HSS 8120 – Tiny Datum – Post 5 – Critical Reflection

HSS 8120, Tiny Datum

Big Data

In order to understand the idea of Tiny Datum we must first understand that which it is a reaction to: Big Data.

Big Data is the term used for the collection and analysis of very large amounts of data. This data can take many forms such as our Facebook interactions, Google searches, online and physical shopping tendencies, call centre conversations and virtually anything else you’d care to imagine. In today’s technologically orientated world information about almost every facet of our day to day lives is collected and stored. The effects of Big Data are most easily and clearly seen when we see targeted advertisements on Facebook and similar platforms. Our Google searches are stored and our shopping history is analysed by advert providers who then show us adverts based upon that history.

“An IDC study shows that in 2010, there have been 1.2 zettabytes (1,200,000,000,000,000,000,000) of information, a trillion billion bytes of information to be managed and analyzed. It is estimated that by 2020, there is going to be 35 zeta bytes of information. For instance, Twitter alone generates more than 7 Terabytes of data every day, Facebook generate 10 TB. From 2010 to 2020, data is to increase 44X from 1.2 Zettabytes (ZB) to 35.2 ZB. Enterprises are facing massive volumes of data.” Shen, Y et al. (2014).

“About 90% of this information being created is unstructured, like website clicks, mobile phone calls, Facebook posts, call center conversations, tweets, videos and emails.” Gens, F. (2013).

Naturally this huge amount of unstructured data can be very very difficult to analyse and produce meaningful results from. This is why the fields of data science and analytics has recently become so important. People who are able to find ways to make sense of and find patterns within this data in order to, say, find marketing opportunities for a supermarket, pitch a product to a certain demographic or improve the flow of foot traffic around a shopping centre can expect to earn large salaries and build successful careers.

The implications of Big Data are vast and naturally the backlash against it is in full swing. Opponents say that storing such a huge amount of data on our day to day lives is an affront to privacy and fear that the information could, for instance, be used to discriminate against us (car insurance companies are known to charge higher premiums to people who drive at night, for example) spy on us or leave us vulnerable to hacking and cyber crime.

So, we know what Big Data is, now what is Tiny Datum?

Tiny Datum

From the assignment brief:

“As a provocation and opposition to Big Data, Tiny Datum is something that displays and interacts with a very small number of data points during its existence. Tiny Datum’s data does not have to be stored or shared, its behaviour can be entirely ephemeral and self-fulfilling. Tiny Datum’s datum can relate to its own data, for example its power usage or temperature, rather than to any economic, governmental, security or scientific concern, as is typically the case in big data research. Tiny Datum should take a minimalistic approach to visualisation, sonification or data analysis.”

Tiny Datum subverts Big Data and points out that “there is more to data than just size”. It relates to the ideas of minimalism and reductivism. Where Big Data seeks to collect and use huge amounts of data, Tiny Datum seeks to engage with the smallest data sets possible and use them in such a way as to show that there is depth and relevancy in even that which could be seen as insignificant and irrelevant due to its small size.

Since we’re tangentially drawing upon the ideas of reductivism and minimalism it might be worthwhile just to spend a moment and understand what we’re talking about when we use those terms. Obviously, they’re both huge subjects and it would be impossible to go into any great depth without writing a few thousand words but I’ll attempt to give a bit of an overview of those topics, specifically how they relate to music and to my project.

Minimalism is a post-WWII art movement that found it’s origins in the United States. It is a movement which emphasises purity as its central conceit, asking the viewer to engage only with what they see as part of the piece rather than relating it to any outside reality. Musicians working within minimalism (including Phillip Glass, Terry Riley and Michael Nyman) seek to break down music to its bare essences and concentrate on the power of the sonic purity rather than the emotions that those sounds may evoke. My piece engages with minimalist elements in that it is centred around sine waves (the fundamental building block of synthesised sound and something which is a fundamental natural constant), with every element of what is quite a large and textured piece deriving from that most simplistic of waveforms. As a composer I use elements of minimalism in my standard studio production based (as opposed to fine art based) practice. I often use simple two or three note melodies, simple chord sequences and spacious, clear drums. This simplicity is then subverted by the deep textures and layers of simplicity that I use to create pieces which sound rich and deep. This is the approach that I have taken with my installation, the juxtaposition between the simple root of the piece and the rich, dynamic outcome. This ties into the Tiny Datum theme because from this simple root comes something large and complex, showing that there is indeed a great deal that can be derived from even the smallest and simplest of data sets.

