists in some form, and familiar with other material. Luis’s approach was more focused on livecoding’s potential for people who haven’t found a form of expression, and making new languages aimed at this user group.

After some introductory workshops the later ones followed this philosophical thread by considering livecoding approaches rather than tools. Alex and I provided a kind of slub workshop, with examples of the small experimental languages we’ve made like texture, scheme bricks and lazybots, encouraging participants to consider how their ideal personal creative programming language would work. This provides interesting possibilities and I think, a more promising direction than convergence on one or two monolithic systems.

This festival was also a reminder of the importance of free software, it’s role to provide opportunities in places where for whatever reasons education has not provided the tools to work with software. Access to source code, and in the particular case of livecoding, it’s celebration and use as material, breeds independence, and helps in the formation of groups such as the scene in Mexico City.

Execution: a solo exhibition by Martin Howse

Some images of Martin Howse’ solo exhibition at the Fish Factory (Falmouth’s experimental gallery/reclaimed art space).

This exhibition consists of dot matrix printouts, large scale plotter prints, photographs, German VHS cassettes and a mass of technology – and clearly focuses on how it interferes with us physically though our bodies, and in a wider scale through our geography via mapping and recording experiments. His work is presented here without explanation, which means it must be taken on face value – quite a challenge as so much of the material he’s working with is invisible, or hidden inside both intricate custom devices and reclaimed/adapted circuitry from various sources.

It’s a challenge I like a lot, and equally intriguing is the difficulty in detecting ‘edges’ of the different exhibits on display. Extensive use of EM radiation (transmission and reception) means the whole thing seems to be alive, working as a whole – signals spilling over into each other, with surging, clicking and roaring. Moving close to a massive coil, the attached drill becomes activated by the circuitry on my camera when I take a picture, and doesn’t calm down till I move away. Video documentation shows how devices recorded signals from the surrounding landscape were used to generate the images on the walls of the gallery.

The devices are also communicating with the heavy industrial activity outside in the ship repair dockyard. The muted vibrations of hammering seemed be communicating with the tattooing device controlled by process information from an attached Linux laptop.

Live notation at the Arnolfini

I was honoured to take part in the live notation unit’s event at the Arnolfini on Friday, and to perform with Alex McLean and Hester Reeve in the evening.

Live notation is a project exploring connections between Live Art and Live Coding, both art forms revolving around performance, but with very different cultures and backgrounds.

The day started with workshops. The first one by Yuen Fong Ling played with the power structures inherent in Life Drawing. We tried breaking some conventions, instead of everyone drawing the same model – one scenario involved arranging the easels in a line where one person drew the model and everyone else copied the previous person in line. This ‘drawing machine’ resulted in an intriguing pictorial version of “Chinese whispers”. The second workshop involved programming choreography live via drawing and an overhead projector, firstly with workshop leader Kate Sicchio as the dancer, and then more and more livecoders joining in until the roles were reversed.

The performances consisted of a mix of live art and livecoding, and also served to demonstrate the breadth of approaches that these art forms represent – Wrongheaded performed a spectacular livecoding invasion of religious ritual, while Kate Sicchio followed beautiful instructions she’d received a couple of hours before interpreting Nicholas Poussin’s painting ‘The Triumph of David’ using brightly coloured silks. Thor Magnusson unleashed a sub bass rumbling agent driven visual approach to livecoding with a very considered minimal performance. As an audience member, I think livecoding needs a dose of cross fertilisation with related areas, especially if they are outside of the computer music sphere – we can think more about our roles, the situation and less about the mechanics. As a performer, I’m still processing (and waiting for photos) and will write a bit more on our performance in a few days.

SuperCollider Symposium

I had a great couple of days at the SuperCollider symposium, starting with a gameboy performance with Till Bovermann and ending with a talk on BetaBlocker with him and Tom Hall. As an outsider to the community (I have contributed code, but I’m not a regular user of Supercollider) it was interesting to pick up on the threads and burning issues of the scene.

Our performance went well, and I found it oddly satisfying to continually dismantle all repetitive dancable structures as they emerged in order to keep up with Till’s more fluid style. We were both running the Betablocker virtual machine, but using it in very different ways – I was running a single one at 4 or 5 cycles per second inside the DS, Till was running many at 44100 cycles per second inside Supercollider.


Photos by Steve Welburn

I also had a chance to experience Benoit and the Mandelbrots for the first time – both in livecoding performance and finding out more about their software during their talk. It seems that livecoding is very active with a lot of new approaches being tried – for example extensive use of text chat for communication during performances. Also I found out about BeeNoir an amazing hexagonal beehive sound installation made by the Mandelbrots which was inspired by Al Jazari!

One of the hightlights of the event was Takeko Akamatsu of CraftWife fame initiating a 5 minute code-off competition between Click Nilson, MCLD, redfrik and Juan Mandelbrot (including a fully loaded water pistol) during her keynote talk.

You can read about some of the other things at the conference on this BBC article. Thanks to Dan Stowell and the team for all the hard work putting on the symposium.

Serious Play at FoAM

Last weekend it was the annual FoAM gathering to discuss long term ideas, some self reflection and consideration of external perceptions. We were guided on this mission by Simone Poutnik and Hendrik Tiesinga, members of FoAM and founders of Natural Innovation. They decided to trial a new method on us all, Lego Serious Play. Now, I’m a bit battle hardened when it comes to alternative business management strategies as I’ve been exposed to quite a few in various places over the years, but despite Lego’s high scoring buzzword bingo website, I can independently verify this approach as very much a success.

You start by building personal models that represent different aspects of the organisation in various states, and then work as a group to bring them together in different ways. This is done in a structured way, leading to certain questions at different stages of the process.

The core idea was to “think with your hands” and indeed the normal problem you get in these situations, a tricky question leading to an utterly blank mind, was removed as soon as you started searching for plastic bricks. Things seemed to build themselves in some way, the increasing scarcity of bricks requiring ever greater degrees of metaphor. The indirect method of having to explain your odd constructions (usually in quite an abstract way) said a lot more than I would have managed in a more traditional situation.