Playable City Tokyo

Playable City Tokyo

I was recently one of four British participants selected to take part in Watershed’s Playable City project in Tokyo. Working alongside 7 Japanese counterparts and an awesome support team from the Pervasive Media Studio and British Council Japan, we spent a week exploring the theme of playful welcomes:

 

In 2020, the world will focus on Japan for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. In the run up, the construction period and during the games themselves, thousands of people will visit the city who have not been before. With the theme of  a ‘Playful Welcome’, seven Japanese and four UK participants will collaborate and develop playful ideas to connect visitors and local people to each other and to the city, during this exciting time.

…The Playable City Tokyo 2016 Creative Lab and Forum programme is part of the trial research project for the governmental “Basic Policy for Promoting Measures related to Preparations for and Management of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2020”.

Further details about who was involved can be found on the Lab’s page on the Playable City website.

It was an intense week with a lovely group of intelligent, observant, generous people all riffing off each other and their surroundings; poking at gaps in language and disjoints between cultures, asking many questions and exploring even the smallest of details alongside the big questions.

Some of the very many things we packed into that too-short amount of time included some of the following…

Looking up

A map-making exercise of the area around the WIRED lab in Ark Hills where we were based. These maps led us to complete creative activities, to seek out the deity hidden in plain view and to chase after leaves. The one I made was effectively a prompt for people to slow down and to look up: a sort of treasure hunt of details and views.

Looking up

We also concocted small games for each other. Jo and I were set the Chopsticks Challenge which comprised several tasks that had to be completed working together elbow-to-elbow to make a pair of chopsticks with our forearms. I’m quite impressed with our portrait of Hilary!

chopstick drawing

As the week progressed we were allocated to different teams and we began the task of a more focussed critique of Tokyo and the processes of interaction and integration we might like to see happen as visitors start to arrive as part of the upcoming Olympic Games.

group sharing

We filled many ginormous sheets of paper with notes and diagrams like this:

thinks

(I can assure they all made perfect sense at the time!)

Gradually the concrete room we were colonising became covered in the traces of our thought processes and we began to distil out key themes and assemble them into a proposal for things-that-might-be.

With limited time and resources, prototyping was very lo-fi …but fast, and full of energy. Also little magic moments like this demonstration of a restaurant queue enlivened into a collaborative dance routine by responsive light panels in the floor!

magic moment

Other experiments took place outside.

We only got into trouble with the local security guards twice in the whole week…

trouble

As our ideas got bigger they also started to ask more questions about the types of interactions we wanted to nurture, the places we wanted these interactions to happen and how we wanted to mediate these.

Our group repeatedly grappled with the ideas of gateways, rabbitholes and entrances, so when it came time to take our prototyping outside to include real people and places, we chose to take things right back to basics and to do some experiments questioning how the very first invitation might work. What does it take to bring someone over that line between playing and not playing?

To focus in on the invitation we had to choose play that was familiar enough that we wouldn’t need to explain the rules. One thing led to another and suddenly we were armed with a selection of signs and an escalator in the nearby shopping centre.

pick one

Our aim was to use the fixed space and timespan of the journey up the escalator as a space in which to recruit people to playing a game of Rock, Paper, Scissor (or Janken Pon) at the moment that they reached the top.

janken escalator

We tried different signs in the approach to the escalator and also on and alongside the escalator itself, but without much uptake at all. It wasn’t until we ‘rebranded’ the escalator as The Janken Escalator that things started to turn around.

Perhaps not at all unsurprisingly, the real change came when we had a person waiting at the top of the escalator, ready to start throwing shapes. Up until then we’d had a poster with a pre-made choice that the player ‘played’ against by making their choice – and grabbing a piece of paper representing it – on the way up.

Playing with a real person is just loads better!

(c) British Council, photo by Kenichi Aikawa

© British Council, photo by Kenichi Aikawa

Again I think we raised as many questions as we answered, but that’s when you know things are interesting. Alas we were out of time, though, and the following day we were presenting our research to a room full of people before wrapping up and saying our goodbyes.

traces

Also traces

You can see my Flickr album of photos from the workshop here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nikki_pugh/albums/72157673973684273

It was a wonderful, challenging, stimulating workshop to have been a part of and it’s left me hungry for more of the same. It’s also been interesting to have had the work flow structured by someone else – making me reflect on the processes I would normally work though and highlighting aspects that I find more or less important to me in my practice. For example, in particular I felt the lack of having a specific place to be designing interactions for. What was interesting though was that I also felt the lack of having a technological system to work with too.

