BOM Lab residency week one

I’ve put my first week in at my residency in Birmingham Open Media Lab. Since I arrived last week I was inducted to the space and had the necessary kitchen and mug politics explained to me. Everyone’s been very friendly and welcoming so I felt quickly at home.

Birmingham Open Media Lab

My project involves using air quality data and field recordings to algorithmically generate ambient music. There’s something in the idea of highlighting something invisible through sound that appeals. Air is the medium for both sound and pollution so in my head the link seems already present. Also ambient, as a genre, seems apposite for writing music about air, they’re both ‘just there’. Slow chord progressions always remind me of breathing. I’m quite keen to explore the idea of working with simultaneously sampling both sound and air quality in the same space and really getting into the idea of air as both a medium for sound and pollution and a subject in itself to compose and make art about.

There’s a danger in work like this that you can fall into the trap of ‘interesting projects’ where you never attain a clarity of purpose around what you’re doing, there’s a really great piece of writing about this phenomenon here (and air quality projects get a mention). As such I’ve spent sometime struggling with the question of what it is I’m trying to achieve and decided that the point is to try and generate work that forces people to re-appraise their relationship with their environment, the effect we have on it and the reciprocal effect it’s having on us.

Quite how the piece will work and how it will be presented is still something I’m mulling over, I’m hoping to put whatever comes out of this 3 month R&D phase into use in various contexts. This week I’ve done some research around other projects that have mapped environmental data to sound or light or just used cheap sensors to sample data.

Erik Guzman’s Weather Beacon

John Eacott’s Floodtide

Matthew Schroyer’s Understanding air pollution with a simple dust sensor

Tony Kauffmann and Nicholas Johnson’s Solar Powered air quality sensor

Air Pi (sadly discontinued)

Citizen science kit. (nice bit of kit but each one costs around £150)

An unnamed Indian child’s homemade air quality monitoring station (he’s got the same sensor as me and did some interesting work souping it up a bit)

This list isn’t exhaustive and I’ll keep adding to it as I research more.

After looking around some of the sensors available for acquiring air quality data I picked up Grove dust sensor and wired it up to a spare Photon that I had handy. I’ve left it running in the gallery at BOM lab the last two days to see if I can get any meaningful data from it.

DSC_2271 very basic air quality sensor

Looking at what I’ve got you can see spikes that correlate with human activity in the space which makes sense, the restaurant BOM lab shares it space with is being refitted which will probably kick up a fair bit of dust. From what I’ve read the sensors only really give qualitative data.

I’m meeting an academic from the university of Birmingham next week who will hopefully help inject some actual meaningful science into my work so that I’m not just mapping noise. Musically little has taken place beyond putting my studio back together in my parent’s house where I’m staying while I work in Birmingham. I’ve got a gig tomorrow which will perhaps help kick start the writing process.

StudioSynth porn

Residency supported by the arts council of Northern Ireland

Process Lab / Rehearsal Rooms – Day Five

I left it a few days before writing up our final day in the project space, to let the dust settle (and the talcum powder – sort of an inside joke but one of the previous artists, Shelby Hanna, had recreated a dust storm with a lot of talcum powder and fans – really wish I’d seen it in person). We tried to tie the loose ends together and present the video works alongside the pictures that had been created in their construction and also worked on a final piece that Sharon drew on the wall while I projected data over it. We took a couple of runs at this one and though it was almost an after thought, as Peter had playfully told us to draw on the walls, it was probably the best still image to come out of the process. Working with the eraser on the charcoal and with the scrape marks of previous attempts Sharon was able to create an image which was both representative of the data I had projected and at same time transcendent of it, bringing a lot of herself to it. This was what I had hoped we’d get out of the project at the beginning.

In the afternoon we opened for a couple of hours and got some good feedback, we had a lot to think about where we might take things next. The final piece that used both lines and negative space is something I’d like to work back into my data visualisation and quite how we might animate that is an open question.


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Process Lab / Rehearsal Rooms – Day Four

Today we finished the stop motion work and did a few more experiments with the contraption, which we weren’t really happy with but were useful in as far as they showed us what we preferred about the earlier ones; sometimes you have to take a wrong turn to realise you were already on the right track. We’re having an opening to the public tomorrow three till six (ish) so if you’re about pop in.



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