Genetic Moo is a digital art group. We build living installations in pixels and light.
Here are some of the things we tried at Lyst Summit – a game festival in Scandinavia dedicated to sex, romance and love. This year the festival was in Hamar in Norway sited in an extraordinary medieval museum park including a Cathedral preserved under glass and lots of wooden buildings.
We gave a talk at the symposium about using ideas from Ethology to examine interactive art and game play. Despite the fact that we were the ones who couldn’t get our computer to talk to their computer, the talk went well and we raised a lot of weird fight / flight / sexual / attraction / repulsion ideas. We’re not academics so having the chance to focus a bit deeper on some of the themes surrounding our work is always helpful.
It was interesting to see the other talks and hear what concerns the Lyst attendees, who in general were a bit younger and cooler and (now) more European than us. Topics included things like the impossibility of finding your soul mate, using digital apps to enhance romance, polyamory, sexual re-readings of blockbusters, and LGBT aware video games.
After the talks, there was an interactive session where about 6 groups shared their latest game creations, ranging from cock-fighting apps, VR films and boardgames. We showed a couple of interactives ‘Multiple’ and ‘Frog-virus’ with people simultaneously triggering both large scale projections. Feedback was great with people suggesting ways in which we could adapt the works so that they could breed their own creatures in apps. The general feeling we got was that developers don’t like Kinect, which we can understand in a game making context – it just gets in the way. However in the context of shared public spaces there is still no better tool for interactive art.
The next day the game jam part of the festival began.
This time the game jam teams were put together by the organisers. We were paired with Alistair a game maker from the UK, who really impressed us with his coding skills and ability to quickly learn new languages and interfaces. Perhaps because we had a lot of tech equipment with us we spent a lot of time coding stuff when perhaps a simpler approach might have been more fruitful. Not having been to a game jam before we didn’t know what to expect and had prepared a lot of code bits which we thought we might use. The key idea was to use stretchy lycra screens and Kinect sensors to create full body physical sensual games. With the kinect we could monitor position of figures in front of the screen and the warping screen itself. With two projectors we wanted to try double sided projection and see how that could be used, which of course set up double shadows to deal with.
We found getting the balance right between playing, testing and coding difficult. We are used to collaboration but maybe more with other artists, or members of the public, who are working with or against what we have set up. Starting from scratch with Alistair, we spent most of the first day re-coding stuff we had done before (or rather we got Alistair to re-code it!). In the end we had an apporximation of a Genetic Moo piece involving sperm and eggs and a loose kinect driven interaction. None of us liked it much although looking at the visuals now we can see some alien spaceship Giger type ideas.
This was pretty frustrating because through the day we had experimented with some lovely visuals and effects but these didn’t seem to end up leading to a game idea – or maybe we just forgot about them in the rush to get something done.
These included a multi-layered piece which the player pushed through revealing deeper sensual layers – but it didn’t go anywhere game-wise. A rippling effect to a still image to bring it alive – but we couldn’t work out how to use this. We also liked the lizard skin tripe texture, and the combination of front and back projections.
So not having got anywhere we decided to stay up late and try something different – however, in our case after about 4 hours coding we had just created something which was a kind of Genetic Moo version of an idea produced at last year’s Lyst. Another dead end.
So onto the second day. Alistair had also had a brainwave in the night and went off and produced a couple’s conversation game.
In the day we started again and broke everything back down to a simple symmetrical setup with two Kinects running the same program – just flipped left to right and color swapped. We played around with this for several hours, as a kind of sensual toy. So less of a game and more of a play space which we added sound to, and spawning effects. As both pieces were triggered by each other and the players’ actions, a gentle organic feedback loop was created.
We christend the piece RGBW (W for Womb), and will definitely be looking to develop it further in the future. It seems a natural contender to be part of a Microworld. If we get to work in a low ceilinged wooden room again we will use multiple Lycra screens. The visuals created were simple, beautiful and enticing – we just have to work out how to make the experience more compelling and perhaps rewarding – useful lessons to be learned from game play mechanics.
The last night was a big party with everyone playing each others games and just letting their hair down after an intense weekend of creativity. The resulting games were mostly in sketch-like states, several being thrown together on the final day. Apparently other people had difficulties in pulling it all together – so it wasn’t just us. There were dating apps, boardgames with rocks, video game promos, a weird extra-terrestrial translation service, a sophisticated electronic touch game, balancing games, and some ideas which were more provocations than finished product. Great variety.