Normally I’d be reciting a mantra of “don’t start with the technology”, but Playable City is ultimately about being playful with the infrastructure of a place (rather than just being playful in a place) and it felt like that was missing a bit from the ideas we explored.

I wonder both how I would approach the brief if I tackled it by myself, but also how we would build on what we did in that one week if we tackled it again as a group.

I think even if I did do a solo project I’d be carrying the Playable City cohort with me: my perception of Tokyo is now mediated through the eyes and experiences of everyone in the group and the things that they shared.

 

Orrery: a prop for conversations

Having made the Orrery, the next step was to send it out into the world and see where it could take us in terms of conversations and approaching the idea of live-tracking a bit differently.

First it visited Emily Chappell and her dad; then I went for a bike ride with Hannah Nicklin, revisiting some of her triathlon route; and then the Orrery caught up with Tina Tylen and Bumble the dog as they waited for Kajsa to return home. I also spoke about the Orrery at the recent Pedalling Ideas event in Leeds, and conversations there have filtered into the mix as well.

For the exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery I made an audio piece (you can listen to it via the thingy above, or download it via this link), which weaves together some of the themes that came out of all these discussions. It’s kind of a snapshot of what the conversationalists and I have been thinking about recently, looked at through the lens of the Orrery for Landscape, Sinew and Serendipity project. This part of the process has also been the sort of initial brainstorming phase for understanding what the Orrery is …or what it might be.

I’m keen to explore different types of watchfulness relating to cycling journeys, especially those that aren’t served by the sort of live-tracking tools currently in use. Get in touch if you have a story you’d like to share.

Links for things mentioned in the audio:
The blog accompanying Hannah’s development of Equations for a Moving Body
Emily’s blog post about her ascent of Mount Ventoux
Kajsa and Tina’s video diary of the record attempt

 

orrery

relating

remembering

 

return

Sketch from Pedalling Ideas event by Phil Dean (@PHILDEAN1963 on Twitter)

Sketch from Pedalling Ideas event by Phil Dean (@PHILDEAN1963 on Twitter)

 

Announcing ‘Orrery…’ and ‘Links & Shifts’

After what feels like a small eternity of putting things into place, I’m really excited to now be able to announce a major project that explores questions about the physical and emotional experiences of cycling (and of being the person left at home); the frictions of data visualisation; and different practices of finding-out-by-doing.

Over the coming months I’ll be building a sculptural object that responds to data generated by people as they undertake journeys by bike. I’ll then be putting it into use to explore how it might shift our relationships and awarenesses in different ways. Alongside this there’ll be an event at Birmingham Open Media with guest speakers Kat Jungnickel and Emily Chappell, and the project will be in an exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery in October.

Read on to find out more…

Orrery for Landscape, Sinew and Serendipity

An alternative approach to visualising long cycle journeys: what happens when you shift from thinking about markers on a map to an awareness of the changing rhythms of effort and terrain?

Trackleaders mapping of the ridersin the Transcontinental Race, 2015

Trackleaders mapping of the riders in the Transcontinental Race, 2015

The Orrery is intended as a device for exploring how our conversations and connectedness change when we have a moving sculptural object constantly communicating progress rather than us occasionally clicking to refresh a map on a webpage. It’s there as a prop for thinking with and also as a physical thing made out of stuff that can be lived with and related to over time. Not an answer, but a tool for asking questions.

Although driven by what’s effectively the same GPS data that services such as Trackleaders (above) and other platforms use, rather than utilising this to give precise location and to draw lines on a map the Orrery gives no information as to the whereabouts of the person you’re tracking. Instead the Orrery uses cams, cranks, pulleys and changing light levels to give cues for envisioning if they are experiencing a grinding uphill slog, the simple pleasure of a tailwind or the liminality of cycling into the dawn.

The Orrery reacts to data as the miles pass by, muscles contract, views are revealed, strangers encountered and trains of thought dance. How on earth do you begin to convey some sort of essence of that to someone on the other end of an internet connection? Should you?

