Five Days of Pure Data – Randomise Text

In the years that I’ve been creating things in Pure Data I have amassed quite a collection of unfinished and messy patches. Over the next few days I’ll be releasing a few of these patches and techniques that I implement when programming in Pure Data.

Randomise Text

In the early 2010s I had quite an interest in zines. I had co-organised the Birmingham Zine Festival and was quite regularly reading this. As a result of this in 2011 I started collaborating with a friend, Rebecca Evans, on a collaborative zine. The concept is that we would interpret each others’ way of working using our regularly used tools. Rebecca specialises in textiles and has quite a skill at crocheting, amongst other things. I, on the other hand, can barely operate a sewing machine and feel much more at home using a soldering iron or computer.

For Rebecca this meant trying to create some sense of noise and randomness but using sewing. The results, even if only tests, looked quite awesome!

For my own take on this I wanted to continue the text based work that I was creating at the time. Rebecca two poems to work with, Lovesong by Ted Hughes and Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath.

I wanted to remix the works by jumbling the words and/or sentences. Looking at recent(ish) work you can see that this would become a bit of a theme in my work and references. spɛl ænd spik, Silver Screen Changeable, and my reinterpretation of Variations on a Themeby Casey & Finch by Erik Bünger each look at cutting up and rearranging words.

Cutting up words and rearranging them can be achieved in many languages using just a few lines of code. One method is to put each word or sentence into an array and then print those indexes in the array randomly. In Pure Data it isn’t as easy.

For most cases Pure Data has the [tabread] and [tabwrite] objects. To use [tabwrite] you specify the index and then write data to it. You then move onto the next index number and write more data to it. To read the data back you do the inverse but with [tabread]. This works great with numbers but not with text.

Y’see, Pure Data has several data types. Just like php, python and others have strings, numbers, text, etc, Pure Data has symbols, floats, integers etc. The character “6”, for example could be a number (default) or a symbol – using a combination of a number box, [floattosymbol] and then a symbol box. As a number it can be used in arithmetic operations, as a symbol it’s good for when you don’t want it to be treated as a number. The unfortunate thing for me/us is that [tabread/write] doesn’t accept symbols, only numbers. Damn! Enter [m_symbolarray] from rjlib.

Using this abstractions you can put symbols into an array in the same way as numbers. With that problem solved I now could decide whether I wanted to jumble words or sentences. In the former case it would be unlikely to return anything that makes sense, which is ok. In the latter case it could still produce interesting results that could fool some people into thinking it was as it should appear. So, it was important to have the option to do both.

Using [textfile] you can specify what a delimiter is. A delimiter specifies where one list item stops. By default [textfile] uses a space as a delimiter. By sending the message [read textfile.txt cr( to [textfile] I can tell it to use a carriage return (Enter key) as a delimiter. Unfortunately there isn’t great documentation on what the others are!

Using the [until] object and a carefully crafted series of operations I crafted a patch to do the following: Decide on delimiter, read the text file, output each list item to the m_symbolarray object, cycle through text file and do this until we reach the end of a text file.

With the table now populated here’s where the interactive part comes in. A user could decide to either dump the contents of the array into a text file or spit out each item to, say, a [text] object for displaying on a screen.

You can download the finished patch below:

Below are my remixes of the two poems for you to download:

it’s a shame that the zine was never finished but it was still a great learning experience.

I’m sure that by now the relatively new [text] object can solve many of the problems I had using [textfile] to read the file, so perhaps at some point in the future there will be an update.

Five Days of Pure Data – Image to Signal

In the years that I’ve been creating things in Pure Data I have amassed quite a collection of unfinished and messy patches. Over the next few days I’ll be releasing a few of these patches and techniques that I implement when programming in Pure Data.

Image to Signal

If you’re into experimental ways of creating visuals and happened to be on the internet around 2013 you have have been sent information about software called PixiVisor. The software, developed by Alexander Zoloto, allows one to transmit an image via an audio signal to another device which decodes it and displays it as an image. In this way you can then apply audio effects to the signal and make some pretty cool visuals. I never tried it myself but was quite impressed by what I saw.