Steve Reich’s Four Organs. An example of minimalist music. Reich, S. (1970).

Reductivism in art refers to a process rather than a movement. It is a process of simplifying, consolidating and condensing. The images I posted in an earlier blog by the artist Jason Shulman (who condenses entire films into a single frame) are an example of reductivism, as is Kyp’s reduction of The Story of O to punctuation marks and the letter O for this project. Reductivism can be a means through which we can arrive at work which could be called minimalist through the simplification of larger and more complex works. In musical terms reductivism is very much the same, simplifying a piece of music in order to either analyse it, make it easier to play or alter it’s aesthetic in order to engage with it in a novel manner. I am not a technically gifted instrumentalist and so reductivism is often a very useful tool for me. As a matter of fact, I often disengage with music which I view as unnecessarily complex. For instance, as a producer I often work with session musicians if I need someone to play certain parts or certain instruments that I am not capable of playing myself. I always allow them a certain freedom to put their own stamp on the track but there’s one thing I find myself saying to them more than anything else: “Play less”. This is because session musicians, as gifted as they are, will tend to try and overplay a part, distracting from the overall tone of the music by focusing on technical prowess and complexity over clarity. I think by reducing a work we can arrive at its very essence, stripping away the external layers to allow us a glimpse into the very heart of the piece. It is a process which brings clarity.

Jason Schulman’s Voyage de la Lune. An example of reductive art. Schulman, J (2016).

At its core, Tiny Datum is about simplicity. We are working with tools that encourage us to think creatively about how they can be used because of their small size and the fact that those small sizes force us to engage directly with that data set rather than consider any inherent externals. The attendant problem with that is that because we need to engage with something so small we need to find a data set which allows us a degree of flexibility in how that data can be presented. This is how I arrived at the idea of using sine waves.

My Creative/Design Project

As I’ve mentioned previously, sine waves are more or less the simplest form of sound imaginable and are something that is found throughout nature. This fundamentality was appealing to me for a number of reasons: Firstly, the fact that something so simple could be so important that it is central to so many fields (including physics, mathematics, engineering, geometry and of course music) shows that it has a significance which belies its simple form. Secondly, as someone who has long been a user of hardware and software synthesisers I have a familiarity with the sound of a sine wave, its uses and its potential. Thirdly, it was simply the most basic sound I could think of which would give me the flexibility I would need to create something which (I hope) is interesting to listen to and diverse enough to function as a coherent piece of music.

I have covered the installation itself in other posts so I won’t go into that again here but there are one or two other issues that have arisen that I would like to address.
The interactive element of the installation has changed somewhat since it was originally conceived. I was intending it to be a work which was wholly reactive and would change very dynamically based upon the position and movement of the user. This turned out to be impractical due to the rapidly changing effects parameters causing unwanted sonifications. Instead, it has been imbued with something more like a sense of memory. With five second timers on the ultrasonic sensors it, in a sense, remembers where you’ve been within the space and changes the music accordingly, similar to the History Tablecloth (Gaver, W et al. (2006)) which John was involved with. As the user of that piece said: “It’s like a cat. You can interact with it but you can’t tell it what to do”. It encourages and responds to interaction without over-responding. It encourages slow movement around the space which allows one to soak up the ambiance and really listen to it but still feel as though they’re part of the piece and having an effect on how it performs itself. It makes the user feel as though they are inside and part of the music.
The main theme is really one of showing that something very large and interesting can be created from something very very small and potentially insignificant. That’s the reason I chose to use an octophonic setup with four computers. It also creates a nice visual symmetry which I found quite pleasing.
I have found that by switching off the lights I can achieve quite a nice ambiance and having the piece lit by the computer screens, flashing Arduino lights and speaker lights alone creates a nice effect and allows one to focus more on the sound. This was influenced by performance by John Cage et al where they had high tables with pools of light underneath. I also decided to show the Pure Data patches onscreen as a way of further integrating the audience with the piece and making one feel as though one is inside it and part of it, showing the guts if you like. I’m happy with this visual dynamic overall and I think it ties in to the theme of minimalism to the extent that it is not overthought or overdesigned, it just presents you with its essence.

