Pittwater at Play

What an inspiring three days this has been…

Perfect weather, smiles all round and the satisfaction of having created something that speaks to people of all ages, cultures and creeds!

Set Up

First order of the day was setting up the space and tweaking camera angles and settings. Because the weather was so good, most of the settings were consistent over the three days. There were some gusting winds on Friday…but to my great relief, because of the way we had secured the camera to the side of the building with a cable tie, the camera held still in its place. It was great to chat to curious people passing by who wanted to know what was going on and who would subsequently return to the space to see the installation in full swing.

I had the largest grin on my face watching people play and interact in the space. There were many memorable moments over the three days, but I’ll speak here about what most captured my interest as a watcher of human behaviour and interaction.

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With young participants, there was a characteristic sequence of interaction that occurred. First, there was the tentative testing of the green patches (or lillypads). Next came the delight of discovering sounds could be made by being on the lillypads and finally, there would be a huge escalation of energy as they continuously ran, jumped and circled around the three spots, (especially if there was more than one young participant at a time). I loved to see this progression from tentativeness to exhilaration and the resulting joy that passersby experienced from seeing young children at play.

Something that gave me great pleasure was observing the age barrier crumble when people partook in the installation. There was a particular moment, when an older lady stepped into a spot and her delight at the spontaneous sound that occurred created an instant connection with a five year old and her siblings who were in the adjacent spots. This interaction and many others like it make me feel as if my work succeeded in creating a live space where people become more aware of their surroundings and others in the shared space.

This didn’t happen 100% of the time of course and I felt sad for the children who weren’t allowed to stop for a brief moment and explore. From their craning necks and pleading looks I could tell that they were aware of their surroundings, while on the other hand, their parent(s) were in too much of a modern rush to take in what was in front of them. I definitely appreciate that people can’t always stop for an extended period of time. However, the beauty of play is that you can just simply walk through it for the effect of the sounds to work and at the least, this facilitates an interaction between you and the environment, creating an awareness that brings a moment of joy. I was happy to see that this did occur as well, that people did simply walk over the patches even if they didn’t have time to pause and play, and the people who chose to do this had a moment of fun without having disrupted their busy timetable at all!

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Another interaction that people had with play occurred across all ages.

We now live in a touch-screen orientated world and many of our daily tasks are driven by touch-screens and pressure sensitive technologies. I feel it is because of this that the majority of participants would interact with my green patches as if they had a pressure sensitive pad underneath them. Because people pumped the carpet with their foot, my camera picked up on that movement and therefore, the sounds still worked. However, this meant that the participant would continue to assume that the pads were touch sensitive and as a result, the learning process of how to drive the installation smoothly took much longer than I had expected. Even when on occasion I would explain that it is pure movement that drives the sounds, not pressure sensitive devices, people took time to accept this fact and stop pumping the ground! I did have a write up placed around the space explaining that it was movement that drove the installation…so it was not for lack of information or clarity that drove people to work the patches in this way…it’s the world we live in that drove people to interact in that way.

This is why I think installations like play are important. Humans are so easily conditioned into thinking and reacting in a certain way. If we don’t have art, music and varied opportunities that give us a chance to think, our daily life could become controlled and regulated without us even realising it.

Phillipa

The last conversation I had at my installation was with the gentleman in the background of the photo above. I discovered that he was a friend of the interactive sound/dance artist, Philipa Cullen, who I had not previously heard of. She was an Australian artist who was born in Melbourne, (1950 – 1975), and she was interested in creating a way for dancers/choreographers to be intuitively connected to the music and sounds that they were moving/choreographing to. I feel inspired that my own attempt to connect people to their movement through interactive sounds allowed me to discover Philipa through a stimulating conversation with one of her peers. Please follow these links to more information about Philipa and her work!

http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/research/bitstream/handle/10453/1016/2004000769.pdf?sequence=3

http://steim.org/2009/05/research-in-position-tracking-steim-projects-in-the-past/

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Thankyou Pittwater for these days of sun, people and playfulness. You’ve inspired me to continue my exploration of public interactive works and I hope I’ve inspired you to play whenever the opportunity arises.

Merci, merci!!

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Ready, set…

Tomorrow will see the official presentation of play to the Pittwater public!

During this past month, I have been busy tweaking, preparing and gearing up for the next three days. I’m excited and a little nervous, as with interactive work, (especially interactive work outside), you can never predict what new variables may be thrown into the mix! It has been extremely windy over the past few days and wind is a big variable to contend with. The camera will be secured as well as can be, but the programming can only take the tiniest bit of movement from the camera before the participant in the interactive zones loses control over the additional sounds they are manipulating.

