Bob Danton PC

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Bob Danton's Physical Computing Wiki

Physical Computing Spring 13 - Course Wiki
Course Homepage
Bob Danton - Sound Installation Work Spring 2012


Bob Danton PC Projects

Midterm Collaboration with Erick Daniszewski

Erick and Bob


Bob Danton Physical Computing Final

Artist Research


Zimoun's Home Page

From Wikipedia: Zimoun (born 1977) is a Swiss artist who lives and works in Bern, Switzerland. As self-taught artist, he is most known for his sound sculptures, sound architectures and installation art that combine raw, industrial materials such as cardboard boxes, plastic bags, or old furniture, with mechanical elements such as dc-motors, wires, microphones, speakers and ventilators. Although he was never formally trained in the arts, Zimoun has received numerous prizes for his work and has exhibited internationally. “Since a little kid I have been interested in exploring sound, playing instruments and creating compositions in addition to visual arts such as paintings, cartoons, photographs and so on,” Zimoun explains in an interview, “from a very early age I was fascinated and somehow obsessed by being active in all these fields; sound, music and visually realized projects. Now, through my sound sculptures and installations many of these interests are coming together.” Zimoun also mentioned composer and artist John Cage whose work and thoughts he often studied during his younger days. Through the use of industrial objects and found materials, Zimoun’s work reconsiders the place technology holds in daily life, conjuring nostalgia for obsolete devices. His sculptures reference the chaos of the modern day, while retaining the order of minimalism. His oeuvre includes his celebrated architectural interventions and sound sculptures, as well as a variety of audio works that expand on the traditions of lowercase music, sound art, and minimal techno.

Zimoun's work inspires me for a number of reasons. I am fascinated with his translation of minimalism into the sculptural dimension; his ability to use simple components en masse to create a complex and aesthetically pleasing sonic environment is particularly impressive. While his works are not primarily interactive, they still envelop the viewer and provide an incredibly immediate and powerful experience. Zimoun is a master at creating something big from something very small and simple.

186 prepared dc-motors, cotton balls, cardboard boxes 60x60x60cm, 2010

Bartholomäus Traubeck

Traubeck's Home Page
'Years', 2011

I am inspired by Traubeck's use of the microcontroller as a means of expressing music from sources that would otherwise be unreadable, or nonmusical. In Years, he uses a modified turntable with a camera and microcontroller and the VVVV programming language to translate the rings from tree cross sections into audible music.

From Traubeck's Website: A tree’s year rings are analysed for their strength, thickness and rate of growth. This data serves as basis for a generative process that outputs piano music. It is mapped to a scale which is again defined by the overall appearance of the wood (ranging from dark to light and from strong texture to light texture). The foundation for the music is certainly found in the defined ruleset of programming and hardware setup, but the data acquired from every tree interprets this ruleset very differently.

Moppy Project

Moppy Site
Moppy Advanced

The Moppy project, by Sammy1Am, uses and Arduino Uno to translate MIDI note data into speed and direction info for 4 floppy drives whose motors then produce the pitch played. I love the way this hacker used old technology (generally useless now) that was entirely non-musical in design and used the Arduino as a platform to transform them into a new musical instrument. I am ver interested by the music possibilities of the Arduino and the power it has to create sounds in a variety of interesting and unexpected ways.

Moppy plays the Imperial March on YouTube

Manipulation, by Err0r_500 (Final Project Inspiration)

Artists Site, with Video

From the project site: This work attempts to question the audience about the subject of mental manipulation, specifically as it relates to social networking. The audience starts playing with the installation only aware of the unusual way to manipulate it (with their portable devices via a distant website) but as the performance progress, it becomes more and more obvious that the real purpose of the work is far from the simple idea of physical manipulation. Actually, it explores different aspects of mental manipulation, illustrates them by different means till showing the players that while they thought they were manipulating the installation they had in fact been manipulated by it. The installation works like most “free” online services, highlighting a free useful or entertaining service to hide its real purpose. As these services it is fully designed to manipulate the audience. With almost every artistic or technical detail made on purpose to respectively evoke or to participate to the mental manipulation process.

