Monday, December 17

Quicktake: Billy Apple at Auckland Art Gallery

Billy Apple staged a sound performance at the Auckland Art Gallery yesterday afternoon, filling the usually tranquil Albert Park area with roars and smoke from the "The Billy Apple Historic Racing Collection" - a series of classic British grand prix bikes like the 1962 Norton Manx 500cc, once raced by innovative cycle designer John Britten. Reconfiguring the traditional gallery circuit of Kitchener and Lorne streets as a conceptual track, Apple had notable riders deliver their 20 minute sonic barrage in the 'pit'. Apple has a long engagement with sound in previous works, such as Severe Tropical Storm at Window, in which an extended 'soundtrack' was composed from data sourced from a fateful voyage on a freight liner. The usual generic throttle sounds were replaced with a range of throaty roars, pops, and piercing buzzes - demonstrating different attributes of each bike, and reinforcing the artist's statement that "the difference between the AJS and Norton is like the difference between a trumpet and a trombone."

New Hye-Rim work at Art Basel Miami

Hye Rim Lee recently sent word about new work in the Art Basel Miami Beach show - the US counterpart to the parent show in Switzerland. "My 3 new work Crystal City, a digital print series 1, (c-type print, 72 inch x 72 inch), Candyland, a series of digital print (70 cm x 70 cm, c-type print) will be at Art Miami Basel, Kukje Gallery stand." Lee showed earlier in the year here in Auckland at Stark White gallery, before heading off to a residency in New York.

Wednesday, December 5

Code snippet: Simple sound visualisation

While United Visual Artists produce ambitious, mammoth installations for artists like the Chemical Brothers (shown above), you can respond to music and sound with some simple Flash code.

With the advent of version 9 of the software, Adobe has introduced a spectrograph tool, capable of reading and responding to the various EQ changes in a song. This enables rich feedback - scripts for example could show deep purple for base heavy techno, and a light pink line for a high-pitched opera sonata. Programmers have responded with an array of experiments, sound toys, and visualisers like the ones from this competition on The Flash Blog.

The only problem is that live sound, either from a microphone or the input on a computer, doesn't have this ability. Programmers are restricted to responding to basic volume changes, which although simple, can still be compelling. From a dozen lines of code....

// construct mic object
var mic:Microphone = Microphone.getMicrophone();

// setup mic parameters
mic.gain = 60;
mic.rate = 11;
mic.setSilenceLevel(0, 10000);

// respond to mic volume
function showVolume(e:Event):void {

// run this every frame
addEventListener(Event.ENTER_FRAME, showVolume);

....To more complex examples using extensions such as open-source 3d project Papervision:

Sneak preview of Annie Bradley's "Interpulsator"

Opening on Friday at Window Online and On Site, thought we'd give you a sneak preview of "Interpulsator", a screensaver-based work by Annie Bradley. Coming to life when the system becomes idle, the piece embraces some of the conventions of the medium, while ignoring others - installing itself as traditional software but then 'failing' to save, allowing parts of the screen to burn in because the pixels are never refreshed. Annie provides additional tangents on her show page, ranging from the first digital watch to time-keeping stars (Pulsars) and hardware diagrams of LEDs. Available for PC or Macintosh systems.

Tuesday, December 4

Quicktake: Compact Listen CD Release

An absorbing sound emanated from Cross St Studios in Auckland on Friday night, heard by the lucky bunch who attended the CD release of Compact Listen, from the label CLaudia.

The launch included a night of performances from three of the groups included on the CD compilation, which surveys some of New Zealand's recent audio explorers.

Praise be to Tim Coster and Nigel Wright who were first up. They lulled their audience with a perfect parabola of noise, a nice complement to sipping shared beers and sitting on a cushion.

Nigel Wright and Tim Coster.
(Apologies to the artists for poor sound in the recording)

Rosy Parlane also produced some wonderfully complicated sounds from his laptop, his music is like wine that gets discussed in terms of its full bodies and citrusy tangs. Yum.

Sweetcakes--an ensemble of three wooden percussive instruments, a drum kit and a laptop--came together to produce a sound that had an air of a 1960s after dinner improv session, plus laptop, although sadly without the visible or audible enjoyment associated, providing an eclectic cap to the night.

