Monthly Archives: March 2007

The End is Nigh

It feels to me as if something is coming close to an end. I can’t quite figure out what it is, is it the impending hand-in date for this journal? Or is it the now ever-constant coverage of global warming that’s getting me down? Or could it be the ever-dwindling student loan in my bank account combined with a scarily low number of days before the end of my University year. It all seems to have just sneaked into my consciousness without much prior warning.


Ending. Owned by my friend Fred it is memories of this guitar that are my first memories of any guitar. It seems to have been around for ever and I’m sure has inspired many; well at least me and Fred. This is a ritual burning of it, after it was rendered useless by a short drunken Scottish man.

I’m currently on a skiing trip in Vallandry, a small alpine village near Albertville in southern France. I’ve been here a few times before, but not for 3 or 4 years. Nothing has changed though, except here there is, too, a new-found awareness of global warming issues. The risk of the skiing trade disappearing has just jumped from nothing, to everything (in the property investors minds, anyway).

Climate change is a serious issue, but as it is patently clear; we’ve created a big problem. We now have to tackle the problem with gusto – I can’t think how better to put it! Believe it or not, when I phoned up my school friend Lindsay when I was 13, really distressed about the fact the world was “going to fuck up” imminently, I reflected (at the time) that I was overreacting. I guess I wasn’t really.
Unforgiving Mountain.

I just read in a newspaper that British Airways looses 23 bags out of each 1000 they load on to a plane – the worst in Europe.

Compliance. After jumping through hoops, doing obstacle courses, burning enough fuel to power the city for a day and a financial outlay equal to a small country’s national debt; I finally received my valid UK passport. It was ordained with this insightful label.

I’m on holiday with my immediate family – a Christmas present to to us all from my Dad – and also with my auntie, uncle and two of their friends. Its quite a giggle and definitely a stark contrast to my cleshay-ridden and wholly student-like existence. Without going into too much detail describing my friends and family’s background; being on holiday with such a concentration of knowledge and intellect, that is rooted in such different methods and concepts to that of my peer group, is very uplifting. Inspirational in a way.

Last night a conversation arose about sudoku, it turns out my auntie is an avid player, while my uncle doesn’t really play at all. I’m quite a fan of sudoku, despite the huge amount of time it takes me to complete even an easy grid. Its a real art form. Apparently, this is the number of combinations you could have for a 9*9 sudoku grid.

Six sextillion, six hundred and seventy quintillion,
nine hundred and three quadrillion,
seven hundred and fifty two trillion,
twenty one billion, seventy two million,
nine hundred and thirty six thousand,
nine hundred and sixty.

Its definitely one of those things where the actual number doesn’t matter. You just know; its a lot.

I also read an amazing article in the New Scientist last night (New Scientist makes excellent holiday reading, although I forgot this week and had to borrow my brother’s copy!) that talked about number patterns just like sudoku. Mathematicians in the Europe only discovered these magic ways of arranging number in the last few hundred years, even though the Chinese have been aware of them for over 4000 years. Fancy that. It turns out that these magic squares, which are the same as sudoku squares, are actually invaluable tools for writing computer error-checking codes. By utilising these squares, a computer or electronic circuit, can transmit a message over an extremely “noisy” wire and actually decode it at the other end. By using the square, a computer can convert an extremely poorly transmitted message with missing or incorrect characters in, such as; ” e i br n rox he zlay uog” into the correct message “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”.

The same kind of techniques are used already for the Internet, digital TV and CD/DVD drives, but by utilising the sudoku squares scientists can transmit high-bandwidth digital signals over electric power lines – the hardest thing to send a message through because of the extreme high voltage and crudeness of the lines. Its quite an odd thing to write about in the context of art, but for one it gave me that warm feeling I get when I see a movie that I really love, or an inspirational piece of art work, or listen to an amazing piece of music. But secondly, the point that really grabbed me was that mathematicians discovered these number patterns some time ago, but never really understood them and just thought of them as a game. Now they’re being used at the cutting edge of technology to do something truly influential. The article included the sentence “maths can, once again, be seen as an art form.” I think that’s kinda cool.

