1. Suits and Kids on The Cave of Sounds in Canada

    The streets of Toronto en route to install The Cave of Sounds in Waterloo

    In September, The Cave of Sounds was invited to Waterloo, Canada to exhibit as a part of the Waterloo Innovation Summit.

    Car and building on the road to Waterloo to exhibit The Cave of Sounds View from the car on the road to Waterloo Inside the car on the road to Waterloo

    Our venue was THEMUSEUM, a children’s museum in downtown Kitchener. Up on the third floor, passing through replica of dinosaurs, amber fossils and lizard brains, our space managed to evoke a cave before we arrived, with odd cracks of sunlight poking through blackout curtains and an awkwardly placed metal girder dominating the room. We gained access at 7am on the day of our big 4.30pm opening. With a solid tech runthrough in our hotel room the previous day and an excellent tech team from the venue, we completed our install in seven hours, down from two days at the last show.

    Installing The Cave of Sounds interactive sound installation in THEMUSEUM, Waterloo, Canada

    The big opening in question was the Interactive Playground, a two hour exhibition for our host’s summit alongside other interactive works. Our audience were tech conference delegates, in suits, networking, but reassuringly open and ready to play, evidenced by wine glass outlines left on the plinths and the familiar peppering of phones as people videoed each other.

    As part of our invitation the summit organisers kindly let us stay on in the museum over the weekend letting us open to the public as well. This is a kid’s museum, and besides the staff at the museum, our audience thenceforth were predominantly parents with kids aged around 4-10. The work isn’t designed for children, so it was interesting to see how they reacted.

    Instruments of The Cave of Sounds installed and ready for exhibition

    The difference in behaviour between suits and kids is not as much as you might think. A few people look but don’t touch. Many go around in a circle trying each instrument out for a few seconds, moving on once they have created a few sounds. Some get immersed in playing one instrument. Everyone has a window of around 3-5 seconds before they will give up on an instrument that isn’t making a sound. Every now and then someone will coordinate a large group to each play a different instrument to make an ensemble together. Always, people connect more with the instruments when others are already there playing.

    Participant from the Waterloo Innovation Summit interacting with Mini-Theremin by Sus Garcia, part of the interactive sound installation The Cave of Sounds

    The distribution of these roles is similar between audiences that are primarily adult or child. The big difference seemed to be between conference delegates in the Interactive Playground and parents taking their kids to the museum. Many parents would only play to demonstrate things to their children. Context is important, and perhaps being a parent at a children’s museum means you aren’t in the mindset to engage with an interactive sound work. But there was something else troubling me, and I think it was the question of whether the presence of kids playing with the work somehow revoked permission for the grown ups to engage.

    Participants from the Waterloo Innovation Summit playing the instruments of interactive sound installation The Cave of Sounds

    The situation reminded me of Carsten Holler’s installations of slides at the Hayward Gallery and the Turbine Hall. Whatever your thoughts on Holler’s work, to me it seems to present something of an indictment on our culture that the only way grown ups feel they have permission to enjoy a slide is to put a frame around it and declare it an interactive artwork (with stringent height restrictions no less, keeping the kids out). What we have here is the opposite – the children have reappropriated the work from the adults simply by engaging with it – but the conclusion is the same.

    Light spilling into the exhibition space during The Cave of Sounds interactive sound installation in Waterloo

    At one point three kids wondered in. The first walks past the installation to the window and pulls back the curtain letting the sunshine pour in. ‘Ah wow!’ His two brothers run over, ‘wow,’ ‘woww!’ Their dad calls them back and off they go. Who needs art when you have a mind free and fresh enough to see the beauty already there. I wonder what they would think of the slides.

  2. Drift Residency in Rio de Janeiro

    This July I conducted an eight day residency in Brazil with the digital theatre group ZU-UK – part of a new research project with Jan Lee called Waiting for a Grain of Sand to Leap into the Air.

    Drift residency researching digital performance and interactive sound: Blue skies in Vera Cruz Drift residency researching digital performance and interactive sound: Light and shadow in the mountains of Vera Cruz

    Our work began in the mountains of Vera Cruz outside Rio de Janeiro, living and working in a remote residence detached from phones and internet. July is Winter in Brazil which gives warm sunny days, cold nights and dewy mornings. The landscape is dense and green, sat above a network of porous rock that emerges from the soil in places. And teeming with life – spiders, insects, woodpeckers, tics, cows…

    Drift residency researching digital performance and interactive sound: Orange fungus growing on a wooden trough.

    We were on the Drift residency along with six other artists. Our time was divided between collective creative activities and our own research; Capoeira, Yoga, Qi Gong, drawing, writing with others then creating work each day to share in the evening. Individual work was often still focused around a constraint or structure, like working with a specific piece of tech, or developing something that realises another of the artist’s project. Each evening, everyone shares what they have made, followed by a delicately thought out session of giving each other feedback.

