Monday, 29 October 2007

Interactive Sound Studio exhibition

Tonight we held the exhibition culminating the [DESC9187] Graduate Interactive Sound Design Studio taught by Kirsty Beilharz, Densil Cabrera, Sam Ferguson and guest lecturer, Nigel Helyer, University of Sydney in Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning. Studio culminating in interactive installation exhibition (on 29 October 2007, hearth of the Wilkinson Building). After a preparatory technical session and tutorials in Max/MSP or other relevant sound software (Protools, Logic, C sound, Super Collider, etc.) given by Sam Ferguson, students worked for two weeks intensively during September-October to develop their concepts and methodology for interactive sound design, receiving feedback on their concept development and methodology from Sam, Densil, Nigel and I.

The 'Elasti-face' booth invited participants to place their head in an oval. Different luminosity zones of the face analysed with camera tracking produced distortion sounds as the face is moved and pulled, responding to distinctive regions of the face and encouraging playful interaction. Mitchell's large fluffy dice were colour-tracked in a prescribed zone on the floor and held Wii controllers encased inside that sent bluetooth motion data of tilt, yaw and rotation sensitivity back to the controller computer processing ambient sound loops in a relaxing fashion. Various dimensions of the sound were transformed as the dice were moved around and depending on which number surface was facing upwards. The reactivision table idea uses camera recognition of iconic symbols on the base of objects to locate multiple objects as they are moved around the table, here used as a sound mixer altering panning, timbral filtering, loop loading, loudness according the the objects placed and their position on the table. The sculptural pinwheels mounted on tall copper tubing were lightweight paper fans that responded to breath. As people blew the different controllers, they manipulated natural wind and airy sounds of the installation. The retro-looking space invaders game used traditional arcade game-style interaction to generate real time music giving individualised feedback on the game performance. A virtual fishpond projection on the floor uses boid flocking algorithms to control fish motion (flocking) behaviour in response to the user's footsteps, colour-tracking the mandatory Aussie hat for positioning and modifying the fishes' swimming over time. The gestural piano totally shatters conventional expectation of piano operation by removing the usual keys and using arm gestures (camera-tracked) to play the piano strings with solenoids and microphone to pick-up and process sounds, thereby producing the ultimate prepared piano implementation with unusual nuances and possibilities normally unheard from the musical instrument. The spatial sound controller using coloured balls (or any colour-tracking object) alters sound according to positioning left/right, up/down and proximity to the built-in iSight camera on the Macbook.

The students' brief was fairly flexible but invited them to develop one of (1) an augmented conventional physical musical instrument, i.e. a hyper instrument, (2) an interactive installation appropriate for gallery or similar, or (3) a data-driven informative ambient display (sonification or auditory graphing). In most other contexts, the audio stream operates separately in all areas sound and digital media, while concerned with all media types, often favours visual communication or linear media. This class provides students with an opportunity to explore sonic communication much more deeply and look at sound as an interactive and responsive medium and also consider its interrelationship in multi-modal display. The exhibition itself was quite ambitious involving 21 loudspeakers, a handful of data projectors, 5 audio interfaces, Wii controllers, 6 webcams for video tracking, Arduino boards, endless cabling and aesthetic props, physical computing and installation infrastructure. For the most part the staff provided and setup the equipment and the students constructed their booths, boxes, modified an old piano, made wind-blown pinwheels and the interface materials themselves. This was the first time we held the studio and its resulting exhibition. We were stoked by the large number of students, staff, friends, family and visitors who attended. It was naturally a fairly congested and noisy environment once all the works were underway but no interaction design is complete without some usability feedback and interaction experience.

Full-sized flickr photo posting

Leopard purring

In a strange courtship with fate, I installed Leopard last Sunday, three days before travelling to Japan. I am delighted to say that in many ways the transition is seamless. Time Machine, the new incremental backup and snapshot application is a major feature, ideal if you have a spare unformatted [large] hard drive. The appearance is more modern for aspects of the finder and general GUI - translucent headers, an organisational folder structure like the recent versions of iTunes, some new icons, etc. While it is quite slick, it is also slightly less invisible and Zen. I liked the immaculate simplicity of the 10.4 OSX interface and there are more 'words' on the finder interface now. Textual explanations for everything are very trademark Windows. Best left for the non-visually minded. I have to say that in general, I am impressed that there were very few 'flops' that marred the experience. The things that have been affected include: (1) external sound interfaces don't work [very problematic but hopefully remedied by the time I stop travelling], (2) all printers, virtual and otherwise, ceased to exist and must be found again on networks or, in the case of USB printers, are recognised when plugged in. This is a little tedious for my workplace where all printers are network printers and need to be rediscovered. (3) VPN (Virtual Private Networking) for secure conduit into work no longer functioned until I installed a newer version of the Cisco VPN client but that seemed to do the trick with greater stability than before and curing all other Mail woes connecting with an Exchange server (previously bumpy). (4) The new OS brings new Safari version with moveable tabs and smoother execution of certain other things, ability to cut parts into widgets and Mail app, a new version of the Mail app with stationery (just what you need, right?) and as a consequence of the updated Safari, hacks to my widget's JS code needed to be re-made. If you have an iPhone, you will recognise that some of the dock and other 10.5 GUI appearance changes are shared with the slimmed down version of OSX running on the touch-screen iPhone. These include the new-look System Preferences, changed network setup (old is still there under Advanced tab) and calendar navigation. In conclusion, the Leopard is purring nicely. Nice = little trauma to user. Though the 300 system tweaks alleged by Apple are not so easy to spot. Only 4 scratches against 296 purrs: well done Apple.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Sonify - first GPS data from Sunnto watch