Artist Err0r_500's piece Manipulation, as well as his other, especially audio works, are quite inspiring both to my current final project work and to my creative work lately in general. Err0r_500 and I seem to be thinking about a lot of the same aesthetic and conceptual ideas, as well as materials. Musically, we share an interest in abstract textural forms and evolving timbres, and both make use of Max/MSP to those ends. In "Manipulation," Err0r_500 touches on ideas of media use, online media, and the experience of building a conceptual model of a new media piece through experience, which are all aspects I hope to explore in my final. Like my piece, "Manipulation" uses media in ways that are at first shocking or unexpected to the viewer, and which through the course of interaction change the viewer's perception of the work and the media itself. Users in "Manipulation" come to realize that their input into the media is a cover for the real input their digital data is adding to the piece as it progresses. Users in my piece (may) realize that their input into the piece has been an intentional distraction from its true "meaning" and content. While our works attempt to highlight different aspects or new media and technologies (Err0r_500's is about social networking and data publicity, while mine is about distraction and ambivalence) both touch on some shared questions. What is the role of digital media in our everyday lives? What is its role in art? How can new media art balance aesthetics with message to create an effective work? How does interaction make a viewer more aware of artistic message? How does understanding affect appreciation of a work? This piece, even experienced through video, was incredibly powerful to me and a wake-up call as to how easily we allow others into our digital information, and an effective impetus to think more about media use, as well as how art can cause us to question our everyday actions.

Reading Responses

Week 1: The Art of Interactive Design, Chapters 1 & 2; Crawford, Chris, 2003.

In the opening chapters of his 2003 book The Art of Interactive Design: A Euphonious and Illuminating Guide to Building Successful Software, Chris Crawford sets out to define the concept of interactivity, and to prove its superiority to static mediums. Crawford makes some interesting points about the nature of 'interactive' as a buzzword and the need for a functional definition. He defines interactivity as a cycle of listening, processing, and responding between two actors. While I find this definition useful, and on the whole Crawford's analysis to be relatively astute, the language and pace of the article seriously limit its usefulness. After two chapter, the reader is more likely to be left anticipating a humorous philosophical exploration vague conceptual material than any concrete lessons in the technologies or aesthetics of interactive design. Crawford devotes the second chapter to redefining interactivity in opposition to other non-interactive, static media such as boks and film, and illustrating the superiority of interactive technologies. This all comes across as rather obvious to the modern reader, who is most likely astutely aware of the differing capabilities of a book and a computer; and this redundancy is not aided by the overabundance of unnecessary and often absurdist metaphorical language used to explain it, which has the effect of a book designed for small children. Perhaps there are moer interesting questions to ask than 'is a book interactive?' or 'is a computer able to convey more information than a book?' In an age when interactivity is, as Crawford notes, becoming ubiquitous not only in our language but in our lives, it seems more interesting, and useful to me to ask questions about the grey areas and adaptive technologies that are bridging the gap between interactive and static mediums. For example, is an ebook interactive? How about a choose your own adventure novel? Are there media, or instances, when interactivity is NOT superior, necessary, or useful? Or, what is the relationship between interactivity and aesthetics in art? Perhaps by looking into these and other questions we can continue Crawford's philosophical exploration into more modern and stimulating territory.

Week 3: The Design of Everyday Things, Chapter 1: The Psychopathology of Everyday Things; Norman, Donald A, 1988-90.

Donald Norman's opening chapter of The Design of Everyday Things is a whirlwind tour of everything that is wrong with much of today's technological design, and the causes and potential solutions for these widespread issues. He theorizes that when people use things, we have a natural psychological response to the 'affordances' and 'constraints' of an object- what it can and cannot do, or how we physically can or cannot interact with it. Given proper 'mapping,' or relation between controls and outcomes, we should, in the case of ideal design, naturally and effortlessly be able to use the object correctly. However, Norman states (and I agree) that more often than not objects, especially more complex ones like appliances and electronics, suffer from poor mapping, lack of visibility, and lack of feedback (or indications of completed action). By making features visible, feedback rapid and easy to understand, and controls which are mapped to function in naturally intuitive ways, we can begin to design objects which attractively find balance within the paradox of technology, that unavoidable fact that things with more features need more controls, and are therefor inherently more complicated. Overall, I found Norman's viewpoints incredibly poignant and his writing style very clear. He uses a wealth of examples to show the reader that we spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with poorly designed objects, and explains exactly why they are so frustrating. While his suggestions for good design do not seem radical (make functions easy to use, intuitive, and visible), that are clearly needed. I was provoked to think about interfacing in a new way. Norman's discussion of conceptual models was perhaps the most useful part for me as I consider designing interactive objects or art pieces. In order for the user to make an accurate model of how the object functions, the system image, or interface, must accurately convey to the user not only what the controls do, but also on a level how the object functions as a whole. With an incorrect conceptual model, the user is left frustrated and powerless despite the features and controls available to them, which is to me the least apparent (and therefor most problematic) feature of good object design as illustrated in the chapter.

