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Percussive Image Gestural System (and the AlgoCurator)... new updated videos, writing, and everything else... ; (Go there for videos, writing, show list, etc.) 

Updated videos, writings, list of live shows, etc., on this research/performance project I've been working on for several years. In its latest version, there's a nod to Stan VanDerBeek's 1960s utopian vision of the Culture:Intercom. Could YouTube, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, have held the answer within it all along? ;-)

PIGS is a software/hardware/percussive instrument designed for liveness in improvised visual performance through the use of silent percussion — i.e. visuals are performed by playing drums. PIGS has two broad aims:

  • To propose a formalized approach to visual improvisation that is structured while remaining intuitive and fluid.
  • To make the human aspect of visual performance more relatable for audiences.

PIGS’s approach to structured improvisation combines approaches from experimental abstract animation, musical performance, and object-oriented programming to allow for the performance of visually rhythmic structures that can be played (by playing drums) while maintaining “liveness” — i.e. the connection between a performer’s action and the result that is intuitive to both performer and audience.

Although PIGS is performed by playing (silent) drums, PIGS research does not involve sonic-visual (color/pitch, etc.) correspondences.

Current PIGS performance interfaces include iPads, Leap Motion controller, and quiet MIDI drums. Strokes are scribbled using the iPads and Leap Motion and can then replayed with variations by striking the MIDI drums. (This in some ways resembles how traditional drums work – each strike of the same drum or cymbal generates roughly the same pitch, but may vary in loudness, choking, etc.) The PIGS system allows for an assortment of variations from the original scribble in both duration and form with each drum stroke. The performer may also use this functionality to create theme and variations or looping structures. Individual drums/video layers may also be set to auto-loop, allowing the performer to improvise on the other drums/layers against the rhythms of the looping background layers.

While PIGS uses musical instruments and strategies as general models for thinking about performativity and temporal structures, care is taken not to attempt to simply translate musical approaches to visual ones. Rather than approaching audiovisual integration as a matter of synchronization of sound and image, the idea is to create an instrument that is performable as a part in a duet or ensemble (analogous to the way various instruments in an ensemble play different musical parts even though they are performing the same piece.) Likewise, while twentieth-century gesture and drawing-based abstract animators like Len Lye and Walter Ruttmann are progenitors, PIGS combines abstract drawing with live action, and it integrates contemporary visual influences from cell phone videos and YouTube, CGI, concert light shows and holographs.

Our research aim in developing PIGS is not to create an “end user” tool for other artists, but to present an expanded approach to live visuals and collaboration between visualists and musicians. Some of the specific issues PIGS addresses are: parity and integration with musicians in improvisation; alternatives to rectangular screen space in live cinematic composition; performance interfaces that are both intuitive for the performer and relatable by audiences as performed with the body and causative to the experience (the way, e.g., audiences understand the movements they see a violinist make as the cause of the music they hear.) Although these problems are by no means completely solved by PIGS, we hope to contribute to the discourse around these issues through its performance and presentation.

PIGS has been performed seven times as of August 2017. In the course of these shows three different “compositions for PIGS” have been performed. Each composition involves building and editing a specific set of video content for performance. Curt Miller created a software instrument in parallel with PIGS, in which he combines live clarinet and talk box with real-time processing of recorded source material. Curt’s instrument focuses on facilitating musical improvisation with visuals. The first four PIGS performances were audiovisual collaborations between Amy and Curt.

As of April 2018, PIGS compositions can be created using a pseudo-artificial intelligence. A “curator” algorithm analyzes newly uploaded YouTube videos for specified characteristics. Loosely provoked by the question: “What if an algorithm attempted to convert YouTube into Stan VanDerBeek’s utopian vision of a networked ‘culture intercom,'” the algo-curator currently works against YouTube’s algorithms, which encourage posters to upload content intended for commercialization, in the fervent hope of finding “real life.”

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