Teatrillu goes to Hell

Circle "0" - Charon and the ferry across the river Acheron.
Circle “0” – Charon and the ferry across the river Acheron.

Eighth Circle (Bolgia 3) - Simony
Eighth Circle (Bolgia 3) – Simony

On May 17, we paid a (surprisingly pleasant and handbasket-free) visit to Hell — more specifically, to Dante’s Inferno, as one of the Insectotròpics‘ invited guests. Between May and September of this year,
Alex "painting" the Teatrillu world with an infrared flashlight.
Alex “painting” the Teatrillu world with an infrared flashlight.
the “Insectos” (a Barcelona-based theatre troupe) are organizing a series of collaborative theatrical/performance events at the old Fabra i Coats textile factory (now art centre), one for each cantica of Dante’s Divina Commedia, in which they
Second Circle - Lust. Souls eternally blown by the winds of a storm.
Second Circle – Lust. Souls eternally blown by the winds of a storm.
invite other artists to participate. This first voyage, to Hell (Un viatge a l’Infern in Catalan), included more than a dozen artistic groups (musicians, sculptors, video artists, painters, dancers, actors and more!), and lasted five hours on a Saturday evening.

Riki and Alex getting things set up.
Riki and Alex getting things set up.
We (the Wú Collective) contributed live imagery using two different versions of our Teatrillu software. For the event, we were fortunate to be joined by illustrator Riki Blanco, who provided graphical designs (drawings and cutouts) for us
Ninth and final circle - Treachery.  Satan, at the centre of the Earth. (Technically he should be surrounded by ice, we opted for more stereotypical fire).
Ninth and final circle – Treachery. Satan, at the centre of the Earth. (Technically he should be surrounded by ice, we opted for more stereotypical fire).
to animate.

One of our setups consisted in a “traditional” Teatrillu, making live stop-motions and other animated effects under a webcam, based on hand-made drawings and cutouts.

Fifth Circle - Anger. The wrathful wrestle with one another while the sullen flounder underwater.
Fifth Circle – Anger. The wrathful wrestle with one another while the sullen flounder underwater.
The output of these minimalist animations was fed to a TV on the Insectos’ video wall, as well as to a makeshift viewer we made out of an old wooden drawer, a tablet, a macro lens and some cardboard and
One Teatrillu "scene" appearing inside another, within the loop made by Alex's fingers.
One Teatrillu “scene” appearing inside another, within the loop made by Alex’s fingers.
aluminum foil.

A second Teatrillu program received input from the first (over the local network, using TCPSyphon), and then manipulated it with further effects. Alex experimented with projecting “my” world onto the pages of a book, at other times

Fourth Circle - Greed. Fortune carries "those empty goods from nation unto nation, clan to clan…"
Fourth Circle – Greed. Fortune carries “those empty goods from nation unto nation, clan to clan…”
masking it with hand-drawn (or infrared-projected) shapes on a whiteboard, at others still adding little flames to all its shapes. It’s a little hard to describe — basically we played and explored for five hours, adding our few small
Fourth Circle - Greed. Figures hoard, carry and push great weights.
Fourth Circle – Greed. Figures hoard, carry and push great weights.
drops of Wú flavour into the overall cauldron of chaos.

One thing we missed was interaction with the other video groups and painters — we’d hoped to send our outputs to others for further manipulation, as well as receiving their feeds

Third Circle - Gluttony (Gula in Spanish and Catalan).  Multi-headed Cerberus guards the gluttons.
Third Circle – Gluttony (Gula in Spanish and Catalan). Multi-headed Cerberus guards the gluttons.
(and hand-made imagery or even photo print-outs) to use as source material. Hopefully in subsequent events this can happen — in the end we mostly kept to our own little corner (of hell). As often happens,
Sixth Circle - Heresy. Heretics (among them, those who say "the soul dies with the body"), are trapped in flaming tombs. The irony is killing me.
Sixth Circle – Heresy. Heretics (among them, those who say “the soul dies with the body”), are trapped in flaming tombs. The irony is killing me.
everyone was really busy getting their own things ready until the last moment, and there wasn’t time to plan for more dynamic interaction between groups, as everyone had hoped.