My installation under construction.

My Presentaton

My presentation continues with the sine wave theme and functions in a similar way to my installation piece: An interesting way to present something that is very very simple. I have opted for a purer approach with this in that the sounds that I am using are recognisably sine waves or derived therefrom (the installation piece uses very heavily effected and layered sine waves to the point where, while you can tell from where those sounds are derived, it is not particularly overt). This is because I wanted to present the idea in a purer form and wanted to show how sine waves can be used by themselves to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts.


Gaver, W et al. (2006). The history tablecloth: illuminating domestic activity. Proceedings of the 6th conference on Designing Interactive systems. University Park, PA, USA.

Gens, F. (2014). Competing on the Third Platform. [online] Available at: http://www.idc.com/ research/Predictions13/downloadable/238044.pdf [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].

Reich, S. (1970). Four Organs/Phase Patterns. [Vinyl] Paris, France: Shandar.

Shen, Y et al. (2014). Big Data Overview in Y. Shen et al (eds): Enabling the New Era of Cloud Computing: Data Security, Transfer and Management. Hershey> PA, USA.

Shulman, J. (2016). Photographs of Films. [online] Available at: http://www.jasonshulmanstudio.com/photographs-of-films/ [Accessed 18 Jan. 2018].

HSS 8120 – Tiny Datum – Post 3 – Oral Presentation

HSS 8120, Tiny Datum

For this task we were asked to put together an oral presentation based on the Tiny Datum theme outlined in my previous posts. I decided to use this as an opportunity to do a live performance based on the sine wave theme I decided upon for my design/creative project.

“This presentation should not be ‘about’ your project (i.e. it shouldn’t be an explanation of what you did) but should be its own piece of creative work. It might be that you use the same data source as your design/creative project and do something different with it. It might be that there’s no relationship at all. Above all we want to avoid conventional power point presentations and think about interesting or unusual ways of talking, showing, playing or otherwise responding to the theme.”

This probably gave me more headaches than the design/creative project because I am not really a performer by nature and we are essentially being asked to put together a short performance (in a broad manner of speaking) based on this theme. I considered a number of options, particularly inspired by the work of Jason Shulman, a photographer who produces images which consist of entire films condensed into one frame producing beautiful abstract images. I decided to try a similar idea with music and shorten well known pieces of music to around ten seconds or so. This didn’t go terribly well as you might imagine and I just ended up with some rather nasty bits of noise. Needless to say I binned that idea.

Here are some examples of Jason Schulman’s work.

Alice In Wonderland

The Shining

From there I considered ways in which I could explore the sine wave theme in a live performance context. My natural inclination for that was to go to Ableton Live. Ableton Live is a music production suite that can also be used for live performances. I have some experience using Ableton and have performed with it in the past so it was natural for me to go to that. Essentially what I’ve done is use a suite of music production tools to turn some very very simple sounds into something that is much more interesting to listen to and can be layered in such a way as to produce a live performance.

The first sample I used is one cycle of a 440hz sine wave which produces a simple click. Clicks are very useful in sound design as they allow us to create percussive elements because of their staccato nature.

The second sample I used is simply a longer version of the sample above. A 1 second burst of 440hz sine wave.

Here’s a screenshot of the Ableton Live setup itself. Note the single samples in each channel.

The primary problem I encountered was, unsurprisingly, the simplicity of the sine wave and the inherent difficulties in getting variety and depth into the piece. I was able to get around this by using automation, pitch shifting, filter delays, modulation effects, reverbs and such like. Each channel is set up with only one sample and the idea is that they can be layered and their parameters tweaked live to create what I hope will be at least a somewhat compelling performance. I’ve rehearsed it a few times and it seems to work so hopefully it’ll be ready for the 19th.

In my final post on Tiny Datum, which should be up towards the end of next week, I will be posting audio and footage of both projects at work and reflecting critically on the project and its themes.

