Well, now. Google is sponsoring an event they call “DevArt” – as in “Developer Art” – that will lead to one artist being chosen to join a major exhibition at The Barbican in London. One of these days, one of these days….
I am an experimental psychologist and data analyst with a bent for poetry and art. I have also long been a fan of the Greek poet Sappho. Consequently, for my final project in my independent studies course on Max/MSP/Jitter, I decided to create a small piece of programmed art based on her work. I took one of her poetry fragments – written in Greek about 2500 years ago – and three modern translations of it, by Jim Powell, Kenneth Rexroth, and Sam Hamill, respectively. The patch is only minimally interactive in that the user simply presses “Start” but there is a lot of coding underneath that. This first YouTube video is a demonstration of the finished patch:
This second YouTube video provides a technical walkthrough of the project:
Here’s the text version of that explanation (more or less). I wanted to have audio recordings of the three versions of the poem. Because I could and because I thought it would make a nice contrast with the extreme earthiness of the poem, I decided to use computer voices. I chose three of the voices that come with Macintoshes: Tom, Vicki, and Whisper. For each poem, I put the text in TextEdit and, in the TextEdit > Services menu, chose “Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track.” (I think I added that function at some point but I can’t remember when or from whence it came.) From there I converted each of the computer voice recordings from the default iTunes AAC format to a more-Max-friendly AIFF format and added them to the same folder as the Sappho patch.
In order to control the playback of the various items, I created a qlist object that would contain all the timing information and remote sends to the various objects. In each case, this started the background sounds first (for 5 seconds) and then the voice recordings (about 10 seconds), with the background continuing for about 10 more seconds after that.
Variation 1 uses Seashore sounds (MIDI 123) because, you know, Sappho lived on an island. These wave sounds are all the same length (3 seconds) but they start at randomized times (2-7 seconds apart) and play with randomized velocities/volumes (50-80 on a 0-127 scale). Those variations make the artificial MIDI waves sound a little more realistic.
Variation 2 uses a Greek instrument, Pan flutes (MIDI 76), to plays loops of a descending scale, as descending is more in line with the melancholy feel of the poem. The scale is D minor for two reasons: the minor scales are identical to the Greek Aeolian scales and, as we learned from Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap, “D minor… is the saddest of all keys, I find. People weep instantly when they hear it, and I don’t know why.” The MIDI notes for the scale are contained in a coll object and are referenced in a looping manner by a counter object. Like the waves in Variation 1, the notes in the descending scale start at randomized times (1-3 seconds apart) but stay in order and have randomized velocities/volumes (20-50). In addition, a message of “1” that connects the toggle and the counter object makes sure that the scale always starts at the top note.
Variation 3 concludes the performance with music that I personally performed and recorded. There are two music elements playing simultaneously: (1) MIDI keyboard of a zither playing in an Enharmonic Mixolydian scale, and (2) an toy plastic flutophone. The most complicated part of this patch was the routing necessary to make it possible to randomly select and start one of the three recordings in each element while still allowing the qlist to serve as a master on/off control. This was accomplished with dual toggles and gates for each element.
As a note, the keyboard part of Variation 3 was possible using Tom Mudd’s Just Intonation Toolkit, which is an application developed in Max/MSP that makes it possible to play several variations of justly tuned scales. (The video below is a short demonstration of this software.)
I have a lot of possibilities for expanding this project in the future, hence the “v. 01” label. Stay tuned for more!
My final project for my independent studies course in Jitter was to revisit a dance piece called “Hello World” that my wife, choreographer Jacque Bell, and I created back in October of 2012 for Repertory Dance Theatre here in Salt Lake City, Utah. (You can see an entry with still image and links to reviews here or another with a video of the performance here.) My major goal for this project was to explore the possibilities of Max/MSP/Jitter (with an emphasis on the latter…) for use in future dance and technology pieces, especially Dance Loops, the major project that Jacque, Nichole Ortega, and I are working on for this year and next.
I did two major things for this Jitter project:
Overall, it was a lot of fun and I think there’s a lot of potential there. I’ll spend the next several months learning ways to work out the kinks in the patch, as not everything worked reliably, and learning how to use other hardware, such as my Kinects, Novation Launchpads, Akai APC40 and 20, KMI Softstep and QuNeo, as well as the projectors, etc. (That’s the nice thing about grant money – you can get some excellent gear!)
The major lesson is that it is much, much, much easier to do a lot of this in Max/MSP/Jitter than it is in Processing, which is what I have been using for the last two or three years. The programming is easier, the performance seems to be much smoother, and the hardware integration is way, way easier. (I find it curious, though, that there are hardly any books written about Max/MSP/Jitter, while there are at least a dozen fabulous books about Processing. Go figure.)
I’ve included a few still shots at the top of this post and a rather lengthy walk-through of the patch (where not much seems to be working right at the moment…) below.
As one more surprising development in my artistic life, I created some still pieces based on the dance visualization project that I did at the U of U (see this entry) and submitted them to the annual juried show for U of U art students at Williams Fine Art, a long-standing art gallery in Salt Lake City. Shockingly, I got accepted! (See, I’m the third person on the list.)
