The Art of Toyz

Last week, after too many coffees and a slushy walk through the wintry East Village, I stopped by NYU to warm up in the digital glow of the ITP Winter Show. Up on the 4th floor of Tisch School of the Arts, the scene was crowded and upbeat, as the department showed off its latest explorations into technology, media and art.

I tend to think of ITP’s huge loft space as a high-tech romper room, with its computer labs, circuit workshops, and reactive sculptures lining the halls. This “engineering for artists” program was founded in 1979, and since then has become a tight community of technologists, programmers, designers, and theorists experimenting with mechanical and digital technology. Using up-to-the-minute developments in software and hardware to inspire wonder and share information, the department describes itself as a “Center for the Recently Possible.”

Below is a video of some of the projects in the winter exhibit and conversations with a few of the many artists who showed their work (yes, it was very loud in there, almost like a New Year’s Eve Party!):

The projects in the show come out of ITP courses such as Introduction to Physical Computing, Virtual Worlds Workshop, Live Web, Live Image Processing and Performance, New Interfaces for Musical Expression, and several others. These include web-based experiments, gameplay, robotics, interactive objects and mobile applications.

Please check out some project pages by students in the Interactive Telecommunication Program, as they do a much better job of describing their work than what I was able to pick up on the fly. You can find all of the projects listed on the main ITP exhibit page as well:

Human Wind Chime
Historical Radio
Interactive Triangle Matrix
Beat Feet
Dynamic Ground
Borealis MIDI Controller
The Bed
fridgebuzz MK1


The Promotion Becomes the Product?

For music fans and listeners who don’t have the DJ chops, but still want to join in today’s remix culture, there’s a new suite of interactive listening tools from .MXP4.

I’ve been playing around on this company’s website, and as they say, with the .MXP4 format you don’t just listen to music, you can play with it as well: separate & mix the voices & instruments in a song the way you like it; construct a remix on the fly from different versions of a song; sing along in karaoke mode; and even buy digital albums that allow you to re-order the tracks and create a seamless party mix. It’s basically iTunes on steroids.

I cruised through some of the .MXP4 player features with examples on their website – 1) pulling instruments and voices out of a Bravery song 2) remixing a Calvin Harris tune 3) playing DJ with an eighties compilation. Check it out:

(Sorry ’bout that frame rate. What you get with free screencast software. )

.MXP4 lets the musician provide a richer multimedia presentation of a single or track. Other kinds of data can be laid into an .MXP4 file besides the sub-tracks or different versions, such as images and text. And there will be mobile and social media applications, so fans can share their mixes with friends.

For the listener, you can check out the .MXP4 player or widgets and browse through their current offerings. And for the band or artist, there is an .MXP4 editor in private beta testing. (There’s a prototype tutorial for that HERE.)

I’m not sure how widely received this technology will become, but I will say that I spent a lot more time listening to & tinkering with songs than I ever would with just my iPod. Which I guess is what .MXP4 and the artists involved would like you to do, especially if it means you’ll open your wallet and buy the music. πŸ™‚


A Chat with Downtown Piano Queen, Kathy Supove


This week I visited with pianist, Kathy Supove, who commands the 88 keys like nobody’s business. For years, Kathy’s virtuosic keyboard skills have been put to work by contemporary composers working in an interactive performance environment.

In her bio, Kathy’s Exploding Piano Series is described as a “multimedia experience using electronics, theatrical elements, vocal rants, performance art, staging, and collaboration with artists from other disciplines…her Exploding Piano concerts almost always have original monologues and theatrical sketches surrounding the pieces.”

With her dramatic and energetic playing as a centerpiece (and her trademark flaming red bob), Kathy crushes the old definition of a piano recital under her shiny boots. So I asked her point of view on working with electronics and various media in her shows.

Listen to Kathy’s comments and excerpts of her music here:

If you’re curious, the controller called the monome that Kathy mentions is demonstrated in this clip:

You can visit Kathy Supove on her MySpace page.

– Jocelyn

Dare to Go Bare

I’m considering another tattoo, so I’ve been spending some idle time looking at design and ink, wondering if a new tat will prove to be a permanent mark of pride or folly. But in my wanderings, I came across something called Bare Interactive Ink Technology – a temporary “electronic” tattoo, if you will. Imagine painting your body with this special conductive ink, and all of your movements could interact with electronic devices around you.