Accompanying the Orrery will be recorded conversations with a selection of people who have either undertaken significant [there’s a chewy word – more on this later!] journeys or been the person remaining at home wondering how they’re getting on. I’m aiming to record about six conversations in total, here are the ones that have been planned so far:

Hannah Nicklin

"Standing in cool morning air, being kept warm by my mum and brother." Hannah waiting for the start of the Outlaw triathlon.

“Standing in cool morning air, being kept warm by my mum and brother.” Hannah waiting for the start of the Outaw triathlon.

Theatre maker, poet, game designer, producer and sometime academic, Hannah Nicklin is interested in community storytelling and the spaces between ‘what is’ and ‘what if’ where new thinking happens. Last year this involved training for an ironman triathlon whilst making theatre based on that experience and the stories weaving through and around it.

Our conversation starts with my experience of anxiously hitting refresh on the triathlon’s results webpage, waiting for an indication of whether or not she had made it across the finishing line.

Together we’ll return to the 112 mile cycling section of the course and retrace in situ the highs and lows Hannah encountered during the race a year earlier.

~~~
Hannah’s performance Equations for a Moving Body will be showing in Edinburgh during August – follow Hannah to find out more details as they’re released.

Tina Tylen

Tina and Kajsa

Tina and Kajsa

Tina Tylen’s daughter Kajsa is currently attempting to beat the women’s year cycling record by cycling more than 29,603 miles before the end of 2016.

Tina uses an online tracking service several times daily to check in on Kajsa’s progress. At the time of writing, Kajsa’s tracker is showing 16,127 km (10,021 miles) ridden since the start of the year.

What is it like to simultaneously structure every day for a whole year around a journey made 77 years ago and your daughter who is out there in the wind and rain right now? As we watch the accumulation of lines showing all the roads ridden, amongst all the armchair analysis of average speeds and breaking records, is it worth reminding ourselves that the tracker is also a convenient tool for knowing when to have dinner and a hot bath ready?

~~~
Kajsa’s challenge runs throughout 2016. You can follow her progress tracker-style or catch up on scone reviews, headwinds and weary legs with the video diary.

Emily Chappell

Emily and her father

Emily and her father

Adventure cyclist and writer Emily Chappell has toured across continents, fatbiked across snow and ice, and raced across Europe. She recently published a book about her time as a cycle courier in London and regularly writes for the Guardian’s Bike Blog.

What are the common threads woven through these experiences of cycling and what of these are captured by the spreadsheets compiled by her father? What are the pressures that come from knowing your location is being precisely tracked and what are the frustrations of not quite having enough information to know how someone far away but important to you is getting on?

~~~
Emily will be competing in the Transcontinental Race in August, there’ll no doubt be a map full of markers for you to follow along with…

… or you can come to …

Links & Shifts

21st August at Birmingham Open Media
Doors open 2:30 for a 3pm start
Link for tickets: https://linksandshifts.eventbrite.co.uk

At this event I’ll be joined by Kat Jungnickel and Emily Chappell for an exploration of understanding-through-doing; questions around sensescapes; our relationships to place; the affordances of bodies and technology in motion; and how we tell the stories of the physical, emotional and intellectual journeys we go on.

bloomers

Sociologist Kat Jungnickel has been researching the social, political and material challenges to the freedom of movement experienced by Victorian women. The resulting research – Bikes and Bloomers – has at its core the making and wearing of a collection of transformable cycling garments patented at the time.

Emily will be recently-returned from racing something of the order of 3,800 km (2,360 miles) between Muur van Geraardsbergen (Belgium) and Çanakkale (Turkey). Join us for the post-race stream of consciousness where memories start to be shaped into stories, links are made and the process of reflection gathers momentum.

~~~
Places for Links & Shifts will be limited, so if you want to find out about ticketing when the time comes make sure you’re either signed up on my mailing list or following me on Twitter, @nikkipugh.

Update: tickets will be available from https://linksandshifts.eventbrite.co.uk

Moving forward

There are so many people behind the scenes helping to make this project happen. Lists are a bit inadequate at properly expressing gratitude, but here’s one anyway. Thank you!