Origami by Joe Gilardi. This is a dollar bill, creased, folder, cut up and put together again in this form. Another musing I arrived at whilst reading the New Scientist was the crossovers that exist between high-level mathematics, magical illusions and art; they’re rife. I doubt I could be a magician, but it’d be cool to explore any artistic magical possibilities that arise.

During our conversation about Sudoku, however, my uncle (a psychiatrist, psychotherapist and author) raised a question of what it is to guess? Also how to distinguish between this and an estimate. I wish my alcohol-impaired brain could remember the exact context of the question; it was to do with the human way (as opposed to a computer) of completing a sudoku grid- almost everyone makes assumptions that they’re not sure of in order to see if they’re correct. Just like guessing a word in a crossword; you may be wrong but even if it is it may well lead to some other correct answers. I thought it’d be cool to do some work reflecting on humans ability to guess and estimate. I’m sure that most guesses are actually more informed than the “guessee” thinks at the time.


Irrelevant Pomp. I created a WikiPedia page for my Dad… it says it “Lacks Relevance”. In fitting with that sentiment, here is a photo that lacks relevance, but one that I think captures the spirit of an instant in London.

Fourtet Contest

Well my entry didn’t win the Fourtet video contest on Italian media website, qoob. In fact it received quite critical comments! However, I am still pleased with the result and it seemed to go down okay in my half year review.

The standard was very high, and the winning entry – although not my favourite – was very slick. It used still photographs of six people in a line, each with a percussion instrument, and all set against a white background. As the music progresses each person becomes animated perfectly in time with the beats of the song.

  1. Consider copying the technique with a different subject
  2. The video also used wide aspect, like a cinema screen – try it!

Adele Prince & Mars Bars

Adele Prince (an Interactive Arts graduate) came to talk to my group this week. She has been very successful with exhibitions, commissions and winning an innovation prize from the Yahoo! website. Through her various projects she has also attracted a lot of media coverage. Her success alone was enough to keep me attentive, but as it turned out I really enjoyed the presentation and her work definately aroused my interest. Most of Adele’s projects seemed to utilise the web, with more recent work reflecting the changes in the how the internet is used and having a distinctly Web 2.0 feel about them. One of her latest works, involved being tracked via GPS, which updated her position on a map on a website, and being given instruction via mobile phone – very technology heavy! This web-centricity was particularly interesting to me; as many of my ideas and things I’d like to do involve the same kind of things.

One commission that Adele showed us, was for a train station in Linconshire. How she created her work (which was a video installation) was to travel the length of the trainline and alongside it. But she did this by foot, taking photographs at 5 minute intervals throughout (the whole journey took several days). With the journey complete the photographs were Adele’s source material, along with video footage recorded by her boyfriend who was following her on a bicycle. The end result is displayed on two video monitors housed within the station ticket office. I really liked this concept, its the kind of self-involving art that I really like. I guess there is something of a likeness to post modernism with exposed self-referencing, that really gets my juices flowing. With this piece I like it that there is no certainty about what the images would be, but together they can be directly relevant to the subject.

Another piece of work she talked about (my favourite I think) was her “Lost Something?” website. This was born from Adele collecting lost items from the street, and cataloging the item, where it was found, and when. Eventually all these items were compiled and uploaded onto a website. People can log on to the website, check the list and see if their lost item is there. Launched in the late 90s Adele still recieves many emails per week with regard to the lost items on the website.

Adele seems to have been prolific since leaving University, with further projects including Lost Something and another web-based affair; Trolley Spotting. Trolley Spotting is an online database (with maps & images) chronicling Adele’s journeys around various cities to find trolleys. It is true that trolleys turn up in many odd places!

I’m enticed by the all Adele’s work, and it is very reminicent of a number of my own concepts – I couldn’t help but feel there was something missing for most of the projects. Like a “missing link”. Of course this is just my preference, and I was exceedingly excited to see someone doing things so similar to some of my aspirations. Also her success speaks for itself.

The presentation did make me think back to discovering the Bookcrossing.com website. On the site, you register your details and you’re then given a serial number. You print the number in a book, which you then leave anywhere you like! The idea is that someone else finds the book, which as well as the serial number has details of how to get the website. They then register the fact that they’ve found the book, where, when, how etc then once they’re finished with the book they are supposed to leave it somewhere else. Thus you get a large network of people sharing books with people using the Internet as a medium for tracking it.

