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Feasible architecture and data flow


Speaking with Davy Smith (Queen Mary, London) who is a previous fellow student at Culture Lab, we discussed my project and possible options. The music engine side of things was pretty much decided; Ableton Live at the end of the cycle, receiving signals from Max/MSP. The factor I had to decide was whether to use Kinect, or whether a webcam would suffice for this relatively simpler model.

If I was to use Kinect I would have to familiarise myself with the RGBA and 3D (like wireframe) data it sends and may also have to use OpenKinect and/or OpenNI, as well as, OpenFrameworks to communicate with Max. However, it may be simpler and more feasible to use a webcam and read straight into OF to communicate with Max and Live using midi data or OSC.

To control tempo using hand movement I will look into optical flow combined with OpenCV (frame differencing, blob detection) to detect the hands and create a metronome, which controls the tempo in Ableton.

I have included a couple of extra ideas, which I will build into the sketch. I will include panning; controlled by head movements through head tracking, and also high pass and low pass filtering; controlled by the x and y position (height) of the hands by dividing the pixel array from the webcam into rectangles and tracking the movement within it.

Below is a basic system diagram sketch of the architecture and data flow:

Current practice


I previously met with Iain Spears of University of Teeside where I discovered the controller route was a redundant path for me (as I posted earlier here)

So, I met with Steve Gibson from Northumbria University who is also working on motion controlled music: Virtual DJ. He was using FlashTrack and an array of web cams set up around a perimeter to create an ‘active’ area/zone. At different locations in the zone, different layers of the track are introduced. Flashtrack recognising position from the LED sensors you move around the zone, which then sends midi to Ableton, triggering instrumental layers. This was relevant to my practice, however, this system doesn’t offer me much in respect of specific gestures, especially using the bodies movement differencing to control tempo. With this system there is no way to achieve this. Although, the system and data flow did open up possibilities when considering the architecture of my music engine. I may only have to consider replacing FlashTrack with something else i.e. Kinect, LILA, or webcam, but I could still utilise the midi > Live operation.

I then met with Atau Tanaka to discuss my current standing. Atau is a relevant practitioner notably for: BioMuse, Sensorband, DSCP, and S_S_S. Atau explained that my end goal was over ambitious at this level of study and that people spend full PhDs on similar kinds of research. He advised that I would need to scale the project down in order to realise something solid and avoid disappointment of underachieving what I had hoped within the timescale. We discussed the architecture and data flow of the system, and considered the music engine in parallel with trying to determine input. Taking on board what was said made me think more realistically about the feasibility of the project, programming and timescale. A starting focal point was necessary as a basis for commencing development. I decided that tempo had taken prevalence throughout the development of my concept, mainly because tempo will be the dominant and primary attribute the system will look at to determine the style of the musical output. So I thought it would be most practical to begin here; looking at optical flow, combined with OpenCV (frame differencing, blob detection) to try and use hand movement as a metronome for the beat.

Below is a rough sketch of my initial and basic architectural plan.

Wizard of Oz experiement demo

I conducted and produced a Wizard of Oz experiment video that demonstrates the concept of my vision.

In order to achieve this I had to produce a track to demonstrate how the interface would operate. Below are the productions sheet that I used to plan out the piece.

Production sheet 1
Production sheet 2

I selected tracks that featured prominent effects, specific instruments or particular characteristics that stood out, so that I could best demonstrate certain features of the proposed system. Below is the video I produced using a video camera and Final Cut to piece together the audio and add subtitling to explain what is happening.

Gestural Live Music Production from Aaron Smiles on Vimeo.

Motion Capture: Gestural dance study


I organised a motion capture session at Culture Lab to capture, record and analyse dance movement and gesture with musical genre. I enlisted the help of four dancers from varying backgrounds (pro and non-pro) to cover four different genres.

Dave Green and myself set up the motion capture system with 8 LED sensors and decided we would need 15 markers to get decent results. This covered all the limb joints, chest, back, head, shoulders, hands and feet.

