Where the Sky Widens workshop at BOM

A few weeks back I ran the first of a series of particpatory workshops for my research project Where the Sky Widens. This one was kindly hosted by Birmingham Open Media and participants cam from a public invitation.


Being the first workshop I was quite hands-off at letting the discussion and pace find their own equilibrium. It was hard at first to encourage people to talk as they first got to grips with the paper templates, but as people found their groove there were some nice meaty topics.

A recurring theme in the feedback has been about the strength of feeling people felt towards their completed pods after crafting it by their own hand rather than just being handed a pre-made object. No wonder really when you look back at the making process:

Where the Sky Widens workshop at BOM


Where the Sky Widens workshop at BOM

Where the Sky Widens workshop at BOM


Where the Sky Widens workshop at BOM

Where the Sky Widens workshop at BOM

There were some really interesting places selected for people’s pods to respond to, and it was great to see the reactions when the pods first kicked into life and started waggling. Walks were made.

Where the Sky Widens workshop at BOM

Where the Sky Widens workshop at BOM

Where the Sky Widens workshop at BOM

Where the Sky Widens workshop at BOM

…and interactions were had:

Where the Sky Widens workshop at BOM

One person declined to take their work home with them and I’m curious to learn the fate of the others. There has been talk of naming, nesting and re-surfacing…

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:

Landscape-reactive Sashes at Mobilities Futures

Last week I was up in Lancashire for the Mobilities Futures conference at Lancaster University. Mobilities has been brewing in the periphery of my awareness for a couple of years now, so it was great to get a chance to immerse myself in so many interesting streams of thinking.

I was part of the artists’ programme leading a workshop using the landscape-reactive sashes I developed with Fermynwods Contemporary Arts last year as a tool to feed into research for Colony.

The session was based around a small group of people wearing the sashes walking in a loose group, in silence, around the campus for about an hour. Naturally it started to chuck it down with rain just as the workshop started…

Brave souls venture out into the Weather

A quick redux for those that weren’t there: the sashes are connected by a mesh radio network, all receiving broadcasts from a central node. This central node is monitoring GPS data to get a measure of inaccuracies. These inaccuracies can be caused by many different things, but typically multipath error is the main candidate:

The multipath effect is caused by reflection of satellite signals (radio waves) on objects. It was the same effect that caused ghost images on television when antennae on the roof were still more common instead of today’s satellite dishes.

For GPS signals this effect mainly appears in the neighbourhood of large buildings or other elevations. The reflected signal takes more time to reach the receiver than the direct signal. The resulting error typically lies in the range of a few meters.http://www.kowoma.de/en/gps/errors.htm

Once it has a value for the degree of error, the central node then broadcasts instructions for the sashes to vibrate in a particular pattern. Thus the general pattern is that the more built up or undercover an area is, the greater the extent of error induced into the GPS data and the more the sashes vibrate.

In open areas people wearing a sash would typically feel a gentle pulse every 30 seconds or so. In areas where there is not such a clear view of open sky, the sashes vibrate for longer and more intensely.

Transitioning from an undercover area to a more open one

Out in the open, but with large buildings nearby. The response of the sashes may still be influenced by these – it depends on the position of the satellites

Being a fairly miserable Friday morning outside of term time, there weren’t many people out and about on campus as we drifted around. We were smiled at a few times and some of us were asked either for directions or if we needed directions.

The latter points to something interesting. Most of our sashes were covered up by coats in order to protect the electronics: in the absence of this signifier, the way in which we were moving slowly marked us out as being slightly different.

Afterwards, one of the participants – someone who works on the campus – commented on this change of speed and the opportunity it gave for reflective thought.

A few others too reported on how their thoughts wandered at different times. The vibrations from the sashes come through every 20 to 30 seconds and they’re pitched at a moderate level so that they’re there as a sense to tune into if you wish, but they also fade into the background if not.

At the end of the session we were able to take a quick look at a chunk of data rendered visually. After trying to relate the lines back to the landscape and the journey we’d made I then transferred the data to Google Earth. Ah! That’s where that happened!

In these visualisations the length of the lines relate to the intensity of vibration felt at that location at that time. The longer the lines the more vibration is felt

…and the same data in Google Earth superimposed over imagery showing the architecture on campus

I’ve made an A4 poster of all of the data from that day (the workshop and a test walk I did earlier in the morning) for you to download and print.

You can also download this .kml file for viewing in Google Earth if you’d like to see the data superimposed over imagery of the landscape.

My (somewhat grey and dingy) photos from the workshop are in this Flickr set.

Many thanks to the conference organisers, the workshop participants and everyone else at Mobilities Futures for a very interesting few days.

Young Rewired Art

I recently spent a week as a mentor/lead artist on the Young Rewired Art programme, a parallel project to Young Rewired State.