There is another website called WheresGeorge.com and another called PhotoTag.org – one tracks US currency and the other disposable cameras (and then shows the pictures taken with each camera). The ideaology seems very similar to that of a lot of mail artists, but in this case making the most out of the internet.

When I discovered these websites (about 3 years ago now) the concept of each struck a chord with me; and I started trying to wrack my brains to figure out something similar that I could set up myself. The lost something idea was one that came to mind (I was unaware Adele had done it!), but I decided it would only really work as a self-contained thing if the lost objects were posted on the website by its users, rather than just me, and that this would constitute a massive programming task!

The thing that really turned me on about BookCrossing (which, incidentally, is now a word in the Oxford English dictionary!) was the fact that the people interacting with the site were giving each other a gift. Even if it is to a complete stranger! I like this idea of not being able to control something, but engineering conditions so the “art” actually evolves by itself (plus its always nice to get something for free, from another person). The concept is quite similar to Dave Gorman’s book Googlewhack Adventure, which is an amazing book. I think it qualifies to be called a work of art.

Mars Bars! I think the reason I chose Mars bars was that it rhymes, and I liked the phrase “Mars bars go far..”

My plan is to create a replica of the BookCrossing system, but modified so that Mars bars are the subject, rather than books. I will start with, say, 100 Mars which I will release through a variety of methods – each of them tagged with their own serial number and instructions. Whoever finds or recieves one of the bars, is instructed to log on to the website and record the fact they’ve recieved (and eaten!) the chocolate they are then requested to purchase a replacement chocolate add a serial number (provided by the website) and release that bar.

I would love to create this chocolate giving network, see how far it can spread, track its progress, ultimately see where it takes me and see where it takes the Mars bars.

Later on, I had two thoughts; firstly I was worried about the legality of using the Mars company’s trademarks but then that led me to thinking how valuable it maybe for the company. I wonder if I could create such a thing and sell it to Mars as a viral marketing technique or simply tell Mars about the project and see if they would give me a nominal sponsor to get it off the ground.

So I’m extremely grateful to Adele for rekindling my interest in this kind of project and very pleased to have been made aware of her work, which I’m going to be watching with a keen eye. Maybe at some point we could join forces! Its funny how things work together, I started doing my first computer programming in ages with Max/MSP last week, and now I’m thinking about doing a whole load more.

Autotalk

Trying to think of a name for my Max/MSP based voice recording/playback invention. Autotalk is my favourite so far, I think it kind of gives a feeling its been dreamt up by some zany Germans. Der Autotalk.

I really liked the Singing Ringing Tree near Burnley and part of that comes from to fact it is out there and available for the public this made me think about making an Autotalk installation in a public place. I’ve got dreams of installing 100 microphones and 100 speakers in a public space somewhere. A modern day confessional? Or it could even be counselling, where the counsellor is completely passive. Cognitive behavioural therapy, eat your heart out.

Infact would it be a good subject for the installation… pose the audience the question what should this be called? Then record the answers.

Depression. This photograph came about purely by chance, but the result I feel is saturated with meaning. Narcotics consumed, utilising packaging from prescribed anti-depressants.

Max/MSP Project (continued)

This project was inspired by watching a programme on BBC2 – “The Grumpy Guide to Art”. I found it pretty amusing, but if I can imagine in some frames of mind I would have thought it rather depressing – even though I know that isn’t the point.

My inspiration came from Sir Gerry Robinson’s comments about people “talking bollocks” about art. As an issue, I think its one that idealogically I sit on the fence with; although I’m often frustrated (even angered) with over complicated and non-contexural analysis of art I also love diversity in work and acknowledge that with that comes a natural caveat for over the top, nonsensical anaysis. I must admit (here and nowhere else) that Sir Gerry actually said this at the end of his little section; “its probably a brilliant name for an installation, ‘Talking Bollocks'”. Having got the nasty mental image of a the literal meaning of that out of my head, I immediately knew what I wanted to do; create an installation to explore the issue but to try my best to avoid a biast viewpoint.

