r _Web.log

tag: projects

Global Breakfast Radio

I've long had a fascination with the power of radio as a medium of transportation to another place or time, a passion I discovered I share with Seb Emina, author (of The Breakfast Bible) and digital dilettante. About a year and a half ago, Seb and I started discussing the idea of a radio station that spans continents and timezones, linking disparate places together by one simple common thread: breakfasttime.

The notion was to produce a radio station that always broadcasts live radio from wherever people were eating breakfast right now: following timezones westwards, moving across oceans and continents on the crest of a wave of sunrise.

The idea grew into an experiment and, after twelve months of research, listening, cataloguing and development, has finally seen the light of day as a fully-formed work:

Global Breakfast Radio

As the sunrise line slowly tracks west across the globe, the radio stream shifts from broadcast to broadcast, always selecting stations within what we call the "global breakfast window": a period of a couple of hours after sunrise in which people are waking up, stretching blearily, and making a bowl of cereal, changua or shakshuka.

Global Breakfast Radio draws from a pool of over 250 stations in more than 120 countries, from Radio Wassoulou Internationale in the Wassoulou region of Mali to KUAM Isla 63 AM, the oldest existing radio station on the western Pacific Island of Guam, broadcasting since 1954. It, and the listener, leaps in an instant from Sarajevo to Prague to Reykjavik, where you'll be briefly humming the same tune as the butcher, taxi driver and lawyer waking up in these far-flung places.

The site is backgrounded by a continuous stream of photographs portraying sunrise from the current broadcast location, selected from a pool of 10,000+ Flickr Creative Common images tagged with "sunrise". Sunrise and sunset images are a ubiquitous trope across the Instagrams of the world, one that we have repurposed to give the site a real sense of place, underscoring the way in which Global Breakfast Radio puts you in the eyes and ears of thousands of unknown people around the globe.

As we've discovered since launching the station, streaming URLs change and disappear at an incredible rate, making maintenance of Global Breakfast Radio a Sisyphean battle against internet bit-rot.

Unusually for a project of this kind, the public and press response to Global Breakfast Radio has been uncommonly deep and engaged. The Guardian report back on a 24-hour period of listening, The Onion AV Club describe it as "basically morning methadone", and BBC Radio 4 talked to us about Global Breakfast Radio on — appropriately enough — their Sunday morning breakfast show. More lovely coverage has come from the likes of It's Nice That, New Statesman, Smithsonian and Monocle. We also did a launch interview with Wired covering some of the more esoteric elements of the work.

Many thanks to all of the listeners and broadcasters who have made the first months of Global Breakfast Radio such a rich and rewarding endeavour.

More: Global Breakfast Radio

Living Symphonies

A new year always seems like an appropriate time to push new projects out into the bright lights of the world. So, after almost a year of R&D, I'm very happy to be able to announce a major new work that will be occupying much of my 2014.

Living Symphonies is the latest collaborative work by Jones/Bulley. It is a sound installation based on the dynamics of a forest ecosystem, growing, adapting and flourishing in the same way as a real forest's flora and fauna. Modelling the real-world behaviours of over 50 different species, it will be installed in a series of English forests over the course of summer 2014, adapting to the inhabitants and live atmospheric conditions of each site.

In the heritage of Variable 4, it will be heard as a multi-channel musical composition of indefinite duration, with precomposed and generative elements intertwined through a web of algorithmic processes. Here, however, the dynamic model underlying the composition is quite beyond anything we've done before. It is based upon a simulation developed in conjunction with Forestry Commission ecologists, extending models produced as part of my evolutionary dynamics PhD work. And because each forest has a drastically different ecological makeup, the resultant composition will sound completely unique at each location — site-specific by its very nature.

We are in the process of mapping out the precise ecological makeup of a bounded (30x20m) area of each forest, charting its wildlife inhabitants with a 1mē resolution. This map is then used to seed an agent-based simulation, which links each species to behavioural and musical properties, spatialised across a network of weatherproof speakers embedded throughout the canopy and forest floor.

