Development Update – December 2019 part 1

I took a bit of a break from writing the Development Updates. September was pretty busy with Bcc: (more on that below) and then I was completing a commission for Will’s Kitchen/The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and preparing for my solo exhibition, We Are Your Friends.

With all of that now completed I’m writing a few posts about one project in particular: Bcc:

The Bcc: exhibition opened at Vivid Projects on Friday 6th September. It was a collaboration between Vancouver-based Decoy Magazine and Birmingham-based Vivid Projects. The exhibition featured a curated selection of works from Decoy Magazine’s online art subscription service called Bcc:. The basic premise is that each month you’d get specially commissioned art in your e-mail inbox.

Bcc:

Bcc:

After being part of Bcc: in 2018 I suggested to Lauren Marsden, the Curator and Editor of Decoy Magazine, that it could possibly become an IRL exhibition at Vivid Projects. At the time I was still working there so I worked on getting most things in place to get the exhibition going. Then I left in 2019. Because of my prior involvement in Bcc: and the massive technical challenge involved in installing the work (more on that later) I was asked to produce the exhibition.

Depending on how you look at it the technical aspect of installing the exhibition could be very simple. Most of the works in Bcc: were short movies and animations/gifs, and Vivid Projects has long used the Adafruit Raspberry Pi Video Looper to handle playing videos.

Some works, however, required more attention. There were some works that were interactive websites, some that were animated gifs and some that require additional hardware. Prior to the exhibition this probably didn’t present any problems as the works were viewed by most likely one person on their personal phone or computer. The challenge comes when it’s on a shared computer in a public environment. Additionally, operating the works needs to be as hands off as possible. That is, I didnt want it to be the case that myself or another technician had to be on hand every day to go through complicated procedures to turn on all of the work. They needed to be automatic. With 17 works each needing their own computer/Raspberry Pi there was a lot to prepare. Over the next few posts I’ll take you through some of the works and their technical challenges:

Playing gifs on a raspberry pi

Of the 17 works on show in the exhibition 10 were animated gifs. To stay true to the small nature of animated gifs (don’t get me started on the concept of HD gifs) we decided to display the gifs on the Official Raspberry Pi 7″ Touchscreen Display. This proved to be a really good decision overall. It required that visitors get really close to the works and spend time with a format that can sometimes be a bit throwaway.

Bcc:

As mentioned before, for a long time Vivid Projects has used the Adafruiit Raspberry Pi Video Looper software to play videos. It works (mostly) great with the exception that it doesn’t play animated gifs. The main underlying software, omxplayer, only supports video files. Even the supplied alternative player, hello_video, also only plays video files.

Your immediate though might be to just convert the animated gifs to video files. Whilst this “works” there is always the danger that in converting a file you reduce the quality of it. For an artist like Nicolas Sassoon, who makes pixel-perfect animations that match a specific screen size, this would be unacceptable. So I went on a journey to find a way to play gifs.

The requirements for the software is that it should operate in a similar way to the Adafruit software and play a gif on loop with little or no pause between loops. It should play in the frame buffer (i.e. without needing to load the desktop) and it should make use of the GPU (helps prevent screen tearing). And for a bonus it should be able to play a series of gifs one after the other. Simple, right?

TL;DR: There isn’t a reliable way, I had to convert to a video.

Some of the solutions I saw were saying to use Imagemagick to play the gifs. This wouldn’t work as I would need to launch the desktop. Then, I’d need to script it to go full screen, centre the gif, change the background to black etc.

FBI and FIM don’t support animated gifs, although they are useful if you ever want to play a slideshow of static images.

feh is another image viewer that uses the framebuffer. However, it also doesn’t support animated gifs and, according to this response from the author, this is by design.

This suggested solution of converting to images kinda works but doesn’t take into account if each animation frame has different durations (see this GIMP tutorial for example on how to use it). With that in mind for this to work I would need to get the duration of each frame in each of the 10 gifs, separate the gifs into their individual frames, and then tell feh to play each frame for it’s specified duration. So, this method could work but it would require a lot of work!

This thread on the Raspberry Pi forum did provide a possible solution which I didn’t try but it also pointed me to FBpyGIF, which was certainly the most promising of the solutions. However, a couple of problems prevent me from using it. Still very promising though!

