LA Flash February meeting: Stateful applications and Wii installations

Animation, Events, Exemplary Work, Flash, Flex, Interactive Design, LA Flash, Wii

Los Angeles-area Flash aficionados were lured out under Wednesday night’s lunar eclipse to attend the monthly gathering of LA Flash, a great local user group. Sam Rivello (whose blitting seminar I attended at last year’s LA Flashapaloozastock) gave a solid overview of various techniques for maintaining state in Flash and Flex applications, including one technique (custom namespaces) I’d never heard of before. I’d be curious to hear if anyone else out there is using custom namespaces to manage state, or for any other purpose. Afterwards I got to thank Sam for his seminar last year, as it inspired me to build a blitting engine as part of the forthcoming Precision Targets project I’m working on with Caren Kaplan.

Screenshot from 'Creativity Conducted'

Next up was Patrick Matte of BLITZ, the interactive director behind the amazing “Creativity Conducted” multiplayer Wii remote interactive installation. Gasps of “wow” and “cool” were heard from the crowd as Patrick deconstructed the development process, which utilized WiiFlash. The biggest revelation for me (although it’s really kind of a no-brainer) was the fact that the Wiimote won’t generate mouse events; Patrick ended up using the VirtualMouse class from Senocular to connect each remote to its own virtual cursor that sent the appropriate events in response to button presses. I saw this piece on plasma screens at FITC last fall, but wish I could have seen the more immersive “holographic” version when it debuted at MAX (a new iteration is reportedly in the works for this year’s MAX). Great presentation, and great to hear from another WiiFlash user putting the server through its paces. Now if we can just get a Mac version...


TENORI-ON is happy-making

Animation, Exemplary Work, Interactive Design, Music

Toshio Iwai, interactive media artist and creator of Electroplankton, gave a solo performance of his new instrument, the TENORI-ON, last night at a launch event in London. Composer Gary Kibler was there and posted a number of videos of the event. Check out the clip below—there’s a very specific joy about this device that occurs when he creates a loop and then hides it to begin work on another layer. Creating a tangible rhythm out of light, and then hiding the light while the rhythm persists… it immediately engages the maker instinct. The promise is one of building music with smart light, light that’s better than light because it remembers and holds its state in secret while you go to work on another facet of the composition. Great concept, can’t wait to see where it goes.

Source: Create Digital Music

Update: Further reflections on the device from Gary Kibler: Hands On Tenori-On: Close Encounters of the Interactive Music Kind


Recollections of “Recollections”

Animation, Exemplary Work

A still from Recollections

There’s a wonderful reverberation in there. It’s the concrete floors that propagate it--reminding you that you’ve been welcomed inside an experiment, a work in progress.  Even though I enjoyed the Reuben, it was carpeted, and thus robbed of that reverberation, that sound that came to represent a massive space filled with physically principled play.  I assume the reverberation is still there, but I haven’t been to the Exploratorium in probably 20 years, so maybe one of you can leave a comment and reassure me that it hasn’t changed.

My favorite memory there is of an installation called Recollections, by Ed Tannenbaum, which I must have seen in the early 1980s.  Standing in front of a large video projection, your silhouette is captured, colored, and added to the image being projected, in real time.  The result is that your movements leave cycling washes of color, creating a hypnotic feedback loop between your actions and the screen’s reactions. (Ed periodically updates the piece to keep up with the technology curve.)

I remember being aware of the pixelation of the display, which makes sense, seeing as its resolution was only 256 x 240.  I remember an indistinct realization that the colors were passing through the pixels—that the silhouettes weren’t actually self-contained objects, but data passing through a static grid.  I remember the palette shifts that would change the whole tone of the experience, and waiting for my favorite ones to reappear. I think I was vaguely aware that the piece was running on an Apple II—the technology felt within reach.  Mainly though, I remember just being really happy, and not wanting to leave. Yeah. Stuff like that would be good to make.

Thanks, Ed, that was awesome.


What is casual significance?

Exemplary Work, Interactive Design, Music

Different Trains album cover

Casual significance is when easy-to-read things point to hard-to-grasp things. Like the taste visualization in Ratatouille.  Or Different Trains. Or the color organ in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. They take a stab in the dark, doing things you’d like to build theories around but shouldn’t, and as such they enable you to walk into the unknown with joy and confidence.