We’d like to thank Patrick, Andrea and all the Lyst Summit team who were fun, organised and relaxed throughout. Lyst has introduced us to a new set of people whose passion for game making is matched by a determination to produce games which intimately and carefully affect their players. Despite our non-game game jam we will be thinking about how to form closer ties in the future to the indie game making community who seem so open to new interactive experiences.
Here are some of the results from the Slow Life workshop which we ran over a couple of days in Aberdeen this January. Thanks to Sonada who organised our sessions and other audio workshops getting people to focus on the slowCooker themes of slowness and boredom. Jun and Francesco did a great job of making us feel at home and thanks to Peacock Visual Arts who provided their hackspace and gallery for the mini exhibition.
We had a small group of participants who had a mixed knowledge of coding from complete beginners to a couple of experts. We chose the theme of slowness (not sure if any of the workshops addressed boredom!) which reminded us of the coral programs we had run at a couple of Microworlds in the past. Pixel by pixel these corals built up a scene over the course of a day – and we decided to explore these simple life-like simulations using cellular automata type approaches. We used the Processing language because it is great to teach, and simple to install.
We created a suite of simple programs which worked on a grid of small rectangles using various rules to change the colours of each rectangle. In line with the Game Of Life each cell only had access to local information, so for example the colour of its neighbours would effect whether it changed colour in the future. The cells could also randomly wiggle about, and we allowed for rule changes to happen every so often to add variety to the programs. We showed some slides of our previous attempts at simulating nature and discussed Artificial Life. The aim of the workshop was to allow people to invent their own simple rules and see if these could generate something that looked like something in nature. We were looking for gradual accumulations of effects – posing the question is this (or somethig like this) what is going on in the real world?
The classic in this area is Conway’s The Game of Life. We introduced this program in 2D and 1D versions and one of the students, John, adapted the 1D version to create a simple textural generator. By adding rules which used information from the previous sweep (or effectively the past) John added more variety into the patterns generated. In some runs the screen would eventually wipe itself away so John had to carefully select rules which kept a balance of effects. You can see the difference between the top chaotic half and the more ordered bottom half below.
Another student adapted a simple coral program which allowed pixels to wander around the screen until they found a piece of coral and then attach themselves to it. Andrew, who had never coded before, managed to work out over night how to introduce an image into his work, and we helped him to make the coral pixels take colours from that image, which was itself of sealife shells, creating a striking piece of generative art which endlessly attempted to redraw itself.
Bea was another participant who used The Game of Life to create some sophisticated images. Bea had used Processing before so got straight into adapting the rules and using the rhythmic patterns generated as a kind of image filter. Bea filled the whole end wall with a science fiction styled virus image, by applying grid values to transparency effects. Bea and another participant Mark are part of art group Sunglow Sound who create sound installations and are based in Aberdeen. Hopefully the workshop has given them some more ideas about using simple visual code to simulate organic effects. Here’s a still from Bea’s piece…
And one from Mark’s.
Mark adapted a Demons (or Racing Demons or Rock Paper Scissors) rule set – and looked to try and break it down by inserting random variables which changed the active neighbourhood of the cells. He pushed the variables as far as they would go before they broke down completely and wiped away everything. As a result the piece went through a huge variety of forms, with waves of activity in all directions. But it would sometimes die out. In which case he just restarted the program with a new random set.
Jamie got stuck into the Game Of Life 2D and quickly discovered some interesting expanding and contracting patterns. The whole second day was about experimenting – try something and see what happens – if you like it keep it otherwise try something else. By changing random variables weird new behaviours occured. By the end of the day Jamie had created the starting point for a new type of rule set which allowed different pixels to survive depending on what colour they were – new pixels would add and then eventually we think new structures would appear. This had interesting potential and looked a bit like a star field but was so slow that we didn’t get to see the novel structures even after a couple of hours. So in terms of slowness which was the theme of the weekend this piece was the clear winnner! It will be fascinating to see if Jamie, who was new to Processing, manages to tweak his code in the future to bring out what he is looking for.
