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Simon Elvins: Mapping sound

Simon Elvins: Silent London (detail) / Notation

Simon Elvins is concerned with sound as an ubiquitous force. Through a series of projects he has been documenting how sound is an often ignored dimension of our physical environment. Silent London plots quiet spaces in the English capitol using noise level data. An embossed print shows quiet areas raised up from the paper, bringing them to the attention of the viewer, while noise areas become blanked out valleys. noisy areas raised up from the paper while quiet areas become blank areas of peace. His FM Radio Map serves a dual purpose. On the one hand it plots the physical locations of commercial and pirate FM radio stations broadcasting in London. But circuits conductive pencil lines placed on the back of the map also turns it into a physical interface. Using a modified radio the map can be aurally “navigated” by placing metail contacts on points on the map.

These projects are poetic but ultimately functional. Taking a conceptual design approach (Elvins studied Communication Art & Design at the Royal College of Art), they present numerical data in an aesthetic context. By choosing low-tech materials (paper, electronics) Elvins creates fragile objects whose material qualities belie their sophisticated technical content.

Parallel to Elvin’s interest in sound is his fascination with mapping of physical and intangible forces. Both the aforementioned projects are classic mapping projects, while Notation is a more abstract exploration of how sound can be represented visually as marks on paper. Reminiscent of experiments with graphic notation (see Eno etc), the project consists of studies of representations of tonal patterns using pencil on paper.

The Notation project page seems to indicate that these drawings can ultimately be used to produce sound, but no details are available. If so, it would be an inversion of Elvin’s excellent Paper Record Player, where he constructed a functional record player out of paper, complete with its own conical paper amplifier.

(Thanks to TomC. See also Mount Fear.)

 

Soda has released a mock-up of SodaPlay 2.0 (see blog here and here). It’s over on dev.sodaplay.com, and gives a pretty good idea of how the new system will work when fully functional.

Most exciting for SodaPlay enthusiasts should be the links to functional new style SodaPlay applications (see image above). These launch under Java Webstart, and require Java 5.0. Playforge.net and a discussion forum about SodaPlay 2.0 are also online.

And if you’re a true Soda fanboy, you can follow the exploits of the Soda creative team documented on the soda creative Flickr pool, of which Alexander Kohlhofer aka Plasticshore is the most prolific contributor.

 

As mentioned in the previous post about Soda, there are some interesting new SodaConstructor developments in the works. While talking to the Soda crew in London a few weeks back I was lucky enough to get some details.

From its launch in 2000, the popularity of the SodaConstructor project exceeded all expectations. It was intended to be a simple experiment with Java, spring dynamics and meccano-like creatures, but quickly became a runaway hit with mentions in fashion magazines and the popular press. Something about SodaConstructor gets to people. You can call it the LEGO effect or draw parallels to the popularity of "god games", but put simply SodaConstructor is just good clean fun.

Today, SodaConstructor has over registered 200 000 users that can save their creations and show them off to others. The site sees over 200 000 visitors per month, many of whom are temporary visitors. For some users SodaConstructor has become both a serious hobby and an arena for research. There are even user-run community sites like sodaplaycentral, with serious articles on how to build "amoeba" type creatures and the workings of Multiple Stiffness Springs.

SodaPlay 2.0: The community. At first Soda was unprepared for the popularity of the project, and had no time to support or develop it further. A simple but much-needed mechanism for saving user models was added, and allowed for the Sodazoo. In 2002 SodaRace was released thanks to external support. It provided a XML file format for models, making it possible to automate model design through AI and alife strategies. With a nod to Karl Sims’ classic Evolved Virtual Creatures, SodaRace uses the metaphor of a race to evaluate the ability of different models to navigate a random terrain. It became a hit with the AI and engineering community.

Now, with the generous long-time support of NESTA Soda are working on combining the popularity and simplicity of SodaConstructor with the advanced functions of SodaRace. The result will be SodaPlay 2.0, which will combine community functions (think Flickr, with galleries, comments etc) with a XML application framework called Playforge for creating models as well as modifying the SodaConstructor environment itself. SodaPlay 2.0 is scheduled for launch sometime in the near future.

The details of the APIs and framework are still being worked on, but users will be able to customize the interface of the Constructor enviroment as well as the physical simulation being used. These modifications can be saved as “Extensions” and shared with other users. Like with SodaRace, a web API will allow communication and uploading to the SodaPlay server, so user-written applications can be used to contribute to the environment.

Other ideas like a SodaConstructor screensaver which automatically downloads models for display are in the works. As with any service, opening SodaConstructor up to users through APIs and standard file format could potentially transform how the tool is used and what results that can be produced. Constructor heads should have exciting times indeed.

I have asked the SodaPlay team to give a short explanation of PlayForge and future functions, I will post that in a follow-up when I get it.

 

This is a short video showing off Hudson-Powell's Reactive Type and Barbican projects. Unfortunately, there is no sound as the video was shot directly from the screen.

