The environment around us is a mass of sensory information, some of it easy to detect, playing on our visual, aural, olfactory, gustatory and tactile senses, while others are less perceptible – electro-magnetic radiation, hi-lo sound frequencies, infra-red light etc – and yet these imperceptible streams interact with us regularly as we go about our everyday lives.
Back in September 2008 Proboscis devised a one day workshop for Dislocate08 in Yokohama, Japan to “engage artists, urbanists, designers, technologists, musicians and dancers in an active investigation into the sensorial patterns and rhythms to be found in our environment”. The workshop was one of our first research activities for Sensory Threads, which we hoped would inspire some critical reflection on the project’s aim to create a playful instrument for exploring imperceptible phenomena in the world around – translating them into sound and touch.
The ‘foreigness’ of Japan to the team of 3 who went to run the workshop (Giles Lane, Karen Martin & Frederik Lesage) was an important consideration in deciding its location. We felt that such an unfamiliar place, people, culture and language might present interesting challenges that would mean we would have to be keenly aware of the environment all the time. Once there it reminded us how easily we become de-sensitised to our surroundings through habit and familiarity: the smells of places, air pressure, humidity etc. Those things which pervade us constantly so that we rarely notice them, except when they change or are absent. In Japan we noticed the extraordinary cultural emphasis on paying attention to the details, the small pleasures and experiences of everyday life, which appears to be preserved in mainstream culture and society there through rituals, practice and patience at so many levels, from seasonal food to street decorations.
Returning to London and discussing the event and our experiences in Japan with the rest of the Sensory Threads team it helped shape our conception of the soundscape that the wearables would create – that it would be designed to act as a means of alerting the wearers to subtle changes in ourselves and the environment so that they could experience a sensitivity to their relationship with it. The choice of sensors would be ones that could be tuned just beyond or at the fringes of human perception, giving us a new means of ‘listening’ to the world and how we are part of it – acting with and acted on. The Rumbler too was shaped by these considerations – making imperceptible phenomena tangible through the media of touch, translating sensor data into vibration as well as sound.
Taking the project forward after our prototype demo at the Dana Centre last month, we plan to explore new levels of participatory and collective sensing, richer sonification and making tangible souvenirs for participants more seamless with the experience.
Cultural Snapshots No. 16 June 2009
Cultivating Research : articulating value in arts and academic collaborations by Sarah Thelwall
Sensory Threads will get its first public demo at the London Science Museum’s Dana Centre on June 23rd 2009 as part of the Surface Tension event. We will be demonstrating the prototype Wearable Sensors and the Rumbler and inviting participants to test out the system during the day. The event is free and no booking is required.
Below are some photos from a recent test at our studio and in the surrounding streets of Clerkenwell.
As part of our contribution to the Creator Research Cluster, Giles Lane, Sarah Thelwall (mycake) and Tim Jones (Solar Associates) organised a 1 day workshop at The Rookery in Clerkenwell to explore how small arts organisations could explore working with research departments in universities, and develop the case for becoming Independent Research Organisations. The workshop brought together around 20 participants from a wide group of artists and creative professionals, many of whom are already in collaborations with universities, to share experiences and insights into collaborative practices.
The workshop was partly inspired by Sarah’s Troubadour study for the Creator Cluster (due to be published in June 2009 by Proboscis), the executive summary of which was circulated to all the participants. It drew on the experiences of Proboscis (already an IRO since 2005), Blast Theory and Scan who have all maintained long term partnerships and collaborations with universities stretching back a decade or more. The AHRC was also represented at the workshop and was helpful in identifying the probable routes needed to be taken to achieve IRO status in the current climate.
The participants agreed to set up an informal cluster of interested parties who wanted to take the process further.
Participants: Giles Lane (Proboscis); Sarah Thelwall (mycake); Tim Jones (Solar Associates); Ruth Catlow (Furtherfield); Helen Sloan (Scan); Julianne Pierce (Blast Theory); Rob La Frenais (Arts Catalyst); Tassos Stevens (Coney); Ruth & Bruno (Igloo); Glenn Davidson (Artstation); Rachel Jacob (Active Ingredient); Evelyn Wilson (LCACE); Gini Simpson (Queen Mary); Annamaria Wills (cida); Carien Meier (Drake); Ben Cook (LUX); Tim Harrison (ACE London); Isabel Lilly (Stream); Joanna Pollock (AHRC); Nick? (A Foundation).