Today I tested my new GPS watch. The purpose behind the geeky toy is actually to feed GPS data to Max/MSP for sonification to evaluate our new interactive aesthetic sonification toolkit.

Described as the smallest GPS watch or wrist-top computer in Suunto's jargon, the x9i's features include:

Altimeter: altitude, vertical speed, altitude alarm
Barometer: Sea level pressure, absolute pressure, weather trend graph, temperature, weather alarm
Compass: Bearing, north indicator, bearing tracking
GPS: Speed, distance, routes, waypoints, tracks
Watch: Calendar, 3 alarms with date, dual time, stopwatch
Water resistant to 100m / 330ft
USB computer connection and lithium ion battery charging
PC software for route planning and record graphing
Upload data and view tracks on Google Earth™

I was keen to get a decent satellite fix because the reception in my house or even from on the balcony is never sufficient. So the geek in me took the watch to Tunks Park launching ramp on Middle Harbour where I would be assured of clear skies and plenty of satellites in view. Indeed this worked fairly well. The only instances of 'walking on water' and other inaccuracies derive from momentarily loosing a fix or ambiguous calibration of my map in the software. Like most GPS software, you can load your own map so I used a GoogleEarth satellite photo background for the trackpoints. The compass and thermometer seem fairly reliable while the altitude reading, despite frequent calibration, seems less steady, probably influenced by barometric changes. So long as the location was very open, away from cliffs and overhanging trees, it worked well. Of course my handheld Garmin with its more substantial aerial has more robust reception but it really chews the batteries and is quite bulky.

Suunto Trek Manager software graphs trackpoints, waypoints, altitude, weather, GPS coordinates, time and distance measurements. Normally intended for Windows, I am running it on Parallels Desktop software on my Apple Macbook. From here the data can be exported as text files that, in turn, can be read into a matrix in Max/MSP for sonification and interactive manipulation (see example below in which waypoints from Linda Beilharz's [my cousin] Greenland icecap crossing expedition are loaded and plotted in Max/MSP). Most GPS softwares are not available for Apple OSX. I use MacGPS Pro adaptation software to convert feed live from the Garmin GPS but the Suunto Trek Manager provides much more elegant graphical visualisations of the data using Win emulation. The Suunto Track Exporter is used to export the trackpoint data to GoogleEarth live maps online. This will be handy in Japan because free and recent topographical maps are few and far between.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Al Gore + the IPCC win Nobel Peace Prize

Finally some recognition of global issues and perhaps a hint of understanding that eco/environmental awareness is here to stay and urgently requires individual, national and global participation. The rss feed brings together ideas for creating our better future. Also the name of its excellent book.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Synergy Percussion & TaikOz collaboration concert

An evening of primal power and transcendental beauty that will hold you hovering between heaven and earth.

In a rare collaboration, Synergy Percussion and TaikOz invoke the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and space in an inspirational concert of ancient instruments, poetry, chants and live computer processing.

Featuring a diverse range of special guest artists, The Five Elements will be performed for one night only at City Recital Hall Angel Place on Friday 23 November at 8pm.

TaikOz is renowned for their electrifying taiko drumming, combining elements of contemporary music and movement with the ancient practice of Wadaiko. Australia’s foremost percussion ensemble, Synergy, will explore the mysterious resonances of Chinese gongs and Himalayan singing bowls, instruments used in spiritual and shamanic practices for centuries throughout Asia.

Riley Lee is a Grand Master of the Japanese shakuhachi, a bamboo flute producing a hauntingly soulful sound, closely associated with the practice of Zen meditation since the 15th century. Daniel Yeadon is one of the world’s leading baroque cellists and performs from the cello suites of JS Bach. James Coates is one of Australia’s most inspiring exponents of spoken word, interpreting poetry ranging from the Sufi mystic Rumi to the ecstatic visions of Arthur Rimbaud.

TaikOz web site | Booking