Wolverhampton School of Art – A residency there has enabled me to do a lot of the prototyping for the Orrery. Time, space and tools for developing ideas are immensely valuable.
Arts Council England – Who have awarded me a grant that will enable production of the Orrery, recording of the conversations and some of the events linked to the project.
Mike Cummins – Chief data-wrangler, stoking the code that turns data into Orrery fuel.
Kim Wall – Making sure the Orrery can talk to the databases and keep all the spinny things spinning.
Jez Higgins – Who coded the phone app we use for live tracking of journeys.
Birmingham Open Media – Providing venue and support for the Links & Shifts event.
People of the internet – Everyone who has riffed with me on various trains of thought that have fed into and shaped this project.
Also of course Hannah, Tina, Emily and Kat who took a punt on this project whilst it was still very much in its nascent stages.

The exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery will be open between the 1st and the 9th of October, so get those dates and the 21st of August into your diaries, stand by for more information and consider this an invitation for conversation in the meantime.

Developing Colony: presentation at Networked Urban Mobilities

I’ve just got back from a few days in Copenhagen where I was taking part in the Networked Urban Mobilities conference organised by the Cosmobilities Network. If you were there and just want to get to my talk, then click here, otherwise read on for the background context…

I’d submitted an abstract under the Art as Mobile Research special session strand:

‘ART AS MOBILE RESEARCH: THE JOURNEY OF MAKING’

In recent years, it has been argued that new research methods are needed to study current mobility practices, discourses and materialities. Next to more traditional social science methods, mobile methods have included participatory observation, virtual and autoethnographies, and various kinds of mapping. Building on these methodological innovations, this session theme explores art as mobile research. Since the early 1990s, artistic research has developed as a distinct field of study. Making art is taken to be a form of doing research and the works of art that result from that research are presented as a form of knowledge. Practical testing is frequently an essential part of this ‘journey of making’ process, enabling ideas and techniques to be resolved before making finished work as part of the whole creative process. Art is not only relevant from the perspective of the aesthetic experience, it is argued, but also as knowledge claim. For artistic practice, this development undermines the modern dichotomy of autonomy and instrumentalism, thus breaking away from the alleged ‘otherness’ of art as a societal domain that has clear boundaries and can be separated from science.

In this session, we investigate how art practices might contribute to mobilities research, as well as how artists reflect on mobile worlds in their work. How can artistic research practices and discourses be drawn upon to develop new ways of understanding and researching the performative ontologies of travel? How can artistic production be seen as a meaningful context to explore mobilities? How can the creative process of the ‘journey of making’ inform mobilities? We invite papers and art works examining these questions.

The session will be organizaed by Kevin Hannam from Leeds Metropolitan University and Peter Peters from Maastricht University.

Nikki Pugh (UK) is an artist working at the intersection of people, place, playfulness and technology. Over the Summer of 2014 she will be in residence at Bristol’s Pervasive Media Lab developing her ongoing project Colony.

Colony is an exploration of how we navigate public space: a small group of people each carry a landscape-reactive ‘creature’ that uses real-time processing of GPS data to generate either a claustrophobic or claustrophilic personality.

Responsible for its well-being, can you find a route across the city that minimises the enclosed or open spaces that distress your creature? How do you balance the elastic pushes and pulls acting on you: guardianship for your creature; the need to get from A to B; the desire to stay with the rest group; the points and stares from onlookers observing your unusual behaviour?

Colony has been developed through a series of prototypes and playtests. Early experiments saw people carrying vibrating bundles of bubblewrap through the post-industrial landscapes of Birmingham, finding excuse and entitlement to explore slightly grimy alleyways or listen to what doorways felt like. A later iteration explored assumptions about secrecy and convenience with large, heavy, cumbersome wooden tubes that hammered out signals according to how built up the surrounding were. Landscape-reactive Sashes (part of the arts programme at the Global Conference on Mobility Futures, Lancaster, 2013) explored what it was like to move as part of a networked group.

At the Networked Urban Mobilities Conference, Nikki will recount how these modules of research build on each other as she investigates the design of the animated, networked, landscape-reactive creatures, the narrative of the events through which they are used, and the affordances the combination of these give for providing new experiences of moving through the city.

