Making code dance/making dance code
During [SZOBA|R|T], a German/Hungarian artist collaboration that took place in an abandoned building in the centre of Budapest, I organised a week of livecoding and dance improvisation jams (see all images here). The idea behind these jams was to bridge the gap in tacit knowledge that is now held by dancers and coders separately. In order to let these knowledges synergize, we should all get on it together and start creating and let new knowledge emerge from the process.
Improvisation: the sweet spot between structure and freedom
How do you start (getting a grip on common conceptual notions between the fields of dance and coding)? What are good design rules for an improvisational framework that both coders and dancers can work with? How many rules do you need? How much freedom is necessary? How do you negotiate this as you go? The project was part of my residency at Kitchen Budapest in 2010, more info here.
A short article of mine was published on VVVNT, dealing with the expressive and philosophical potential of performance practices combining dance improvisation and live coding.VVVNT is an online journal, forum, & project space for sharing ways of thinking with practical connections across time, scale, system, & discipline: http://vvvnt.com/media/dancing-the-digital
Livecoding as improvisational practice
Live coding is a type of performance where programmers show off their visual coding skills in realtime. Completely live, you see animated graphics come to life in projections, while a group of programmers punches in code to entertain their audience with a (audio)visual spectacle. A group of coders from Kitchen Budapest have been experimenting with this recently, especially with implementing the Kinect in the Fluxus environment. Kinect captures movement data in 3D using infrared cameras, which makes it a perfect combination with dance.
The aim of this project therefore, was to find a way to get these improvisers to work together and experiment freely during 3-hour jams, not entirely dissimilar to the jams that are common practice in a dance style known as contact improvisation. Eight local dancers – many of them with a contact improv or contemporary dance background – worked with us during the week, resulting in a demonstration at the opening of week 3 at [SZOBA|R|T].
From livecoding to dancecoding: where practices meet
This setup put no pressure on choreographing a stage performance, but stayed closer to the traditions of contact improvisation and livecoding: focusing on the live interaction between all the actors: live music, the several coders, a number of projections, and the moving bodies of the dancers. Responses of all collaborators were very positive so we investigated the possibilities of organising more jams in the future. I left Budapest but the group continued to collaborate and did a number of dance coding work and performances together.
Where tinkering meets prototyping
My HvA colleague Tamara Pinos and I tried out a different format to get the students to think about tinkering and prototyping. Usually we would run tinkering and prototyping workshops separately, but now we decided to put them in the same room and timeframe so that the processes could talk to one another. In prototyping you basically work from an idea that you’ve defined, and give it shape, make it work, so you can test it out to confirm it. Tinkering comes before that somehow, it is what you do before you have an idea, in order to come up with the ideas.
The red button connected to the internet is always an answer to your problem
It’s really a matter of where you start: do you start from the material and let the material inform your ideas. Or do you start with a blank page and wreck your brain to pour out some thoughts onto your white canvas. Both are perfectly fine and viable but it’s good to know that there’s always at least two options to get from nothing to a tangible thing that you can then talk about and reflect on. It sure isn’t always easy to ideate for the big problem statements and wicked problems we work on at MediaLAB. There’s a great risk of generating ‘solutions’ that are as vague and abstract as the problem at that early stage. However, if you just start with whatever you’re given, and try to forge connections between your design problem and whatever it is you have in front of you, ideas start flowing as you work onto the material with your hands and brain in tandem. What we find in this workshop that the best prompt is to give people a big red button that is connected to the internet, and to ask students to make the thing work, understand it and then ask them: how can this connected button solve your problem?
Finding 100 ways that don’t work
Both have in common that they celebrate early failure as a way to learn quickly and deeply about your ideas and prototypes. We asked the students to create paper prototypes – always a big hit and a huge surprise – and to tinker for an hour with a prototyping tool they were unfamiliar with and report back what they learned and how this tool could be an answer to their design problem. The tools we use are for example (IFTT, BTTN, LittleBits, MakeyMakey and Vine kits (Internet of Things sensors). We wrap this workshop by discussing how the processes of tinkering and prototyping might relate to one another and what the similarities and differences are.
Tinkering with techies
I made an excursion to another HvA location to give a workshop tinkering to students of the minor Intelligent Environments. These students, mostly from rather techy backgrounds like Software Engineering, Game Development etc are quite a different target group from the design & humanities students I’m normally used to at the MediaLAB.
