In March 2015 I was part of a collaborative commission for NICAP alongside Helen Shaddock, Ed Wainwright, Corbin Wood, Jack Lines and Mags Margetts to produce a piece of work responding to Newcastle University’s Hatton Gallery collection of Victor Pasmore’s work, in particular focusing on his seminal spatial work ‘An Exhibit’.
This group commission produced an interactive audiovisual response to Pasmore’s work, informed by the disciplines of each person involved, including music, digital interactivity, architecture, visual art, creative coding and fabrication.
‘An Exhibit’ comprised a number of coloured plexiglass sheets hung in the Hatton Gallery which would create the visual effect of coloured windows through which would filter the vision of observers, much like a filter on a photograph. As there were a number of these plexiglass sheets, by moving around the gallery space visitors could experiment with the effects of their physical placement on their ability to observe the world through these filters. Despite the fact that this work was produced in 1957, it had a strong focus on interactivity, and this was the driving force for our response, ‘A Third Exhibit’.
‘A Third Exhibit’ took inspiration from these plexiglass sheets with weighted cloth sheets suspended in the air of the main Hatton Gallery space using helium balloons which would freely move around the space according to air turbulence created by foot traffic throughout the exhibition. These weighted cloth sheets were then lit by eight DMX lights, controlled from my laptop by two distance-sensing ‘nodes’ placed at central points of the gallery space to be triggered by the actions of visitors. There was also a musical piece composed by Corbin Wood using sound recordings taken throughout the collaborative process which was triggered by the activation of these nodes.
My responsibility for the work was in designing the interactive system which would turn the movement of visitors into changes in lighting through the space. The distance-sensing ‘nodes’ I used to do this took the form of camera tripods with Arduino Mega boards mounted on them, with each Mega board being host to a ring of eight HC-SR04 ultrasonic distance sensors. The information generated by these nodes was fed back to a laptop over a Serial connection, and the serial connection was then read using Pd-extended, which processed the distance information gathered by the sensors into DMX values, which were then sent to the eight lights in the room using Q Lighting Controller and a USB-DMX interface, as well as controlling the volume of a stereo sound piece. I developed this interactive system using Linux.
The effect of the interactive system and the shifting cloth sheets created an evolving, generative artwork which was directly (distance to nodes changing the colour of lights) as well as indirectly (air turbulence gradually changing the position of sheets) controlled by the visitors to the gallery. The eight lights in different colours shining at different angles on different cloth sheets produced a number of subtle colour changes throughout the room, with colours regularly being intersected and changed by the cloth sheets.
Visitors responded very well to the interactivity in the piece, keen to see how their movements would change the colours in the space and to experience the work through discovery and participation.
‘A Third Exhibit’ was shown for The Late Shows 2015
Photography by Corbin Wood and Helen Shaddock.
This is the video (taken by Harry Wheeler) from the TUSK Archive of the first of three performances by RE/CEPTOR at Blank studios.
RE/CEPTOR was a bespoke project for TUSK Festival comprised of long-established duo Trans/Human (with whom i’ve worked before), Contemporary dancer and movement artist Nicole Vivien Watson and myself.
The project is a multifaceted one. The three performances for TUSK festival involved myself and Nicole performing in BLANK studios, with Trans/Human performing in Marseille concurrently. The audio for Trans/Human’s performance was being streamed live to Blank Studios via NiceCast, an OSX internet radio streaming protocol, and their audio was then fed into the performance setup in Blank studios, more on this later. The performances happened on four speaker ‘surround’ sound.
The main focal point for both of the performances was Nicole and her movement, I designed a custom wireless sensor array for her to wear through the performance which tracked light, body capacitance, temperature and movement. These sensors were attached to Nicole at relevant points (hands for movement, body capacitance on fingers and so on) read by an Arduino Nano, which collected the data and fed it wirelessly via an inexpensive nrf24l01 chip to another Arduino connected to my laptop which I created a shield for to house another nrf24l01 chip. This second Arduino received the data that Nicole was creating and was read by Max 6, and this data formed a very crucial aspect of the performance as a whole.
Here are some photos of the prototyping, building and wearing of the sensor
Top to bottom: Prototyped version of the sensor array, the Arduino and radio chip, the completed array, and one of Nicole’s hands showing an accelerometer and body capacitance sensors.
Once the data was into max 6 it was used to control a number of aspects of the performance. Nicole’s movement controlled effects on the stereo feed from Marseillie – changing filter poles, adding delay and decay to the feed. This effected stereo feed was broadcasted on two of the four speakers in the room, the ones in the back two corners. The other two speakers had two granular synthesisers playing, one of which was controlled by Nicole’s movement and one which was controlled by me. Nicole’s body temperature and body capacitance was also summed to create a low frequency sinewave drone which was played on all four speakers. Nicole’s data also controlled the strobe light via DMX which was the main source of light in the space. For the first performance (the one in the video) the strobe light frequency was a summation of body temperature, light and body capacitance, however after discussion with Nicole we felt that this obfuscated the relationship between her and the strobe, and we changed the program for the other two performances so that the strobe light was directly controlled by the position of one of her hands, which was much more effective.
All of this was tied together for me by a touchOSC interface which controlled various aspects of the parameters of what Nicole was effecting (unstable parameters such as filter resonance et cetera) which did not lend themselves to control by movement, as well as giving me control of one of the granular synthesisers, to do a kind of synthesiser duet with Nicole.
The result of this was four channels of sound, two coming from Marseillie and two from the room, but all were dependent on the movements of Nicole, locking all performers to a central groove. Trans/Human could not themselves hear what was going on in Blank studios, but in Blank we were very much improvising with their material. Being able to mesh all of us in this way was perfect – Trans/Human’s tour and the audio they collected and performed, my building/patching/sound generation mediated through Nicole’s movement. The binary state between darkness and light combined with full bodied four-channel sound created an immersive experience and environment for both performers and audience, and yielded, to my mind, three distinct, varied performances.
Thanks to Lee Etherington, Harry Wheeler and Hugs Bison for organisation and documentation, and thanks to the folks at Blank studios for being immensely helpful in accommodating our audio/internet needs.
Nicole is the creative director of Surface Area Dance Theatre –
Trans/Human is Adam Denton and Luke Twyman –