Finally, I tried one of the various GIF Frames that play a folder of animated gifs on loop. Sounds like it works but there’s screen tearing on some fast-moving gifs. I’m guessing this is because it doesn’t have hardware acceleration and/or because it uses Chromium to play the gifs.

Soooooo after all of this I felt a bit defeated and I decided to just convert the animated gifs to videos. I used Handbrake and noticed no loss of quality in the conversion. Even if there was, on a 7-inch screen it’d be quite hard to see. Using the Adafruit player/omxplayer I was initially having some issues with aspect ratio. Even with –aspect-mode set to fill stretch or letterbox, the videos were being stretched to fill the screen. To illustrate take the following video, which is 1024×68/4:3.


(fyi it was made using Natron and this script to add in a timecode)

When play on the screen it is stretched to fill the screen.

The Raspberry Pi touch screen has a resolution of 800 x 480, which is a 5:3 aspect ratio. Most of the videos and animated gifs were HD/16:9 so would be letterboxed by default.

So I had the bright idea of padding each video so that it was exactly 800×480.

Now, the Adafruit player/omxplayer says it can play any video which is H.264 encoded but I’ve had some troubles in the past, so whenever I’m given a video I usually convert it using Handbrake with the Fast 1080p30 preset. These settings have always worked for me but for some reason on this occasion the video was stuttering a lot! What was strange was that the original videos (the animated gifs converted to videos without resizing) played fine. Even after they were run through Handbrake. Why when they were converted to 800×480 size did they stutter?

It was two days before the exhibition opening that I remembered that some time in 2016 I had an issue with omxplayer in that it didn’t play videos if the video didn’t have an audio track. Why? I don’t know. Maybe audio was the problem in this scenario too? It was worth a try and so I decided to disbale the audio track using the -n -1 option. This doesn’t just turn the audio down, it disable encoding of it. And guess what. IT WORKED!

I have absolutely no idea why this worked or why the error ocurred in the first place. Here’s the extra arguments that I included on line 107 of video_looper.ini.

extra_args = --no-osd --audio_fifo 0.01 --video_fifo 0.01 -n -1 --aspect-mode stretch

All of that just to play animated gifs! Now that I had the code perfected copying it to all of the other Raspberry Pi’s was simple. If the aforementioned softwares had animated gif playback by default then this would’ve been solved much quicker but for now it seems the most reliable way to play animated gifs on a loop on a Raspberry Pi is to convert them to video.

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

Hybrid Landscapes

https://www.digitalcatapultcentre.org.uk/hybrid-landscapes-artists/

Hybrid Landscapes is an exhibition of recent work by eleven pioneering artists whose projects use, respond to and subvert digital technologies in surprising and unexpected ways. As lived experience plays out simultaneously across natural, built and networked worlds, new perceptions and perspectives are created.

The eleven artists work in a range of artistic mediums – from photography and sculpture to software and code – and each has their own area of research. They are unified by an approach that offers new ways to imagine, inhabit and locate citizens within emerging hybrid terrains. Together their works consider some of the key social and cultural questions we might ask ourselves about emerging digital cultures, products and applications, offering complementary and alternative views.

TRANSFORMERS: A Code and Data-Driven Animation Screening, 6th February

On 6th February I’ll be part of the TRANSFORMERS screening happening at the College Art Association Conference in Washington DC.

sonification_caa

Computer programming is an often invisible force that affects many aspects of our contemporary lives. From how we gather our news, maintain our libraries, or navigate our built environment, code shapes the interfaces and information they connect to. Artists who work with these languages as material can critically excavate code and its effects. The works included in this screening include animation and video that are produced through the use and manipulation of code and/or data.

The selected works will be screened during CAA on Saturday, February 6th from 9:00am- 10:30am in the Media Lounge and is simultaneously available online through the New Media Caucus Vimeo Channel.

The screening is organised by Darren Douglas Floyd, Artist/Filmmaker, Mat Rappaport, Artist, Columbia College Chicago, and A. Bill Miller, Artist, University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. My contribution is a shorter live performanec of the Sonification Studies performance I did at glitChicago in 2014. I’ll update this post with the new video once the event is over. Video below:

Internalised

Back in April Film Division took part in the 2011 Sci-Fi-London 48 hour film challenge:

We’ll give you a randomly generated film title, some dialogue and a prop list. You’ll then have 48 hours to write, shoot and edit a complete five minute film… hard work but fun!

