Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Re-cap of May in Manchester - Part 2

On the Saturday following the Pairings Conference Jason, Berit and I headed down to the truly wonderful Victoria Baths to take part in FutureEverything's Handmade event.

Handmade aimed to celebrate and showcase the new maker community that is emerging, "connecting the culture of traditional skills and materials with modern-day digital production, distribution and interaction techniques." It explored digital hacking, interactivities and DIY culture in a new forum for Crafters, Hackers and Digital Innovators. A place to share ideas and practice with each other and the wider public. Alongside the sixteen or so stalls at the all new Craft Fair, there were performances, workshops and installations.

Led by Berit, we presented our Paper Orchestra prototype, which involved hacking a beatbox stylophone. We wanted to explore the idea of creating a social instrument that could be played by more than one person, so we turned an instrument normally played by one person into an instrument that could be played by a group of people. We wanted to test this out by seeing what would happen when different people who did not know each other came together to form temporary groups to play the instrument.

First off, visitors created a folded paper shape: which became their control button for playing the stylophone, and using graphite pens, pencils and powder made contact marks on their folded shape. The graphite marks act as conductive points. Using conductive threads we attached the control buttons to wires that controlled each key of the stylophone. As a result each player was responsible for a single key and therefore beat of the stylophone. It was fascinating to see what shapes people created and which of those worked best.

Groups came together at varying points during the day to play, and it was really interesting to see how people started to construct rhythms with each other. Whilst people were playing Jason was sampling the sounds live, using Abelton Live, then looping, distorting and composing. The players then responded to Jason's composition adding new beats and layers as the sound built, Jason responding and so the circle continued. There were moments of chaos and some magical moments when the whole thing came together.

People seemed to really get into it, inviting their friends to come and have a go, and it did work as a social instrument. People were playing, laughing, chatting, constructing and composing together.

You can check out a review of the day, what other people were up to, and see photos of the baths on Crafts Magazine's blog.

Our plan is to develop the idea further. We'll be presenting the Paper Orchestra prototype no2 at the Connected Communities Symposium organised by CultureLab in Newcastle in September.

We had a blast. Thank you to everyone who came along and took part. All in all a great day, meeting great people, with great ideas, in a great venue. What more could you ask for on a rainy saturday in Manchester.

Re-cap of May in Manchester - Part 1

Well we had a fun packed few days in Manchester in May.

To kick things off, we took part in the Pairings conference organised by MIRIAD at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU): The conference explored the three themes of Conversation, Collaboration and Material. On Thursday, I spent a wonderful morning in the embroidery machine room at MMU recording sounds of students and staff working on various machines. The machine room is such a fantastic resource that should continue to be cherished and developed. A huge thank you to Jill, Ben and Laura for helping out playing the machines.

I then took time to sample and loop extracts of the recordings. The plan was to include these sounds in our performance. We gave a 30 minute live performance on the Friday evening to mark the end of the two day conference. Four members of the collective worked together: Jason Singh, Yusra Warsama, Berit Greinke and myself.
We wanted to create an improvised piece based on the themes of the conference:"conversation, collaboration and material", so we could present a live piece that was a collaborative conversation between the four of us through using voices, analogue and digital machines, needles, threads, microphones, samplers and loop pedals, and physical material such as cloth. The themes also gave us the idea of exploring threes (even though the conference title was Pairings! and there were four of us.)
I've been re-reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau recently, and in one of the chapters he talks about three chairs. He says that one chair is for solitude, two chairs are for friendship and three chairs are for society. Thoreau's quote seemed a perfect way of summing up the nature of different people meeting in different contexts and some of the potential strengths and difficulties of collaboration. We used the quote from Walden as the start of the performance. So at different points throughout the performance there are single conversations, two people conversing and three or more. We start and end with the solitude of one.

You can listen to the performance on our soundcloud page here:

Thank you to Alice, Helen and everyone at Miriad and MMU for inviting us to take part, for making the conference a great success and for helping to make the performance happen.