< .h> project was originally conceived of in response to the haiku
of Basho - it is a sort of sonic response to the contemplative beauty
of haiku, and of its Zen origins.
.h> began life on the internet during a correspondence between its
two composers, both of whom were independently interested in creating
sonic haiku; the original design was planned across the internet for
its first incarnation at the Computer Music Conference at Goldsmiths
College, London, on February 24, 2001.
rather cryptic title is derived from header files in C programming,
which typically end with the suffix .h and are listed within brackets
when included at the beginning of a script. this seemed somehow appropriate
to convey its technological incarnation as well as its spiritual origins.
< .h> is not intended to be a literal
representation of haiku, or of Zen philosophy. it
is very much contained within a western context, but embodies the essence
of these ideas, and is intended to bring the listener into an environment
which, although not entirely detached from the outside world, introduces
an atmosphere of peace and contemplation.
the design has quite an industrial feel - much of the computer equipment
is visible in the gaps between the calico screens, and metal bars are
suspended from the ceiling with parts attached.
the piece itself involves two data-projecters aimed at calico screens,
automated by two computers, running Flash (.swf) files of music set
to animated graphics. one computer (John's Mac G3 Powerbook) plays a
continous looping wash, a continuum which is built upon by the shorter
files played by the PC across the room. these shorter files are triggered
by x10 motion sensors attached to the metal bars in the ceiling and
in various places around the room.
in this realisation of <.h> we used seven shorter files, which
were created as miniatures, rather like haiku but in an abstract form.
these were triggered by seven independent motion sensors relaying the
information to the PC. the short pieces are unified in their linking
of graphics and sound by parallels in the digital processing of the
< .h> also features a live fish as its centrepiece, swimming in
a fishbowl with a motion sensor below it.
although we are not the first to use a live fish in an installation,
it seems rare for contemporary artworks to incorporate animal or plant
life. much of the work recently exhibited in London's Tate
Modern, for example, while not doubting its artistic integrity,
seems to concentrate upon automated devices or video if it was to involve
motion or interactivity.
cautioned his fellow haiku poets "to rid their minds of superficiality
by what he called karumi (lightness). This quality, so important
to all arts linked to Zen... is the artistic expression of non-attachment,
the result of calm realization of profoundly felt truths."
Lucien Stryk, foreword to his translation "On
love and barley - Haiku of Basho". Penguin Classics, 1985.
is the Zen practise of detached contemplation. Stryk goes on to discuss
other important concepts linked to Basho's work, including sabi,
a contented solitariness, and wabi, the spirit of poverty and
appreciation of the commonplace, which is perhaps exemplefied in the
tea ceremony. in particular the haiku often focus upon a contemplation
of the almost overlooked minutae of nature:
and plum scent.
graphics for < .h> were derived entirely from nature photographs:
a begonia leaf, a snail, a fish, and some stones. these are deconstructed
into abstract shapes.
in the initial discussions of staging the < .h> project we decided
upon x10 controllers as the best means of interfacing motion sensors
with a computer.
are indebted to Mr. Kwong Li of Laser
Business Systems for his assistance towards our project, and for
his generous provision of motion sensors and computer interfaces. it
is true to say that without his help the project would not have been
able to go ahead! Mr. Li was also so keen to help us in our designing
of the project, and advised us on how to set up the controllers as well
as the best means of interfacing with the computers.
x10 motion sensor transmits information through the electrical mains.
each x10 controller has a unique id. in the case of the motion sensors,
each id was set to be received by a transceiver module and relayed to
the computer, where conditional scripting was set to trigger certain
files in association with individual sensors.
originally came across a Unix interface called Xtend, with which it
is possible to write a script allowing the x10 sensors to control any
normal Unix command, thus:
a1 on play mysound.wav
this excited us greatly for its potential applications within a sonic
project. As Xtend is a command-line Unix application, it would be possible
to use the app both in Linux and in Mac OS X on John's G3 PowerBook.
problem then arose that the PC that we planned to use had a non-ALSA
supported soundcard (a Turtle Beach Pinnacle card) and so it would only
be possible to play one sound file at a time under Linux using OSS/Free.
we then tested playing multiple soundfiles in Windows, which also produced
the same error message: DSP busy. interestingly, we did find that multiple
Flash .swf format files could be played under any supported operating
system, regardless of whether they contained sound or not, due to its
system allowing the coexistance of multiple movie clips, or movie clips
within movie clips. this allowed us to proceed with the plan of allowing
overlapping soundfiles to be triggered without causing errors or waiting
for the system to clear.
complications then arose: as there is yet no standalone Flash player
for Linux, flash files can only be played from within a Netscape browser.
this meant that we could not script flash files to be triggered under
Xtend. we then decided to explore what the windows platform might be
able to offer, as several x10 controlling applications have already
been written for windows.
explored a few options, including one rather buggy app that shall remain
nameless which nearly ate the PC! we also spoke again with Kwong Li,
who suggested HomeSeer, a windows-based app which allowed conditional
scripting and triggering of external applications upon receiving x10
signals. Flash files may be rendered within windows as a standalone
executable program, which can then be triggered independently, allowing
clear projection of the clips without the interference of menubars and