So, all my fingers, toes and limbs are crossed for beautiful, still and sunny weather…just like I had on my test day in June…

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As you can see from this image of the camera, I had a glorious day for testing the interactivity on-site. Because of the still day, I was able to determine that the parameters I had set up did transfer straight from the Eramboo site to the thoroughfare in Mona Vale. It was really very satisfying to see the work in action with the array of passersby to test it out! I had one gentleman exclaim that he should have brought his double bass along and to my delight, everyone who chose to participate in the interactivity found it interesting and enjoyable. Even when at points I only had the bare bones of the visual aspect of the work in place, people were intrigued by the set up and I really can’t wait to experience different and varied reactions from the public tomorrow!

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I am extremely grateful to the contractors and council workers who made the running of the test day so seamless. Because the speaker wire and camera was set up and ready to go so quickly, I had time to create and design my ‘hot spots’ on-site as well as test all the variables of the interactivity. You can see one of the hot spots pictured above. Originally, I was planning on hiding the black gaffer tape that is securing the green carpet to the pavement. But I liked the look of it so much, I’ve decided to keep the black gaffer as it is.

I was very happy with the set up of the speakers on-site too. There was a little bit of tweaking that I needed to do within the soundscape, as some of the interactive soundbites disappeared into the ambient sounds of Mona Vale. This wasn’t unexpected, but it was interesting to note which sounds blended in with the outdoor environment there and what was truly astonishing was the reaction I received from the local feathered community. Every time the sound of the cockatoos came on in the soundscape, a flock of local cockies would soar overhead. Not to mention the Kookaburras living in the fig tree, who were astounded by the territory call coming from the Eramboo Kookas! They retaliated with full throttled cries for a good fifteen minutes before giving up and flying off to find the source of the mysterious competitors.

So, all is set and ready to go…who’s coming out to play?

Testing, testing, testing!

This has been a really exciting week for me. There have been tests, there has been successes and now I can focus on getting the piece ready for the Mona Vale site.

A few weeks ago, I went on a site visit to check out where play could exist. I was delighted by how many elements fell into place and how this knowledge would help me complete the piece at Eramboo.

One of the major variables that I have to contest with is light. Outdoors, I have no control whatsoever over how light or dark it gets or how long a particular lighting state is sustained. This is a slight issue for interactivity, which works best in controlled situations! However, I was delighted to find that in the afternoon at the site, there is a consistent building shadow that appears, which is better than no shadow, as when the sun does decide to duck behind a cloud, the change in the light is not as drastic from the camera’s point of view. I will still need to monitor closely the effect changing light has on the installation, but in this situation it is manageable, not impossible.

However, at the beginning of the week this was just a hypothesis, as I was waiting on some necessary gear to be delivered before I could really test out my installation.

So, this week was huge. I had to look at how the camera/interactivity worked in shadowed areas and in the outdoors in general. I had to test whether the programming I had created worked and didn’t overload the computer. There was the physical testing of the sound setup and whether the sound quality was going to be good enough and last, but most importantly, I needed to find out if my composition worked as a sound installation!

So…once all the gear had been assembled and checked for compatibility…there was nothing left for it but to go for it!

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After two days of heavy testing, I can say that I am excited and not a little relieved about the results. You never can tell with interactivity and I did set myself the challenge of creating an outdoor installation. I was lucky in that Eramboo has the perfect testing ground, as the artist studio building creates the perfect consistent ground shadow in the afternoon. With little adjustments here and there I had the program, Isadora, in a very stable state and I was having a ball trying out all the sounds that can be added into the soundscape!

The picture of spots above on the right shows the ground from the camera’s point of view. It took a little time to work out the sweet spot for the angle of the camera and the size of the spots…but in tweaking a few setup principals, such as getting the camera a little higher and also adjusting the camera’s focal length from far to near, (originally  thought it would need to be on far…but after further research and thought, 5 and a bit meters isn’t really that far) , I was able to get a consistency in the interactivity that I was happily surprised about in an outdoor setting!

Now that I know the installation works, I can focus on how it will sit in the site. I am going to visit the site tomorrow to look at where I will place the six speakers that I am using and how to make the installation visually pleasing and inviting. Bring it on!

Pittwater Songlines

Last week, I completed the infinite soundscape that is the baseline for my project. I feel excited to have got to this stage in the process…and what an interesting process it has been! Once I had gathered a good supply of sound recordings from the surrounding bush at Eramboo, I was able to find the starting point for the soundscape. What followed was a unique compositional process; one that has opened the door to a new way of creating for me.

There are many methods and approaches to composition. Sometimes the melodic lines and structure are clear in your mind before you put pen to paper and in other cases, there is simply a feeling of the structure and style of the music that guides the process. For play, I really wanted to let the creative process to take over and not to have any preconceived ideas, almost as if I was improvising and recording the outcome. I’m so glad that I let myself trust this type of process, as it’s almost been as if Pittwater has composed this soundscape for me!