I made a compilation of various short movie clips I recorded, as we worked our way through the nine circles of hell. Sorry about the audio and video quality, they were just recorded with a little compact camera, but it may give a vague idea of what we were up to that evening…

http://vimeo.com/98163506

Of gigs and sound bites

After a long span of lots of hard work (more about that in the coming month) but no performances, I had not one but two gigs this week, performing with my co-conspirators from the Wú:: Collective, Alex and Roger.

Announcement of the WeArt SubverJam.
Announcement of the WeArt SubverJam.

First, on Wednesday, we took part in the SubverJam session (in polite company, referred to as a New Media Art event), as part of the closing of the 2013 WeArt Festival. This involved a multitude of groups (at least six or seven), all jamming together, firing on all cylinders with audio and video “injections”. Barcelona’s newly-opened El Born Centre Cultural proved to be a fantastic venue.

The El Born CC is an impressive new art and culture space, located in the historic el Born market. The market was closed (as a market) in 1971, saved from destruction by neighbourhood protest, renovated and used for various events before being slated as a new library in the late ’90s. As work got underway on the library, they unearthed an important Catalan archaeological site that needed preserving (though there was debate about that, too). The library plan was eventually scrapped, and finally in September 2013, it opened as a beautiful new cultural centre, designed around the archaeological site, which occupies most of the interior space.

SubverJam (WeArt 2013)
Part of the elaborate setup from the WeArt SubverJam (low-quality photo, but it’s the best I’ve got).

The WeArt event was in the centre’s “espai polyvalent”, Sala Moragues. In this large space, there were six smaller projections (one for each group: three each on opposing long walls), plus a big (6m-wide) projection at the far end of the room. The folks from Telenoika were doing video mixing and manipulations on the the large screen. On our Wú:: screen, I was projecting images from an openFrameworks application I created, taking input from webcam and pre-recorded video, manipulating it with GLSL shaders and live audio input (as well as my own live inputs and coding).

Audio came from re-jigged turntables and diverse analog gadgets on which Alex and Roger were performing, as well as a SuperCollider program I’d prepared for the occasion. The only problem is that, with so many groups, it ended up being…quite loud. It was difficult to hear your own contributions (hard even to think!), so mostly we just played and experimented with audio through our own headphones, while I also manipulated the video projection, responding to the room noise ambience. I got a few nice comments about my low-key visual effects. The event was open to the public for a couple of hours, during which we all “did our thing”. The public was free to wander around, look at what we were doing, interact and ask questions. At the peak, the room was fairly full (one or a few hundred people?). For my taste, it was a bit too loud and unstructured, but most spectators I asked told me they were enjoying it. I must be I’m getting old.

Our main focus this week, however, was a performance on Saturday (November 9), with New York-based sonic artist Thessia Machado. This was at Homesession, a small art loft in the Poble Sec neighbourhood. Thessia has been there for a couple of months on a residency, and during that time built some new instruments that amplify and manipulate the sound from simple bumping/scraping/vibrating/clicking objects. The objects are a mix of repurposed electrical mechanisms and hand-made paper sculptures. She was asked to perform three sessions at the conclusion of her residency, and invited Wú:: to collaborate with her for one of these events.

Thessia Machado and the Wú:: Collective (Glen, Roger and Alex) perform at a Thessia's "end of residency" concert.
Thessia Machado and the Wú:: Collective (Glen, Roger and Alex) perform at a Thessia’s “end of residency” concert.

We used a similar setup to the WeArt show. For our half-hour set, Alex and Roger played modified turntables and various analog effects and filters. Thessia performed with her new instruments, and although I was prepared to contribute some SuperCollider audio, in the end I mostly focused on visuals, which were projected on a wall of the gallery. In the days after the WeArt gig, I was able to refine my GLSL shader programs further, and also get live input from two webcams. I could trigger them based on audio input (for example, a camera would fade in more as one performer or another played sound snippets).

A different angle, showing some of Thessia's instruments, while Glen gets an aerial view with a camera.
A different angle, showing some of Thessia’s instruments, while Glen goes for an aerial view and Roger and Alex deconstruct the wheels of steel.

I started with a base of procedural noise and added in the camera images, some soft glitchy effects that deliberately misused the webcam data, kaleidoscope-y effects and a few other manipulations I’d written in OpenGL’s shading language. The images were also distorted and pulsed using audio control data piped in from SuperCollider. Mostly, I spent the time finding interesting things to look at with the webcams.

