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Slow Life at Sonada

February 13, 2016

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.

Coral at Microworld

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?

Agate Demon

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.

Game Of Life variation

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.

Shell life

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…

Virus Life

And one from Mark’s.

Demons break down

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.

Slow life

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.

Jazzy Demons

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.


Surviving Ragnarok

February 23, 2014

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.



prepping Papay Microworld

February 19, 2014

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.


February 16, 2014

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.






on Papay

February 15, 2014

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.

lichen on wall

selection of papay lichen

Papay Gyro Nights 2014

February 8, 2014

We haven’t used this research blog in a while but we are bringing it back to document Gyro Nights, a week long festival of video art, sound art, experimental film and music on the tiny Orkney Island, organised by our big friends Ivanov + Chan.

We will be bringing a mini Microworld to Papay and will be building some new interacting pieces inspired by the local fauna and flora – in particular the invincible Tardigrades and Lichen which cover this wind swept island, clinging on for dear life.

Tardigrades have been known to survive in space and Lichen can live for thousands of years – two of natures survivors.

Here’s a closeup of a tardigrade, and 50 year old Papay Lichen spreading across a gravestone can be seen in the header image.


February 15-22, Tredwall and all over the island, Papa Westray, Orkney, day passes £10 (concessions £5), 01857 644 340