Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Interactive Art installations with Chinese Arduinos on OSX

Last year as part of the awesome performance art event that is Fierce Festival I triggered some ultrasonic sensors using cheap Chinese Arduino Nanos bought from eBay for an art installation I worked on at BOM with OneFiveWest called "Code and Carpentry".

The ultrasonics work as motion and distance detectors and send MIDI data back to an Apple Mac which played this synth - called Helm - by Matt Tytel.

In the installation we had 2 areas fitted with a combo of 4 ultrasonics each which meant you could play an "air-theramin" to create music with smooth adjustments or just trigger sounds as you pass by. The third sound-toy you see in the video is a touch sensitive rail we created. See it all in action below.

The Chinese Nanos are great and super-cheap (we we're on a tight budget!), they run just like official Arduinos from a PC but mysteriously didn't work on a Mac, so after a bit of noodling around online I found out you need some Chinese drivers to get them talking which you can get from this Chinese site, but Apple have recently changed a few things for OSX "El Capitan" or "Yosamite" and you'll need to do a little bit more work if you have them as documented here.

The girls of OneFiveWest have recently had a Narnian wardrobe on show at The REP Theatre alongside BOM fellow Leon Trimble aka Chromatouch which sounded fun, and now have something going on in Manchester at Madlab - see keep your eyes out for that.

Monday, 11 January 2016

VLC ugly? Make your own skin

Everybody loves VLC, it's  a wicked media player that will play everything, but... my God it's ugly.

I've had a good look around online trying to find a decent skin for it for ages with little satisfaction, so why not make your own?

The videolan skin editor is really easy to use and you can make your very own skin quickly and easily. Need a start point? Well just open up someone else's skin and edit that. It's simple and you can finally have a VLC player that suits your eyes as well as all your media playback needs.

If you're good with Photoshop just draw your icons and chop them up using the slice tool, save as html and images and you'll have everything you need for your own sexy VLC skin.

Mac users -sorry skins just don't work on a mac :(

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Building robots with children

Last week I did a bit of robot-making with a group of 7-11 year olds at the BOM Summer Camp.

BOM (Birmingham Open Media) if you're unaware is Birmingham's best new art-science-technology hub with welcoming open doors, a DIY ethic, a group of resident artists, an adjoining cafe, regular events and exhibitions, and a definite buzz (despite the stripped back concrete floors and ramshackle wooden mezzanine).

Run by the very lovely Karen Newman, BOM has all the promise of a Midlands revolution, and it's close proximity to the new station offers easy access for everyone. The team included myself (as tech expert), members of the 8 Bit Pirates (game designers), Amy from Famalam (an innovator in children's workshops) and other staff and volunteers from BOM.

It was intense and a great success, with bright youngsters going through five days of character design, cardboard model-making, basic electronics and programming, animation, music and even a bit of robot dancing - not to mention a fair amount of games and videos to keep them entertained and energised.

By friday I was exhausted, but we had 15 well designed and constructed robots with flashing lights, sensors and moving parts which the kids had built from scratch. A good amount of preparation paid off well, and the intricacies of electrical circuit building and programming micro-controllers were boiled down to a painting-by-numbers simplicity, which the children blasted through at lightning speed. For the robot building we used the Crumble - a fairly new and kid-friendly electrical kits from 4tronix.

I think my personal highlight had to be the robot disco in which staff members were dressed by the kids as robots before the room exploded with grooving bodies (young, old and robot).

Monday, 27 July 2015

Kids from the 80s

Holy crap, just realised this blog is nearly 8 years old!

Wow. If this blog was my kid it would be in school and listening to awful music.

At this point I have to say/brag that my first ever musical purchase (and this is not a lie) was a cassette tape called "West Coast Hip-Hop". It had a purple cover with a surfer on it.

I used to love Eric B and Rakim, as well as Public Enemy and Kid n Play when I was a nipper along with plenty of Acid House (especially Technotronic) and the inevitable trash like erm... cringe... Bros, and erm... Terence Trent D'arby. There, I said it.

My first CD was MC Hammer, swiftly (thank God) followed by Gun n Roses "Appetite for Destruction". I think at this point that is all you need to know.

They have been, in many ways, the inspiration for many years of dance music, art, ridiculous dancing and metal moshing, so... "Here's to many, many years of generalised madness!".

As if to prove a point here's Pump Up The Jam - Swoomptheeng-style from last year.