I admire Steve Reich’s Different Trains as much as any piece of music written in the latter half of the 20th century because it speaks in a unique language that’s totally specific to its content and yet whose fluency is easy to adopt and understand.  Even though it contains constant abrupt shifts in tempo and harmony, even though it takes a programmatic stance on the connection between speech and melody, even though it references the Holocaust, it succeeds in doing all of these things simultaneously while remaining highly accessible to the untrained ear.

My kids have heard the first, joyful movement of Different Trains, and they love it. They enjoy the voices, the repetition, the rhythms, the sound effects, even though it’s like no other piece of music they’ve ever heard. They haven’t been exposed to the subsequent movements yet, and they have no concept of the overall theme of the work, but it’ll be waiting for them when they’re ready, and what will pull them towards it is simply the way in which the work’s strategies unfold in time. That’s casual significance.

So what would casual significance look like in the interactive arena? We’re quickly becoming surrounded by the casual; EA recently stated that they see the casual market as the biggest opportunity in gaming. Most of these games are fun diversions and nothing more, which is fine. The burgeoning “serious games” market is definitely a kind of casual significance, but significance in that context is usually defined solely as social responsibility. I wholly support the growth of serious games, but that’s not really what I’m talking about here.

No, when I talk about casual significance I’m talking about easy-to-read interactive experiences that point to the mysteries of the human condition. Those mysteries might be sensual, or spiritual, or philosophical, and the goal of the experience is not to teach a class about them, but simply to point to them. I love how visual music and synaesthetic works tend to put you in this space instantly and almost effortlessly.

Shining Flower, the CD-ROM I profiled last week, is probably my favorite existing example of this in the interactive realm (though its actual interactivity is meager), as it nails the M.O. of casual significance—simple things pointing to deeper things. Fumito Ueda’s Ico and Shadow of the Colossus come close, but as much as I admire them I think their game mechanics are too prominent to truly classify them as “casual” experiences.

Works of casual significance are high on aesthetics and groove, low on guilt and training, and they index hidden depths. They’re what I wish I was playing when I play the Wii.


Shining Flower: an appreciation

Exemplary Work

The front cover of Shining Flower

Pictured at right: the cover of one of my all-time favorite digital experiences, the almost completely non-interactive Shining Flower (aka Hikaru Hana), developed by Maze Inc. and published by The Voyager Company, with concept and illustrations by Kikuko Iwano. My niece (those are her cornrows you see at the bottom of every page) recently returned to me the Power Macintosh 8500/120 I lent her when she went to college, and with it I regained the ability to run Shining Flower, to my delight.

Shining Flower was published in 1993 while I was working at Voyager as an audio commentary editor for the Criterion Collection. I have vague memories of seeing it demoed at one of the monthly open houses Voyager held at their offices on the beach at Santa Monica.  Love at first sight; that immediate feeling of creative jealousy you get when you see something you wish you’d made. I bought it.

Map of Shining Flower's vignettes, which appears on the inside cover

Map of Shining Flower’s vignettes, which appears on the inside cover.

Shining Flower is beautiful, contemplative, quiet, and makes excellent use of limited resources. It’s not pretending to be a movie, or cel animation, or anything other than an 8-bit Director piece (with exemplary use of the lost art of color cycling, I might add).  A single character holding a glowing flower makes his/her way through a series of surreal vignettes, on a kind of spiritual journey. Interactivity is limited to basically choosing which several-minute-long sequence you want to watch next.

I remember some grumbling at Voyager about the lack of interaction; at a company which was pioneering the application of same to content of cultural significance, why publish this?  On the surface, it did appear to be a misstep, but if you caught the spirit behind this piece—the total commitment to expressing something in this medium, approaching it with the same respect afforded to cinema or literature, fully embracing the technology of the day without harboring self-defeating disdain for its limitations—the appeal of the work was undeniable.

Now when I watch it I find myself wanting to write code that makes it all dynamic, semantic, syntactic and syllabic…

Enjoy: the “beach” vignette of Shining Flower.


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