I planned out the days events and arranged for the dancers to arrive at intervals throughout the day. The schedule was as follows:
0900: Set up and calibration
1100: Dancer 1
1230: Dancer 2
1400: Dancer 3
1530: Dancer 4

I got each dancer to bring along music they liked dancing to. I had them dance to 3 tracks in order to get best results. I got them to choose 2 tracks in the genre so that they were comfortable and then selected one myself from the genre to get a capture when they were out of their comfort zone. I also asked them to respond to the music naturally and without routine, so that I got a more natural and organic response. This was also the reasoning behind using both professional and non-professional dancers in the study, because both can be very different and my target user may not be a professional dancer.

Here is the list of genres and tracks selected for the dancers to perform to:
Dancer 1 (Saskia): Techno/house/trance
* Track 1: Pryda – Animal
* Track 2: Claude Von Stroke – Beat That Bird
* Track 3: Rachel Barton – Goose Step (Justin Martin remix)

Dancer 2 (Katherine): Dubstep/DnB
* Track 1: Magnetic Man – I Need Air
* Track 2: London Electricity – The Strangest Secret in the World
* Track 3: Noisia – Square Feet

Dancer 3 (Kelly): Commercial/Pop
* Track 1: Cheryl Cole – Fight For This Love
* Track 2: Willow – Whip My Hair
* Track 3: Rhianna – Only Girl
* Track 4: [Ballet style] David Guetta – When Love Takes Over

Dancer 4 (Rebecca): HipHop/Rap/Street
* Track 1: Nelly Furtado – Promiscuous Girl
* Track 2: Eminem – Crack a Bottle
* Track 3: T.I. – Top Back
* Track 4: Plan B – Love Goes Down (Doctor P remix) [hardcore/dubstep]

I video recorded the session, which I synchronised with the motion capture in Final Cut after labeling and post processing the data using Vicon. Below is an example of the capture and video synced and split screened.

Kinect bricolage

Some of the Kinect hacking going on at present..

This one could prove very useful as I could take the approach of teaching the Kinect to recognise gestures this way perhaps..

Although this would much more responsive and effective for what I aim to realise. I could analyse the data from the motion capture studies of performance artists and dancers and use it so that OpenNI recognises similar movements and gestures to then trigger similar sounds and music that the dancers from the study were originally dancing to.

Can you make a wall sigh by stroking it?

House as body, ship, vessel, organ, self.

sketching and testing

I was thinking about marrying the theoretical and the practical in my final project.


Take three pieces of work and approach with a heavy amount of objectivity

A performance

An installation

A sound interaction

Treat each work in a different way with different levels of participation.

So the levels could be:

1. stand alone work

2. work which is affected/activated by the presence of an audience

3. work which is changed by the interaction of an audience

4. work which is co-authored

Mres – Jane Dudman 2010-09-12 20:48:35


Sunday 12th September 2010

Attempting to post regularly from now on to remind myself of stuff.  OK so what do I put, this does not come naturally.

notes and ramblings

Can a working practice be developed which engages the public

Where are the works which engage, that you have sympathy with that don’t ask the audience/viewers to jump through hoops that use digital media and performance.

If successful it becomes a producer of and an arena for social and aesthetic experiences temporarily interuppting singularities through the presentation of participatory art thta actively generates a discursive public space.

‘perception requires involvement’
antoni montadas 1999

Think of a project to encapsulate your research
G.S Evans (editor of Cafe Irreal an online literature magazine) –
Art Alientated, An esay on the decline of perticipatory art.

