A repository of projects, things and ideas by Scogle

Thoughts on Data Interaction and Creative Expression

Warning: The following is a collection of unfinished thoughts only and is probably not very clear or well organized.

Lately I've been exploring some various forms of digital music creation/generation, more specifically the monome and the beatbearing.  It occurred to me that music creation is starting to become full circle, in that it is returning to a state of physicality, tangibility, and realness.  Let me explain: for thousands of years music was a mostly physical endeavor, meaning that it was in most cases (barring singing) produced by using your hands or some other kind of bodily motion.  Looking at the state of American folk music, for example, the melodies and themes are relatively simple, but this is really only part of the picture.  The other component is the skill of the musician in playing the instrument, and then the final part of the equation is the instrument itself--the materials used to make it, the skill of the craftsman, the way the instrument had been treated, the age of the instrument and an infinite number of factors that go into the physicality of the music.  If you take away any one part, you're left with nothing (or in some cases you are left with Wayne Krantz, but we won't go there).  There are also other parts to music such as the way it is consumed (live performance vs. buying the record), the economies of music (when music became a money making endeavor, something that I'm sure happened many hundreds of years ago) and the way music was described through notation.

In the last century or so a whole new world of music opened up with the computer (and in a few rare cases this happened beforehand).  What's interesting about digital or generative music is that there is essentially no physicality to it at all.  You only need one part of the former three part equation, and that's the creativity.  While it's undeniable that this has opened up some incredible opportunities for entirely new styles of music to emerge, it's undeniable that things could be improved by a reintroduction of physicality into music.  That's where instruments like the BeatBearing come in.  What these are showing is that it is possible to give a physicality to digital music creation, and that when this happens creativity flourishes.

This represents a much larger sea change though, because at it's core music is just a type of data, only differentiated by our interpretation of it (similar to the difference between a block of wood and a table).  What this means is that it is possible for any data to be given physicality and interactivity.  I find this extremely interesting and even a bit ironic because in our quest to digitize the physical realm, we actually are discovering ways to give physicality to the digital realm.

This is where data visualization and haptics comes in.  While taking a walk I began to think about what data visualization really is at it's core.  The conclusion I came to is that all data visualization does is provide you a way to compare it with other sets or types of data, most commonly using spatial reasoning.  In essence, data visualization gives perspective to the data.  Though this is a huge step forward from a spreadsheet, it's still far behind the physical world where you can experience the data with some or all of your senses, not to mention that interaction is completely intuitive.  Enter physical devices such as the BeatBearing (just one of many, many forays into this relatively new realm), which allow the user to complete extremely complex processes with ease.  In the case of the BB, the user is intuitively programming a computer (in itself one of, if not the, most complex devices ever invented) to play a certain sequence of beats and notes that follow our established best practices of music such as melodies, rhythm and beat, not to mention that the sounds generated are high quality recorded samples of real instruments.  With such a profoundly simple motion as setting down or picking up an object, the user is able to simultaneously manipulate and experience a relatively large and complex amount of data, all without the use of a monitor, keyboard or mouse, tools which are only appropriate for interacting with data by merit of their extreme flexibility.

Also check out: http://www.sarc.qub.ac.uk/~pbennett/projects.htm

Image Processing with Java (Processing)

I began messing around with the Processing language a little while ago and I am starting to get the hang of it, considering my ineptitude with any kind of programmatic or algorithmic thought.  I should add that I'm using the term "getting the hang of it" loosely, as what I'm really doing is hacking around with some pre-existing code samples and modifying things to my visual tastes.

View a Live Demo   (Java Required)

Glass Insulator Lamp (Insulight)

I saw a mention on the Make: website a little while ago about  glass insulator lamps using LEDs and old telephone pole glass insulators.  I really like this, although I want to modify the design a little.  The ones shown on make have a single LED that is wired to a battery with no switch.  The glass is also completely transparent and there is apparently nothing securing the LED/Battery assembly into the insulator.  I want to modify this design to include multiple color options (using a multi colored LED and a switch) as well as to modify the construction of the lamp by frosting the glass to provide a more diffused glow and to find a way to secure the battery into the insulator so that the whole unit can be carried/played with without the tasty innards falling out.

I have already ordered some glass insulators from eBay: 

Some images for reference (from Make and flickr):

The best (read:simplest) way I can think of to secure the battery into the insulator is to either a)wrap it in rubber bands and basically just shove it up in there or b)find a rubber stopper that fits the insulator and do the same thing.

Potential modifications: One thing I was thinking about was using a PIC to control the LED so that it would pulsate/change colors/interact with the environment in some way, however, since I don't feel like spending the money on a programmer and a breadboard, I won't be pursuing this at the moment.  I think the environmental interaction could be the most interesting, as it could be programmed to respond to proximity or sound or light levels or any number of interesting things.  Another potentiality would be to add a wireless module and create a base station to interface it with a computer.  This could open up a WORLD of interesting possibilities from incoming email alerts to weather reports to stock quotes to music to games to just about anything imaginable, although at the moment this all falls outside of the area of my expertise.

Continuations: I would very much like to use a Vaseline glass insulator to make an insulight.  Vaseline glass is made out of uranium and glows brilliantly under a blacklight.  With several high lumenescence UV LEDs or some UV EL wire, a single V-Glass lamp could produce a very substantial amount of light.

Death Cab for Throwies

This idea came from instructables.  They're called LED Throwies.  It's nothing more than an LED taped to a CR2032 button battery taped to a rare earth magnet.  I am going to make them sans magnet (I don't think it's that useful, and will make the cost higher) and I will add a cardboard tab to serve as a switch (a modification I saw on flickr).  I think these will be great to throw into the audience at the DCfC show in july.  I've already ordered parts to make over 200 of these, I just need the batteries (I figured it's better to order them in July when I get home).

What's cool about this is the wide range of possible applications.  One idea that came to mind is to tie them to helium balloons and release them into the sky, en masse.  This could be an extremely interesting performance if done right.  I think the ideal location would be one of the parking garages in Collins.

Potential modifications: I have heard about people adding tiny speaker circuits to give the throwies a voice, but I think that any kind of modification would just detract from the simplicity of the device.  Also, even a small increase in the price per unit would increase the price of the project substatially, as these are meant to be thrown by the dozens or hundreds.