Archive for the 'Reflections' Category

Breaking the Fifth Wall

I’ve spent the last year or two doing a lot of translation work between live performance <> online audiences. This essay on Medium is the result. Breaking the Fifth Wall: Creating and producing for live & online audiences.

Theatrical Projection with the Kinect

So I’ve just finished up my first attempt to use the Kinect in a theatrical environment (The Fleck Theatre @ Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre) and thought I’d share some of what I learned…

  1. Pick your framework carefully. It’s inspiring how fast Kinect support is getting implemented in things like Processing, openFrameworks, and Cinder; combine that with low-level system driver support across platforms and this means you’ve got a major choice to make, right off the bat. I’ve used Processing for ages, but I’ve been starting to chafe a little at its performance issues, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to try something else. I had a run at openFrameworks, and while I was impressed with the versatility, the amount of work to bodge all the pieces together gave me flashbacks to the first time I tried a Linux install. Then I found Cinder. All I can say is it’s a fantastic next step from Processing, retaining enough of the structure and philosophy to smooth the transition from Java to C++. Robert Hodgin is some kind of genius and there’s great forum support. Seriously recommended!
  2. Assume the worst. You’ve got a maximum range of 15′ – 20′. Shiny things cause huge problems. You’ve got a field of view of 57°. There’s a time-lag of about 30ms built-in. All of these things are described in the Kinect documentation; take them seriously. Things not mentioned in the documentation: IR interference from theatrical lighting didn’t seem to be much of an issue, but don’t assume it won’t be. Scrims cause the Kinect to go into epileptic seizure, but you can improve the situation by getting something solid close behind the scrim (i.e. a traveller curtain). The longest USB extension cable that worked from the Kinect to my MacBook Pro was 15′; you may need an amp to get much past that.
  3. Get under the hood. A solid understanding of how the device works is key to developing interesting applications. It’s not just the hardware, either. There’s tons of history behind this software that’s behind the lightning pace of Kinect development: the amazing work on structured-light scanning paved the way for everyone who’s experimenting with the Kinect now; all the frameworks make use of OpenGL; OpenCV is an incredible library, created by a seriously talented community. Dig into the history and the development of this stuff.

Photos & video of the show to come!

Negative Inspiration

I can’t count the number of times that a lousy piece of choreography or film has inspired me. Part of this is Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap. The corollary: 90% of what’s left is middling. Only one in a hundred things is any good at all. So it’s not really surprising that I’m inspired more often by works that fail, because there are just so damned many of them.

But there’s more to it than that. The inspiration provided by another artists’ failure is more specific and more useful than that provided by a success. I’m not saying that I prefer watching bad works to good; I am always, always, always on the side of the artist in their attempt to create good work. But where a masterpiece leaves me with a happy and excited, but also very general, belief in the worth of creative endeavour, a misbegot (yes, I’m nouning that adjective) leaves me with two specific things:

  1. A motivating anger at the waste, not of my time and attention (I gave it freely, or paid for the privilege of giving it), but of whatever was good in the work, whether it was the performers, the music, the technical crew, &c. I hate to see good work wasted, and seeing it done is an excellent prophylactic against doing it oneself.
  2. An understanding of exactly why the work failed. This sort of autopsy report is often very useful, because the secret of creating work is not to avoid mistakes, but to make novel and original ones.

A work that succeeds does so as a complete thing, as a gestalt, and is therefore very difficult to analyze: as Douglas Adams says, try to take a cat apart to see how it works, and what you’ve got is a non-working cat. That’s not to say that taking things apart is the only way to understand them, but I’m a hopelessly analytical thinker. A bad work, in contrast, is inherently an incomplete thing, less than the sum of its parts, which makes it much easier to see the joins.

More concisely, a work succeeds as a whole but fails in pieces. Watching those pieces—how they fall, what they’re made of, how someone tried to make them fit together—is a sometimes-depressing but always educational process. Learning from my own failures is a special, especially-depressing case of the above. The most reliable lesson I learn from a success is that it’s time to do something different.