Of animation, coding, and digital sound

Slumbering in the background of my thinking for a few years now, and slamming to the surface  in the last twelve months has been the idea that

• as an artist who whole-heartedly strives to create culturally relevant contemporary art that is both of the moment and as uniquely mine as possible — reflections of my essence, my outlook and my epoch

• as an artist very interested in technological advances in art

• as a scientist who has the capacity to learn new technological systems easily

I need to go beyond drawing, painting, Photoshop, photography, and digital printmaking. I need to be creating my own tools, writing programs to create my work rather than just using programs; I need to branch out from two-dimensional art to include the dimension of time, via animation and sound.

This realization has been expressing itself in the past year as an obsession to “learn to code.” Or, better, to re-learn to code; to learn to code in modern languages and with modern practices; to work towards fluency and the use of code as second nature. My progress towards these goals has been accelerated by my discovery of the multitude of learning resources now available on the Internet, starting with Google’s Python course (see previous blog), followed by dozens of courses and mini-courses on Codecademy and Codeschool; Coursera’s Learn to Program: The FundamentalsAn Introduction to Interactive Programming in PythonComputing for Data Analysis; Stanford U/Class2go’s Introduction to Databases ; UC Berkeley/edX’s Software as a Service.

I branched out a few months ago to also start covering the sound aspect. I started with Coursera’s Introduction to Digital Sound Design and familiarizing myself with Apple’s Logic Pro in combination with Native Instruments’ AbsynthKontakt, and FM8. (I first bought the Native Instruments software package in 2010, but was then too intimidated to succeed to get anywhere with it.) Eventually I want to work with sound in a broader context than music, incorporating nature sounds, mechanical sounds, and so on, into soundscapes. I would also like to work with algorithmic, generative composition, as well as interactive sound.

My first project of animation accompanied by sound was put together in honor of my mother’s birthday. For sound, I took as my starting point the Bartok violin duets that I used to play with my father. I reworked them into layered compositions using multiple synthesized and sampled instruments for each violin part. For the animation (using Processing, the Java-based programming language for visual/new media arts) I started with the lines symbolizing the codification of information, from handwriting and calligraphy to drawn traces hinting here at writing and there at representations of sound waves, described in my previous blog posts here and here, and added interactivity and colorful imagery working with simple geometric and semi-organic forms in transparency. The initial web-based version of the project was presented via Internet on my mother’s birthday this May, with my mother in Italy and I in Canada; she was delighted. I continued the project in the form of a local-computer-based application, incorporating the layering of rectangular snippets of photos and scans rather than simple rectangles of one color. Since the load times for the initial web version are already long, the newer version, with higher resolution and involving a data folder of many relatively large image files, is not appropriate for a presentation via the Internet. Here, however, are some screenshots from the application:

artwork-1349s artwork-0737s

Here are a couple more images composed afterwards in Photoshop combining a couple screenshots each:

artwork-2279ms artwork-1556ms

As well as my interests in coding for my personal work, I serve as the technical advisor of Voix Visuelle, a non-profit contemporary art exhibition space in Ottawa. I hope to develop (along with my husband Ahmed Omran) a web-based application to automatize the clerical work associated with receiving and getting artist submissions ready for review by jury. Presently, Voix Visuelle receives its submissions on CD/DVD, on paper, or by Email; the administrators must then laboriously enter each artist’s information in an Excel database, and collate the image files into file folders to give to the jury for review. The application should not only do all this work automatically, but also automatically verify the submissions and coach each artist in making a complete submission with no missing information. (At present, the administrators must often contact artists by telephone or Email to ask them for information they have inadvertently omitted).

This application will be developed partly as a volunteer effort and partly funded by a grant graciously provided to Voix Visuelle by the Association des groupes en arts visuels francophones (l’AGAVF).

Our progress in this project will be greatly facilitated by our participation in the Summer Academy of HackerYou, an intensive full-time course in web development using Ruby on Rails, this upcoming July and August in Ottawa.

While I both enjoy self-directed learning and generally progress well with it, I feel that Summer Academy is a notable opportunity for me to re-experience a less isolated learning/working environment. I greatly look forward to interacting both with other students and with the HackerYou team. Also, while I feel fairly comfortable self-studying many programming-related topics (particularly those that are more strictly mathematical), I have so far felt clumsy and ill-prepared in my attempts to learn Ruby on Rails, the model-view-controller software architecture pattern, Git, and so on. I feel therefore I would benefit significantly from a systematic, from-the-ground-up coverage and practice of this material. While front-end development is somewhat more likely to be a future focus for me than back-end, I feel the need for a good general understanding of the whole development process. Also, I believe that handling databases with Rails will come in handy for some of my projects: particularly administrative ones such as the artists’ submissions app mentioned above, but also purely artistic projects involving data visualization and sonification.