HSS 8120 – Tiny Datum – Post 2 – Design/Creative Project

HSS 8120, Tiny Datum

This post deals with the design project part of the Tiny Datum assignment. Initially I was planning on producing a piece of music which uses only sine waves and processed sine waves as the building blocks of the track. After working on that for some time I found that while that idea is practical to an extent it was not giving me the sort of results that I was after and so I decided to change it up and turn it into a sound art installation.

The reason that I found it didn’t work for producing a piece of music in my usual style is that sine waves are simply too simple, too clean and do not give me the kind of dense and complex harmonics that I usually use as part of the production process. When you’re limited to one type of sound, even with a full suite of production tools and FX to process that sound it seems that you naturally end up with a sound which is very one dimensional. Sine waves in particular, with their very pure properties mean that the outcome of the production process is one which is very clean and even though complex when processed and layered can sound very simple and basic. This is not conducive to the sort of music that I make and enjoy making and as a result I have decided to adapt it into something more suitable.

As I mentioned in my previous post I am planning on presenting my work as a sound art installation over 4 sets of stereo speakers and using ultrasonic sensors to add interactive elements. I have adapted the music so that it has an altogether more ambient feel while maintaining certain rhythmic elements and a sense of meter. This is much more suitable as a way to present sine waves and with the interactive elements should make for an interesting piece of work.

In terms of interactivity I have put together 4 patches in Pure Data which consist of audio effects controlled by a sensor via an Arduino. The idea is that the closer the listener is to the speakers (which will be arranged in a circle as large as the space (hopefully the sound studio) will allow) the more higher the number being fed to the FX unit and thus the greater the depth of the effect. Here are some images of the Pure Data patches that I’ve made for this.

Vibrato Effect

Reverb Effect

Delay Effect (adapted from code found online)

Chorus Effect

Here is a sample of the music. This is still very much a work in progress and the finished piece will be longer and have more variation. Please also keep in mind that this is not intended to be presented as you’re most likely listening to it; on one set of stereo speakers. There are 24 channels on this track, each containing different elements of audio. When this is presented properly it will be as four separate audio files, each file containing 6 of the 24 channels. The idea being that you can walk around ‘inside’ the piece and become a part of it depending upon how you interact with the sensors.

I will be posting another blog entry once the project has been fully assembled and tested which will hopefully contain video, finished audio and some critical analysis of both the project and the Tiny Datum theme itself.

HSS 8120 – Tiny Datum – Post 1 – Overview

HSS 8120, Tiny Datum

For this assignment we were given the theme Tiny Datum. “As a provocation and opposition to Big Data, Tiny Datum is something that displays and interacts with a very small number of data points during its existence. Tiny Datum’s data does not have to be stored or shared, its behaviour can be entirely ephemeral and self-fulfilling. Tiny Datum’s datum can relate to its own data, for example its power usage or temperature, rather than to any economic, governmental, security or scientific concern, as is typically the case in big data research. Tiny Datum should take a minimalistic approach to visualisation, sonification or data analysis. We imagine that pieces could take diverse forms (devises, websites, performances) which operate on a absurdly small data set. Tiny Datum should offer a playful alternative for big data design and gently suggest that there could be more to data than just size.”

We were given two assignments for this, a 10 minute presentation and a design/creative project.

Basically what we’re talking about is minimalism. How can we create something that is unique and interesting using the smallest amount of data possible?

I ummed and aahed about this for some time, particularly the presentation until I came up with the theme of sine waves. Sine waves are the fundamental building blocks of all of synthesised sound and are a mathematical constant used in fields such as mathematics, physics, engineering and signal processing. Basically speaking, a sine wave is a curve which describes a smooth repetitive oscillation. In audio terms instruments such as flutes and organs are capable of producing very pure sine waves (albeit with overtones) and additive synthesisers use them to produce other wave forms through a process called Fourier transform.

A sine wave

A square wave made up of sine waves through Fourier transform.

1 second sample of a 440hz sine wave.

As you can see, a sine wave is about as simple as sound gets and for that reason I felt that basing a project around that met the brief. I will go into more detail about both my creative design project and my presentation but for now I’m just looking to give an overview.