Friday, November 30

Quicktake: Adam Willetts at Whammy Bar

Artist/musician Adam Willetts performed a solo set last night at Auckland's Whammy Bar, moving seamlessly from aggressive, glitch based feedback to melodic pulses and back again. Kneeling shaman-like on the floor, Willetts managed to avoid the cold, impersonal performances of 'laptop' sets where movement is limited to mouseclicks and knob twiddling. Instead, with the typical barrage of wires and effects pedals were a pair of wireless white objects not usually used with music - Wiimotes. Because the Nintendo Wii controllers use accelerometers/gyroscopes, they're sensitive to shaking, tilting and panning, and have been hooked up as MIDI controllers by enterprising glitch kids, allowing musicians to control sonic waves as easily as gamers hit virtual tennis balls. The controllers made for a much more compelling, physical performance as Willetts literally shook out shock waves of noise and bent wrists to overdrive tones. Unfortunately Willetts was the standout of the night, the lineup moving awkwardly from improvised noise and glitch based soundscapes to a Loretta Lynn-like singer songwriter before ending with The Terminals, who cranked through a set of oldskool punk numbers in the spirit of the Sex Pistols.

Note: Photo shown not from performance, although setup was similar.

Thursday, November 15

Code from crayons: new work from Douglas Bagnall at Te-Tuhi

For those put off by the gun-wielding heroes and photorealistic environments of videogames, this Saturday is your chance to create your own. Douglas Bagnall, who has previously shown works like A Film-Making Robot at Window, is exhibiting his latest project at Te-Tuhi, which transforms crayon drawings into game worlds via some clever coding.

Bagnall's Video Game Machine is part of a host of recent interactives which mix physical reality like shadows and drawings with screen-based additions. Philip Worthington's Shadow Monsters tracks users, adding spikes to their arms, medusa tendrils to hair, and the ability to throw flames and projectiles.

MIT's sketch engine takes simple physics diagrams drawn on a whiteboard and digitises them, translating crude down arrows into gravity, force, and inertia. The demo is dry, the graphics dull. The potential is not.

Flash-based physics toy Line-Rider became a smash success over the last year as users took its simple mechanic of drawing lines for a sled to an art form. Massive levels like the one shown below, or others with up to 22,000 lines are entered into competitions in communities like I Ride the Lines. Little Big Planet, an Xbox 360 title poised for release, hopes to capitalise on the same idea by letting users create and post levels. Players assemble game worlds from a variety of objects which are translated into game worlds with deep physics applied.

With any set of rules and scripts, from Bagnalls 'robots' to interactive narrative such as Façade and simple 'toys' like Line Rider, the fascination lies in 'gaming the system' - finding the edge cases, glitches, and grey areas. The algorithm behind Film Making Robot favoured oversaturated images, creating a very selective memory of images sourced from Wellingtons bus routes. Only hours after Façade was released, players were already trying to break it, ignoring any goals like reuniting the protagonists and instead posting scripts featuring serial killers in an effort to defeat the natural language scripting. The top rated movies on LineRider comps are not huge hills or triple backflips, they're 'microquirk tracks', hardcore users who can place a dot in a specific location, confusing the game code and causing havoc with gravity.

Te Tuhi Video Game Machine
Douglas Bagnall
17th November 2007 – 10th February 2008

Update: James McCarthy also performed using a site-specific wall work comprised of high-tension wires. He repeated the performance on Tuesday with some members of experimental music organisation Vitamin-S. Thanks to James for the pic.

Sunday, November 11

Elam Open Days: Postgrad show

Window brings you 50 exclusive images from the Elam BFA/Postgrad Open Days. Featuring works by Fiona Gillmore, Boris Dornbusch, Sonya Lacey, Bonnie Somerville, Rachel Wills, Kate Newby, Tim Mackrell, Nick Charlesworth, Majlinda Hoxha, Anna Boyd, Jessica Van Dammen, Guy Nicoll, Angela Meleisea Felix, Sarah Rose, Sam Rountree-Williams, Nell May, Emily Pun, Daniel Munn, Matthew Molloy and Art-is-free.

Friday, November 9

Building a better laptop

On Tuesday, the One Laptop per Child project started production at a factory in China, mass-producing an initial run of 250,000 models that will go out to children in nations like Nigeria, Thailand and Peru, where they've already been trialled. The bright green casing looks like a rugged alien. The stylized interface is friendly and playful. It's designed for the ground-up for kids. But the team behind it are dead serious.