Objects as interface
For this workshop we took the better part of a whole day, and worked in multiple iterations to let students think about alternative interfaces, playful interactions and how you can work with objects as interface. To understand the important role the design of an interface plays in an any interaction. The students were asked to find an interesting – or boring – object and take it as a starting point to come up with a playful installation. To let the meanings, connotations and affordances the object embodies be leading in the kind of installation you will build. I found it very useful to have a number of show and tell rounds – with a gaming expert even! – to help the students improve their ideas and ways of executing them. Although the creative process was somewhat out of the comfort zone of some students, they all made tremendous efforts and progress in the course of the day.
My absolute favourite is this weirrrrd granny interface for a classic racing game using a walker (NL:rollator) :D
Frustration! A classic….
Tinkering alternative Olympic Games
Each semester I run tinkering workshops at MediaLAB, where we play a morning with Scratch and Makey Makey. In this pressure cooker style workshop, the students were asked to create playful interactive installations inspired (more or less) by the winter Olympics. This workshop is all make and very little pre-loading of information or ‘me-explain-you-listen’. The group was awesome and went nuts programming their own audio feedback, or even visual interfaces with customised avatars. Costumes were designed and tributes were paid to the olympic rings. Real nice. I was very surprised how the loose theme of Olympics resulted in all kinds of fresh playful games and exercises. In previous tinkering workshops, I’d used prompts to create games too, but somehow the results were not so defined and coherent then. Interesting. Some favourites:
Interactive installation for Amsterdam Light Festival
During the Amsterdam Light Festival, that took place between the 6th of December 2013 and the 19th of January 2014, residents and visitors of the city Amsterdam were being challenged. During this light festival a group of international students seduced residents and visitors to enlightening the Dark Side of Amsterdam. Visitors were asked to confess about their dark side by wearing anonymous “sin” glasses in a nighttime light painting portrait that would then be projected onto the Mozes & Aäron church at Waterlooplein. This project was commissioned by BeamSystems. 411 People used the installation, and revealed that with a majority of 91 people, Amsterdam is still a sin city of lust. Also see the twitterfeed and Flickr set and the visualisation of the results (below). I coached on the concept development and project management of this project.
Exploring the emotional experience of sin
I developed this project with a team of students from design and technology backgrounds, and we found out very early on that there was a desire for the installation to be an experience, calling for audience participation. This idea eventually came out and was symbolically rich: the context of the church and building a confession booth where you can admit to your sins. While at the same time playing with people’s vanity in the form of dark stylized selfies in which they could semi-anonymously make a statement about their liberalism of choice – bragging almost.
Rituals and theatre
My favourite part of this event and installation was the theater and solemn rituals involved in the whole concept, and the students carried and understood that well. They invited a ‘priest’ to preach about sinfullness in front of the confession booth to draw in people and get people in the mood. The audience would be approached by the students to think about a sin, and pick a pair of sunglasses representing that sin. They had made these with a laser cutter from plywood at iFabrica, and then covered the back with glow-in-the-dark paper that they would charge with a torch. Then the audience would go into the booth (in pairs or alone), to get their confession taken. Inside the booth two assistants shot the lightpainting picture that would be projected and tweede immediately with a moralising quote from the bible.
The Dark Side of Amsterdam won the audience award at Beamlab #32
Students: Sandro Miccoli, Akarsh Sanghi, Adwait Sharma, Shinichiro Ito, Shubhojit Mallick, Mizuki Kojima, Matias Daporta Gonzales. Gabriele Colombo (visual design), Jan Scholte (priest), Loes Bogers (coach and concept development) and Gijs Gootjes (project manager), Supported by BeamSystems: Jason Malone and Jozef Hey. Visuals by: Frouke te Velde www.frouketenvelden.com. Thank you to Irma de Vries for mapping support.
This is a simple artist’s portfolio, created in Flash. Design and implementation of artist’s online portfolio and visual identity. Visit website here.
August 2009, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
One of Amsterdam’s high schools in IJburg asked me to help them develop a campaigning concept and promotional material for a fundraiser to finance their grand cafe and schoolkitchen where kids can learn about food by doing: preparing and serving food together. I did the design and together with some of the schoolkids we created the images for this flyer to excite people for the fundraiser “Y-day”, a full day of performances, workshops and presentations.
Download the flyer here
Undercover Fox is a social experiment and community arts project in urban space, in the form of a synchronized audiowalk through Zoetermeer. As temporary special agents, the individual ‘players’ receive instructions through their headphones and experience the city centre as the location for a strange mission. Slowly they will realize that they might not be acting so much as an individual, but as a collective of individuals. Agents start out undercover but slowly start doing strange actions involving the shopping public passing by on a seemingly normal friday evening. Who’s in control of our actions?
Credits: Sven Ruggenberg, Sebastiaan Smits, Jessica Fuchs, Ingrid Rekers, Vincent Zaalberg, Loes Bogers.