My design project will be a piece of music made up entirely of processed sine waves. I will use a full suite of production tools to process sine waves in such a way as to turn them into sounds that would be considered useful musically. That is to say; drum sounds, instrument sounds, FX etc etc. I will also use sine waves as formant waves (waveforms that the sound is based on) in my hardware synthesisers, primarily my Roland JD-800 and Waldorf Blofeld, and produce patches to use as part of the production.
In terms of presenting this work I will be using multiple sound sources, a I did in our HSS 8123 project. I’m aiming to use four sets of speakers again but as the track does not need to work without a sense of meter I will be able to use rhythms and so on and therefore approach that part of the production process in a more conventional manner. I am also considering use of ultrasonic sensors through Pure Data as a way of increasing user interaction with the piece. As the user approaches the speaker sets their distance from the speakers will effect certain FX parameters that have been designed in Pure Data. This part of the project is largely dependent on whether I get time but it’s looking as though I will.

My presentation is less well thought out at this stage but fundamentally speaking it will be a musical performance using sine wave samples through Ableton Live. I will use FX, looping, pitch shifting, time stretching and other tools to create what I hope will be a coherent musical performance. I’m looking to start working on this over the next few days so hopefully I’ll have something well rehearsed when the time comes.

HSS8123 07/11/17


During this session we showed the work that we’d put together over the previous month and critiqued one another’s work. In our case that work was a collection of still images edited into a short film and accompanied by music and a collection of portraits accompanied by a box which generates random sounds via MIDI using an Arduino (see photo). The idea of the second was to create a sense of cognitive dissonance and encourage the viewer to interact with the piece.

We decided to develop the first piece as we felt that the second piece was fairly well realised. Here’s the email I sent to the rest of the group with the initial idea for development:


So, I’ve had some thoughts on how we can develop the short film that we showed today. I think the box project was pretty much realised and while I’m open to developing that instead if you guys want I think there’s more potential in the film.

What I think would be really nice is if we could turn it into a more interactive piece. On a basic level I can see it as a circle of five large screens all showing different images and all playing different sound. That is immediately interactive because the experience changes based on where you stand and where you look but I think we can go a lot deeper.

In terms of music I’m really interested in work that is designed to be played through multiple sound sources. The Flaming Lips did an album called Zaireeka which is designed to be played and listened to on 4 hifis with 4 independent sets of speakers simultaneously. We can achieve that by lengthening the piece of music we’ve already used, adding layers to make it a much larger sound and then splitting that down into five seperate pieces of music. 1 piece per screen and designed to loop so that it can be played continuously. This provides interactivity because certain elements will appear louder or quieter depending on the position of the listener.

Visually I think it might be a bit more difficult. I liked Pete’s suggestion about randomising the imagery or having it semi randomised so that they’re grouped by theme. I think that would be a good starting point and wouldn’t be too difficult to do in Programming. The next step from there would be to introduce an element of viewer participation using motion and proximity sensors in Arduino (I think it’d be possible to do it with one but I think using five of them would probably be better) to change or alter the image that you see on screen depending on where you are in the space. If we could find a way to use the person’s position within the piece and their movement around the piece to alter the images using all sorts of trippy effects that would be especially cool. A simpler approach would be to have the motion sensors define which set of images are playing and/or the speed at which they play.

That’s my thoughts on developing this anyway. I think if we can pull it off we have the potential to do something very cool indeed. A completely unique experience for everyone who views it with real interactivity.

What are you guys thoughts and ideas? What problems can you see that we might have? We need to get moving with this straight away as we only have a month so please get back to me and let me know what you want to do so that we can finalise an idea and get working on it right away.


This was agreed upon by the group and after some discussion we decided to develop this idea so that the interactivity comes from the viewer triggering the screens using an Arduino with an ultrasonic sensor. They can trigger them in any order they like and so in a sense they perform the piece themselves. This raises some interesting problems for the music as it must always work and sync in some sense even when started from random places.

We divided the tasks up as follows. Ryan to program the sensors and submit the images from his portfolio of photography work. Scarlet to sort those photographs into loose catagories, put them into the animation program, and ensure that the program works full screen. Me to compose the music.

