"Soon Roy Orbison is completely wrapped in cling-film. He is like a big black beetle wrapped in a silvery cocoon. The satisfaction is unparalleled by anything in my previous existence."
-- Ulrich Haarbürste, Roy in Clingfilm Story 1
Artist and "Hartbeat" present Tony Hart has died, aged 83. He was an inspiration to countless of the current generation of artists, young and old alike.
Goodbye, Tony Hart!
So it seems that 2009 has hit the ground running with cultural happenings in S/SE London. The Goldsmiths institution of the Thursday Club, a mostly-weekly showcase for innovative new works, kicks off with two talks on sensory interfaces by Ryan Jordan and Artemis Papageorgiou (today, 15 January, free). This is followed by the first of the monthly Electronic Music Studios concerts (16 January, free), at which I'll be performing with AtomSwarm on their 8-channel diffusion system.
Also related to Goldsmiths, though taking place further north, is a 2-day show of events and performances organised by students from Goldsmiths MFA Curating and Royal College of Art Curating Masters. Contested Ground is at Project Space 176 in Chalk Farm this Saturday/Sunday (16-17 January, free). I'll be heading down with Mike and others for the series of multi platform events on Saturday, followed by the amusingly-nomenclatured "artist disco" in the evening.
Gasworks in Vauxhall, meanwhile, is staging a radiophonic intervention by the Resonance FM Radio Orchestra on Friday (15 January, free) as part of its exhibition of South London artist-inventor Felix Thorn's amazing machines. Also features the long-awaited face off between sound theorist Nicolas Collins and SuperCollider/livecoding veteran Nick Collins, described in a mailout thus:
a live coding vs. live circuit building competition with Nick Collins (Sussex University) versus Nicolas Collins (School of the Art Institute of Chicago), vying for the annual award of the "Nic(k) Collins Cup," an exquisite ceramic vessel commissioned from Devon potter Nic Collins (no relation).
Finally, Herne Hill's 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning are hosting two further events as part of their current exhibition People, Signs and Resistance (28 Jan & 11 Feb, free). Next up is an audience with Sam The Wheels, a first-generation Jamaican migrant who arrived in London in the 1950s and has since been capturing video footage of the area which should be essential viewing for those interested in local heritage — through the Brixton Riots to their legacy.
Research from Cornell University, and published in this month's Science (requires subscription), indicates that there is purpose behind the mosquito's buzz besides keeping its human neighbours awake at night: male and female mosquitoes induce harmonic convergence within the frequency spectra of their hums as part of their mating practice. Contradicting earlier research which suggests that males have a highly limited hearing range whilst females are entirely deaf, both sexes were shown to modulate their buzzing frequencies to enter into harmonic love-making.
More info, and video, on Wired's Not Rocket Science.
The Register reports today that Barack Obama is to nominate Julius Genachowski, net neutrality advocate and his campaign's tech advisor, as the next head of the FCC. As the body responsible for regulating all communications in the US, including internet traffic, this is critical to the debate over network neutrality and should hopefully make these regulations a reality, securing the openness of information that has thus far characterised the net (though undoubtedly the debate will rage on).
Though net neutrality is less of a big deal in the UK due to the larger marketplace for ISPs that the average consumer has to select from, there's a good chance that the knock-on effects of this scenario will have ripples over here, as this article suggests. It's certainly a step forward for America's current fence-sitting communications policies.
What will happen to such travesties as the "PATRIOT" Act, dirtily slipped through Congress in the wake of 9/11 and enabling all manner of novel underhanded surveillance techniques, remains to be seen...
Recently demoed at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was a control device that could rival the Wiimote for gestural input: Sixense's TrueMotion, which uses a wireless handset coupled with a (presumably USB) base station to determine motion and position information. The big leap here is the latter: the Wiimote's accelerometer can only give relative motion data, and absolute 3D positioning is nigh on impossible to derive from this without some inaccuracy and drift. Some positional info could be gleaned using the Wiimote's IR LEDs, but this was still less than ideal and had the inherent limitations of a line-of-sight system.
The TrueMotion device functions by locating the handset within a magnetic field, which appears to give snappy and precise location data. It reminds me of the Ascension Flock of Birds sensor, which I briefly played with a couple of years back, albeit without the clunky serial I/O and hefty pricetag: the TrueMotion is estimated at $100 for a base station and handset. There's an interesting interview with one of the Sixense chaps over at Engineering TV.
I'm looking forward to get more info on this as it sounds like a potentially paradigm-changing controller for audio and video. Transmission range? Multiple devices/base stations? Proprietary drivers? We shall see, as it is due to hit the market later this year.
24th March has been declared Ada Lovelace day (twitter), a blogospheric event to draw attention to groundbreaking work being done by women in technology, in homage to Babbage's undersung partner (though it must be said she has become a cause celebre in recent years). I've committed to writing something for it, which only seems fitting after the heavy influence that Sadie Plant's techno-feminist tome Zeroes and Ones had on Subtext. Many thrilling possibilities, and a good motivation to write.
It's a modest new year's resolution of mine to make more of the bountiful resource that is BBC's iPlayer. Thanks to a tip-off from my folks, this was kicked off with last night's Swarm: Nature's Incredible Invasions: When Worlds Collide (baffling double-colon reproduced verbatim; watchable till 19 Jan 2009). Narrated by David Tennant, this nature documentary "reveals the awe-inspiring world of animal swarms", using a wide range of footage including aerial footage from within insect and bird flocks to illustrate its point.
Given that the subject matter is of such interest to me, it was a disappointing way to begin my iPlayer experience: in both tone and focus, it bore more resemblance to a US car-chase shock-doc than to the informative Attenborough fare that is more the norm for the BBC. Tossing aside any biological insights, it was merely a catalogue of the devastation that swarms can wreak on man and nature, albeit with some highly impressive film and stats to back it up -- one particularly striking scene showed amateur video of an Australian farmer lifting up a piece of corrugated iron to reveal a heaving throng of thousands of mice, like woodlice under a particularly large rock. Why not discuss the complex communications the determine the movements of killer bees, rather than just whacking on some gory footage of bee stings? Why not mention, even in passing, the stunning and unlikely evolutionary advantage given by the 17-year cycle of periodic cicada breeding? Here's hoping that next week's followup provides more in the way of factual background.
One feature that I did enjoy -- and another that it shared with the aforementioned US cop shows -- was its extensive use of amateur video, including mobile phone and camcorder footage of suburban infestations, accompanied by token doltish mumblings ("See that tree right there? It has.. lots and lots of cicadas on it."). It also featured the great sight of an endless stream of cars ploughing over a highway strewn with migrating land crabs. Yet, to really hammer home the point that this is AMATEUR FOOTAGE, the production company saw fit to superimpose illusory phone facias onto the wobbly video. Why?!