The OLPC project harnesses and coordinates a large network of volunteer programmers, who refine aspects like security applications which protect against large-scale attacks, compiler optimisation to speed up code-building, remote display for projectors and memory usage minimising.

Because a hard-drive is one of the top items to break on traditional laptops, the XO model features a tiny flash-drive instead. For programmers, this means a return to 80's era coding - building highly functional software in as few lines of script as possible, ditching huge 'code libraries' with big filesize footprints for tiny utilities and more custom work.

In Abuja, Nigeria, the nearest powerpoint could be a long walk away. So it makes sense that the OLPC are pedantic about electricity usage. "For us, every joule matters, and a simplistic 'oh, we mostly have most of a chip turned off, maybe' isn't good enough." The default display mode uses 1 watt of power - 1/7th of the average laptop display. Run out of power? Charge it up again with a hand crank on the side.

In the last few months, the team have put the XO through it's paces: developing hour-long 'smoke tests', tracking down obscure bugs in the kernel, localising keyboards for West Africa and Nepal, optimising rendering, and refining to stabilised builds. The prototype hardware has been tested to destruction in the factory, as well as the acid test - children on playgrounds in Peru, jungle field trips in Thailand, and the dust of Maharashtra, India.

Images from OLPC Project, available under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5

Thursday, November 8

Highlights from Second Life art tour

Interactive musical score, part of the Reflexive Architecture series. Notes can be changed by touching them, and are triggered as the avatar walks around the ring of notation.

Eva and Franco Mattes - whose other actions have included spreading a virus and making up artists - here stage a more traditional homage, recreating Joseph Beuys "7000 Oaks" project.

Waco Vaco enjoys sitting in an interactive igloo structure - part of the Reflexive Architecture series. Walking towards the shelter increases the scale of it, until it's large enough for two avatars to fit comfortably in.

Waco Vaco tunnels through Sabine Stonebender's installation at Zero Point. Many artists add a Cartesian dynamic to their pieces by offering elevators, seats, or vehicles to travel through their worlds.

Waco Vaco and Window Oh drifting through Edo Autopoiesis "Resonating with Wind" sound installation. Based on the highly localised currents in SL, each windmill lifts up a red mallet, before dropping it onto the bell at the base, causing a continuously unique sound composition.

Wednesday, November 7

Second Life and UpStage walkthroughs tonight

Screen from Come and Go, performed by Avatar Body Collision
The team who run UpStage, which we've blogged about here in the past, are conducting a walkthrough tonight at 9pm New Zealand time. Just click here at the appropriate time to view the performance and be stepped through some of the features of the virtual performance software. If you'd like to be more involved as a participant, just e-mail them for a guest login.

On a related note, programmer and blog member Luke Duncalfe and myself will be taking a tour through some art projects, galleries, and islands in Second Life at around 7pm New Zealand time. Like to join? Signup for Second Life, login, then click here to teleport to Ars Virtua where we'll be meeting. We hope to visit a sound piece by Edo Autopoiesis titled "Resonating with Wind", Sabine Stonebender's Installation at Zero Point in Kelham , DanCoyote Antonelli's Arts & Letters Installation, and some scripted architecture (video shown above).

Friday, November 2

Searching for the perfect image

Belgian artist Martijn Hendriks Untitled I (Google Sleep) consists of 10 Lambda prints which he handselected from an archive of 1000 images found through Google Image search. But why stop there?

The rise of broadband, cheap digital cameras, and social networks like Flickr, PhotoBucket, and Fotki built around tagging and sharing photos has meant there are millions of shots publicly available. And while stock imagery sites like Getty keep redesigning to make finding images easier, scientists like James Hays and Alexei Efros at Carnegie Mellon University employ a new 'brute strength' visual approach.

Their paper, recently presented at Siggraph, describes how algorhythms can power their way through a database of millions of shots, returning a piece (actually lots of pieces) that could match the missing section of an image. Don't like those rooftops in the foreground? Highlight it and choose from alternatives that match the perspective, colour, and lighting in your photograph: trees, a calm bay scene, or a flotilla of ships blended into the original.

It's a small world sharing a large amount of data. In a test case, Hays selected some scaffolding on a European city monument he didn't like. Combing through the millions of possibles, the result came back. The same shot. From the same angle. Taken just prior to construction by another tourist.

