Machine Data Dreams: Barbie Video Girl Cam

One of the cameras they have here at the Signal Culture Residency is the Barbie Video Girl cam. This was a camera embedded inside a Barbie doll, produced in 2010.

The device was discontinued most notably after the FBI accidentally leaked a warning about possible predatory misuses of the camera, is  patently ridiculous.

The interface is awkward. The camera can’t be remotely activated. It’s troublesome to get the files off the device. The resolution is poor, but the quality is mesmerizing.

 

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The real perversion is the way you have to change the batteries for the camera, by pulling down Barbie’s pants and then opening up her leg with a screwdriver.

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I can only imagine kids wondering if the idealized female form is some sort of robot.

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The footage it takes is great. I brought it first to the local antique store, where I shot some of the many dolls for sale.

 

 

And, of course, I had to hit up the machines at Signal Culture to do a live analog remix using the Wobbulator and Jones Colorizer.

In the evening, as dusk approached, I took Barbie to the Evergreen Cemetery in Owego, which has gravestones dating from the 1850s and is still an active burial ground.

Here, Barbie contemplated her own mortality.

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It was disconcerting for a grown man to be holding a Barbie doll with an outstretched arm to capture this footage, but I was pretty happy with the results.

I made this short edit.

And remixed with the Wobbulator. I decided to make a melodic harmony (life), with digital noise (death) in a move to mirror the cemetery — a site of transition between the living and the dead.

How does this look in my Machine Data Dreams software?

You can see the waveform here — the 2nd channel is run through the Critter & Guitari Video Scope.

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And the 3D model looks promising, though once again, I will work on these post-residency.

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Machine Data Dreams: Critter & Guitari Video Scope

Not to be confused with Deleuze and Guattari, this is a company that makes various hardware music synths.

For my new project, Machine Data Dreams, I’m looking at how machines might “think”, starting with the amazing analog video machines at Signal Culture.

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This morning, I successfully stabilized my Arduino data logger. This captures the raw video signal from any device with RCA outputs and stores values at a sampling rate of ~3600 Hz.

It obviously misses a lot of the samples, but that’s the point, a machine-to-machine listener, bypassing any sort of standard digitizing software.

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For my first data-logging experiment, I decided to focus on this device, the Critter & Guitari Video Scope, which takes audio and coverts it to a video waveform.

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Using the synths, I patched and modulated various waveforms. I’ve never worked with this kind of system until a few days ago, so I’m new to the concept of control voltages.audio_sythn

This is the 15-minute composition that I made for the data-logger.

Critter & Guitari Videoscope Composition (below)

And the captured output, in my custom OpenFrameworks software.

 

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 10.56.15 PMThe 3D model is very preliminary at this point, but I am getting some solid waveform output into a 3D shape. I’ll be developing this in the next few months. But since I only have a week at Signal Culture, I’ll tackle the 3D-shape generation later.

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My data logger can handle 2 channels of video, so I’m experimenting with outputting the video signal as sound and then running it back through the C&G Videoscope.

This is the Amiga Harmonizer — output, which looks great by itself. The audio, however, as a video signal, as expected comes out sounding like noise.

But the waveforms are compelling. there is a solid band at the bottom, which is the horizontal sync pulse. This is the signature for any composite (NTSC) devices.

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So, every devices I log should have this signal at the bottom, which you can see below.

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Once again, the 3D forms I’ve generated in OpenFrameworks and then opened up in Meshlab are just to show that I’m capturing some sort of raw waveform data.

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Atari Adventure Synth

Hands down my favorite Atari game when I was a kid was Adventure (2). The dragons looked like giant ducks. Your avatar was just a square and a bat wreaks chaos by stealing your objects.

In the ongoing research for my new Machine Data Dreams project, beginning here at Signal Culture, I’ve been playing with the analog video and audio synths.

Yesterday afternoon, I explored the town of Owego. I ran across a used DVD, CD & electronics store and bought an Atari Flashback Console for $25. I didn’t even know these existed.

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I can plug it directly into their video synth system. After futzing around with the various patch cables, I came up with this 5-minute composition, which shows me playing the game. The audio sounds like marching with dirty noise levels.

Also, here is the latest 3D model from my code, which now has a true 3D axis for data-plotting.

Time is one axis, video signal is another, audio signal is the third.

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 9.26.05 PMAnd a crude frequency plot.

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Van Gogh Wobbulator

In the first full day of the residency at Signal Culture, I played around with the video and audio synthesizers. It’s a new world for me.

While my focus is on the Machine Data Dreams project, I also want to play with what they have and get familiar with the amazing analog equipment.

I started with this 2 minute video, which I shot earlier this summer at Musee d’Orsay. I had to document the odd spectacle: visitor after visitor would take photos of this famous Van Gogh self-portrait…despite the fact you can get a higher-quality version online.