My proposal was accepted into what evolved into the ‘Artistic Interventions’ session held last Friday, also speaking alongside Jen Southern, David Pinder, Mike Collier, Peter Peters and Samuel Thulin in a series of 7-slides-each-of-a-minute’s-duration presentations.

This gave me slightly less manoeuvrability than the recent talk at Pecha Kucha Coventry, but I tend to bring props with me and, well, they have a pretty good frame rate!

Accompanying me on the flight over to Denmark was a flat-packed creature fresh from the residency at the Pervasive Media Studio and a couple of heartbeats.

The flatpacked critter being reassembled on the first day of the conference. Adjustable spanners have a habit of being a few millimetres too narrow, but fortunately I had made a lightweight wooden one of the right size to bring with me!

Heartbeat device v4: I took one in a relaxed state and one in a panicked state for people to spend some time with.

The heartbeats were passed around at the start of the session as we waited for further audience members to successfully negotiate the navigational challenge of getting to the room we were in. (The building used to belong to Nokia and seemed to have inherited some of their security quirks. We never did see the sauna, though…) It was interesting to watch people place them on their bodies and feel the different pulses.

Meanwhile the critter was draped over a table and purred away contently throughout my talk.

…And here are the slides and basic content of my presentation (although I did go off piste a little bit).

Hi, I’m Nikki and in 2010 I realised I was working here.

I’d just spent a few years involved with hackspaces and pervasive gaming.
So, peer-to-peer skills-sharing with a technological bent and also grownups doing playful things in public places.

What I took from the hackspace stuff was a sense of possibility that someone like me – with next to no formal training in electronics or coding – could design and make my own technology.

I don’t really get on with screens; I’m much more interested in working with pounding hearts and the hairs on the back of your neck. Making my own devices means I can choose alternative ways of interfacing with the tech, with each other and with the world(s) around us.

My practice is centred on exploring how we interact with and perceive our surroundings. By adding in sensors and microcomputers to sculptural and worn forms, I could now explore extending or adjusting our familiar senses and our everyday experiences of place.

I wanted to work on a project that would enable me to explore my relationship with that territory in the Venn diagram. That project is Colony and I’m going to give you an overview of key stages in its evolution so far.

I had a fleeting image of a small group of people, each responsible for the well-being of some sort of creature they were carrying.

I was interested in the different pushes and pulls that I thought would be acting on the people carrying the creatures. Curious as to how all those would interplay to affect the experience of navigating across a city in a group.

The first version I made was a simple bundle of bubble wrap with vibration motors down its length, programmed to go off at randomly-selected intervals and intensities.

One of the participants blogged this comment.

She also described how it was a passport to go down grimy alleyways and look over walls.

I like to think of the things I make as being permission givers.
Permission to go to new places, permission to behave differently, permission to be playful, permission to talk to strangers.

Feeling I had a successful proof of concept, the next step was to make the bundles landscape-reactive rather than just behaving randomly. This was to be the extended sense and the cue for selecting one path through the city over another.

I had a technique I’d been using that relates errors in GPS positional calculations back to the built-up-ness of the urban environment, so I used that to make the creatures claustrophobic.

I’m not going to go into detail about the system now, but feel free to talk with me about it afterwards..

What we got from this location-aware version was an excuse not just to go to different places, but to interact with those places in non-usual ways as people experimented with prompting and sensing different levels of distress in their creatures.

We all agreed there was something very nice in the soft, warm, light, secretive cuddliness of the creatures so far, so there was really only one thing to do next.

I made 3 of these wooden, heavy, cumbersome drum versions. They run off the same technology, but rather than using vibrations to secretly communicate their state to the person carrying them, these beat out a tapping noise that anyone standing nearby can hear.

I needed to challenge our first-reaction thoughts about what a ‘good’ design might be. What would be the affordances of something contrary to these?

In a world where our mobile devices are constantly sold to us on the basis of being smaller and sleeker and lighter, I also wanted to investigate carrying something burdensome. To constantly be aware of its presence.

The drums were not padded and they would get painful on your shoulder.
The cloth they were wrapped in was slightly abrasive, and would graze your knuckles as you gripped onto the cord.
The bulk of the thing would block your vision.

And people carried them around for much, much longer than I anticipated!

It’s like it became something of a mission. I’m not quite sure what it is, but I think there’s something there in becoming emotionally and physically invested in carrying an object that I’d like to return to later in my research.