I provided some glitches – using the What Glitch? scripts – and other graphics for this film, which you can watch below. My glitches are at about 3:16.

Unfortunately the film didn’t win but it did go on to be shown at Cannes in a Van. Go team Film Division!

Despite the film having been shown elsewhere I’ve only just watched it and I must say I’m rather impressed with what a highly dedicated – and possibly crazy (we stayed up ’til 5am editing) – team can come up with in 48 hours. I’m told that a directors’ edit, which will include many of the effects that didn’t make it in time, will be out in the near future. Anyway, enough reading, go watch the film!

Scripted Bends

Recently there’s been a trend amongst glitch artists to do more video glitches. I’ve been pretty quiet on that front whilst I work on my techniques. Here’s the first results of my experiments using Chris Cunningham‘s short film Rubber Johnny as a test subject

Just from these tests I can see the opportunities that using video presents, especially when using audio. I can definitely see more of my work being like this

A Short Introduction

Since I was introduced glitch art last May I’ve really been hooked on exploring this technique and how it can affect my artwork. One thing that I’ve never done is to explain why I do this, so here it goes!

For me glitch art is about exploring the boundaries in which things will operate as expected, with particular emphasis on computers. Computers are very complex and can take years to understand understand. Computers are also very obedient. They will do what you tell them to, but you have to tell them in a way that they understand. For example, it is assumed that if you double-click on an image it will open in an image viewer or editor. This is because the image has data in it (the header data) describing what kind of file it is and when you double-click on it an instruction is sent to open that kind of file with any program that can interpret it that data.

But then, what about if we fooled the computer into thinking it is opening one type of file, when in fact it is another. For example, what if we added the header data of an image file to an mp3 file and then tried to edit it in an image editor? The output is usually a burst of colourful pixels. Whilst we may perceive the output as an error and instantly discard it the computer is not as judgemental. It is devoid of emotion and doesn’t question actions and will do what we tell it to do, and so will happily do this with any data that it has been instructed to interpret.

Why would one want to do all of this? Think of the computer as a world of its own, or the human body. All of the underlying code and hardware relies on each other for it to operate successfully. Should one part become damaged it can sometimes be fatal, but often the overall ability to operate is hampered. How far can I push a piece of hardware or software before it either breaks itself or the whole computer? You can easily relate this to athletes who constantly put their bodies through hours of physically demanding activity in order to push the boundaries in which their bodies will operate. In either case, at what point will you reach the limits?

More importantly, what can be discovered by doing all of this? New, hidden abilities that we didn’t know our computers had, improved performance, increased knowledge of how things work, a new form of art, or something else? Well, that’s what I want to find out.

24 hour Psycho

On Halloween, as well as the Brill Drummond talk (see what I did there) at Eastside Projects and the closing party at Ikon Eastside I went to the screening of 24 Hour Psycho at VIVID Gallery, which is just a few moments away from it.

I was there for about an hour and in that time I probably saw the result of only 5 minutes of footage! As is my understanding the film was shown at one frame every half-second. What I find interesting is that if this was shown using a traditional reel of film you’d have to have 12 frames of the same picture followed by another twelve frames of another still picture, thus creating the effect of playing two frames per second. However, due to the absence of noise that would usually come from the projector I’d guess it is a digital projection and because of it with each frame you get slight pixelation in each frame. I would’ve liked to have seen it being projected using reels of film, which then presents the screening of the actual movie as a performance in itself. After doing some research, however, I can see that this wasn’t really the intention of the artist.

He [Douglas Gordon] went on to imagine that this ‹someone› might suddenly remember what they had seen earlier that day, later that night; perhaps at around 10 o’clock, ordering drinks in a crowded bar with friends, or somewhere else in the city, perhaps very late at night, just as the ‹someone› is undressing to go to bed, they may turn their head to the pillow and start to think about what they had seen that day.

I suppose you only really get that effect if you actually do watch it for awhile, and possibly at some of the more interesting parts of the film. That said, the image of someone smiling at me walking across the street is one that is still sticking with me.

Gameboy Video

Now that I have the Gameboy Camera and Printer, LSDJ and will soon have the Transferer and 32M Cartridges I’m hoping to make something like this

One thing I also really like is this dance piece:

I would’ve like to have seen the dancers incorporate more erratic movement and even some sort of costumes (Princess Peach and Mario perhaps), but overall I think it shows that Gameboy Music isn’t just for the hobbyist