What? Could I just wave my dragon tattoo in the air to turn the TV on and off?

Well, not quite. Bare was developed by Bibi Nelson, Matt Johnson, Isabel Lizardi & Becky Pilditch from the department of industrial design engineering at the Royal College of Art. As described on the website, Yanko Design, Bare is:

“…this new parasitic technology being explored where you apply the special paint to your body via brush, stamp, or spray. The paint acts as a medium to send information from a person to another, transmit data from a person to a computer, or power small LEDs. It’s however limited to simple applications such as switching and data transfer that consume less power, but the potential is unlimited…the ink per-se is temporary, non-toxic and water-soluble and is composed of non-metallic conductive particles suspended in food and cosmetic additives. Thus it is safe for skin application.

The circuitry between the ink and the electronic device is completed when the small electrodes are placed directly on to the skin, which in turn transmits the data.”

Well this is a pretty futuristic type of henna, no? And although this ink is still in development stages, it seems natural that the designers of Bare foresee its use in performance. A dancer’s body, decorated with beautiful and intricate designs by makeup and costume folks would be able to trigger lighting and sound effects onstage as he or she moves to choreography. In fact, in their project video, the designers asked a dancer whose limbs were painted with Bare Ink to step into something called “The Music Box.” She improvised movements that set off pre-programmed audio samples and patterns, resulting in music that seems to be…composed by the body:

In their project paper, the designers explain how the Music Box works:

“The functionality of a MIDI keyboard was mapped onto the surfaces of the space with a matrix of resistance switches that input signals to a computer. A professional dancer was invited to interactive with the space and the conductive ink was applied to different parts of her skin in an iterative process. As different parts of her body touched the surfaces different switches were closed as electrical signals passed over her skin, creating musical notes and patterns.”

It might be the editing of the video, but at first I thought it wasn’t the most compelling display of the idea. Yet it’s clear what the potential is. It’s a start.

Take the concept of the Music Box to the stage and using human skin as a conductor could present some new opportunities for dancers, composers, set and video designers, prop masters and makeup artists to collaborate in wicked new ways. However, I still have some some practical questions about this conductive ink: How long will the ink last on the skin? What if the wearer starts sweating? Will the paint flake off the more the performer moves? Most importantly…does it come in Candy Apple Red?

– Jocelyn

Wii Will, Wii Will Rock You

I can still remember my grade school self hunched low in the glow of the TV screen, muscles braced & straining, thumbs aching as I defended the world from space invaders and incoming asteroid attacks. Atari’s joystick controller was my small body’s extension into the video-game universe, while the rest of me remained slouched in the living room cushions. Although I graduated to a Sega Genesis, my brother’s first Nintendo, brief dalliances with Myst, and a few frustrating marathon sessions with Sony Playstations, I can’t say I ever did become a hardcore gamer. But I certainly knew the pain of controller induced carpal tunnel syndrome.

I took note of cool developments in gaming technology and culture as years went by. I admired the perseverance and ingenuity of both designers and players, but weren’t we all still stuck at a desk or in an easy chair, tethered to the console by a wire and a controller?

When the Wii game system with its wireless Wiimote was introduced, gamers finally got off the couch to physically interact with their favorite games. You didn’t just press a button to swing a digital golf club, you had assume the STANDING position, put the device in hand and ACTUALLY SWING YOUR ARM. The Wii remote uses an accelerometer that detects and measures speed of motion and infrared sensors to gauge the device’s position in space when you point it at the sensor bar on the console. Wii’s peripheral controllers allow players to use more than their thumbs to manipulate objects, shoot lasers, play sports, dance, do yoga or conduct an orchestra.

Although the Wii remote’s been hacked to perform non-gaming tasks, like controlling a robot lawn mower, I’ve been noticing how programmers and artists exploit the Wii’s motion control capabilities in their work. The Wii remote devices seem to be especially popular with those who use Ableton Live, Max/MSP/Jitter, Serato Live or similar programs for live audio and visual mixing.
Continue reading