    Drift residency researching digital performance and interactive sound: Jan Lee holding a microphone in the White Space at Miguel Pereira

    Jan Lee in the White Space at Miguel Pereira.

    Halfway through the week, the group moved to an empty theatre in the mountain town of Miguel Pereira, spreading into the different rooms and spaces of the building.

    Drift residency researching digital performance and interactive sound: Jan Lee and Tim Murray-Browne working in Miguel Pereira

    Jan Lee and Tim Murray-Browne working in Miguel Pereira.

    Short iterations of drafting and sharing new material is common in the coding world. But the timescales were tighter than what I’m used to, often only a few hours. Compare this to something like Music Hackday for example where you would expect to have 10-20 hours before presenting what you’ve come up with. As the only coder there, I found this laid the pressure on.

    Prototyping things quickly has been becoming more important in my work since working in the studio with a dancer. Choreography can be improvised, and communicating a new idea often happens through sharing a demonstration, and then refining through repetition. Coding is comparatively slow, and it can be challenging to keep tech and performance evolving in step with each other. It’s made it a priority for me to create more freedom to improvise in my working process. Working in a tenth of the timescale that I’m used to was a constructive challenge.

    Drift residency researching digital performance and interactive sound: Everyone in the White Space at the theatre of Miguel Pereira

    The collective sharing process produced its own liberation. Everyone worked in the same structure from their own practice. As someone who embraces chaos and complexity in much of my work, I found it striking how much material was presented that was simple, but focused, deliberate and strong; how effectively context was used.

    Drift residency researching digital performance and interactive sound: Jan Lee performing with Tim Murray-Browne in an evening sharing

    An audience member draws on the floor during the public sharing of the week’s work.

    Working at Drift showed up gaps in my process. One day I was making a quick video analysis sketch for a torch-controlled installation to find I had previously deleted the OpenCV binaries from the tiny SSD drive on my laptop. No internet and no time for a 45 minute rebuild. Other times SuperCollider (my current learning project) would stump me with a silent failure, or a lengthy but ultimately pointless error trace. These things don’t seem to happen to artists working with movement, words or over forms of performance.

    It left me thinking about what my tools are and how much respect I give them. Each morning we had movement exercises, stretches, yoga, breathing, activities connecting us with our bodies. Dancers more than anyone I’ve come across seem to know how important it is to maintain this connection with their primary instrument of expression. Knowing how to do something isn’t the same as being ready to do it. It’s easy to miss this with code, mainly because you’re rarely under the same kind of time pressure. But for a practice that involves improvising with code, what are the regular routines to stay connected to your instrument?

    Drift residency researching digital performance and interactive sound: Audience members interacting with our piece in the public sharing of our research at the end of the residency

    Audience members interacting with our work at the public sharing at the end of the residency.

    And our work itself – Waiting for a Grain of Sand to Leap into the Air is research into sound, movement, story and interaction. How do we feel sounds in the body? How does context alter how a sound is heard? How do we make sense of interactive sound spaces where our movements are creating sound in an unknown way? I’ll write up more on the project soon.

    Drift residency researching digital performance and interactive sound: Tim Murray-Browne dancing with Deborah

    Tim Murray-Browne dancing with Deborah.

  3. Exploring relations between human movement and mathematical growth formations

    Screenshot taken while coding the Hieroglyph interaction of This Floating World, an interactive audiovisual dance work by Tim Murray-Browne and Jan Lee

    A screenshot taken while coding the visuals for This Floating World. Plants grow algorithmically from strokes drawn by the movement of a dancer.

    By the way… tickets are now on sale to see the piece, which is being performed in London in the coming weeks. See the Facebook events for the Arebyte performance on 30 January and the performance at The Place on 10 February as a part of Resolution festival. Go get em!

  4. Announcing This Floating World: A new interactive dance performance

    Jan Lee rehearsing with Tim Murray-Browne for This Floating World

    Since August I’ve been working with the dancer and choreographer Jan Lee on a new piece exploring how we form our self-identity through dance, music, visuals and interaction.

    The piece is a 15 minute solo dance work with projected visuals and sound controlled by the dancer through movement. As well as codirecting the work, I’ve coded the software to track the dancer and created generative graphics and sound (alongside a beautiful original score composed by Zac Gvi). All the visuals are produced in realtime using Cinder/OpenGL.

    Our main performance is in a triple bill of works exploring music and dance on 10 February at The Place, London as a part of Resolution! festival. Tickets are on sale now and selling quickly as it’s a triple bill so please book quickly if you’re planning to come.

    We’ve knocked together a short teaser video with some footage from rehearsals below. Keep an eye on the facebook page for more updates.