We'll next be dedicating a great deal of studio time to recording thousands of musical fragments, with orchestral musicians playing short motifs corresponding to particular kinds of ecological processes. These will then be processed by the compositional system and linked to the ecological model's current state, supported by further generative processes to create live interactions between each musical element.

Thetford Forest

In September, we carried out a successful outdoor prototype of the project in East Anglia's Thetford Forest. Though still in its embryonic stages, it was pretty enthralling to hear these sonic organisms roving amongst the undergrowth.

Supported by Sound And Music and Forestry Commission England, and with the support of an Arts Council Strategic Touring grant, Living Symphonies will be touring four different forests between May and September 2014:

Thetford Forest (Norfolk/Suffolk), 24 — 30 May 2014
Fineshade Wood (Northamptonshire), 20 — 26 June 2014
Cannock Chase (Staffordshire), 26 July — 1 August 2014
Bedgebury Pinetum (Kent/Sussex), 25 — 31 August 2014

Much more news will be available on the forthcoming Living Symphonies website, launching imminently.

Chronovisor: Prologue

I have been working with the excellent South Kiosk developing a new exhibition at Peckham's FoodFace artist-led studio space.

The concept is the creation of a Chronovisor, a device which allows the viewer to see into different parts of time and space. For Chronovisor: Prologue, the concept is realised as a cybernetic light and sound response system, with artists curating audio and visual elements which collectively create a reactive, nonlinear whole.

I am curating a series of abstract cinema which will be projected on a split R/G/B display, prototyped in the image below. This begins at Viking Eggeling's abstract Constructivist cinema ('Symphonie Diagonale', 1924), through to the rise of the analog video synthesizer ('The Rutt-Etra Video Synthesizer', 1970), and on to the silver-screen computer graphics work of Abel Image Research ('Cans', 1984).

This video selection, alongside the selections of 9 other artists, will be processed by the lightness-ordering algorithm I developed for Sans/Soleil (2011), fracturing the film's linear timeline into a series of splintered fragments.

The source code for this processing app is available on Github: LuminOrder, developed using Cinder.

Chronovisor: Prologue runs from 6.30pm - 10pm at Foodface.

The Listening Machine

The Listening Machine is an orchestral sonification of the online activity of several hundred (unwitting) UK-based Twitter users. Created with cellist Peter Gregson and Britten Sinfonia, it has been a vast adventure combining studio recordings with a chamber ensemble, countless hours of coding towards a growing generative compositional toolkit, and delving into the mechanics of linguistics, prosody, and natural language processing.

Key to the compositional process is a system to translate the flow and rhythm of a text passage into a musical score, based on ordering the formant frequencies of the human voice, which characterise the qualities of each vowel sound. We determine the piece's musical mode via sentiment mapping, and then generate individual note-wise patterns by translating syllables into notes in the current scale. As several Twitter users are typically active at the same time, the result is multiple, intertwining melody lines, tonally related but structurally distinct.

The Listening Machine launched at the start of last month as part of The Space, a great new BBC/Arts Council initiative encouraging National Portfolio organisations into the realm of online content. With a team of BBC broadcast technology ninjas, our contribution is a piece of music which lasts 6 months and is quintessentially digital: using data sourced from internet discussions, and streamed solely over the web.

But maybe the most exciting part has been the combination of algorithmic processes with thousands of fragments of orchestrally-recorded refrains. The objective was always to create a piece of music which sounded organic, and -- in spite of its metronomic pulse -- the results aren't too far from what we envisaged. See the website for information about the compositional process.

The other integral part of the project is the graphic design, created by the excellent Joe Hales. Joe is more typically found creating design for print, and we wanted to translate this page-based aesthetic to the screen, presenting the project almost as if it were a textbook.

With some judicious JSON and HTML 5 <canvas> voodoo, we animated his cog-and-dial visualisation to present a continuous representation of The Listening Machine's state at any point. The collective's mood, activity rate and topics of conversation are displayed live on thelisteningmachine.org, similarly reflected in the musical output.

