the <.h> project - page 2... <<


the music

we decided that, given the limitations of the room size and computing equipment available, we would set the PowerBook to play a continuous wash, which would create a continuum over which the files triggered by the x10s would be played via the PC.

the wash was composed from a recording of John playing guitar, distorted through a Marshall amp, and from there imported into ProTools Free, where two channel reverb was added. its melodic nature was simple and repetetive, forming a base for the less regular sounds to rest upon. Miriam then created graphics in Photoshop 6.0 which were imported into Flash, based on a colorisation and deconstruction of a photograph of a begonia leaf. Flash is normally used for vector graphics animation, but by overlapping bitmaps in different colours on several layers and fading their alpha channels in and out in different phases, an effect of a bitmap slowly shifting in colour could be acheived.

the other samples which were used to compose the seven shorter segments were quite diverse in nature. this was intentional - haiku poets do not restrict themselves to the contemplations of nature for which the style is best known, in fact many haiku poems can contain intense and very moving emotions within their essential framework. we collected a wide variety of samples; beginning with a series of phrases composed using soundfonts in Linux, some recordings of flowing water, raking stones and childrens voices from a neighbouring park, Miriam singing vocal harmonics, and an excerpt from Josquin's "Missa Pange Lingua", arguably one of the most purely beautiful pieces in Western music history.

the samples were then processed in ProTools Free and Cool Edit Pro in Windows98 to create pitch shifts and filtering of a spectrum of harmonics using parametric eq. a tonal centre around A had already been established in the soundfont samples and the background wash, with some shifts to relative centres of C and F. a focus on the harmonic spectrum of these sounds invited a contemplation of their inner tonal relationships and of the nature of sound.

further processing was then done in Linux, taking this premise further into deconstructing the harmonics within the samples. the NoTAM suite of FFT-based granular synthesis applications were excellent for this purpose. Ceres3 produces some extremely interesting effects with sieving and comb filters, and also allows visual cut and paste of the soundfile analysis. Mammut's most striking features are the Block Swap and Phase Shift options, which chop up the soundfile to produce a longer file created from small samples - this is probably the effect for which granular synthesis is best known. inputting a negative number in Phase Shift creates a soundfile formed from reversed segments of the original. knowing a few 'secret combinations' we produced some fairly complete compositions simply from processing the files.

some files were then arranged in ProTools Free, while others were left raw; the arranged files were then combined with Flash graphics, this time using more specific photographs of a snail, a fish, waves and some stones to complement the less processed samples, with some deconstruction applied in the same manner as with the begonia leaf. in selecting an appropriate combination of files and conditional scripting, visitors to the installation could then compose their own experience according to which motion sensors they chose to trigger, and as they spent more time with the piece, they could build up selections of complementary - or disjunct - files.

the installation - goldsmiths college computer music conference

the first incarnation of < .h> was installed in the Electronic Music Studio at Goldsmiths College for the Computer Music Conference, Feb 24, 2001. unfortunately there were a few obstacles in the process of arranging the installation which meant that we had little time to test the sensetivity and timing of the x10 controllers before the performance. we set the seven shorter files to be triggered by the PC upon receiving signals from the seven individual motion sensors, and then experimented with the placement of which file was to be triggered by which motion sensor in order to allow various structures to arise within the piece. we were particularly concerned about the seventh sensor, which was placed below the fishbowl - the remaining six were hung on aluminium rods from the ceiling in an even distribution. as the fishbowl could not be seen on entering - it was hidden behind boxes so that it could be discovered as visitors explored the room - this was logically the climax of the piece, and so its soundfile needed to be of significance. this also meant that the soundfiles around it and their graphics needed to create a smooth transition to this moment. gentler, less conspicuous files could then be placed near the doors to introduce the piece.

it was becoming clear that too many graphically accompanied soundfiles were overwhelming both to the composition and in their drain on CPU power. we filtered them out by restricting the piece to three sound-only .wav samples, with the remaining four sensors triggering graphics plus soundfiles in .swf format.

with some fine tuning the piece arrived at greater stablity. some crashes occured in the initial stages (including some hilarious moments where the projector attached to the PC blared out a classic Windows "Blue Screen of Death"). this interruptions were very much unwanted! - and so we set some conditions upon the soundfiles - certain files would only play if others were not playing, and each motion sensor was set not to re-trigger within one minute. we found that the motion sensors were extremely sensetive, and while this created many problems to begin with, it also lead to some very beautiful moments where the piece virtually played itself - sometimes the motion of Basho the fish within the fishbowl was enough to trigger a sensor, and certain sensors would regularly be triggered by the heat of the projectors turning on and off. this randomness would ensure that it was not obvious to the visitor which of their motions were triggering which pieces, avoiding an over-simplistic effect.

this was very much the first incarnation of < .h>, a piece which can take many forms - this was probably the smallest scale which we will work with, but it is possible to extend it to a cluster of larger forms, and to produce the work in a sound-only format if projectors are not available. the form of the installation is ultimately determined by the space in which it is installed, bringing visitors from that space into the stillness of a world which, while not entirely seperate from their own, draws one into an experience of contemplation and inner peace.


the future

While windows was almost adequate for the job, there were problems with latencies (partly windows and possibly partly anti-virus software) and also an annoying buildup of expired player instances that couldn't be cleaned up automagically. Linux with low latency patches and some scripting should improve that situation drastically.

One thing about the Goldsmith's installation was that it couldn't be left unattended. A design goal for future versions is that the thing can sit there for days happily churning out sounds and video without the need for constant house cleaning... or any house cleaning at all.

At the moment we're talking to various people about future versions and the chances are good it will be appearing again quite soon in a reasonably cool commercial setting. More news as it happens!



©2001 Miriam Rainsford and John Littler.

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Miriam Rainsford and John Littler would like to thank the following people for their support in the creation of the < .h> project:


Mr. Kwong Li, of Laser Business Systems, who generously provided x10 motion sensors and computer interfaces for the installation, as well as much advice and expert knowledge in how to set up the sensors to work with a computer, and what platform would work best for our purposes.


Damon Hart-Davis's photographic library, which thanks to its open-source attitude to providing free download and usage of images, allowed us to obtain the source graphics which were processed for the Flash files.

Mr. Ian Stonehouse, Studio Manager of the Goldsmiths Electronic Music Studio, for his assistance in booking and setting up equipment for the installation.


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