Time to think about the Colony as a group. So I networked together some ramblers.

One person carried the equipment that was processing the GPS data and then radio tranceivers broadcast corresponding instructions out to sashes like this. Each sash had a single vibration motor in it that again buzzed with increasing intensity depending on how built up the surroundings were around that person who was doing the broadcasting. Being in rural Northamptonshire, that more often translated to density of tree cover.

We were walking for quite a long time and, unlike the Heavy Objects, I think there was a tendency for the sashes to become invisible to the people wearing them. The regular buzzing eased into the background.

Visually, however, those splashes of bright yellow made us stand out from the point of view of a spectator. They marked us out as being a group. I’m interested in that transition point between one lone person doing something odd and being seen as an outsider vs a number of people doing something odd and the spectator feeling that they’re on the outside because there’s something cool going on that they don’t know about.

This Summer I did a month’s residency at the rather marvellous Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol in the UK. 9 days with a laser cutter too. This was a chance to start pulling together all these little investigations I’d done so far.

Here’s where we’re up to now. This one isn’t processing GPS because we’re indoors, but when it’s got the proper version of the code it’ll thrash its tail around when it gets distressed.

It’s a bit clunky and you have to concentrate to carry it around, but it doesn’t actually give you bruises!
We’ve been experimenting with slings to help support some of the weight, and there’s something very interesting in the almost ritual action of binding yourself to the object.

That’s the point where I start to see it as being a complete entity – when it’s a creature-human assemblage.

We’ve taken 3 or 4 of them out for a few walks around Bristol, and what I hadn’t expected was the amount of stranger:stranger interactions they invite. We had so many people coming up to us asking if they could touch them, photograph them, draw with them…

This makes me happy as I’m a big fan of urbanist William Whyte’s ideas about the importance of conversation starters for contributing to the conviviality of public spaces.

So, that was a whistle-stop tour of some of the main chapters in the development of Colony. As different opportunities have presented themselves I’ve used them to home in on different questions that have bubbled up.

And a lot of different questions have bubbled up.

In terms of a research process becoming a finished piece of artwork, it seems I’m converging on designing objects that I’d like to be used as tools for sensing the behaviour of radio waves in urban environments. On a macro scale in terms of the signals from the GPS satellites – GPS shadows, concrete canyons and multipath errors – and on a comparatively micro scale using the same radio tranceivers I used for the sashes to bring in a line-of sight test for whether you are still connected to the other members of the colony.

That’s what the heartbeats that have been going around are for – if you get separated from the group, the creature panics and you have a limited amount of time to get to a position where you regain contact. Leave it too long and it’s game over.