In the process, I gave a little theoretical background on the pieces I created. Here’s what I put in my rather lengthy artist statement:
Dance is a challenging medium. It is notoriously ephemeral, as it disappears once the performance is finished. It is temporal, as it is always viewed in a particular order: first the beginning, then the middle, and then the end. And dance is situated, as the viewer typically has a single visual perspective throughout the entire performance.
In a series of experiments called “Danco kaj la universala okulo,” which is Esperanto for “Dance for the universal eye,” alternative to each of these characteristics were explored. To do so, ten dance performances were recorded with a Microsoft Kinect to get digital video and 3D motion capture data, which were then manipulated in Processing.
The first manipulation, “Danco 1: Preter spaco” (“Dance 1: Beyond Space”), presented point clouds – 3D pixel images – of the dancers. Viewers could change their perspective of the dance at will, even during the live performance: zooming in and out, rotating left and right, or going above or below the dancers.
The second manipulation, “Danco 2: Preter ordo” (“Dance 2: Beyond Order”), which is the basis of this print, was an interactive application that placed frames from all ten dances in random order. However, viewers could click on a frame and all of the frames from that dance would be highlighted and connected in order by a curving line. (The line is a Catmull-Rom spline with a random tension factor.) Viewers could then click a button and the selected frames would reassemble themselves in temporal order. As a note, this piece provided the seed for a recent multimedia and dance performance for Repertory Dance Theatre called “Hello World,” which was created with choreographer Jacque Bell.
The final manipulation, “Danco 3: Preter tempo” (“Dance 3: Beyond Time”), derived skeleton views from the pixel data and then accumulating figures as the dance progressed. In this way, the entire dance was simultaneously present as a unitary whole.
The prizes at the show went to actual artists, which is not surprising (although UVU did give me their own whopper prize a few months ago with the fellowship for Dance Loops). The show, however, was a fabulous experience and – hopefully – the first first of many to follow.
[And, yes, I do/did own a beret. However, I don’t have any idea where it is. And I don’t have any black turtlenecks, so I guess I have to pass on the artist image.
Woo hoo! The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has made it official: Video games are art. Or, perhaps more accurately, video games are a legitimate medium for legitimate art. Just all oil paintings can be art (but certainly not all oil paintings…), so can video games. Here’s a link to a great post on four game projects that were funded in 2012 as part of the NEA’s Arts in Media grants.
Now, I should mention that I never really spent that much time playing video games as a kid or as an adult. For that matter, I don’t really read much fiction, either. (I prefer poetry and nonfiction.) But I’m thrilled by this development nonetheless.
Tonight was “dig+it+art,” otherwise known as the Capstone Showing for the Arts Technology Certificate Program at the University of Utah. As I have been participating in this program all year for my sabbatical, I got to show a piece as well. My piece was entitled “Dots and Lines and Dance and All of Us.”
To create it, I recruited a group of dancers (mostly freshman modern dance students at the University of Utah but also my wife, Jacque, who is a professional modern dance choreographer) and had each of them improvise a 10-second sequence that I filmed with a Kinect hooked up to my MacBook and running through Processing. From there, I took the RGB video at 1 FPS and ran it through a nice, blurry B&W filter, placed the 100 resulting images on a grid in random order, and made it possible to connect the images from a dance with a Catmull-Rom spline. (Of course….) I also created videos of the point clouds and skeletons, also at 1 FPS. Each of the three parts – clouds, grid, and skeletons – was projected on a large wall. Lots of fun!
Poet and Nobel Laureate Wisława Szymborska — that’s her, right above — died last week at 88 years old. I have included this poem in my data analysis classes for a few years because: (a) I love poetry; (b) it has statistics; and (c) as a social psychologist, I believe it summarizes human nature wonderfully.
Out of a hundred people…
those who always know better:
doubting every step:
nearly all the rest
glad to lend a hand
if it doesn’t take too long:
as high as forty-nine
because they can’t be otherwise:
four, well maybe five
able to admire without envy:
induced by fleeting youth:
sixty, give or take a few
not to be taken lightly:
forty and four
living in constant fear
of someone or something:
capable of happiness:
harmless singly, savage in crowds:
half at least
when forced by circumstances:
better not to know
even ballpark figures
wise after the fact:
just a couple more
than wise before it
taking only things from life:
(I wish I were wrong)
hunched in pain
no flashlight in the dark:
sooner or later
thirty-five, which is a lot
worthy of compassion:
a hundred out of a hundred.
thus far this figure still remains unchanged.
[Above: Stills from two critical video games by Molleindustria: “Oiligarchy” and “The McDonald’s game.”]
Woo hoo! The Sundance Film Festival is getting frisky! They’ve included non-film art — new media video work and video game art, to be particular — in this year’s festival and, Holy Moses, there’s some amazing things going on. The exhibit, entitled New Frontier, is on display at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art through May 19.
Excellent large scale data visualizations about wildlife encroachment, a participatory Kinect piece about a disaster at a Los Angeles food bank, a 3-D celebration (sort of) of aggression in Hollywood, people raging at their computers, and video games that you always lose no matter what. It’s all from what you might call “the art of discomfort” but it’s amazing.
I’m so glad to see this in Salt Lake City!