Please download the Flash player to hear this track
Five standalone interactive sculptures that react audiovisually to tactile manipulation and enable collaborative composition wirelessly over the Internet. It is an interdisciplinary hybrid art project by Adam Nash, John McCormick and Christopher Dodds. It investigates the possibilities of:
The project consists of five standalone interconnected sculptural works that react to tactile input and display their “group state” via changes in colour and sonic output. The interface for each unit is extremely simple, consisting of 17 solid glass tubes that act as dials. Turning a dial affects the state of an individual unit, which in turn communicates its state to the other four. Each unit mediates and aggregates the changes received from all of the other units, creating an ever-mutating recombinant audiovisual display.
Changes in state are represented through audio feedback, via onboard synthesiser and speakers, and variations in the colour of the glass rods, via onboard LED lights refracted through the glass tubes. These changes occur in real-time as participants manipulate the unit’s controls. For example, a user turning a glass rod 90 degrees will cause that rod to change its colour/hue and increase the volume and resonance of its sound. At the same time, this change is broadcast to the other four units, all of which incorporate the change into the audiovisual display of their corresponding glass rods. All of the units then broadcast that change, and so on, creating a recursive, dynamic composition over the five units. Participants become composers and collective conductors, responding to the local changes as well as to the meta-composition created by the collective units, each affecting the other’s audiovisual composition. This recombinant meta-composition will also be streamed to the Internet, allowing a web-based audiovisual display, accessible via web browsers and mobile devices so the worldwide audience can view and/or listen to the collective’s current state.
Each physical unit will have the feel of a precious, sculptural object. Materials including laser-cut glass, aluminum, and recycled Australian hardwood will be used in the manufacturing of each unit. The objects will present primarily as simple, beautiful sculptural works, concealing the underlying technology. The interface will be intuitive, sensual and enjoyable. The user’s audio/visual/tactile experience as participant is foregrounded. This represents a forward step from self-consciously technology-based new media art by privileging the user as collaborator without requiring any specialised knowledge or experience, and without forcing the interaction and display into a restrictive mouse/keyboard/monitor configuration.
This isn’t to say the underlying technology isn’t complex. Technically, it is the next logical evolution of Nash and McCormick’s touch sensitive mixed reality audiovisual sculptures of Ways to Wave, their project commissioned for the 2008 01SJ Biennial in the USA, which involved users manipulating an aluminium and acrylic sculpture to create a dynamic audiovisual installation in realtime in the multi-user virtual environment Second Life. Similarly, it builds on techniques developed by Nash and Dodds for the voice-activated database delivering live content into their mixed-reality Babelswarm installation. While both of those projects required computers running separately and two-dimensional projected displays, Cloud Cabinet incorporates the computer and audiovisual display into the physical sculptures themselves. The result is five standalone objects with built-in microcomputers, colour LED lights and speakers, that connect wirelessly to the Internet in order to communicate with each other. The display and interface are fundamentally entangled and united, as are the artist and the user.
Cloud Cabinet comprises the following components:
Final materials will be settled on during the research gathering stage, although the artists are keen to explore notions of beauty, preciousness and longevity. The objects will project a sense of blended past and future, relying on the juxtaposition of familiar and foreign materials. This will be achieved through the use of machined and etched glass, laser-cut polymers, metals and recycled hardwoods such as Walnut and Jarra. This builds on the artists’ experience working with aluminium, glass and laser-cut acrylic.
The audio component is designed as a rational scale meaning the intervals and tonal relationships of the harmonic scale are derived from the form of the object itself rather than relying on the traditional Western musical scale. Digital technology allows us to develop a musical scale from arbitrary divisions, removing the mechanical imperative that determined the (now-traditional) 12-tone scale in the 16th century. 17 has been chosen as the basis of this form because of its interesting mathematical, physical and formal properties. This yields more intervals that a traditional 12-tone scale, moving the work into the so-called microtonal range, which allows a more subtle and nuanced sonic experience than would otherwise be possible. It allows users-as-composers, to interactively experiment with a musical experience that intrinsically arises from the work itself. It represents an act of liberation on the part of the sound artist from the 400+ year restriction of the "well tempered" system (including the modernists' "revolutionary" 12-tone, or "serial", system).