Video: Hudson-Powell – Reactive Type / Barbican visuals (~4.5 MB)


 
Hudson-Powell: Luke / Jody / Sketches

Hudson-Powell: Luke / Jody / Sketches

Brothers Jody and Luke Hudson-Powell have been on my to-see list after their excellent Responsive Type project last year. Their Shoreditch studio is a modest space shared with friends, constituting a miniature creative community. Like many small design studios they are expert collaborators, teaming up where necessary.

Hudson-Powell’s portfolio is quite varied, featuring print work, graphic identities, motion graphics and interactive work. While at home in digital media, they also use drawing and found objects in their work, giving it a playful lo-tech feeling. They often use a system-based approach, following a British tradition of conceptual graphic design. Their cover for SHIFT is an excellent example. Here they used found objects to spell out the word SHIFT for a webcam, changing the image gradually over the scope of a month.

Luke and Jody are not hardcore coders themselves, although Jody did attend the MSc Virtual Environments course at Bartlett, learning VRML and C++. Following the Responsive Type project, they have recently continued their code-based exploration in a set of illustrations for the Barbican classical music programme. Working with V3ga and Michael Zancan (both of whom were involved in Responsive Type), they developed a tree-like system which grows in real-time based on audio input. The project was based on V3ga’s Vision Factory platform. The final output is a series of illustrations based on classical music, for use in the Barbican’s printed material, banners etc.

Hudson-Powell links

 
Mar 9/06
12:18

I am passing through London on my way back from the AV.06 festival and using the opportunity to meet up with the London scene. Last night saw a very pleasant gathering of Tom Carden, Karsten Schmidt, Andreas Müller (who turns out to be Swedish / Finnish, not German as one might suspect), Christian Giordano, Ed Burton and more.

A London Flickr set is already up, more blog posts to come.

Things seen:
Tate Modern: Rachel Whiteread’s Embankment installation
Hayward Gallery: Dan Flavin retrospective

Relevant books purchased:
Alex Coles: Design Art
Frances Follin: Embodied Visions. Bridget Riley, Op Art and the Sixties
Eye Magazine #58 (it has an article on the “decriminalization of ornament”)

 

Going with the recent typographic focus: Responsive Type is a computational typography study. The user types text in an applet, which renders the shapes and strokes of the type in realtime, allowing animation and modular typography. Created in Processing, the applet currently only has one typographic style. Work is underway to open up the source and allow users to add more styles.

Responsive Type was created by London-based Hudson-Powell for their exhibition at Beamst, Tokyo. Messages typed in the online applet are shown live in the gallery. The project is a collaboration with a team including Processing regulars v3ga and Michael Chang, see also the project credits.

Hudson-Powell is brothers Jody and Luke, who take a conceptual approach to design and illustration. For their September 2005 cover design for SHIFT they set up a web cam in their studio for a month. They then used various objects (strings, toy bricks etc) to spell out the letters SHIFT, changing them frequently. SHIFT also has an interview with Hudson-Powell online.

Via v3ga.

 
Name: Project

Abigail Reynolds: Mount Fear

Paul wrote a great post over on Dataisnature about non-digital artists working with visualizations. Particularly striking is Mark Lombardi's beautiful maps of political webs of influence in pen and paper, predating Josh On’s classic They Rule. More images can be found here, the image quality is low but one can just make out the artist’s deliberate use of beauty in making these maps of otherwise grim data.

Another example is London-based artist Abigail Reynolds. Her Mount Fear maps crime statistics in a series of models, translating geographically specific crime data into physical spaces:

The imaginative fantasy space seemingly proposed by the object/image is subverted by the hard facts and logic of the criteria that shape it. The object does not describe an ideal other-worldly space separated from lived reality, but conversely describes in relentless detail the actuality of life on the city streets.

Reynolds has executed the project in several locations, using local data to create the models, which are made from layers of cardboard and styrofoam. Painstakingingly, layers are built up to create a to-scale topological model of a geographical region, with the height dimension indicating number of crimes in that area.

The images above show the following:

The models appear as impenetrable, imposing spaces, giving a physical representation of the crime statistics. As with Lombardi (or indeed with any visualization), aesthetic choices have been made as to how the data is represented. The number of crimes given per layer can be scaled down or up to create a less or more imposing model. But giving a clear physical presence to the data gives the viewer a completely different experience.

(Thanks to Christine Wolfe of Unwetter for the link.)

 
OpenStreetMap: London poster

OpenStreetMap: A0 poster of London

The good people over OpenStreetMap continue their quest for free cartography. Collaborating with bike courier service eCourier, they’re rapidly filling in the gaps of their London map.

Tom Carden and Steve Coast recently produced an attractive OpenStreetMap of London as an A0 poster. They also put online a MPEG movie showing GPS traces being made by couriers travelling around the city.

Lovely stuff, really. If you have GPS data to contribute, you can do so by using their OpenStreetMap editing tool.

(via Tom Carden)