Subtext (2008): Images

Transcribing the hidden discourses of network communication.

These images chart the development of the piece for the Autonomous Village exhibition (May 1-4 2008), part of Futuresonic08.

Wiring up the installation at the Static Complex, Liverpool, who were kind enough to let us use their space for last-minute preparation. Pictured are Werner Moebius and SoundNetwork's Ross Dalziel.

Circuit porn. The electronics for the piece are interfaced through USB, with each plinth taking a 9-core cable from the LED matrix controller.

The piece never made it off a breadboard, which made prototyping fast and flexible. Anticlockwise from bottom left: FT245R serial-over-USB UART; Atmel atmega32 microcontroller, with JTAG programmer ribbon; reset switch and indicator lights; the forest of pins connecting each of the 8 plinths; and the MAX7221 LED matrix controller.

For the duration of Futuresonic08, Subtext was installed in this tipi as part of the Autonomous Village, a temporary collection of buildings outside the Contact Theatre. There's something quite surreal about a tipi in a car park.

It's remarkable how spatious and relaxing a place a tipi can be. Just as well, because we spent a full weekend looking at this view.

Visitors were invited to sit and enjoy home-made tea, cake and sound art, courtesy of the impressive range of artists, recordists and musicians working with SoundNetwork, whose outstanding Sound Report CD could be heard through headphones and taken away for free.

As others participated in Werner Moebius' Sonic Memories project, their actions across the local network were translated into patterns of light on the plinths accompanying each workstation (top).

A total of eight plinths were installed, here shown together. Each contains a set of eight ultrabright LEDs, colour-coded to differentiate between sources.

These network conversations are visually recorded by the 'scribe' server, whose display can be read as a meaningful text with the accompanying key (PDF).

With their face-like LED configurations, personifications and comparisons were inevitably drawn to Pac-man ghosts, spacecraft and Daleks.

Screen capture from the scribe software, which uses Processing and OpenGL alpha blending to render the glyph formations. The full source code to this component is available on the Downloads page.

Thanks to Julia Hodgson for many of the above images.