YRA took 10 young artists with varying practices (poets, actors, writers and graphic designers) and, over a week with myself and Antonio Roberts introduced them to different ways of working with data. The aim being to support them in exploring ways in which data and digital tools could be integrated into their work.

I led the first day, introducing concepts of physical computing and live datastreams coming from sensors. What better way to do this than with the sonar goggles!

We were based in the BCU section of Millennium Point, but it wasn’t long before the participants rose to the challenge and ventured out into more public space.

Young Rewired Art

Young Rewired Art

Young Rewired Art

Later that day I did a quick introduction to Arduino and we finished off with a few MaKey MaKey boards and a chain of everyone we could find triggering a plum-based piano.

Young Rewired Art

This ice breaker made me think of performing arts lessons in which I have to wonder around blindfolded and tune into my other sense. I thought the glasses would be great for my performing arts practice for when I wanted to work on spatiality.

Other tangible technology Nikki introduced to us were ‘Makey Makeys’, I have to say that this was the highlight of my week; with the aid of the ‘Makey Makeys’ we were able to make a piano out of plums! By doing this we were able to also interact with the Young Rewired State young people by bringing them into our room to see how many humans we could add to our live circuit and still have it working (23 and that’s only because there weren’t more of us). Lexia Tomlinson

Young Rewired Art

Young Rewired Art

After Antonio had done similar introductions for data-bending and glitch art, it was time for the participants to get into groups and come up with a prototype project that hybridised their existing practices with some of these new ingredients.

What emerged were a set of glitched Vanley Burke images, a short film exploring digital dependency and twin bears that used proximity sensing to trigger audio contrasting different political viewpoints.

On the final weekend we ventured down from what was now our base in the Custard Factory and displayed our projects guerilla style amongst the amazing chaos of the Young Rewired State Festival of Code.

Young Rewired Art

Young Rewired Art

Young Rewired Art

Young Rewired Art

We struggled to compete against the lunchtime noise, but finally found a spot for the bears outside and stood back to observe the interactions.

Young Rewired Art

Young Rewired Art

Young Rewired Art

All my photos and videos are in this Flickr set, keep an eye on the project’s Tumblr for the participants’ final videos which should be published shortly…

Thanks to all who took part – it was an intense and inspiring week!

Young Rewired Art was devised by Amy Martin in partnership with Young Rewired State and Lara Ratnaraja. It is funded by Arts Council England.

GPS Orchestra workshop at The Public

GPS Orchestra

As part of the Many & Varied programme at The Public over the summer, I’m running another of my GPS Orchestra workshops.

Again limited to 10 people, but this time supported by Arts Council and running over 2 days, the £40 ticket price represents quite a bargain – get yours now!

We’ll be using a combination of Arduino, simple electronics and junk materials to make a collection of noise-making devices that play themselves in response to how you move through a landscape.

Whilst coding experience might be useful, it’s nowhere near as essential as imagination, a sense of humour and a willingness to give things a try. Absolutely no musical ability required whatsoever.

I’ll guide you through what you’ll need to read live data coming in off a GPS module and use an Arduino nano to translate this into taps, rattles, swooshes and whirrrrrs through an assortment of motors, servos and the like.

By the end of the weekend you’ll have a great utility belt of translatable skills and enough know-how to buy your own kit if you decide this is something you’d like to do more of.

As I said, places are strictly limited, so get your tickets soon.

GPS Orchestra

GPS Orchestra raw materials. Add imagination.

GPS Orchestra: Octopus edition

GPS Orchestra, Octopus Edition

Despite some seriously wet weather, at about 5pm yesterday some curious – and noisy! – figures could be seen/heard wending their way around Barrow Park.

Most of the day’s 7 Orchestrians were brand new to the world of using Arduino, so after a quick crash course we limited ourselves to using a vibrating motor each and some simple code that changed the number of buzzes depending on the direction being travelled. That and the most waterproof instrument builds we could manufacture!

bird in a tin from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

The bandstand in the park provided a nice setting for drifting around in large circles and we liked the idea of returning at a sunnier time (obviously not August – what were we thinking?!) and performing for an audience sat in the middle whilst watching us move around the outside.

Here’s a slideshow of my photos from the workshop:

Thanks to our hosts and to everyone who took part. Keep an eye out for more GPS Orchestra workshops around the country over the following months, and also for further interesting things coming out of Barrow Park courtesy of Octopus.

GPS Orchestra workshop with Octopus Collective

On Saturday the 25th of August I’ll be up at the Octopus Collective HQ in Barrow-in-Furness instigating much noisiness with a GPS Orchestra. This workshop is a challenge to invent and build devices that play themselves in response to movement through landscape. We’ve got a bunch of random stuff and Barrow Park to play with, so I’m anticipating a lot of fun!

