Test #2 – Gallery Test – The Plan

This evening I’m taking a collection of computers and equipment up to the The Forum to conduct a number of critical tests in the Fusion Gallery. This may be the only time I have access to the gallery space prior to set-up before the exhibition itself, so tight planning is of great importance.

I’ll be testing with a single webcam/computer/screen combination and hope to use the screen furthest from the control room which presents the greatest challenge in terms of leads and connectivity. The objectives of the test are essentially to

1) asess potential for operational success / identify emerging problems
2) evaluate critical techniques
2) evaluate aesthetic result

I have 4 candidate pieces

1) a simple webcam calibration test
2) Slit-scan piece (no audio)
3) Rutt-Ettra piece (no audio)
4) Switcher piece incorporating ‘Neon Dance’ and ‘Outline Sparks’ (audio active)

The calibration piece will simply enable me to calibrate webcam interaction in situ, taking into account lighting conditions and positioning factors. The major concern here is that the projector beam will coincide with the webcam field of capture – at the worst case meaning that I will need to implement image masking to block out the top portion of the video feed. I have a simple masking process in place so I can figure out the dimensions and position of any mask if required although will probably not have time to implement in situ across all test pieces.

The Slit-Scan piece is very similar to previous work and to a test I ran at Slack Space Colchester back in February where I ended up with a large piece of artwork in the background by coincidence. I need to assess whether the piece works visually at a larger scale and viewer distance without a fixed background. This is one of the core techniques I have been working on and I’m hopeful that it will make it into the final selection as it’s fun and responsive.

The Rutt Ettra piece is really just an in situ test of an existing Quartz Composer plug-in. Before going to any great lengths to produce something of a similar nature or perhaps create a hybrid piece that uses the plug-in, I want to see how it behaves at scale and distance.

The ‘switcher’ piece is of greatest interest as it will help me to evaluate a number of key audio techniques and the two most recently developed projects. From a control perspective, I use Ableton Live running on a dedicated audio machine to switch between the two Quartz Composer pieces using MIDI commands. I also have a sketch sound design in place for each piece and Ableton activates the sound design  corresponding to the active Quartz Composer piece. The active Quartz Composer piece also sends MIDI data corresponding to viewer interaction back to Ableton Live which uses this to modulate properties of the current sound design. So in other words – there should be a tangible audio reaction to webcam interaction. I will certainly be assessing the characteristics of each sound design in situ – eg volume, boom, softening, natural reverb etc. Even though audiaesthetic is at an early stage, there should be enough of a range of timbres to get a feel for sound-in-space qualities.

Audio aside, I’m confident of Outline Sparks working as expected but less so of ‘Neon Dance’ which has been glitchy in the past. Although this is one of my favourite pieces, I am preparing myself to drop if from the final selection if it doesn’t work in the gallery space or doesn’t run on the exhibition machines (which are not available to me just yet).

I have a sense that I’ll either be a happy man driving back to Colchester tonight or deeply worried if things haven’t worked out as expected – perhaps I’ll be caught out by something I didn’t expect – fingers crossed.

Equipment List

Dev machine (iMac running Quartz Composer)
Audio machine (Macbook running Ableton Live)
2 x USB MIDI adapters
1 x USB HD Webcam
Webcam mount adapter
Webcam stand
20m USB extension lead
1 x mini-display port to VGA adapter
Selection of VGA leads
Digital mixing desk
Optical lead
XLR / jack leads
Mini jack lead
Power extensions
Tape measure
Video Camera
Camera stand

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