Saturday, October 27

Quicktake: Small Global and Never been to Tehran at MIC

Currently showing at MIC, this exhibition by renowned new media artists D-Fuse tackles globalisation and it's impact - both in terms of architecture/environments, and in business. The first room is an ambitious, multi-channel installation centreing around the viral growth of fast-food giant McDonalds. World maps chronicle the time and position of every franchise, from local California eatery in the 50s through to global domination towards the turn of the millenium. As usual, the curatorial staff at the Moving Image Centre 'hung' the show impeccably, even adding multiple translucent screens to create a triplicate projected effect (see images).

But what's problematic about the work is it's over the top slickness. The data could actually be displayed in any web browser - via Google Maps or Google Earth - but dfuse instead use a barrage of electronic looking tickers and LED interfaces. What could be a dynamic, intelligently networked piece hooked up to data sources worldwide is turned into static video because of a perceived need to seduce the viewer. Adding another layer of irony, this piece about globalisation is fundamentally localised due to it's media, although d-fuse plan to add more video content as the show makes it's way around the world.

Next door, the superficially simple, "Never been to Tehran" is a case in point. The ambitious worldwide photography project challenged artists to "take photographs (from their home base) of what they imagine Tehran to look like." Participants upload their shots to a Picasa Web Album, allowing a single hub for coordinating, as well as built in features like 'geotagging' to show origin of each image, and RSS feeds allowing blogs to incorporate it into their sites. This open framework means that curators worldwide can re-present the show in a variety of formats.

QuickTake: A jaorinum at the New Zealand Film Archive

Curated by Leonhard Emmerling, this group exhibition showcases some of the wealth of Icelandic video art, an amazingly rich selection from a country of around 300,000 people. Emmerling goes for variety here: from darkly brooding narrative pieces reminiscent of Matthew Barney (Sigurdur Gudjunsson, "Host"), to intimate, banal domestic scenes of a girl jumping on a couch. Noticeably, a good proportion of these works incorporate music in a much more dependent relationship than much video art. A significant tradition of innovative music artists like Bjork, Sigur Ros, and Under Byen has caused a rare effortlessness in crossing the visual/audio arts divide. Icelandic collectives like Kitchen Motors are a case in point, being founded by notable video practitioner Kristín Björk Kristjánsdóttir (exhibiting "Ours" in this show) and electronic musician Johann Johannson.

Elam Open Days: Undergrad show

Some quick highlights from the current undergrad show on now at Elam. Koreana Wilson 's towering glass sculpture titled "Burning and Dodging" hides between the library and the main studios. Deborah Resnick displays a delicate collection of ecosystems and literature - tiny, moisture filled glass containers and books cut into fan shapes. Some ambitious works for a second year project, Alexander Hoyles's sculptures consist of full scale bathroom scenes, complete with ubiquitous soap fixtures and tiling. Amber Panting humanised a glitch based sound installation by knitting over the top, turning technology into caricature. One of my standouts of the show, Gaura Kelly's earthworks were understated but fascinating. Lucy Tien's soft watercolour bleed works seemed to be a trend this year, at least 3 other artists utilised this style. Neeve Woodward's tethered orange parachute and Verity Jang's participatory piece - asking visitors to break glass - added some fun to the show.

Friday, October 26

Indie videogames push for new visual style

The Independent Games Festival has just posted all of it's entrants - and there are 173 of them. With a burgeoning indie game scene and tools to allow artists to create a wider range of styles for games, it's no surprise that aesthetics are being pushed beyond the usual clean 3-dimensional look associated with the medium.

Crayon Physics is playful and childlike, generating much of it's artwork dynamically from lines and boxes the player draws.

Flipside lets you "see the world through the eyes of a madman", exploring an idyllic, hilly terrain, then letting the player switch into a dark alternative - filled with a dying sun, black tones, and a "hero" that's just revealed a nasty streak.

The Glum Buster entry comes with no website, no developer contacts - almost no information at all, apart from this visually strong image of a bleeding tree, and a mysterious phrase: "Cheer up, dear friend, or they may come, And take you where the glum is from."

Aureia Harvey and Michael Samyn are entering "The Path", a dark twist on a Red Riding Hood type fable with a compelling visual style concocted from a witches brew of Twin Peaks, the Blair Witch Project, and M. Night Shyamalan films. What's interesting is that visual style and content are intertwined - an innovative, unique aesthetic is a catalyst for new forms of play, and sets up expectations for players to expect something different. Harvey and Samyn as a case in point don't just break the mold in their visual style, but also in fields like gameplay mechanics, interaction, and goals. "There is one rule in the game. And it needs to be broken. There is one goal. And when you attain it, you die."