The Python code behind the algorithmic composition parts is available on github.com/ideoforms/isobar; the text analysis framework will be released in due course.

The Listening Machine can also be found on Twitter @listenmachine and facebook.com/thelisteningmachine.

Oblique Fucking Strategies

K http://www.obliquefuckingstrategies.com/

Hit a creative impasse? Bereft of original ideas? Seeking a radical new perspective for your problem-solving methodologies?

Oblique Fucking Strategies is an adaptation of this well-known 70s card set by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt (which, itself, appears to be a remix of the heuristic ideas of George Pólya). May be used for inspiration, motivation, or simple fucking tedium.

Oblique Fucking Strategies

Can also be found on Twitter, with one strategy appearing every few days.

Variable 4

In an abominable act of oversight, one of the major projects keeping me occupied in 2010 has yet to receive an official announcement here. So, I'm belatedly pleased to herald Variable 4, an environmental installation taking place on the other-worldly shingle plains of Dungeness in May 2010.

In partnership with James Bulley, and with kind support from the PRSF and Campbell Scientific, we're building a system which will be embedded into the desolate landscape and equipped with an array of meteorological sensors. Using algorithmic compositional techniques, it will then respond sonically to the real-time weather conditions, transforming and recombining a bank of precomposed movements and recordings via a multi-channel all-weather soundsystem.

It is taking place over a single 24-hour period, from noon till noon on 22-23 May, and so encompasses one complete daily cycle of solar and environmental conditions. For those not living in the Romney Marsh area, there will be a couple of coaches operating from London - booking info coming soon.

It's been a bit of a baptism of fire as far as project administration goes; who'd have thought that licensing and insurance concerns could occupy so much time? Current top of the anxiety checklist is ensuring that local fisherman aren't somehow entangled in wiring as they begin their 3am working days. Anyhow, we're finally well into the composition phase - leveraging Max For Live and the endless generative musical possibilities that it offers.

We'll be documenting the compositional and technical development on the Variable 4 blog and twitter @variable4, releasing relevant sourcecode and patches wherever possible.

Emergence Advent Calendar

K http://www.erase.net/projects/emergence-advent/

It's the last month of the last month of the last year of the decade. The list of good intentions that I have failed to accomplish this decade would probably take the entirety of the remaining month to recite; instead, I'd like to commit to spend at least some of it doing these things.

Most prominent on my to-read list is Bedau and Humphreys' Emergence, a reader of seminal philosophical and scientific texts in the field of emergent phenomena. It's occurred to me that I could apply the same brute-force methods of the hackpact to a kind of public read-through of the book. Noticing its 24-chapter girth, I am thus proud to begin:

The Emergence Advent Calendar

Over the first 24 days of December, I will be reading each of the 24 chapters that comprise the Emergence reader, and writing a brief critical overview of each. It's partly a sustained research project, partly an exercise in self-discipline, and partly an ongoing secular-academic Christmas gift.

five: an exercise in enumeration

K http://www.five.noise.org.uk/

five takes a reductionist approach to the similarly obsessive practices of blogging and listmaking, presented as an open series of short and often playful lists.

It's a project that I started in 2006 but then left dormant for some time. I really liked the idea, so I'm happy to say that it's recently been rekindled with a handful of new authors.


Accompanying text and images are now available for Subtext, the major project that I've been working on over the past few months. It's the first time that I've been involved in creating real, physical objects for an exhibition - not to mention the first complex electronic project that I've built - and so required a significant number of skills that were formerly alien to me. Thanks to all of the people who assisted in picking up said skills.

The images documenting the process should give an insight into what the installation looks like in action, in the absence of a good-quality video.

AtomSwarm source now available

K http://www.erase.net/projects/atomswarm/

Screenshot After months of good intentions being ousted by other priorities, I'm pleased to have finally found the time to finish cleaning up and documenting the core classes of AtomSwarm, a Processing-based framework for musical improvisation based on swarm behaviours. It's perhaps not the cleanest set of source in the world, but provides a useful basis for other swarm work and contains information on the genetic and metabolic constructs that co-determine the swarm's behaviours.