Being the open source kinda guy that I am, and a devout use of Linux I was interested in knowing if there was a way of reproducing this using open source software.

sloev got in touch with me some time later in 2013 to demonstrate a Pure Data patch he made that quite faithfully reproduced PixiVisor in Pure Data!

Like PixieVisor this worked by having two devices, one to transmit and another to receive. I quite quickly and roughly rewrote the patches so that this process was done all in one patch. Its first outing was the 2013 Pecha Kucha event in Coventry where I provided visuals for Ashley James Brown/Arctic Sunrise.

The patch works by using the [pix2sig] and [sig2pix] objects. As their names suggests they convert audio signals to pixels and vice versa. The key to how the Pixievisor remix patch works is setting the block size. This tells your computer how many audio signals to process per frame and therefor how many pixels.

By default on Pure Data this is set to 64, which would allow us to work with an image 8 x 8px which is tiny.By increasing the block size to 4096 we can begin to work with images of size 64×64 (because 64 x 64 is 4096).

You might now be thinking that you can increase the block size and work with higher resolution images. Well, that’s not really possible unless you want to sacrifice frame rate. If we take a commonly used video resolution, 640 x 480, you would need a block size of 307200. Try doing this and come back when your computer has done crashing 😉

With sloev’s blessing I am now releasing this modified patch.

The patch is set to use the webcam as an input but it can accept any media input that Pure Data can handle. If you don’t want to have to resize everything before bringing it into Pure Data you can always use [pix_resize] to, um, resize your input live. This has the added benefit downside of putting extra strain on your computer.

Perhaps it’s a dream that will never come true, but it would be good to one day be able to have a completely open source, multiplatform solution for video synthesis. I like the look of Lumen but unfortunately it’s Mac only 🙁 Until then, hope you enjoy the patch!

Green Man Festival, 17th – 20th September

From 17th – 20th August I’ll be at Green Man Festival in Brecon Beacons to present new work, Mirrored, commissioned by the festival:

Antonio Roberts is a new-media artist and curator based in Birmingham. His practice focuses on the errors and glitches generated by digital technology. For Green Man 2017 he will create a new work inspired by seeing Battles at the festival last year. “Mirrored” (named after Battles’ first album) is a number of perspex cubes between 60 and 100cm square, each etched with his characteristic imagery depicting scenes from the festival. “Mirrored” is a development of recent work made for Short Circuit Project, Copenhagen. It builds on a recent interest in presenting his work off-screen and he will be working outdoors for the first time.

I’ll also be performing alongside awesome folk at the Alograve in Einstein’s Garden. Gonna be dope.

By the time the festival starts I will have been at the festival site for over a week so please send/give hugs and warm food plzkthxbai.

No Copyright Infringement Intended, 1st – 23rd September

I’m happy to announce the second iteration of No Copyright Infringement Intended  will be taking place at Vivid Projects, Birmingham, from 1st – 23rd September.

Image: Still Not Sure if Art or Copyright Infringement by Emilie Gervais

No Copyright Infringement Intended is a group exhibition exploring the relationship between copyright and culture in the digital age, investigating how the concept of ownership and authorship is evolving and coming into conflict with outdated copyright and intellectual property laws.

Since the 1990s the internet has provided the opportunity for mass copying, redistribution and remixing of content – profoundly changing the way culture is produced and shared and sparking legal battles and debates that still rage on. Today, the increasing availability of technologies like 3D scanning and 3D printing have extended the ability to digitally copy and reproduce to the physical realm.

For many people now, mass sharing, copying and remixing seems like a natural form of self expression. Rather than embracing this change and using it to their advantage, rights holders and lawyers often resort to reinforcing outdated laws – penalising those who copy – and placing barriers on technology’s ability to share information and content freely.

