Create_Space New Media Lab :: Tim Barrass

2005, Melbourne, Australia

Tim Bariss_Circuits for Conductive Fabrics and Foam

Tim Bariss_Circuits for Conductive Fabrics and Foam

I attended the lab with some apprehension about not knowing what I had put myself in for, as well as vague hopes that it would be somehow invigorating after a long and dry academic project, as an occasion to meet with other artists, share ideas and possibly find some common ground for collaborating.Most of us hadn’t met before, and we spent the first few days getting to know one another through facilitated discussions about the lab theme and our work to date.  This involved talking about ideas of specific urban spaces and kinds of urban spaces, and showing documentation of our previous work.

We started to relate our more abstract discussions of urban space to potentials for practice in our immediate surrounds by wandering the neighbourhood (re)marking aspects of the streetscape with chalk.  This entertaining exercise often produced funny or insightful results, and the general approach of observing and thinking about how aspects of a situation can be reframed is one of the elements of the workshop which I hope to continue in my ongoing work.

The facilitators presented a design methodology session involving a collaborative project design exercise which emphasised the value of quick low-fidelity prototyping, for developing and testing ideas. Such an approach may be common sense, but it is also worth highlighting especially in regard to new media art because it places emphasis on trying out ideas in the simplest ways, counter to a tendency I sometimes experience of getting so tangled in the technical processes in creating work that the initial ideas can be lost or obscured.

We were asked to commit to a project for the second week.  This was difficult since the remaining mornings were taken up with workshops, leaving only afternoons for projects, not much time to accomplish anything.  Also, we were only newly aware of each other’s interests and skills, so collaborations didn’t have time to really crystalise, in my case at least.

My project during the lab
I was interested in creating a way to explore high-dimensional sound synthesis parameter spaces, which are typically difficult to navigate and can involve changing many variables at once.  I wanted to try this via physical interaction with handheld objects without any obvious instrumental controls or pre-defined ways of functioning. I hoped to develop something which could enable curiosity-driven interaction in a gallery context but also could be learnt and played like a musical instrument. While my focus in the workshop was on the basics of constructing physical interfaces and connecting them to software, my aim is to combine them with my long term area of interest and study, neural networks, to develop adaptive musical objects that learn or can be trained to produce complex sounds through physical handling.

Katherine had introduced some techniques to us for using conductive fabrics and I decided to combine these with another readily available material, conductive foam, to experiment with continuously variable, “squishy” physical interfaces. During the first week I had started building a parallel port interface (Illustration 3) to connect sensors and external hardware to a computer, and this enabled me to begin testing some simple prototypes. I wrote a Pure Data (PD) patch to work with the parallel port interface and map signals from the squishy physical objects to sounds*.

Benefits of the lab to my practice
The lab provided me with some time to think about and try out ideas in a dedicated context, and to deepen my practical and conceptual resources for further practice.  My project helped me over a practical hurdle which will make it possible to revive some old stalled projects as as well as to move forward by giving form to ideas which I didn’t have before the workshop.  I’ll be extending the work I started during the lab for the creation of sound environments for acrobatic performers during a creative development residency at the Meat Market early in 2006.

Connections Made
The lab provided an occasion to meet other new media artists and to find out what sort of work they have been doing.  I was surprised by what seems to be a trend towards project management as a mode of working, by artists who either collaborate or employ others in various roles.  Although this is not how I have worked in the past, it makes sense in a field where due to rapid change it is counterproductive to try to specialise in everything.  This is certainly an issue I face as someone who most often works alone. Another thing I discovered in the lab was that it is difficult to connect specialised knowledges in a general context in a short time. I think this may be why many of us ended up pursuing solo investigations, since we didn’t have time to learn much about each other’s areas of knowledge and expertise, despite the quite grueling show-and-tell of our previous work in the first few days. Nonetheless, even though I didn’t develop any collaborations directly resulting from the lab, I made valuable personal connections with other artists there.

* This Pd patch is useful for others who wish to use the k2805 parallel interface, which makes physical computing easily accessible at about a tenth the price of pre-built equivalents.

Read more about Create Space here

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