I want to create a space that consists of a central piece of physical work. Viewers of the work are invited to make an audio recording of their thoughts and the piece. Each recording left is stored on a computer and will actually be played back into the same space, in real time. So overall you will have a piece of work to view, as well as (potentially) hundreds of different view points being played out of speakers at you whilst you are looking at the piece; and then (if you want to) you can contribute you own opinion.

It feels like my explanation is not as good as the idea I have in my head. I guess the only way to find out is to create it and try!

I’m a little apprehensive, not because I lack faith in my concept, but that I’ve been here lots of times before and then discovered I don’t have the skill/tenacity to actually get it done in the available time. Must be positive.

Max/MSP Project

I mentioned in a previous post a thing called the Lemur, that can be used with Cycling 74’s Max/MSP. To explain a little, the Lemur is a kind of “control surface” that can be utilised in many different bits of software on PCs and Macs. Control surfaces roots are in computer-music, they were developed in order to allow computer based musicians to have a hands on way of controlling their entirely digital synthesisers. With a digital synthesiser as well as playing it (with a keyboard, just like a piano) there are seemingly endless parameters that can be changed whilst in use, to change the sound of the synth. Many of these controllers simply manifest themselves as a keyboard with an array of knobs, switches and buttons available however in the last few years, new technology has started to allow for much more inventive and intuitive options for controlling parameters. The Lemur, is a box with a touch screen. Using software provided with it you actually design your own interface with any type of slider, knob, button, switch, dimmer, button or display you can imagine. As well as this, it is a new type of touch screen, that allows you to touch it as many times as you want. So you can have (for example) 4 fingers spread out, each on its own touch sensitive slider. You could drag each slider up and down at a different speed, in a different direction. I’m afraid my explanation isn’t quite comprehensible so look here; http://www.cycling74.com/products/lemur

The Lemur is made by a company called Cycling 74 – who’s ‘flagship’ product is Max/MSP. Max, once you install it on your computer, does nothing. Max doesn’t have a set purpose or function, rather it allows the user to create their own program to do whatever they want; it just provides a framework for doing that. Its rather like a computer programming environment (eg C++, Java or Visual Basic) that specialises in maniupulating and controlling digital media. With Max/MSP and its various add-on options, you are given a toolkit for doing literally anything you could imagine with sound and music, video and images, and because you can utilise Java from within the software anything else that you might want to do with a computer. It is an extremely powerful tool.

As an aside, the software was originally brought to my attention by a friend of mine, Matt Donkin, who used Max for his 3rd year show for Interactive Arts. Matt’s project consists of a music keyboard, and a monitor. The two are linked via Max, and if you play notes that are in tune with one another, the monitor displays “tuneful” graphics. If you play random notes, then nothing very pretty is displayed. It’s an interesting idea. Most “visualisation” programs (such as you get with most computer-based media players) simply process the sound to extract the beats of the music. That is then the basis for displaying graphics to fit with the music. The problem is that the graphics are mostly randomly generated, the only thing that links to the music is the beat and that is often sketchy at best. With Matt’s project, it is the very notes themselves that create the image. Also the image that is created is intrinsically linked to the beat of the music, for the same reason.
Autechre’s Max Patch. Autechre are electronic artists, making forward thinking music mainly using Max/MSP. This image illustrates how complicated “Patches” (Max programs) can get.

I think its really intesting how finding out about a tool, such as this, can actually inspire someone. I guess it applies to me more than, perhaps, a sculptor; just because my work exists almost entirely in the digital realm. But I think anyone can derive inspiration from such things
. I’m sure there is an argument that an artist should have a concept, and then find the tools to create it, but I feel its just as valid to see a tool and then come up with the idea as a result of knowing about it. Such utilisation of the available resources and tools is one reason why Moore’s law (the idea that computing power will double every 18 months) has proved to be correct for the last 50 years and why advances are made so quickly. I suppose that my thinking comes down to this: If there is a way of doing something; someone will do it!

I’m currently developing an idea (that I will write about tomorrow) that will almost certainly be made possible by using Max.