Absent Friends: Bronac Ferran (boundaryobject); Julie Taylor (Goldsmiths); Lorraine Warren (Southampton); Ted Fuller (Lincoln)
Funded by the CREATOR Cluster, part of the EPSRC’s Digital Economy programme.
Proboscis is collaborating with Sarah Thelwall to conduct a ‘troubadour’ study to investigate artistic & creative research models and the ways in which these interface between creative SMEs and organisations such as HE institutions and the Research Councils.
In the work which culminated in Capitalising Creativity, Sarah developed a model for defining those activities which are at the core of an artist or creative organisations activities versus those which exploit the intellectual capital created and leverage it into income streams and commercial collaborations. Whilst this model of ‘first ‘and ‘second order’ activities was a good fit for some SMEs, Proboscis concluded that the research focused approach which it pursues is not well suited to the development of second order activities in this manner. Instead Proboscis, and organisations with a similar outlook such as Blast Theory, have pursued an approach that increases connections and activities with research focused institutions.
It is these connections and methods that we would research in the Troubadour Study:
- what are the interactions between SMEs and research institutions?
- how does each side of a collaboration evaluate the partmnership and define ‘value’?
- how is this value communicated to funders and stakeholders?
- what are the limiting factors of such collaborations and why are there so few examples?
- what lessons can be learnt from the experiences of Cluster members Proboscis and Blast Theory and how might this contribute to influencing funding policies and frameworks?
Team : Sarah Thelwall and Giles Lane
Proboscis is leading a pilot project, Sensory Threads, funded by the CREATOR Research Cluster. The project builds upon our previous collaborations with Birkbeck College’s Pervasive Computing Lab on the Feral Robots and Snout environmental sensing projects and takes wearable sensing into new areas with new collaborations with the Centre for Digital Music at Queen Mary, University of London, the Mixed Reality Lab at University of Nottingham and Southampton University’s School of Management.
Sensory Threads is a work-in-progress to develop an instrument enabling a group of people to create a soundscape reflecting their collaborative experiences in the environment. For this interactive sensory experience, we are designing sensors for detecting environmental phenomena at the periphery of human perception as well as the movement and proximity of the wearers themselves. Possible targets for the sensors may be electro-magnetic radiation, hi/lo sound frequencies, heart rate etc). The sensors’ datastreams will feed into generative audio software, creating a multi-layered and multi-dimensional soundscape feeding back the players’ journey through their environment. Variations in the soundscape reflect changes in the wearers interactions with each other and the environment around them. We aim to premiere the work in 2009.
Team: Alice Angus, Giles Lane, Karen Martin and Orlagh Woods (Proboscis); Demetrios Airantzis, Dr George Roussos and Jenson Taylor (Birkbeck); Joe Marshall (MRL); Dr Nick Bryan-Kinns and Robin Fencott (Queen Mary) and Dr Lorraine Warren (Southampton).
Proboscis is a founder member of the CREATOR Research Cluster, funded by EPSRC as part of the “Connecting Communities for the Digital Economy” initiative. The cluster brings together practitioners from the creative industries with researchers from varied traditions that span ICT, the arts and humanities, the social sciences, and business studies.
The cluster seeks to establish a close connection between ICT researchers, those with an interest in business and innovation, and practising members of the creative industries and seeks to answer 4 main questions:
- What key challenges face the creative industries due to the emergence of a new generation of social, pervasive and affective ICT?
- And conversely, what long term challenges must be tackled by ICT research in order to support future creative industries?
- How can we better engage small creative companies in research and knowledge transfer?
- And especially, how can we establish new interdisciplinary approaches across ICT, the arts and humanities and the social sciences that support “practice-led” approaches to research?
Blast Theory, University of Reading, Storey Gallery, AmaK, University of Nottingham, University of Cambridge, Queen Mary, University of London, University of Technology, Sydney, University of Sheffield, University of Lincoln, Goldsmiths College, University of London, Exeter University, Decoda, The Creative Media Centre, Lancaster University, Brunel University, University Of Chichester, Birkbeck College, University of London, Proboscis, Newcastle University, University of Glasgow, iShed, Watershed, SCAN/Bournemouth University, University of Bath, University of Worcester, University of Southampton, University of Sussex.
A series of Pilot projects and ‘Troubadour’ studies will be conducted over the year 2008-09.