Ars Electronica 2009

September 29, 2009

Another Summer that ended with me rushing off from somewhere to be present at the Ars Electronica festival – but maybe more importantly, at the Interface Culture exhibition.

This year students pushed hard to organize the Royal Interface Culture Masquerade Ball, which took place at the twin building from Kunstuniversitat – also commonly referred to as the Hitler buildings (1). 😛

Anyway, here’s a video of the opening and of a few projects.

I guess that much thanks to this exhibition, Headbang Hero captured a lot of attention. During the time I spent there I traded impressions and contacts with many interesting people. For instance with Nobumichi Tosa, the President of Maywa Denki, of whose work I am a great fan. He actually played HBH and put a lot of energy to it, but in the end he looked very disgruntled. I was hoping that HBH would put a smile in his face, because his quite cunning and positively hilarious work always puts one big smile in mine.

Nobumichi Tosa is hard to impress.

Eventually invitations started more or less raining for the HBH team. So, as posted on the Headbang Hero website, we will soon be staging our heroically masochistic game at the Musiques Volantes festival in Metz (FR) and then at this year’s Campus Party in Mexico City (MX). Oh, and there is also the demo at the ACE 2009 conference, but conferences are becoming boring and you have to pay a s***load of money to attend, even as a student.

So, as a bonus to this post, here’s a heads-up for the people who organize entertainment-related conferences: it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee, just because you want the conference tolook properly scientific doesn’t mean that the demo sessions must be boring as hell. Interactivity isn’t any more – or better never was, to begin with –  a computer-science subdomain, nor is it so much about computers and technology as it is about people and experiences. So please, if you want to have good demo session, provide proper support to the demo’ers, don’t make us have to rent computers and projectors and whatnot (2).

Onwards then to some Ars Electronica Festival stuff.

First off, look who I found in the Brucknerhaus.

Shrink, part of the Human Nature Exhibition.

Shrink performance, part of the Human Nature Exhibition.

No, dammit, not the plastic-encased people, although these were also pretty cool. I mean Nuno Correia and Monica Mendes. Every year I end up meeting more Portuguese people at the Festival but to me these two are especially dear as they are part of the story that brought me to Linz.

Im always glad to see them.

I'm always glad to see them. I hope it's reciprocal.

There was also Bare Conductive, the conductive ink project, into which I must delve deeper one of these days. The photo is actually from Engadget, but that’s the Brucknerhaus allright.

Bare Conductive, photo via Engadget

Bare Conductive by, photo via Engadget.

What about Japanese Device Art? I’m a sucker for it, I must admit. As Machiko Kusahara puts it:

As a concept, Device Art is rooted in the analysis of the key role that devices play in certain types of art, that is, artworks involving hardware (a device) specifically designed to realize the artistic concept. The device itself can become the content. Technology is not hidden, its function is visible and easy to understand, while it still brings about a sense of wonder. Well designed interfaces made of the right materials facilitate interaction for users, often in a playful manner.

At the Ars Electronica Center, visitors were able to come into close contact with carefully selected examples of Device Art, such as the ones from Maywa Denki – of which I am a great fan, as previously stated.

The sequencer from the Knock! family, by Maywa Denki.

The sequencer from the Knock! family by Maywa Denki.

So here’s a mechanical music sequencer. The “typical” sequencer interface, as per music creation software like Fruity Loops, is here realized in fully physical fashion. I am unaware from where the software sequencer interface got its looks and functionality but I am tempted to say that it was from an abstract mental model of a physical device such as this one. So here we see the device realized, brought to existence, instead of a purely virtual interface based on the same mental model. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.

LoopScape, by Ryota Kuwakubo

LoopScape by Ryota Kuwakubo

Here’s a very simple yet interesting take on gaming. You might get dizzy playing this two-player shooter game, simple where rules are concerned but requiring the players to circle this ring-like display. It interests me not only because it bridges retro gaming to a new approach, but also as it an example of  a game-worlds that becomes challenging when mapped to physical space. That is LoopScape by Ryota Kuwakubo, who has tons of other cool stuff going on such as Bitman and the VideoBulb.

The MIT Media Lab put up quite a display. Even if most was just showcasing and documentation, few will disagree that they have tons of great work. I would like to have tried the Sixth Sense by Pranav Mistry for myself but I understand it’s a prototype. Still the idea is great, not far from my own vision of interaction using the Gauntlet. Now I just need to get my hands on a portable projector, or maybe a phone with an integrated one.

Still I had quite a lot of fun with Drawdio.

I also fancied the Proximeter very much. I noticed now that this one at Ars 09 had a wooden frame, as opposed to the shiny metallic one on their website. I guess it looks more familiar like that, like something you would find at your grandparent’s house. On the other hand the one in the website would fit into a steampunk submarine, for instance. With all the useless iPhone App out there (such as the lighter thingy) and geo-referenced microblogging, wouldn’t this become an interesting one, for a change? Apologies for the blurry picture, I was kind of in a hurry back then.

Proximeter by John Kestner

Proximeter by John Kestner

And to finalize, something from the Cyberarts Exhibition – which I didn’t really relate to very much this year, gods know why. I had seen something similar at a previous Cyberarts in 2006: Yokomono by Staalplat Soundsystem. The common base might be in these Vinyl Killer vans – each of these “coasts on the surface of the vinyl, gliding the needle over and into the grooves, churning out music from its own built-in speaker” (from the Vinyl Killer webpage). Nevertheless, Yuri Suzuki‘s approach integrates the modularity of a construction set (or more closely slot car tracks) into the playback and remixing of music, to bring back the physicality of music media – something that seems lost to digital formats and portable players.

The Physical Value of Sound, by Yuri Suzuki

The Physical Value of Sound by Yuri Suzuki

And that, my friends, is about enough for today. I still have more to tell you, particularly about the Japan Media Arts Vienna, meting Junichi Kanebako, the fun I had at the opening and all… but I would like to get some sleep now. You see, tomorrow I have to pick up a Bulgarian at the train station.

(1) This one, which was until recently the Finance Building, had it’s facade defaced as part of a Linz 09 art project Unter Uns that attempts to create awareness of what happened to the people (Jewish shop owners, more precisely) that resided in the building that was demolished to build this one.
(2)After visiting and getting invited for electronic art festivals and other events one starts to realize the amazing amount of support and good-will that the organization and workers actually put forth, as opposed to conferences where each participant pays over 400€ to attend to, even those which are concerned with demonstrating cutting-edge interaction methods.

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