Places are limited, so make sure you sign up on eventbrite. The (subsidised!) workshop costs only £3, payable on the day, and runs between 10am and 5pm.

The blurb:

GPS Orchestra

Join us for a day of making noise with devices that are triggered by GPS. This an orchestra like no other you have ever seen or heard!

After an introduction to networked devices and ways in which GPS might be used to influence things, we’ll spend the day collaboratively contriving and constructing our orchestral oddities.

Will there be drums that beat as fast as you walk? Things that ping more the further they travel? A crescendo as you get closer together? There’s no way of telling until we make them!

We’ll be using Arduino microcontrollers, XBee radios and simple electronics to play instruments assembled out of whatever we can muster. Whilst coding experience might be useful, it’s nowhere near as essential as imagination, a sense of humour and a willingness to give things a try. Absolutely no musical ability required whatsoever.

Please bring a laptop with the Arduino software installed and anything else you think Might Come In Useful. Examples include, but are not restricted to:

  • Arduino and/or electronics components (solenoids, servos, motors etc)
  • Bangy things
  • Rattley things
  • Tappy things
  • Bleepy things
  • Things for making other things out of

A selection of items (and a limited number of laptops) will be available on loan, but the more the merrier and who knows what amazing noises we might be able to get out that bric-a-brac you’ve got lying around!

The workshop will involve frequent excursions outside, so please come dressed appropriately for the weather.

Arduino + random = GPS Orchestra

GPS different: upcoming workshops

I’m a sucker for multiples, so you can imagine how excited I am as bits of GPS kit come rolling in not just in twos or threes, but in class-sized quantities!

GPS modules, cables and nano microcontrollers. Plus bonus bubblewrap!

I’ve been developing a couple of workshops designed to get people thinking differently about ways to use GPS.

I’m not saying I have all the answers (and it’d be a bit boring if I did!), but I can certainly furnish some basic skills and, in the spirit of hackspaces, getting a bunch of people in the same room at the same time with a load of stuff is bound to catalyse Interesting Things. So let’s have at it and push the possibilities!

First takers are the rather marvellous sounding Octopus Collective based up in Barrow-in-Furness who will be hosting GPS Orchestra. Here the challenge will be to invent and make unique noise-making devices triggered by location in – and movement through – space.

The other workshop currently on offer is Beyond Longitude:

With an emphasis on the experience of people moving through space, Beyond Longitude is an introduction to using the open source Arduino platform to make digital devices that respond to – and make things happen in – the physical world. We’ll work through a series of small projects and instigations asking how to use GPS to do more than just draw a line where we have been.

Both workshops are initially planned as being day-long sessions for about 10 participants. I bring the electronics and enough instruction to seed some possibilities, then we get making and see what happens.

I’m looking for groups and organisations around the country who would like to host one or both of these workshops. If you have a suitable workspace and are interested in investigating interactions with a nearby outdoor space, then get in touch.

Circuit Bending 101: the SoundNetwork edition

It’s with great pleasure that I’m now able to announce the third in the series of Circuit Bending 101 workshops.

11-6 on Saturday 9th of July.

This time, with much support from Adrian McEwen, Cheapjack and SoundNetwork, the bleepy noises will be emanating from the STATIC Trading Co. studios in Liverpool.

A dozen people, three projects to introduce you to the basics of circuit bending, all the tools and components you’ll need, a possible guest furby and definite cake. SoundNetwork have been kind enough to subsidise the ticket price, so all this for only £25. Quite frankly, that’s a bargain!

Full details are over on the Eventbrite page. And to whet your appetite there’s a bunch of photos and videos from the last workshop in this Flickr Set.

Tickets will be available from 11am next Friday (24th of June).

Circuit Bending 101 at Meshed Media

On Saturday I was at Meshed Media for the second in the current batch of three circuit bending workshops I’m running.

Circuit benders.

Most of the people who came along for the day had no or minimal experience with soldering, so we started off with a quick introduction to the basics before getting stuck into the circuit bending projects. By project number three it was great to see everyone happy to just get on with it, even if several hours ago they’d never soldered before!

I didn’t get much chance to take photos etc, but fortunately the workshop was mostly self-documenting with various tweets, photos and audio recordings being uploaded as we went along.

Here are some snapshots of the workshop…

Have successfully soldered two wires together. Woop! Mad skillsChrisUnitt

Happy Halloween...two pumpkins with their toyz - Mr_Spoon

Very proud of my Spooky Bending. MWAH-HA-HA-HA!!!


…and here are a few videos I managed to take… (you can see all my photos and videos from the workshop on Flickr)

As usual, a big thanks to everyone who came and again to Chris for hosting.

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