The end!

~~~~~

Artist Lise (surname unknown, sorry) was live-drawing the session. Here’s her take on my presentation:

Strange. But in a good way!

Colony residency at the Pervasive Media Studio

I’m very happy indeed to be able to announce the start of a residency at the Pervasive Media Studio, Bristol, where I shall be developing my ongoing project Colony.

The residency will be for about a month – mostly taking part in July and August – and leads on from the Place Interfaces lunchtime talk I did for them a while back and conversations sprung from the GPS Orchestra workshop I ran.

An early prototype for a Colony creature

An early prototype for a Colony creature

There’s more information on the PM Studio’s project page, but in short I’m developing some landscape-reactive ‘creatures’ and am interested how use of these affects our experience of navigating cities.

I’ve just finished an introductory 3 days in the Studio which I used to suss out my approach for the main chunk of time next month. It was also a good chance to revisit my original aims for the project (first conceived back in 2011) with a few years’ more experience under my belt. This process involved a lot of post-it notes and a few push-puppets.

I’m not sure how the push-puppets felt about this.

Doing a bit of research into how pack animals signal to each other

Doing a bit of research into how pack animals signal to each other

 

A push-puppet robot about to reveal its secrets…

 

These limbs were a red herring

 

Now we know!

 

Reassembled components = more learning

 

 

Having successfully dissected and reconfigured one of the push puppets, I wanted to see if this approach to applying and releasing rigidity could be scaled up to the sort of size that the creatures I’m making will be. (I’m investigating body tension as a simple way of communicating distress.)

Drilling axial holes in dowel with a lathe

 

After a morning drilling and sanding dowel on a convenient lathe, I was able to experiment with much larger components and start to see how different surfaces and gravity start to play against each other.

I suspect dowel’s going to be too heavy for my purposes, so I think I’ll try beads next.

Meanwhile I’ve also started investigating use of XBee radios to network all the creatures within the colony so they exchange information with each other.

Lots of pages like this in my notebook as I think that through:

Lines of communication

Lines of communication

 

Protocode

 

Here’s what my desk ended up looking like:

Traces of thinking, learning and doing

 

I think that’s as good a representation of the process as any!

A few more photos from the last few days can be found on Flickr.

Many thanks to the Pervasive Media Studio community who have already moved my thinking on a lot, and also to Arts Council England who are supporting this residency through their Grants for the Arts programme.

Bees in a Tin line-up announced!

It is with very great pleasure that we’ve just announced the details for Bees in a Tin, an event I’ve co-curated with Hannah Nicklin and Jen Southern.

Bees in a Tin will feature talks and workshops from key makers and thinkers from around the country as well as two panel sessions for audience questions. If you’re interested in the spaces where the arts, science, technology, and games crash into one another, apologise, and then buy each other a drink: then this is for you.

The talking throne made by East London Kinetics

Even if we do say so ourselves, the line-up is outstanding, with contributions from

  • Dr. Rebekka Kill
  • Kate Andrew
  • Holly Gramazio
  • Hamish MacPherson
  • Stuart Nolan
  • Nigel Reid
  • Tim Wright
  • Pete Ashton
  • Katie Day
  • Alice O’Connor
  • Gareth Briggs
  • Henry Cooke

You can find out more about them all and what they’ll be talking/doing about on the Many & Varied website.

We’re also very excited to have a keynote commission from Sarah Angliss:

According to Sarah, the stage is a tricky place to deploy a machine with an unusual interface. Your audience may be encountering the interface for the first time. They’ll have to grasp its function as the music unfolds, even though they can only see and hear it in action, rather than get their own hands on it. These days, musicians often have to face the challenge of laptop-based interfaces, where so much of the function is embedded in invisible, intangible code. As Sarah talks about these issues and her experience with unusual machines on stage, she looks at the importance of ‘coupling’ – in particular, the audience’s sense of cause and effect between a musician’s actions and sound. What are we gaining – or losing – by loosening this coupling? Does it matter if the audience have no intuitive sense of the musician’s influence on the music? And how can we deploy coupling to turn any gig into an unforgettable event – one which could never be replaced simply by listening to recorded music at home.

Tickets are only £4.50. Buy some.

Bees in a Tin – call for unusual interfaces

I’ve been running the Many & Varied programme of events over at The Public, and as the last in that series (relocated to Birmingham, because The Public has now ceased to be) we’re gathering as many interesting and exciting people as we possibly can together in the same room at the same time.

The event is called Bees in a Tin and the call for proposals is here: http://manyandvaried.org.uk/bees_in_a_tin_-_call_for_stuff/ (deadline January the 8th). Follow that link for full details and the application form.

So, if you make unusual interfaces for the world around you, get thinking about how you can use that day. Also have a think about who you’d like in that room with you and spread the word!

GPS Orchestra with the Digital Producers Lab

I’ve spent the last week running GPS Orchestra as an ongoing element woven through iShed’s brilliant Digital Producers Lab (a development programme for 12 producers working across Wales).

