Microscopic cuts: Adventures in AV

I have been experimenting with a USB microscope & Processing as live collage visuals for the ‘music from small data set’ performance discussed in the previous post.

Live audio combined with live microscope collage and Processing sketch for time displacement. The time displacement code stores video data and draws it to the screen 1 line at a time on the y axis. The resulting effect is really interesting, the collage pieces appear to melt and warp as they are moved under the microscope. Here’s a video example: live microscope collage

The microscope has its own light built in with can be useful for illuminating objects however with glossy paper it creates a reflecting which is detrimental to the colour of the paper in the collage. I will need to test this in different light environments or even stick to matt effect paper clippings.


It’s tricky timing the piece so that both the visuals and audio are progressing throughout the performance. Another pair of hands could make for a smoother performance. Would I have to find a volunteer and train them on the intricacies of my setup or is it intuitive enough that anyone could use it? Certainly the microscope collage is fairly intuitive with some quick trial and error. Otherwise I wonder if I could code some interesting automation to the processing sketch in order to add movement when my hands are busy on the sampler. I have produced a new processing sketch with digital collage overlay Example 

It’s an interesting effect and adds another layer of texture and movement to the collage however it does seem to slow processing down so that the time displacement buffer is slightly jumpy.

Music from a small data set



I have been experimenting with making music with a tiny data set by creating a sample set for the Volca Sample with just one very small sample. This uses a minimal approach to music by setting the rule of using only one sound source. The sound I have used is an 8-bit 808 kick drum which is less than 2 seconds in duration and only 4kb wav filesize.

Each program on the device can store up to 10 samples at one time and there are 16 steps in each sequence. The modulation types are level, pitch, speed, attack, decay, start point, end point, high pass filter, reverse and reverb. Each modulation and can be recorded into the sequencer for loop playback. This is great for building a song from a single sample as there is potential for rhythms, melodies and drones – all from one 2-second sample. Upon playing with this set-up a handful of times I recorded a take.

m808 quicktime video

The Volca Sample is a good instrument for this project however I can see the potential benefits of building my own instrument, perhaps with built-in collage control, using midi data or osc to control audio samples and simultaneously controlling the visual collage too. With a bespoke machine I could do a combined performance with the added element of DIY making. Instrument making and electronics are daunting new areas of learning for me but I am excited by the idea that the creative process starts with the instrument design and building, before you even play a note, you have already created something which makes the performance extra special.


Processing experiments in collage and cut-ups

Mostly, the visual collages I make are created spontaneously and I really like the way imperfection is part of my style. In the studio I surround myself with objects and artefacts; through the chaos something will jump out at me. A small thing, be it an image or a piece of audio or even text. This was a tiny revelation for me in my pursuit of a concept for this project – the source material is TINY. A singular source. A very small singular source.

I could use one image. Such as this analogue cut-up I made using an image from National Geographic:

I could use one image, slice it up in Photoshop and rearrange it in Processing to create endless different versions of the same image. As a newcomer to Processing I found it very frustrating to make even the simplest of sketches. From the short introduction to Processing with Tom Schofield, I could display an image on the screen but that was the extent of my knowledge. Like learning a new language I started with the basics, Daniel Shiffman’s youtube tutorials on Classes, Variables, Functions and arrays were very useful. As is The Processing Handbook by Casey Reay etc. From these resources I managed to produce this:

Peep the code here: https://www.openproc

The circle brings the brings order to the chaos. Pulls it all together.

Good start alas it isn’t really doing what I want it to. Next stop, Processing forum…. https://forum.processing.org/two/discussion/25741/random-collage#latest

And so we get this: https://youtu.be/YpErEKOrm8A

From the processing forum I learnt that messy and clunky code can be referred to as WET. A spot of tidying and here is the DRY version: https://www.openprocessing.org/sketch/496418

The image is randomised once every 0.92 of a second, as this is the length of a beat when playing at 120 beats per minute.

A possible development would be to use Processing Sound library to trigger the random function when the volume of Audio In reaches a specified Amplitude.

I am pleased with how these experiments turned out and I have learnt a lot about Processing however I am not exactly sure how it fits the brief for this particular project. It’s just not tiny enough. I could pursue this idea for this project however I have another idea. Following a tutorial with John Bowers we discussed ways in which the cut-ups could be developed so this has still been a good use of time.

Random Cut-Ups

random ( rændəm )

1. A random sample or method is one in which all the people or things involved have an equal chance of being chosen.

cut up

If you cut something up, you cut it into several pieces.

method (meθəd )

A method is a particular way of doing something.


Cut-up Method 

Tristan Tzara describes how he introduced an element of chance to his writing in the poem, “To make a Dadaist poem. The results of this method is a poem which rises spontaneously out of the complexities of life offering new insights to the written word.


The instructions shown here were famously posted to the Radiohead website as they were writing their fourth album, Kid A. The band have been a musical influence of mine since the mid-90s. “The Dada movement developed in response to the first world war and was a rejection of this society and all it held sacred, a raising of the fist in favour of chaos, anti-materialism and irrationality as well as a far leftward political lean – a natural fit for Thom Yorke and Radiohead.” https://subliminalstimulation.wordpress.com/2016/01/26/kid-a-dada/

William Burrough’s applied cut-up methods in his writing. He provides context to his practice in this excerpt from 1963: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88v/burroughs-cutup.html

I made a processing sketch using the technique described in Tristan Tzara’s ‘How to make a Dadaist poem’. Each segment of text is given a number. The sketch then generates random numbers, each time the random() function is called it returns an unexpected value within a specified range and draws it to the screen. See link below to make your own interactive dadaist poem https://www.openprocessing.org/sketch/494843

This image is an experiment with analogue image cut-ups. The image was taken from an old National Geographic magazine. I sliced the paper into 21 segments. Slices were then pulled out of a hat and arranged in that order:










I present a monthly radio show. For the artwork I created a cut-up made up of the album artwork of each song played on the show.


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