because of the self-perpetuating nature of our artistic alienation, a self-perpetuation that goes beyond the various structural aspects of capitalist society into the very heart of its ideology. An ideology, held in common by millions of people, that honestly believes that most, or even all, of our needs can be met by the purchase of commodities. Whether it be a better personality, happier life or artistic fulfillment our commodity culture believes that they can all be achieved through the purchase of a commodity, either directly as a manufactured product or indirectly by way of professional services (as provided by psychotherapists, teachers, etc.).
Of course, such a belief is not without some legitimacy, certain important needs can
indeed be satisfied through the purchase of commodities. The quality and quantity of one’s food,
shelter and basic transportation can certainly make a critical difference in one’s well-being.
Further, various forms of mass-production and automation can increase the quantity and quality
of many of these basic goods (both agricultural and industrial), while greatly reducing the labor
time necessary to make them. But when mass-production of commodities starts to replace
personal forms of expression, it becomes quite a different matter. We cannot, for example,
‘manufacture’ interpersonal relationships; we cannot substitute the watching of professional sports
for exercise; and we cannot substitute mass produced art-commodities for personal artistic –

JOHnDewey – art as experience
The sources of
art in human experience will be learned by him who sees how
the tense grace of the ball-player infects the onlooking crowd;
who notes the delight of the housewifein tending her plants, and
the intent interest of her goodman in tending the patch of green
in front of the house; the zest of the spectatorin poking the wood
burning on the hearth and in watching the darting flames and
crumbling coals. These people, if questioned as to the reason for
their actions, would doubtless return reasonable answers. The
man who poked the sticks of burning wood would say he did it
to make the fire burn better; but he is nonethe less fascinated by
the colorfuldramaof changeenactedbefore his eyes and imagina
tively partakes in it. He does not remain a cold spectator. What
Coleridge said of the reader of poetry is true in its way of all who
are happily absorbed in their activities of mind and body: “The
reader should be carried forward, not merely or chiefly by the
mechanical impulse of curiosity, not by a restless desire to arrive
at the final solution, but by the pleasurable activity of the journey

As in Kapprow  – attention to life – living attentively

Even a crude experience, if au
thentically an experience,is more fit to give a clue to the intrinsic
nature of esthetic experience than is an object already set apart
from any other mode of experience. Following this clue we can
discover how the work of art develops and accentuates what is
characteristically valuable in things of everyday enjoyment. The
art product will then be seen to issue from the latter, when the
full meaning of ordinary experience is expressed, as dyes come
out of coal tar products when they receive special treatment.

draft of draft

‘We are dealing with numerous attempts to question and transform the fundamental condition of how modern art functions – namely the radical separation of artists and their public.’
Boris Groys  A geneology of participatory Art

This project is an attempt to unite socially engaged/participatory work with an autonomous art practice using performance and digital media in a way that makes the art work the site of exchange.

‘We can no longer speak of old fashioned autonomy versus radical engagement since a dialectical pull between autonomy and heteronomy is itself constitutive of the aesthetic.’
Claire Bishop Artforum June 2006

The research will aim to capture and contextualise my knowledge from several years of participatory public art practice; further develop a way of working that challenges notions of authorship, and put creative concepts and aesthetic decisions at the centre of work which at the same time actively engages the viewer/participant.  It will include practical experimentation, an examination of the range of activity that is currently taking place, and an analysis of where that work sits within socially engaged/participatory practice.


In the context of this project, I will take the terms socially engaged, collaborative and participatory, to be different terms for community arts; the contexts may have widened, the political climate be less charged than that of the 60s and 70s, but essentially they are terms which are applied to a huge range of artistic practices that engage directly with ‘other people’.

For the past 10 to 15 years in this country, funding for art projects has majored on notions of social inclusion, target audiences and statistical information in an effort to utilize the arts in the service of society and the economy.  The drive to capitalize on the ability of artists to deliver social outcomes more cheaply than any economically regenerative scheme, gave rise to a situation where the art was of secondary importance to the aims of the stakeholders and participatory work became formulaic.

Despite this situation in Britain artists continue to seek ways to engage with audiences and perhaps because of this situation have begun to establish the engagement as the artwork itself, subverting government priorities and creating ad hoc inclusive social situations such as the flash mob activities of the live art group ‘The Laboratory of Insurectionary Imagination’. Much of the work in this area is akin to live art practices that use personal interaction as a method of engagement, often influenced by the legacy of Allan Kaprow and Fluxus.  Operating across artistic media artist run organisations such as Deveron Arts in Scotland, Allenheads Contemporary Arts in Northumberland, Isis Arts in Newcastle and Artangel in London work with art and social interaction and continue to expand the boundaries of artistic practice.