As a counterpoint to the programme of presentations and discussion settings led by some great speakers, GPS Orchestra was intended as a practical set of tasks to introduce working with GPS, electronics and the Arduino platform.

Starting with a ‘site visit’ out into Millennium Square, the producers were tasked with observing the space and thinking about how they’d like to nudge the atmosphere and/or behaviours they noticed.

That was the easy bit! What followed was a steep-learning-curved introduction to coding and prototyping to get them to the point where they could control motors and LEDs through live GPS data according to the movement of the contraptions they were to make.

Layering up the skills through the week, it was very heartwarming to hear that by Wednesday quite a few of the group were already planning to purchase Arduino bits and pieces to continue tinkering with after the lab!

By Friday lunch time – after only about 5 or 6 hours on their projects – they had made some amazing things:

  • Something that responded to the number of satellites it could see – initially intended to be rolled along the floor, but ended up getting lots of hugs.
  • Happbee – a wounded bee whose recuperation could be assisted if you carried him fast through the air as if he was flying.
  • The musical box – a small box that had the power to make you dance (or at least move differently).
  • The Digital Harp / y Delyn digidol – plays when you walk towards Wales and plays more the closer to are to the homelands.

It wasn’t an easy challenge by any means, but I was really impressed with the outcomes (not just the things they made). A lovely group of people and a very inspiring week overall. Thanks to everyone who contributed.

My photos from the week are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/nikki_pugh/sets/72157637471578064/, and below are a collection of Tweets relating to the sessions:

Venue-hunting for Bees in a Tin conference

I’ve spent the Summer working on a residency hosted by The Public in West Bromwich where I’ve been designing and delivering a programme of events related to maker culture and DIY technology.

Different events have been aimed at different audiences. You can see the results at http://manyandvaried.org.uk.

One last event remains: Bee in a Tin. Nominally aimed at artists, but you can read that as something like “people dedicating sustained effort to interesting projects”. We’re all very excited about this, but there’s one catch. The Public as we know it is being shut down by Sandwell Council at the end of next month.

This means many things, amongst which is the need for me to find an alternative venue for the conference.

Please can you help me compile a shortlist of possibilities?

Here’s what I’m after:

  • Somewhere that can accommodate around 50 people doing a range of presentations, workshops and more active playtesting (likely to involve going outside).
  • Preferably ‘slightly scruffy’ (i.e. people aren’t afraid to colonise the space and inhabit corners for making stuff etc.
  • Wi-Fi
  • Plentiful supplies of electrons
  • Heating (we’re aiming for a February/March date)
  • Low-ish hire rates (my budget was based on free venue hire at The Public!)
  • Probably restricted to either Birmingham-ish or Bristol for geographical reasons…

I can be pretty flexible, but the kind of thing I have in mind is the 2011 GLI.TC/H Festival which hit a sweet spot with size and malleability of space. (There are some photos here, but I’m not sure how much of a sense of the space they convey.) Basically the old VIVID space would have been ideal.

What can you suggest as alternative?

Coming up: Heavy Objects at If Wet…

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the If Wet… HQ at Callow End in Worcestershire, If Wet… being a fabulous monthly salon of sonic explorations, the like of which you’ve almost certainly never seen – or heard – before.

This weekend I’ll be presenting Score for heavy objects and built environment at If Wet.. #5.

You may remember the Heavy Objects from the And Miles to go Before I Sleep… exhibition last year: large, cumbersome wooden tubes that process GPS data in order to make tapping noises in response to the type of space they are moving through.

An Heavy Object getting a test drive last year

For If Wet… we used the Heavy Objects to record a sonic profile of the village of Callow End and the surrounding area. Having first waited for a gap in the rain, we set off with our unusual instruments…

Score for heavy objects and built environment (If Wet...)

Score for heavy objects and built environment (If Wet...)

It was hard work, but worth it for the expressions of the people we encountered along the way. Sam had a few explanations to make to some of his neighbours, although I noted no-one really seemed surprised at what he was doing…

Score for heavy objects and built environment (If Wet...)

Score for heavy objects and built environment (If Wet...)

Score for heavy objects and built environment (If Wet...)

The recording currently only exists as raw data:

And a couple of visual representations:

For Sunday’s If Wet… we will play the recorded data back though the Heavy Objects for the first time – no one has heard it yet, not even me!

Weather permitting, there will also be an opportunity for you to take a Heavy Object outside and have a chance to use it as an instrument yourself.

As if that wasn’t enough, there will also be a (very) limited number of prints available of one of the data visualisations of the heavy sound of Callow End.

There’s a preview of everything on the programme at http://www.ifwet.org.uk/news/if-wet-5-preview/ and you can buy your tickets in advance at http://ifwet5.eventbrite.co.uk/. Kathy Hinde’s work is very interesting – well worth checking out.

See you there!



Copyright and permissions:

General blog contents released under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa license. Artworks and other projects copyright Nicola Pugh 2003-2017, all rights reserved.
If in doubt, ask.
The theme used on this WordPress-powered site started off life as Modern Clix, by Rodrigo Galindez.

RSS Feed.