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.