Meanwhile, among artists there is widespread misunderstanding of copyright and how it affects their work. The phrase “No Copyright Infringement Intended” is often used as an attempt to avoid repercussions of copyright infringement. The phrase has no legal standing, but its widespread usage shows a lack of awareness of existing laws and the consequences of breaking them.

Featuring 10 national and international artists working across a range of creative practices, the exhibition highlights the ongoing tension between production and copyright, considers the new artistic, social and political possibilities created through this tension and suggests new ways forward for artists, rights holders and the wider creative community.

The exhibition features work by Nick Briz, Emilie Gervais, Nicolas Maigret, Christopher Meerdo, Jan Nikolai Nelles & Nora Al-Badri, Duncan Poulton, Fernando Sosa, Andrea Wallace & Ronan Deazley.

Like the first iteration of the exhibition, there will be a number of related events including:

CopyCamp, 28th – 29th September

This September I’ll be flying out to Warsaw, Poland to take part in CopyCamp 2017. The Internet of Copyrighted Things.

Is your life affected by copyright? No doubts if you are into culture, as you are certainly aware that you have to adjust to it when building upon others’ work or when planning to make a living from creativity. You must have heard about copyright also if you are a teacher, a scientist, or a programmer, as copyright-protected works are used in education, research, and technology.

But were you aware that using a mixture of copyrights, other exclusive rights such patents or database rights, and technology (the so-called DRM) virtually all information goods may be appropriated? In the age of “Internet of Things” this means that more and more things you own contain a computer program or data subject to someone else’s exclusive control. Obviously, this has a profound impact on every aspect of everyone’s life.

The primary goal of CopyCamp 2017 is to broaden the scope of the debate about exclusive rights. We want to talk about culture, science, and education, but we also want to discuss how exclusive rights are used in, for example, health and food. We will listen to stories touching on real-life issues in the following thematic tracks:

  • business models, heritage digitization, remix
  • health, food, security, and exclusive rights
  • text and data mining, machine learning, online education
  • IoT: autonomous cars, smart homes, wearables
  • hacking government data, public procurement, public aid in culture

I’ll be delivering a presentation about copyright and digital culture, focusing largely on the No Copyright Infringement Intended exhibition that took place at Phoenix in Leicester and will be making it’s way to Vivid Projects in September. I’ll be talking alongside a great many copyright experts, artists, hackers and more including Mitch Altman and Nick Briz.

Did I mention it’s all free?

Many thanks to Near Now for providing financial support for me to be able to attend CopyCamp.

Upcoming Algoraves, June – August 2017

I’ll be performing at a number of Algoraves this Summer, and rather than make posts for each one here’s a list of ones happening between June – August:

Supersonic Festival, 16th June

Supersonic Festival is back in Birmingham after a one-year break and I’m curating and performing at it’s first Algorave. Alongside Mothwasp the Algorave will feature a collaboration between Heavy Lifting and Blood Sport with me on visuals, BITLIP, and Miri Kat.

BUMP, 23rd June

BUMP is a one-day design conference taking place in Kortrijk, Belgium. The lineup features speakers including Moon Ribas and Alex McLean amongst many others. Myself, Yaxu, and Algobabez will be providing algorithmic beats and visuals at the afterparty at De Kreun Rooftop.

bluedot festival, 9th July

After an amazing first appearance at bluedot in 2016, Algorave will be back at bluedot festival in Greater Manchester on 9th July. The lineup includes myself on visuals, with Coral Manton, Calum Gunn, Anny, Belisha Beacon, Canute, and Miri Kat.

Green Man festival, 19th August

Algorave will be making its first appearance at Einstein’s Garden at Green Man festival in Abergavenny, Wales. Lineup includes Qirky, Joanne, littlelifeform, Yaxu, and Chez.io.

If you wanna keep up with what I’m doing be sure to check out my events page or follow my Tweets.

Making of Blood Sport – Live at Cafe Oto video

On 5th May Blood Sport released their latest LP, Live at Cafe Oto which, as the name suggests, is a live recording of a 40 minute set they did as part of their residency at Cafe Oto.

To coincide with its release Blood Sport asked me to create a one-take video. The video below shows track two from the LP, Melts Into.

