Conduit. A site-specific performance for the MCA, May 2014 <process blog>

This is a process blog for a performance at the MCA. It was created to share with my students and the performers who are involved. Scroll vertically for process archive. Scroll horizontally for images. For the original concept and final performance documentation go to this link.

Early December...Concept sketches and 3D models... I know 2 things: I will use music boxes and performers will have their mouths covered. This is something that I started thinking about here. When I think of communication in the future, I hope that there will be less talking. I'm starting to design the models for the face masks (images). They will be 3D printed in late December. I started sketching concepts based on images of cyborgs. At this stage, I'm still trying to figure out if I'll be straying from my usual binary palette of black and white, and whether or not I'll be printing these as solids or wireframes. I do know that I want to print these as low polygon models if they are solid. The images are screenshots from Maya.




Early January...New sketches, writing... After falling face first into an unproductive state during the holidays, I've rebooted this project from the ground up. First things first, I have a title. It'll be called Conduit. Seemed appropriate since I will be using music boxes and I think of the music as a conduit to another place. Next, it works best for me to have a writing piece or a story to start from. I'm really influenced by lyrics, fairytales and nursery rhymes (particularly of the unusual or slightly dark sort), so I wrote one. The original writing is entitled The Tines Will Shred the World: Breadcrumbs for the Music Box Man and it is written under my moniker Le^2. You can read it here. Third, I decided to rework the mouthpieces a bit from what you see above (image 1). I reworked the design recently (there are now 6 versions). I tightened the area around the ear, made it more geometrical and sent it off for a quote to be 3d printed (image 2). The cost was more than I was prepared to absorb since I would need several of them. So I decided to make it in to wired design, one thin, one thicker (images 3 + 4). That didn't bring the cost down much because I'd love to print it using steel. So I'm going with something small and subtle for this performance (images 5 + 6). You can see the progression in the images below if you scroll or swipe horizontally. My biggest issue with designing performances is knowing when/how to simplify them. So the other concept sketches are an attempt to figure out how this thing will look with the performers in the space (image 7). As of this week, I see the performers in mouthpieces and fedoras, suits and attached electronics. Thankfully, some of the Laboratory Dancers have signed on to perform. So atleast that's handled.

Next: Scenarios, programming, space scouting...

Early February...Prototypes + programming... I received the prototype from Shapeways (1st image). It's ok. It fits. But it needs to be tweaked then printed in metal. Also, I don't like the rounded shape, so I'll be changing the geometry. I'm planning on embedding the sensors in the mouthpieces and choreographing gestures around them to trigger Max/MSP/Jitter. That means, I'll need to adjust the 3d models to make room for the sensors and wires. The video (2nd image) is an example of a quick patch that turns the model on its y-axis to resemble a spinning figurine in a music box. It also mimics the motion you make in order to turn the music box movement. You can't really see my hand or the photocell sensor very well in the video, but the plan is to choreograph simple repetitive movements based on how one would trigger the sensor. I haven't paid any attention to sensitivity or anything else in the patch. This is just a preliminary test. So far, so good... but this piece needs to be easy to set up and break down. So I'm looking at ways to simplify the entire concept for this first time out. I'm starting to see this project as a series of happenings in the galleries. A performer, a monitor, a mouthpiece. Something just a bit out of order, hidden in plain sight. It's coming together. The last 3 images are the redesign of the 1st mouthpiece. I've modelled it in SketchUp and printed it in one of our labs at SAIC on a MakerBot. This has dropped my costs significantly.

Next: More of the same.

Late February...Final Prototypes... I've simplified and decided on the final mouthpiece design. Flipping it also seems to fit the face better. I've also decided to design the media interaction around a pulse sensor for all of the performers. I feel that this fits the vision of the piece much better. I want the performers to control the media with their breathing. This feels more "conduit-like". No movement necessary for this piece.

Next: Final fabrication of all wearbles and final interative Jitter patches.

Late March...Programming... I've simplified the programming for the piece while incorporating the pulse sensor. No more multiple sensors. One sensor. One performer at a time. A screen shot of an example is below (video 1). In the midst of so much stillness on behalf of the performers, this should work well. Still working on final touches, but it's coming along nicely. The second video is a vimeo link for the promo (video 2). As far as other stuff is concerned, the rotating music box wearable piece is almost done. A bit more fabrication, and I'll be set. Brought a couple more friends into the project, so I'm excited to get this thing going.

Next: Rehearsals and public interaction design.

Late April...Overhaul + companion iBook + final fabrication...Last month, I was determined to present only one simplified scenario, but now I'm up to a total of 4! Since this performance is based on something I wrote in the wee hours of the morning (to a Bowie playlist), I thought it appropriate to make it available as part of this performance. It explains the scenarios and the characters (The Metronome, The Vector, The Scanner, The Gatekeeper). I find it very difficult to 'perform' mediated bodies without supplemental media as an anchor. I feel it leads to inevitable failure, as our bodies aren't equipped to perform as they can in other environments. Creating the book leads people through the imagined environment in which the performers were created, leads them through the stages of the performance, allows them to engage with the performers as they have been imagined, and gives gallery attendees something to walk away with. I hope that when the performers are remembered, their identities become more than what the audience witnessed, they become something ephemeral and unresolved. The link to the iBook will be active the week of the performance. Fabrication is nearly finished, after making many changes. Image 1: screenshot of the cover of the iBook. Image 2 + 3: wearables music box and pulse sensor for The Metronome. Image 4: game pieces for The Gatekeeper. Image 5: camera for The Scanner.

Next: Rehearsals and documentation