Karolina and Leila were two more participants who were new to Processing. On the first day we did a beginners guide to moving coloured shapes and pixels around the screen in response to the mouse. Karolina found an interesting ray like effect which turned out to be an artifact of the rendering engine on her laptop which we thought looked pretty cool. Leila worked with the Demons program and inserted her own colour gradients and rules. By changing a single variable from a c (for colour) to an x (for distance across the screen) she found an amazing variation which showed all kinds of intelligent looking activity – like a lot of ants going about sorting data. This type of chance find is exactly why programming with beginners can be so exciting – as they do things which people with more knowledge would never think of. We will be exploring her find in the future trying to understand what is going on. For the show Leila went back to a jazzy yellow and blue variation of demons. This had phases of stillness and then as the next rule set kicked in a minute later huge activity which was great fun. We pointed a webcam at this piece and projected the image on top of it adding a layer of feedback onto the wall.
Another rule set we demonstrated was called Seed which we wrote as a kind of generalisation of some of the other rules. In Seed you just gave the computer a list of cell arrangements to look out for and told it what to replace them with. So for example look for a red cell above a black cell and replace it with a red cell below a black cell. This would make the red cell effectively fall down the screen until it hits the bottom border. By adding more rules to change the colour of the seed cell and then make it grow upwards it was possible to create generative story boards. Nicola played around with Seed to build her own crazy cityscape generator. This program has great potential and we will be developing it further in the future as a way of teaching basic computer logic. Here’s a still from Nicola’s program.
The most experienced programmer who took part was Rae. He took ideas from the day and developed his own sophisticated take on generative forms. He used fractal tree structures which grew and then dropped their own fruit which would in turn start a new tree, after time creating a rich forest. His future plan was to add worms to the scene to eat away some of the trees and thus build a more dynamic ecosystem. Filling the entire end wall Rae’s piece was a dramatic take on the themes of the workshop.
Overall the two day workshop was a great success and everyone learnt some new coding techniques and produced some interesting generative art. Hopefully we have sown some ideas for future projects. We look forward to seeing what events Sonada organise in the future – they are keen to use some of these projected works in a full scale exhibition setting. Aberdeen has the beginnings of a flourishing digital art scene and Sonada are very much part of that.
We made it past the end of the world in Papay – midnight was celebrated with a glass of Orkney IPA and then back to the art centre for some crazy Finnish Karaoke. The festival is over and it has been an intense week of video art and all types of other creative practices; painting, installations, architecture, archeology, anthropology, audio visualisation and many others. It has been great to see all these people coming together in one small place and to learn about their worlds and investigations. Here are just a couple of photographs from Papay Microworld – which was the best one yet in terms of crossing the room cascading interactions – we are thankful to Ivanov + Chan for providing such a fertile site for our ecosystem of interactions. The photos show starfish, bubble and shapeshifter being fed by films by Brendan Colvert and Ryo Ikeshiro.
It’s been really busy here and we’ve seen some wonderful projections and performances, witnessed the construction of a suana and a fire shelter and we’ve been helping Ivanov + Chan set up various video installations including a 1000 moon – 9 projector piece on the opening night.
The Microworld has been slowly coming together. last night we positioned the 4 main pieces which all look at each other in the Garage space. From this skeleton we got some interesting cascades across the room.
Today we recode all the pieces to effect each other in more subtle ways and add in other works around the skeleton.
The Papay Micoroworld will be on show tomorrow from 4-6pm and if you come early 2pm we will be giving a talk on interactive art.
The show will continue to be on throughout the Papay Gyro Nights Festival. Whenever there is a spare projector it will be used – including during the closing Fish and Chip supper on Friday night.
We’ve started experimenting with the set up – projectors and kinect. We’ve made a lichen slideshow and fed this into a kinect piece we built last year in Margate. Getting some interesting feedback swashes of colour, in shapes reflecting the growth patterns of the lichen. Then we filmed that and tomorrow that footage will feed into another piece and so on as we build up the Papay Microworld.
We got to Papa Westray with out much trouble – even had a sunny flight yesterday afternoon. But it’s back to wind and rain today.
Planned to walk down to the beach but only got about 50 metres from The Papay Gyro Nights nerve centre at Tredwell. Collected some lichen and moss, so hoping to find some tardigrades, we’ll use our USB microscope to help track them down.