I first met Blood Sport whilst doing visuals for them + Heavy Lifting at the AlgoMech closing party. The visuals for that night, and my visuals in general, tend to be quite visuals noisy and heavily saturated with colour and pattern.

A post shared by Antonio Roberts (@hellocatfood) on

Under the guidance of Bloodsport I wanted to have each track of piece have its own unique identity. When working in programs like Blender or video editing software it can be quite easy to precisely time changes in visuals to music. If any mistakes, even minute ones, are made they can be rectified before rendering.

In a live setting having this amount of control becomes a lot more difficult and there’s no way to rectify mistakes at a later date. I can plan to cue certain effects but it’s still a constant case of responding to the music. In some ways the precise cueing and triggering of effects could be preprogrammed and automated, but this removes the live element of the live performance.

For this video I turned to my tool of choice, Pure Data. It’s a dataflow language, similar to vvvv, Max MSP, and Quartz Composer, that can be used for both music and visuals. I like it as the flow of data is visualised for you and it lends itself very well to live performances.

Within Pure Data I set up various elements, like the spinning cubes, the tunnel, feedback in the background etc and would trigger and manipulate them at certain times.

click to embiggen

As you can see the from screenshot of there’s a lot of controls and so I rely a lot on random number generators. This keeps things really interesting but can result in unpredictable results. Sometimes some of the over saturation and movement of objects is me scrambling to reset values but sometimes I like these accidents and so let it carry on.

I avoided using prerecorded video and made all of my own source textures and 3d models myself in Blender, Krita, Imagemagick and GIMP.

click to zoom and enhance

click for the biggening

The choice to work with still images instead of gifs or videos was inspired by some recent work I’ve seen from artists like Carrie Gates and Sam Mattacott. I liked how even with just one source image they can create a sense of movement.

For future work I’m going to be moving away from pure Pure Data slightly by incorporating OpenGL shaders which I think will give me a lot more flexibility.

The full 40 minute video will be made available at a later date. In the meantime you should buy their LP. They will be performing alongside Heavy Lifting at Supersonic Festival on June 16th.

Blood Sport – Live at Cafe Oto video

On 5th May Blood Sport released their latest LP, Live at Cafe Oto which, as the name suggests, is a live recording of a 40 minute set they did as part of their residency at Cafe Oto.

To coincide with its release Blood Sport asked me to create a one-take video. The video below shows track two from the LP, Melts Into.

The full 40 minute video will be made available at a later date. In the meantime you should buy their LP. They will be performing alongside Heavy Lifting at Supersonic Festival on June 16th.

Blood Sport - Live at Cafe Oto

Copyright as Frame and Prison video

CREATe have put the video from the Copyright as Frame and Prison panel discussion online.

Using the works within the exhibition as a starting point, a panel featuring artists and copyright experts will discuss how emerging technologies are shaping creative processes, how (perceptions of) copyright enable and inhibit those technologically-enabled processes and the appropriateness of appropriation.

The panel featured exhibiting artists Andrea Wallace & Ronan Deazley (Display at Your Own Risk), Duncan Poulton (Pygmalion), alongside myself, and Dr Shane Burke (lecturer in Law at Cardiff University).

May thanks to the audience for attending and for such great questions, and to CREATe for filming it.

No Copyright Infringement Intended continues at Phoenix until 21st May.

No Copyright Infringement Intended Curator’s Tour, 11th May

On 11th May I’ll be conducting a curator’s tour of the No Copyright Exhibition currently on at Phoenix in Leicester

Join No Copyright Infringement Intended curator Antonio Roberts for a guided tour of the exhibition, followed by a chance to ask questions about the show. The tour will be preceded by a short presentation called Ctrl + C, looking at the one-way system of cultural appropriation by corporations.

The tour is free to attend. No booking necessary.

There will be two tours on the day taking place from 13:00 – 14:00 and 18:00 – 19:00. This will be a great chance to ask questions about the works and curatorial decisions. See you there!