I ran this through a few patches and into the Wobbulator, which affects the electronic signal on the CRT itself.

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Ewa Justka, who is the toolmaker-in-residence here, and who is building her own audio synthesizer spruced up the accompanying audio. I captured a 20-minute sample.

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What I love about the result is that the repetitive 2-minute video takes on its own life, as the two of us tweaked knobs, made live patches and laughed a lot.

Pier 9 Artist Profile

The good folks at Pier 9, Autodesk just released this video-profile of me and my Water Works project. I’m especially happy with Charlie Nordstrom’s excellent videography work and even got the chance help with the editing of the video itself.

Yes, in a previous life I used to do editing for video documentaries with now defunct, Sleeping Giant Video and the IndyMedia Center.

But now, I’m more interested in algorithms, data and sculpture.

01SJ Day 5: Public Viruses

Today we shifted to the virus-making portion of Gift Horse, where anyone can assemble a virus sculpture to be placed inside the belly of the Trojan Horse. The gesture is to gather people in real space, give them a way to hand-construct their “artwork” and to hide hundeds of the mini-sculptures inside the horse.

The first virus to go inside, the Rat of the Chinese zodiac, was The Andromeda Strain, an imaginary virus from the film. This father-daughter team cut, folded and glued the paper sculpture together and she did the honors of secreting it inside the armature.

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It takes a long time to cut each virus from the printed sheet. This is where the lasercutter from the Tech Shop came in handy. In the afternoon, we traced the outlines of the Snow Crash virus and tried cutting it out. After about an hour of fiddling around with settings and alignment, I was able to get a batch done.
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Hurray for mechanized production!

This halved the assembly time from 30 minutes to 15 minutes, bypassing the tedious cutting step. Perhaps this is a compromise in the process of hand-construction techniques, but I’ll gladly make the trade-off for practicality.

The next person to sit with us was Jeff who worked on one of the freshly-cut Snow Crash viruses.

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Once finished, it joined The Andromeda Strain. Come on down to South Hall (435, S. Market, San Jose) and check us out — we will be holding workshops on building viruses all weekend.

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01SJ Day 2: The Cart Before The Horse

Before we can assemble the horse, we have to build that cart that it will be wheeled around on.

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The cart is rated to hold 2000 lbs, which hopefully will be over-engineered since I’m not sure of the exact weight of the horse. With 8 casters on the bottom and trying to figure out a good wagon assembly, it took us a while to get a basic form assembled (a shout out here to our friends Brett Bowman and Zarin Gollogly who helped make this possible). By the end of the day, we were close but still not finished.

Sidetracked by socializing, we got a chance to catch up with some old friends, including James Morgan (pictured below), some of the aforementioned folks from yesterday and also some new ones such as Chico MacMurtrie, ex-San Francisco resident who now lives in Brooklyn.

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Wafaa Bilal lecture at SFAI

My good friend and colleague, Wafaa Bilal, will be speaking this Wednesday at the San Francisco Art Institute. I’d highly recommend the talk.

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You might remember him from the “Shoot an Iraqi” project where he lived in a gallery for a month and had a paint ball gun setup to point at him. You could shoot him with the gun for $1 (I couldn’t resist spending a couple bucks).

He also created “Virtual Jihadi” were he re-engineered a US training video game so that you could be a suicide bomber instead (the piece got shut down by Rensselaer). Its unbelievable that a shut-down like this could happen well-after the censorship debates of the 60s and 70s.

He has an amazing history as a refugee from Desert Storm and US transplant. His brother and father (both civilians) were both killed in Iraq by American drone attacks in 2004.

Hatch and Afterthought

New documentation! During my 6-month residency at Eyebeam, I worked on about 6 different projects. Two of them: Hatch and After Thought are now documented on my site.

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Hatch is the first of a series of acrylic plexiglass installations. This one depicts a mass of sperm (up to 200!) which swarm around a doorway. This was cut with the Eyebeam’s lasercutter, can be site-specific in its installation, and is cheap to ship.

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After Thought is the most experimental of my individual works. Here, I use a Neurosky Mindset to test people while they look at flashcards of charged imagery. I monitor their responses in a subjective application of science, noting their responses on an indicator sheet (below). After their test, I feed their results back into video generation software that I wrote which makes a custom video (5 minutes) that reflects their emotional state of mind.

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Another artist that I am close friends with, Luther Thie, uses the same headset for the Acclair project in compelling but conceptually different repurposing of the brain to computer interface (BCI).

Apple’s Jailhouse (part 2)

We are making good progress on the Open Video Sync project. It’s buggy but the syncing code works!

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After some thought about how to best make this available to a wide set of users and support some of Apple’s undocumented APIs — ones that are basic like pausing a movie or playing it back on an external device, (see this thread for the geeks out there) we have decided to release two versions of Open Video Sync, one for App Store which will be a slimmed-down version and one for the Cydia Store — for jailbroken phones, which will be a full-featured version.