Internationally there has been a gradual acceptance of participatory and collaborative practices as part of the mainstream.  The polarization of contemporary art into community arts and the artistic mainstream that existed began to dissolve with a groundswell of artists like Adrian Piper, Andrea Fraser, Rikrit Tiravanija, Liam Gillick, Thomas Hirschhorn, and Santiago Sierra coming to the fore alongside critical developments by writers and critics such as Suzanne Lacy, Nicolas Bourriaud, Claire Bishop, Grant Kester, Suzy Gablik and Miwon Kwon.

Although there is now a general acceptance of the validity and range of ways of making artwork, there is a question mark over what lies between artistic autonomy and artistic social intervention, and it is this that I wish to interrogate through my research.

The structure of the research should be:
Year 1
Critical examination of seminal texts and current contributions.
Development of  competence in digital sound techniques.
Development of voice in live performance and recording/composition
Studio based development of new work.
Use of journal and visual documentation throughout.

Year 2
Work developed for at least two different public locations and situations.
Critical evaluation of work.
Use of journal and visual documentation throughout.
Series of interviews conducted with other artists engaged in collaborative practices.
Collation of documentation and research findings.
Work performed and exhibited to illustrate findings.
Written thesis produced

2nd and 3rd July 2010
Performance and installation piece – ‘Rice Writing’
The Heugh – North Cumbria

Beginning Summer 2010
Nomadic Village
An opportunity for me to engage with other artsits in a project which has peer learning, collaboration and sight specificity at its heart. with the possibility of community engagement too.

24th Sept – 1st Oct
Sound installation piece – ‘Green Fuse’
RENDER – Newcastle

18th Sept – 28th Nov
Rice Writing – development
SEDITION – Tullie House, Carlisle

21st – 25th Oct
Site specific sound interaction ‘What do you hear’
RESPONSE festival, Suffolk.

Jan 2011
‘What do you hear’ – development
25 Stratford Grove, Newcastle

Nov 2010 – June 2011
A series of three research residencies run by ISIS with a particular emphasis on artists whose work involves participation in some way.  The artists may be regional, national and international.  I would work with the artists as a case study of practice and we may carry out a small project together.

March 2011
An artists’ lab.  Working with a group of regionally based artists some of whom may be less experienced who work in some way with participation. This could be a day or a week.  This could be tied in with a festival such as Wunderbar where the works could be shown/carried out – discussions currently underway.

May 2011
A project which works with the results of the lab in a public context.  IISIS could facilitate the setting up.

Dissemination of research in a public setting.  A paper to be given at a conference or symposium etc and an exhibition of work by me and other artists who have been involved with the research – particularly the lab. This could coincide with the showing of RENDER and be exhibited in an empty space in Newcastle.


There is a long and distinguished history from 20th Century of artists who have worked in participatory ways from George Brecht and his first solo exhibition ‘Towards Events’ in the 1960’s , to Fluxus, Kapprow’s happenings, the community arts movement of the 70s ad 80s to the flood of artists working in a gallery context such as Rikrit Tir… and Liam Gillick in the 90s. Currently  many artists  and groups are involved in what is now termed a ‘socially engaged practice’.

This break away from the previous status quo which placed artists in a position separated from the public, is a rejection of the idea of artists as uniquely gifted and singled out to be the creators of culture and is often an attempt to work with and get alongside an audience or public to share experiences.  However one  an argue that a rejection of art as a solitary singular activity in favour of a collaborative action is too simplistic a solution to the democratisation of art making.

It is important at this stage to define what socially engaged participatory practice means in the context of this research.  There are many different practices which come under the banner of ‘socially engaged’ but there isn’t much art that isn’t socially engaged in some way.  It is the nature of the interaction which is important and it is this that I will try and describe.