Week 4: The User Illusion, Chapter 6: The Bandwidth of Consciousness; Norretranders, Tor, 1998.

In the sixth chapter of his 1998 book The User Illusion, Tor Norretranders explores the concept of the "bandwidth of consciousness," or the speed at which humans can consciously process information. For me, both the concept and the numbers themselves caught me off guard and provoked me to rethink the way I have been thinking about thinking. The fact that we can measure our conscious processing power in the same units as a computers, and that we fall vastly behind in the comparison, was almost terrifying to me. Is my own capacity to process information truly meeker than that of the laptop I type this on? As I read on, I became intrigued by the way that Norretranders dealt with the limitations of these studies and figures. While reading about the vast amount of sensory data (millions of bits per second) that is not consciously processed, I began to expect a discussion of how the rest is processed by the unconscious. In fact, Norretranders barely (if at all, I can't recollect for sure) used that word. Instead he discussed aspects such as focus and imagination, as well as presenting the concept of exformation. He posits that while we can only process a few bits per second, we have an almost limitless power (dictated by our focus and imagination) to decide which bits to let into our consciousness. What is returned is exformation. After processing this, and reading the remainder of the article which deals largely with a history of the study of consciousness bandwidth, I was left asking "Well, what then is the speed of focus, or imagination? How fast can we redirect our focus? If we know the processing power of our internal computer (or the conscious part thereof), how can we study the amount of operations it can switch between, or how fast? In essence, how much memory does our computer have, and how fast can it access that?" The note from Quastler on the bandwidth of memory retrieval is a foray into this path of questioning, but much remains to be examined. While the theory of conscious bandwidth is fascinating and certainly relevant, I felt by the end as though Norretranders had in many ways disproved its statistical usefulness. As he states, "consciousness is a measure of but a very small portion of what we receive." It would be fascinating if the scientific world reconsidered this line of inquiry and pushed it to the bounds of subconscious and unconscious information processing, and studies involving the nature of how exactly our bodies process information into exformation.

Week 8: Experience Design, Selections pp 60- 167; Shedroff, Nathan, 2001.

Nathan Shedroff's 2001 book Experience Design is a neat explication of the essentials of design in which form meets function and content head on. Shedroff manages in one book to explore concepts of design in a way that is applicable not only to product design and web design but also art, theater, and even party design. The book's stylized layout and neat design reinforces its message that all media is experiential, and that design will always influence interpretation and experience on the part of the "user." He breaks down the complex ideological world of experience design into simple interrelated concepts, including cognitive models (your audience will build them to understand their experience), presentation (inherently separate from organization but inextricably linked to the users understanding and ability to build a useful cognitive model), multiplicity (provide alternate presentations to access a wider user-ship), navigation (should be accessible, intuitive, and multi-directional) , and metaphors (like the computer desktop, they can help provide a model for presentation, organization, and creation of cognitive models, but can easily become misleading or anachronistic). He also reexamines the concept of interactivity, although not to much new insight beyond Crawford's. The book (or these selections thereof) did not for me raise new or unconsidered issues of interactivity or design but did allow me to reconsider some things I thought 'obvious' in terms of my own final project. As effective as it may be as an experiential overview of conceptual aspects of the design process, it also serves perhaps more effectively as a series of questions to ask as you are in the design process. "The most important aspect of any design is how it is understood in the minds of the audience" seemed obvious to me. How I wanted to make my design understood was (and is) much less obvious and something the book has prompted me to consider in some depth. Particularly the sections on multiplicity and navigation sparked consideration for me. While these concerns may be obvious for web design, they had not occurred to me as equally relevant in terms of the experience design and conceptual modeling of an installation or interactive artwork. Thinking about the pice as a process of interaction rather than an object has been essential in my rethinking and development of my final project ideas.

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