This tonal system enacts a formal physical requirement for 17 rods, the arrangement of which creates a visual representational of the sonic scale. In this sense the formal abstract system of music enacts a formal physical system for interaction. The system enables the end-user to become a participant in the creation of an endless cycle of emergent audiovisual behaviour. The act of interaction creates the immediate audiovisual response at the same time as influencing the other units and the future parameters governing the emergent behaviour.
The audio CD included in the support material has a 5-minute mockup of what one unit may sound like when in use. The audio was created using a software simulation of the five units, each with 17 changeable parameters, broadcasting their state, listening to the other units and aggregating all signals into the local sonic state.
The three artists involved in Cloud Cabinet have a long history in the exploration of users as collaborators. Nash and McCormick’s Ways To Wave fundamentally relied on the user as participant or collaborator in the creation of an audiovisual virtual landscape through the physical manipulation of an aluminium and acrylic sculpture. Nash and Dodds’ Babelswarm relied on user participation to create an ever-evolving tower of language, and many of Nash’s earlier works explore notions of interactivity and responsibility on the part of the interactor. Much of McCormick’s work has investigated interactive networked performance, telematic dance, virtual theatre and transcending the boundaries between geography and physicality. The sophisticated practice-based knowledge of the three artists is brought to bear on this project, which really represents the “next generation” of interactive artwork, where the user, or interactor, is a fundamental element in the execution of the work. The project acknowledges the level of media sophistication that each user brings to any encounter with media-based art, facilitating the user as collaborator in a dynamic relationship between the physical object and the actions that create the audiovisual artwork itself.
Representing an evolution of the Ways To Wave project, this work experiments with the blending of interface and display. Much media-based art relies on a two-dimensional display outcome (ie, computer monitor, TV screen, or projection), whereas this work experiments with a physical three-dimensional display involving touch, light and sound. With the live communication between all five of the units, another level of display is brought to bear, with each unit incorporating the changes of all the other units into its own display, live in real time. From this emerges a kind of meta-display, the state of all five units as a collective, which informs and remediates the local display. Similarly, the user interface is not a soft abstraction separated from the outcome, rather it is physically part of the display. User feedback, in the interface design sense of the term, is tactile and immediate. It is, quite literally, a hands-on user experience. The user creates the work by playing the work, and since there are several units disparately comprising a meta-unit, the interface is constantly dynamically reconfigured in an immediately legible manner that is incorporated into both the display and performance of the work itself. This process represents a very sophisticated practical re-examination of the nature of display and interface in technologically mediated experience.
Furthermore, the project builds on contemporary notions of mixed reality and virtual environments, currently understood (in display and interface terms) to negotiate a ‘membrane’ that exists between actual reality and virtual reality. Even notions of entanglement imply a dichotomy of ontology defining these ‘two realities’. This project unifies these concepts into an indistinguishable whole. Each unit is intrinsically networked via the Internet, constantly broadcasting its own data and receiving the data of each of the other units. This data is available at any time, and may be reconfigured and recombined at will by the artists. The primary example of this will be the web-based streaming audio ‘radio station’ constantly playing the aggregated state of the five units that makes up the meta-composition, available to anybody with a web browser. However, this networked data can be reconfigured in any number of virtual forms, for example as the data dynamically forming the procedural geometry of an online 3D virtual environment. Through the Ways To Wave and Babelswarm projects, the artists involved in this project have developed a significant working knowledge and understanding of the transmission and modulation of data between various environments over the Internet. This project represents an opportunity to evolve that understanding to its next logical level.
Upon completion, the five sculptures comprising Cloud Cabinet will be installed in five galleries at remote locations, where they will be available to participants as a collaborative, distributed compositional environment. The works will be crafted to withstand the rigours of a public space while maintaining their sculptural beauty and multi-sensory engagement. The collective compositions will be available to experience as media streams from a central server. For the opening of the exhibitions, a series of live performances will be presented by the artists as a means to explore and share the nuances of the unique tonal characteristics of the work. Subsequent to the opening exhibitions it is envisioned Cloud Cabinet will find itself in public or private collections with the proviso that the artworks be available for future live or remote performances by the artists and their collaborators.