As the most advanced programmer of the group (that is to say, the least worst) I wrote an Arduino program to read from the ultrasonic sensor and send high and low signals via serial. Then I wrote a program in Programming to show random images with sound and read from the serial port. This was just to get Ryan and Scarlet started and save them from having to do some of the more prosaic coding tasks. Those sketches are posted below.

We have until the 4th of December to put this together and show it. Should be interesting to see how it develops!

Arduino sketch.

#include NewPing.h

unsigned long echo = 0;
int ultraSoundSignal = 9; // Ultrasound signal pin
unsigned long ultrasoundValue = 0;

void setup()
pinMode(ultraSoundSignal, OUTPUT);

unsigned long ping()
pinMode(ultraSoundSignal, OUTPUT); // Switch signalpin to output
digitalWrite(ultraSoundSignal, LOW); // Send low pulse
delayMicroseconds(2); // Wait for 2 microseconds
digitalWrite(ultraSoundSignal, HIGH); // Send high pulse
delayMicroseconds(5); // Wait for 5 microseconds
digitalWrite(ultraSoundSignal, LOW); // Holdoff
pinMode(ultraSoundSignal, INPUT); // Switch signalpin to input
digitalWrite(ultraSoundSignal, HIGH); // Turn on pullup resistor
// please note that pulseIn has a 1sec timeout, which may
// not be desirable. Depending on your sensor specs, you
// can likely bound the time like this — marcmerlin
// echo = pulseIn(ultraSoundSignal, HIGH, 38000)
echo = pulseIn(ultraSoundSignal, HIGH); //Listen for echo
ultrasoundValue = (echo / 58.138) * .39; //convert to CM then to inches
return ultrasoundValue;

void loop()
int sensorIn = 0;
sensorIn = ping();

if (ultrasoundValue >= 30) {
} //delay 1/4 seconds.

if (ultrasoundValue < 30) {
} //delay 1/4 seconds.


Programming sketch.

//i’m calling everything before ‘void setup’ the initialisation section for clarity

import processing.serial.*; //these import commands initialise the libraries
import processing.sound.*;

PImage [] images; //this sets up the image array and names it ‘images’

SoundFile file; // initialises the audio

Serial myPort; // initialises the serial port so it can read from arduino
String val; // makes sure it can read the data from the serial port

void setup() {

size(400, 600); //this is the size of the background window. we need this to be full screen

String portName = Serial.list()[2]; // Open the port (usually change to [0] or [1] or [2]. Mine is 2 but yours is more likely to be 0 or 1
myPort = new Serial(this, portName, 9600); //makes sure the serial is talking to arduino properly

file = new SoundFile(this, “Sound 1.wav”); // Load a soundfile from the /data folder of the sketch and play it back as a loop

frameRate(15); //runs the loop section of the code 15 times a second. this can be altered to make it faster or slower. You can even use fractions like 0.2 to get it to loop every five seconds but that can cause problems elsewhere.

images = new PImage [50]; //instantiate the array – this means actually create it setting relevant parameters (like how long the list should be)

imageMode(CENTER); ///draw images from the middle

images[0]=loadImage(“01.png”); //all this stuff is the image array. you can just drag and drop image files from your desktop to add them to the sketch but you will still need to change the names of the files

void draw() {

background(0); //makes the background black

image(images[(int)random(47)], width/2, height/2); //this displays random images from the array. Our ‘animation’.

if (myPort.available() > 0) { //these next few lines read what’s happening on the serial port
if ( (val = myPort.readStringUntil(ENTER)) != null ) val = trim(val);
else return;
if (val != null) {

if (“HIGH”.equals(val)) //if the serial is reading HIGH. the default or untriggered setting.
//this is PROBABLY* where you’ll need to put something in that blacks out the screen and mutes the audio. you may well also have to add code to the setup and initialisation sections.

if (“LOW”.equals(val)) //if the serial is reading LOW. the triggered setting. when you wave your hand over it in other words.
//this is PROBABLY* where you’ll need to put the code to fade the images and sound in and out. they will always be running in the background. you may well also have to add code to the setup and initialisation sections.

// * I could be barking up the wrong tree entirely but I think this approach will work.