Yesterday a few of us from the Liverpool Hackspace group went down to Static for a day of playing around with electronics to make
music noises. It was an event called Interface Amnesty, organised by Sound Network as a fringe event for the Abandon Normal Devices Festival. Is that enough links?
The day was split into two parts. First off was a Maker Faire-style show-and-tell where people were demonstrating what they'd made, and then in the evening the space was cleared of trestle tables and a few of the artists present gave performances of their work.
Most of the rest of the people with stalls at the event were just showing off what they'd already made. We were embracing the hackspace mentality, and were building stuff as well as showing things that were finished.
It took us about three-quarters of an hour to get an Auduino up and running, which was pretty good given that it was my mate Andrew doing the building, and he hadn't even touched an Arduino before yesterday morning. So that build time includes him downloading the Arduino IDE and getting it installed on his laptop.
I hadn't heard the Audino before, but was impressed with how good it sounds, and it's just five potentiometers and an Arduino. You could build one for much less than £30. Plenty of the other musicians there were really impressed with what a lovely noise it makes.
Our "already made" contribution came from Ross. At the past couple of hackspace meetings he's been playing around with infra-red distance sensors, an Arduino and some python MIDI code and had got his IR Guitar ready just in time for the event.
I think the next step is getting the distance from the sensor to control something, such as different notes or different volume, but waving your hands about in mid-air is a fun way to play an instrument.
I had hoped to build some of the Chiptune Orchestra instruments too, but although I'd made sure I'd bought all the parts I needed from their partslist, I didn't spot that there isn't a circuit diagram available yet. We did start playing around building an oscillator circuit with the chips I'd bought, but there was too much going on to really get stuck into it. Maybe at the next hackspace meeting...
The music in the evening was a great way to round off a fun day. If I remember correctly, the line up was...
PixelH8, playing songs on his Nintendo DS synth.
Then Mike Blow played a couple of pieces, including this atmospheric one built up from a field recording in a tunnel under the river Elbe. I'm still not quite sure how he managed to get the cathedral bells outside to start up at such a perfect time in the dying moments of the work.
Stretta was up next. I can't find anything that shows what his stuff was like to experience live, but this video and about 3 minutes into this video give you an idea of the sorts of thing he was playing with and using to create his music. The Monone interfaces he was using are beautifully designed and made.
And the night finished with The Amazing Rolo playing stuff through his Wiimote software and his musical jam jars. You can get an idea of what it was like by watching this, but there's more music on his website.
One of my speaking gigs of late was at Post Digital down in Birmingham. It was an excellent one-day event put on by the guys at Mudlark to celebrate the launch of their company. It was great to catch up with some old (as in ones I've met before, not aged ones) faces, and to meet some I've long been an admirer of.
On the train back I decided that I should approach my conference write-ups differently, mainly because then I'd maybe get them actually written and published, rather than languishing on my to-do list. So, from now on I'm not going to try to explain all that happened. Instead I'll pick one or two moments that really resonated with me, or that gave me real food for thought.
The thing that interested me most at Post Digital was something that Dan Heaf from 4ip said in his talk. He was arguing that British companies and individuals should be more ambitious when pitching for funding, so they can achieve more impact. Ask for a million pounds, then you might get half-a-million. If you ask for tens of thousands then you'll be perceived as a small company, and treated as such; and the same is true if you act like a company that will have real impact and ask for an order of magnitude more.
But the really interesting question was one that Dan thought 4ip should be asking the companies it's looking to fund. Rather than "how much money do you need?", what would happen if they asked "what would you do with a million pounds in funding?"
That's a profound change in focus, and a really thought-provoking question. What would you do with a million pounds of funding? I'm not sure what my answer would be, but I'd like to explore it further.
I've been trying to do far too much this summer, and so when the tickets for Interesting 2009 were selling out, repeatedly, I was too busy worrying about more pressing matters and so resigned myself to missing yet another of Russell's famed conferences.
In the week running up to the conference I was lamenting the fact that I wasn't going to Tim D as he tweeted his preparations for trying to teach all the attendees morse code. It turns out he had a spare ticket, my schedule was freeing up (slightly), and there was a Nokia/Tinker.it launch event I'd been invited to in London on the Sunday too... at the last minute, I'd snagged the opportunity to attend.
I am so glad I made it down.
The Interesting conferences are run on a simple premise: talk about something interesting, but it can't be what you do for a living. Which results in all sorts of quirky, informative and delightful presentations. Each slot is only five or ten minutes, and there are almost too many to cram in, which gives the event an energy and sense of purpose. The bunting strung across the hall and introductory audience participatory singing of "The Final Countdown" helped too.
Bubblino came along with me, and so I ended up on stage briefly at one point to introduce him and explain what he did. As ever, he seems to have won a new clutch of fans.
During the talk about Sir Francis Galton, I tweeted:
because I realised that having someone give a talk about your life or work at Interesting is the perfect level of achievement: you're not encumbered with the trappings of being a celebrity, but you've obviously done enough interesting things, or led an interseting enough life that you are remembered.
However, John was quick to bring me back to earth with this tweet of what's more likely to happen:
Anyway, at the risk of generating too much competition for me to get a ticket next year, you MUST go to the next Interesting conference.
"In a recent conversation, Dale Dougherty mentioned that Detroit is suffering from a lack of jobs, but not of talent. Imagine what could happen to the city’s industry, he speculated, if a bunch of businesses along the lines of the one Bunnie describes, with the owner’s home on the top floor; his manufacturing shop on the second floor; and his retail shop on the ground floor. Instead of a few monolithic car companies, you’d have a mom & pop auto manufacturing network of companies."