I’m still disappointed with Apple and their closing down of the iPhone. But apparently I am just one of many.

Apple’s Jailhouse (part 1)

Open Video Sync is one of my Eyebeam projects and will be a way to turn your iPhone or iPod touch into a cheap and wireless video synchronization tool.

We have unfortunately come to the conclusion that we will have to release this as a jailbroken application which means it will be released on the Cydia Store rather than the Apple Store (here is a glossary of what these terms mean) which means restricting the audience to a more tech-savvy group, but there is no other way.

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The bone of contention is the use of undocumented interfaces and there is specifically one called the MPTVOutInterface which lets you playback video onto an external device. Apple doesn’t support this for the development community which is a foot-shooting maneuver.

First of all: any video player should have a direct-to-device output. In fact, here is a great iPhone hardware hack that will let you do just that.

Second: this is already something that works for Apple’s own iPod video player. It is well-tested and should be folded into the general API.

The shoot-in-foot problem is this: it is only a matter of time before the open source Google Android phone catches up. Right now, it still lacks the necessary inter-phone communication via Bluetooth/wireless API. And also the phone is too expensive, requiring a service plan. The iPod touch is an excellent model: cheap, great UI and a lot of application support. Hopefully the Android will come up with a similar model sooner than later.

Apple could profit from iPhone-as-gaming device such as this example.

In the meantime, my co-developer, Eric Brelsford and I have decided to jailbreak and go Cydia on this one.  Stay tuned.

Astronauts without a home

As part of the Postgravity Art: Synaptiens event which invites hour-long interventions into a 50-hour performance cycle, I will be enacting a two-person performance: Space Age Love.

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Here, Victoria Scott and myself will be floating in space — in Second Life space — and communicating via chat, while our cameras point at one another and our astronaut avatars perform acrobatics. The two viewpoints will be projected onto the Synaptiens structures at Eyebeam. This is happening today (Nov 12 2009) along with performances at 2:30 by Jamie O’Shea and 4:30 by Rashaad Newsome.

I call this an auto-biographical performance as the two of us are floating between San Francisco and New York, working out opportunities, desires and finances to find a home. The chat will be entirely improvised, discussing these issues in live space at Eyebeam.

OVS & GPL & BSD

This week I’ve been researching what type of open source license to use with the Open Video Sync (OVS) project — one of the many things I’ve got going on at Eyebeam.

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Open Video Sync will do amazing things for video artists (and others), namely the ability to synchronize video playback across multiple cheap video players, such as the iPod touch.

The legal issue is that OVS is an iPhone application and is therefore running on an essentially developer-unfriendly and closed environment. In addition to the numerous restrictions that Apple imposes upon developers, including esoteric developer’s certificates and provisioning profiles, programmers have to pay $99 fee to download their custom programs onto their mobile devices.

After meeting with Fred Benenson today, it became clear to me that iPhone development presents problems with the GPL namely that it is not free software. This means that I will end up deploying the software with a more liberal, BSD-style license.

Why not Google Android — a device that is open? Simply: iPod Touches are cheap, require no service plan and  the iPhone SDK supports inter-phone communication. Some day, I’d like to port Open Video Sync to a more open platform, but not until it is cost-effective for users.

Video Portraits at Micaela Gallery

Tonight opens the full compilation of my Video Portraits artwork in the video room at Micaela Gallery (San Francisco) as part of the Winter Salon 2009 series.

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The opening reception is (Nov 5th 2009) and the show runs through January. Video Portraits (2006-2008) has been shown internationally including venues in Spain and China as well as more locally in Vancouver, Portland, Chicago and other cities, attracting a global audience and has been featured in one of KQED’s SPARK television segments. I am pleased that Micaela Van Zwoll has chosen to feature this work as one of the video pieces she will be representing.

To make this video, I ask strangers at different events or from specific demographics ranging from Chinese New Year’s Parade to surfers on a beach to taxi drivers in India for a photograph. Without telling them, I switch my digital camera to video mode, capturing them posing for the camera with fixed smiles and uncertain looks. There are 17 “episodes” each lasting for 2-3 minutes.

After the session, I let them in on the trick and to date, everyone has laughed at themselves as they strike a pose that reveals their truer selves. Advancing the notion of portraiture into video form, I draw links in this work to a cultural shift to a documentation-based global world.

Here is one such segment from San Francisco Wondercon convention.

Changing Labor Value for 8 bucks

Come to the Changing Labor Value panel at the New School today, Tuesday  at 5:30pm. Victoria Scott and I will be showing a portion of the No Matter — a fly-through video in the reception beforehand. I’ll be there in person!

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This event is a prelude to Internet as Playground and Factory that will be taking place from November 12-14 where we’ll be presenting the No Matter project in context of the labor that we contracted in Second Life to materialize 40 imaginary objects.