Free as in seminar: Creative Commons talk tomorrow

Creative Commons New Zealand is hosting a free all-day seminar tomorrow (28th Oct) at the National Library in Wellington to "build understanding of the new licensing environment in the digital world." Guest speakers from Victoria University and the National Library, as well as CC International, will take you through a range of licenses which steer a middle ground between overly defensive traditional copyright, and simply giving it away. For more info on "Expanding Copyright Horizons through Creative Commons", check out the CC Aotearoa website. A webcast is said to be available tomorrow at this address, (broken for now).

Thursday, October 25

Pixels to paint: Outsourcing image production

It's a bizaare image: a couple KKK members, Xzibit (of Pimp my Ride fame), and an industrial robot, all set in a forest scene. Just Another Painting restores the traditional patron relationship by commissioning a work - but then twists it, offshoring production to a painter named Jung Min and developing the montage using lo-res shots from the web. Staging the project, the anonymous patron is deliberately difficult, requesting daily work in progress shots, repositioned elements, and even new items added late in the process.

In Dafen, China, it really is just another painting. The tiny village has elevated mass production of oils and famous pieces to a $36 million dollar industry. It's estimated "60 percent of the world's cheap oil paintings" are produced within the town's 4 square kilometres. A good painter can crank out up to 30 pieces a day: Monet's, Van Goghs, or more generic scenes like nudes and military poses. One of the biggest operations, Shenzhen Artlover Ltd, state they wish to "get into the business of oil paintings the way McDonalds got into the business of fast food."

Tuesday, October 23

Meaningful videogames on the rise

Gamers have seen this environment before. Yet instead of a barrage of semi-automatic weaponry at their disposal, they have a Koran. Rather than side-stepping and running through the level, the player is hanging around, chatting to other detainees. Their's little else to do.

Set in the infamous detainee center, "Escape from Woomera" is a MOD (modification) of the immensely popular first person shooter, Half Life. Users can play as a variety of inmates, each with their own backstories, in a thoroughly researched recreation of the camp. "Television footage, press and radio reports, and the recollections of former detainees and employees will be used to mimic the layout and daily life in the centres, down to meal times, the way guards communicate with each other and 'episodic violence'." (SMH) Now archived at SelectParks, the game is one of a growing number of so-called "meaningful games", seeking to introduce a greater quotient of educational, political, or cultural content to an industry dominated by technically brilliant but superficial shooters.

Ian Bogost's Persuasive Games is a company founded on such a premise, with a slew of titles like FatWorld, Presidential Pong, and Food Import Folly. Popular pieces like Airport Security were created within weeks of new legislation on aviation carry-ons, as the "video game equivalent of an editorial cartoon". Reviews from the New York Times revealed some of the power of the medium to force players to experience a situation. "I’ll just say it’s somewhat stupid, and requires fast reflexes and an ability to adapt to absurd and arbitrary rules changes. Just like real airport security." Strangely Bogost doesn't see any ethical dilemmas in developing a variety of commercial games for clients like dessert chain Cold Stone, or creating "Xtreme Errands" for hulking SUV Jeep, which "challenges players to complete tasks utilizing the unique features of this vehicle."

Gonzalo Frasca's first game "Kabul Kaboom!" was entirely produced on a coast to coast flight. "I was disgusted at seeing how the most powerful country on Earth was bombing the crap out of one of the poorest, so I created this game. I wasn't expecting much when I posted it online, but after a few days it had several thousands players from all over the world and this encouraged me to keep using videogames as a form of political expression and experimentation." Frasca's game "September 12th" was a seminal work of the genre, mixing easily accessible web-based play with a controversial political message that still causes hate-mail to this day.

Sadly, designers and developers in the New Zealand Game Developers Association don't seem to stray outside the commercial box. One of the few major studios, Wellington-based Sidhe Interactive pumps out titles like "GripShift" and "Rugby League 2" as well as aligned properties like "Jackass: the video game". Straylight studios major effort has been a 2d multiplayer battleship game, Star-Tag, and Binary Star's rather traditional looking "Homeland" has been in progress for years.

For more 'meaningful' games, check out: Operation Pedopriest, Ayiti: The cost of life, The McGame, and PeaceMaker.