After several changes of plans (on our side) in the preceding week, and much patience from Thessia, I think we can safely to call the Homesession performance a success. An “intimate” crowd (aka one or two dozen people) were witness to our Saturday evening playtime.

Wú projection
If you see Thessia Machado’s wires and gadgets in this “Rorschach test”, you’re probably on the right track. Photo from one of my projections during Saturday’s performance.

Beer, bugs and theatre

All abuzz about Insectotròpics and wù!  From the hands of Insectotròpics' painter Xanu (http://xanuart.com).
All abuzz about Insectotròpics and the wù Collective! From the hands of Insectotròpics' painter Xanu (http://xanuart.com).

This past Tuesday we were invited, by the Insectotròpics theatre troupe, to participate in an event presenting the Programa Suport a la Creació 2013 (production grants) from FiraTàrrega (an international performing and street arts festival in Tàrrega, Catalunya). The event was held at Barcelona’s beautiful Fàbrica Moritz (historical brewery), recently redesigned by architect Jean Nouvel.

Our friends from Insectotròpics are incorporating our Teatrillu software into their upcoming theatre production, BZZ, and we were delighted to be asked to be there with them at this event. And not only because of the free Moritz beer…

It was a great to be part of this event, which gave the public a preview of some early work on the Insects’ next piece, to be premiered at FiraTàrrega this September. Since January 2013, we’ve been invited to some of their rehearsals and production sessions, helping them incorporate our Teatrillu into their show. Among other things, our software will allow them to do live stop-motion animation and interactive visual trickery — allowing bits of paper, blobs of paint and other objects to take on a life of their own.

Here is some more (raw) footage from the Insectotròpics’ Moritz event, some of which shows the Teatrillu in action (thanks to Vicenç):

Teatrillu for the masses

El Teatrillu (a Catalan diminutive of teatre, meaning: “little theatre”) is software for the performing arts. It’s an application I’ve been working on with the other members of the Wù:: collective. Alex and Roger had already created the first version of this software — a mix of interactive theatre, live stop-motion animation, puppeteering and digital sleight of hand — when I came along last summer and asked if I could join the party. Once indoctrinated into their “collective”, I helped organize and tidy the code, added some new features, and started thinking about how to take the ideas from their prototype and develop them more completely in a rewrite. Then, in November 2012, we won a grant from Telenoika, a Barcelona-based “creative audiovisual community”, to continue this work and ultimately release a more refined second version to the public as open source software.

Since the start of this year, we’ve been working with the folks from Insectotròpics, with the idea that they use our software in their upcoming theatre production. We’ve found (not surprisingly) that speaking with real users has helped us to discover the possibilities and limitations of our own program, to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and to add to our never-ending list of “cool ideas” we’d like to implement. (Unfortunately, each of us likes to keep many plates spinning at the same time, so work recently has lagged on Teatrillu.)

In order to get more feedback, and to re-energize us, tomorrow we have an “evening of open experimentation” with our current Teatrillu software, to let the public play with it, give us their thoughts, ask us questions. It’s not a workshop — hopefully that will come in the future — but more of an open (play)house. Thanks to Telenoika for offering us their space in el Raval (c/ Sant Pau, 58) to hold this event, Thursday April 4, from 18h to 21h.


Live coding: I know, I haven’t yet posted any comment on my live coding performance of March 22. It went well; a small but enthusiastic crowd of maybe 25-30 people(?) came out. After weeks of trying all kinds of experiments, fretting and rehearsing, I was glad to get on with it, and ended up quite happy with my performance. The reaction from the crowd and comments afterwards were very favourable (Josep, the Laptop Orchestra’s director, even said that it: “…reminded [him] of the image of Bach improvising a fugue” — then again, he’s known for being extremely generous with his praise!). For me, it was a nice, relatively stress-free introduction to this new kind of performance. Thanks to Gerard and Graham for letting me in on this, their 2nd annual event!

I recorded ambient audio in the room, but it’s not too exciting without also seeing what’s going on on the screen at the same time (and even then…). I’m still hoping to get ahold of some video footage that was shot at the event and that shows the screen and code clearly enough. If I get some, I’ll put something up on Youtube or Vimeo, and link to it here.