How do I break down that statement? When I listened to the recorded sounds, there would be natural indications and impulses in the sounds that seemed to dictate the direction the music should go in. As I was laying down the soundscape in this way, I found that it was almost as if I was following a natural songline and gradually, a compositional structure began to appear before my eyes. I would begin to set down a soundscape in the true sense of the word and then subtle harmonic overtones would suggest a key to move into and natural rhythms would dictate the time signature and resulting rhythmic structure, leading me into composing a melodic section within the soundscape. As a result, there is a wavelike structure in the piece, whereby organic soundscape morphs into melodic composition.

I set a challenge for myself in the proposal for this residency, whereby I would compose a half hour soundscape that when looped, would have the sense of being an ‘infinite soundscape’. In my mind, half an hour is a decent time period, allowing for the looping to be natural and (hopefully) not annoying to shop owners or persons that have to be in the vicinity of the installation all day. Yet, at the same time, half an hour isn’t too long if someone passing through the installation wanted to stay and experience the full length of the looped composition from start to finish.

Towards the end of this process, I was completing quite a built up melodic section and was unsure how to break out of it. I felt it needed to be broken rather than faded out, as that had been the structure for the majority of the composition and sometimes it is necessary to have contrast to keep engaged with the work. However, I didn’t know how to manufacture this break without it sounding fake somehow. And then, Eramboo provided the answer to my problem. It was dusk and a group of lively young kookaburras were beginning their cackling dusk chorus. I jumped up with my recorder and rushed out to grab a soundbite of this haunting sound and it turned out to be a prodigious impulse! There was not a hint of wind (which causes much headache when trying to EQ a sound capture) and I managed to record an entire chorus from the chortling beginning to the hiccupping end. This sat perfectly within the structure of the piece and I had found my break point!

Now that I have a Pittwater composition, I come to the next stage in my process…interactivity!

Let the fun begin…

Grass Bowing

There is nothing quite as satisfying as the luxury of getting to spend a full day at Eramboo!

Lately , there has been the juggle of teaching in the mornings, an involvement in a few shows and this residency. But now the school holidays are here, I can really indulge in the creative process, and be in my studio for however long I like during the weekdays as well as the weekends. Today, I whipped out a good chunk of the soundscape that I am creating and it was fantastic to be so wrapped up in the  process, that I didn’t notice the lateness of the day. So beautiful was the moon as I walked up the driveway to my car, that I had to take a quick shot of it…an Eramboo moon.

I also had much fun with a spontaneous idea that came into my head today. I wanted to incorporate the sound of my acoustic guitar into the soundscape I was working with, but I wasn’t hearing a plucked sound in my head. I really wanted to bow my guitar. Firstly, I thought it would be nice to try and emulate a bowed sound (as midi strings really never do cut it, even though the samples I have are very good) and secondly, it was going to be a great challenge to see if I could make a bow using natural materials harvested from the bush.

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The above pics show the result of this weird idea…(from looking at native grass plants on the net, I think the grasses I used were from a type of Lomandra Confertifolia) and the sound was really quite beautiful. The only problem was, it wasn’t very loud!

I had to find the right way to amplify this delicate yet grating sound so that it complimented the soundscape I had set down so far. After many attempts and much fiddling with properties, I believe I’ve found the right mix! I was even able to duplicate the track and create a little harmony by using the Pitch application from the audio suite. I was glad I found a way to do this, as I couldn’t record a second part manually due to a limitation created by my self-made bow; the limitation being that I could only bow the top E string melodically.

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This was a fun little experiment though and I’m happy with the results. However, only time will tell if today’s work will sit in the overall landscape of this composition. Not listening to it for a small time and moving on with the piece really helps with that decision. Sometimes as an artist, you can get so bogged down in your ideas that you end up not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Kubla Khan

By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment. 

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
   Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
   The shadow of the dome of pleasure
   Floated midway on the waves;
   Where was heard the mingled measure
   From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
   A damsel with a dulcimer
   In a vision once I saw:
   It was an Abyssinian maid
   And on her dulcimer she played,
   Singing of Mount Abora.
   Could I revive within me
   Her symphony and song,
   To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Sometimes, in the midst of creating, it becomes difficult to describe the process and the point where process and the outcome meet. I wanted to share this poem this week, as it is a favourite of mine and I feel that the rhythms and meandering lines follow what it is in my head that I want to get out in my musicI want to leave talk of where I’m at for next week as I’m at a point where a description will pin things down and I don’t want to pin anything down as yet! 

With a few other projects on the boil, I feel a little stretched too…and reading this masterpiece in the calm of Eramboo has been a balm to me today. Every time I drive into the driveway here, I feel my heart rate decreasing and my sanity returning…or is it more the insanity of the creative mind that silences all our instability whirling around in life ?