In my experience of working with people to make art work (this is what I will call it at this stage) I have engaged in a huge range of different  interactions and these are mirrored in projects that have been carried out by others in the same time frame, but have at their heart the desire to open up the making of art to those who may not have access to it.  (what does this mean – they do have access to it, but not the professional sense of it – does that matter?maybe its not about access but about exposure.) Look at the social production of art.

. Quote theories by authors you have read – Baudrillard, Kester, Mi Kwon, Suzanne Lacy, Suzy Gablik, Claire Bishop etc. Moving from a position of putting my participatory practice in to context, analysing it and then moving on to an examination of where I am now.
Looking at hte history of the production of art – The Social Production of Art  – Janet  Wollf
Art as Expereince – Jphn Dewey

Not the artist as lone genius with a god given talent – a person connected with society – a plitcal stance which I have always adhered to and which was contrary to the way I was taught at undergraudate level which was skewed towards the gallery based or commission based selling artist.   Tried to get away from this as a concept and in so doing at times threw the baby out with the bath water losing the art in the interaction and becoming a public servant and still not losing the idea of artist as devinely inspired working on projects which have a creative hierarchy, anyway Working with people was considered peripheral to the real work and in my experience of art projects since has been the case in curatorial and commissining fields.  Want to carry out projects which have the enegagement of audience or public within them not as an add on to the artwork or as an end in itself.
Perfforrmance and digital media are ideally placed to be the media through which I achieve this.  In the work of  artists like allan Kapprow, perofrmance and everyday life are emeshed and this legacy has emerged in todays artists working in scoially engaged ways ( explain how and you must quote artists who have said this) the interactive possibilities in digital media which potentially allow audiences to both interact with work throgh a mediated interface and also away form the site of performance.- think about something using internet or locative media to bring people together – talk to the woman from Falmouth.
The work must be idea driven rather than product driven, however ideas can come from playing iwth materials, maybe I could get away from always having to come up with ideas and just play and make things, the ideas for them will come after that.  This could be quite a major change in the way I work.  The play being linked to everyday activities, the repetition that I like.  I could do this at the ISIS studio
I would like to work in some way with physical computing in performance so that the audience can have an affect on the work with out directly needing to participate.  works which inspire me are ones where the audience affect the work in profound or conceptual ways that are not immediately apparent.  Work where the sounds of the audience in the space change the ambience, At least I can se the possibilities of this way of working and its relevance to my practice.  Providing a site for an experience.  I like the idea that the behaviour of an object can be altered or the affect of its behaviour can alter something else – maybe, when it becomes relevant but not when it is just thinking up an idea just for the sake of it.  don’t want to develop tricks either – so that the audience are taken up with what is does rather than what it says/means.
interactive work has taken on a new meaning for me.  previously I owuld hae thought that interaction was more a way of an artist realising their work and making the public interact on their terms not with any sense of free will – I need to explain this better.  Now interaction such as in the giggel piece I did for pysial computing I see as much more of a communication with the actie involvement of the participant or viewer – a conversatin can take place which is meaningful.  I  can use this in my work effectively I think.

A range of case studies of artists and artists organisations who are working in  some way with public interaction in a way that you are sympathetic with – . Lazano- Hemmer, Janet Cardiff, Erwin Wurm, Lygia Clark, Andrea Fraser

Detail of how I will carry out the practice/research.
This will be practice as research lead.  Drawing on texts such as ‘Thinking Through art’ and my experience of conferences on this subject.  Look ar action research theory from course blog and your research guide.  Practice as Research text from NIck Wiliams too.

The piece of work will only become clear once the research has been carried out since it will be the result of the research.  I imagine the work will be a series of works which accumilatively point towards a solution which will be embodied in the final piece.   In terms of technology, I can see myself using some sort of physical computing devices in interactive performance. The content of the work is obviously unknown at this stage.  Rather than use eveal different types of digital media in one piece I would prefer to develop several pieces which illustrate this collectively.

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