Week 6

23 November 2012

Week 6 began with a couple of days helping Alex with a workshop.

I also a spent a day with the fine folk of Pan exploring some pitch work – and it was lovely to just be in a space, working through ideas with them; they’re all good folk.

Squeezed into Wendesday was a day of writing: working up a draft for the Four Thought talk in just under two weeks.

Thursday saw the launch of Spirits Melted Into Air, a piece of work for the RSC that I’ve mentioned in passing (but not detail) in weeknotes a few times. It’s now live and in the world, and I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out; it’s nice to finally be able to show people a piece of work.

And now it’s Friday. I’m writing this from the back of economy on the way to the US, for a last-minute, spur-of-the-moment holiday – I’ll be in New York for the next week, taking some time to take stock, settle my head, and see the sights (and friends). Do say hello if you’d like to. I’m also going to take the time to perhaps write a little, and think about trajectories. But mainly, I’m going to eat, read, and have a bit of a holiday and an adventure.

I’m excited to be able to share Spirits Melted Into Air with you: a two-week exploration I produced with the Royal Shakespeare Company, as part of their myShakespeare project.

The work is in parts a technology prototype, data visualisation, and artwork. Custom-built, open-source software is used to analyse performance video and generate plots of actors’ positions on stage from a perspective viewpoint. These plots are then used to generate new, secondary artworks: posters, and laser-cut wooden shapes.

Spirits headline

The project emerged from an initial workshop and commission by Caper, where we explored various potential ways for technologists to collaborate with the RSC on short projects. From there, I dealt with the RSC direct, meeting key members of their team and understanding a bit more about the various factors influencing performances and productions there.

It was great to be able to take such a fluid, interpretative approach to the work. With hindsight, this was unsurprising: the RSC’s business is interpretation – taking Shakespeare and producing entirely new productions each year, of plays they have often performed countless times. My work was similarly interpretative: initially, building software to explore the data, and then exploring that data as a material – before moving onto the further material exploration of output formats. It’s the sort of structure to work that I’m fond of.

It was also great to have a brief to shape, and ultimately push myself: not just exploring a single technical idea, but seeing it through, end-to-end, to output and display. It was important to me that whatever came out of it – however prototype-y – was both beautiful and accessible. I think the output – especially the lasercuts – has stood up to that internal demand.

Thanks to Rachel and Kat at Caper for setting up the initial commission and the workshops; to Sarah and Ida, for producing the work from the RSC so superbly; and to everyone I met at the RSC who offered insight, ideas, and knowledge.

You can find out more at the Spirits Melted Into Air website.

And, if you’d like to know more about it, or indeed, to work with me on similar work – be it investigative, creative, or artistic – do get in touch.

Week 0

15 October 2012

I have totally failed to finish updating my vanity domain to be more than just a holding page, so my weeknotes for freelance work will have to start here, for the time being. And as for indexing them from zero – well, why not. And as for doing them at the beginning of Week 1 rather than the end of Week 0: well, I was out, and Late Weeknotes seem to be the trend.

A gentle week to kick off with, mainly focused on some business development (ie: having lunch or coffee with people), administration (setting up accounting software, picking project codename schemes, and beginning to maintain a pipeline) and working on the project I’m doing for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

That’s developing really nicely. I’ve still not written much about it at length because it’s evolving a little as I work on it. Still, rather than being cryptic, now’s a good as time as any to start talking about it.

The project is called Spirits Melted Into Air, and it’s a piece of work about logging actors’ positions on stage during performance and turning that data into secondary artworks. It arose from the idea that many people’s many interactions with Shakespeare are with the text, when, in fact, the RSC’s work is about performance: performance which is shaped not by a text (given how few stage direction we have in the printed versions of Shakespeare) but by an actor, a director, a motion coach, perhaps a fight choreographer, and (crucially) the audience on a given night.

I’m producing this data through a piece of software I’ve written – in Processing – which allows me to trace motion (by hand) from video. It’s a little crude, but is producing valuable results. Then, I’m writing more software to output that into useful formats, and turning that into art.

I am developing it in the open, albeit somewhat cryptically, over at Github, where you can find several Processing experiments and some diary notes. But really, it probably won’t make much sense until I write it up properly.

The big leaps forward this week were acquiring some source material from Stratford, whittling it down to size with some ffmpeg voodoo, and making my simple 2D demo work in skewed 3D space. Oh, and beginning the graphic design of the output.

Lined up for next week (it’s this week really): two days design work, sketching and exploring an interaction space with the Good Night Lamp team, two days thinking about the RSC, a little business development, and Playful on Friday.

Good week 0, really.

  • 'Together with Caper I have also been working on a small art project for the RSC. We’ve been interested in working with the building itself… We wanted to explore the building as a whole, the total sum of effort and action that makes experiencing the performance possible; some of it behind the scenes. To do that, we wanted to put together an app that would analyse, visualise and display activity in the building as it happens." Lovely stuff from Natalia; this is another piece of work commissioned at the same time as the piece I'm doing for the RSC (more of which anon).
  • "The fascinating thing about the New Aesthetic could be that it was never new — it went from being unknown to being ubiquitous and thoroughly banal with barely a blink. The frisson of shock or wonder one experienced at seeing an aspect of the New Aesthetic out in the wild comes because that is the only time it will be noticed; afterwards it will pass unobserved. The New Aesthetic is not about seeing something new — it is about the new things we are not seeing. It is an effort to truly observe and note emergent digital visual phenomena before they become invisible." This is a really solid, careful piece from Will Wiles.