Trivial interaction for complex creation
Trivial : obvious, self evident
Throughout the first semester of the course, I realised that digital tools enable artists and designers to link inputs and outputs of complete different nature. A dancer’s movement can be mapped to music, a user’s emotions can trigger lights… And because that link is made easy and fully controllable by coding tools such as Arduino or Wekinator, the process of input to output has evolved from being trivial to being sometimes overly complex. In my opinion, that complexity usually creates distance between audience and performer, between individual and object, between user and designer.
The first area on which I focused to explore that question is instrumental interaction.
After centuries of acoustic instruments that offered a trivial process between gesture and sound, electronic and digital instruments have brought the musical interaction to a complete different level of complexity. But a trivial interaction does not imply a trivial creation, nor does a complex interaction imply a complex creation. A piano is one example of a very trivial input to output system : one key is triggering one note. The link between gesture and sound is obvious for the senses, yet the possibilities of composition offered by a piano are infinite and possibly very complex. Conversely, with more recent machines such as samplers, synthesisers or simply computers, the interaction is made very complex for the senses, but not the creation that arises from it. It is actually quite interesting to notice that genres such as techno, minimal and other electronic music that are produced with those complex machines usually present repetitive patterns and simple structures.
The first project I designed and built tries to bring back a trivial instrumental interaction with a very simple link between gesture and sound: the performers control a set of ropes that carry the travelling waves created on one end to the other end where the amplitude of the movement is transformed into sound.
The complexity of the performance was therefore not coming from the design of the instrument in itself but from the physical constraints of the space and the materiality of the instrument. But the sound produced had for me an unnecessary complexity, a complexity that was not coming from tangible constraints of the space and the materials, but from an artistic choice. It was trivial for the designer but not for the user. (Stephen Gage, The Wonder of Trivial Machines)
The second project I worked on brings even more triviality to the input-output process. The concept is simple : the input is the sun, the output is a moving shadow, and that simple process is repeated twenty times along a structure shaped to fit the sun path on the wall.
Each module is independently reacting to the light. On each module, a light sensor is linked to a motor through a circuit board that has been designed to turn the motor on when the brightness is high, and off when low. That motor then slowly rotates a thin rod (from 0 to 90 degrees ) on which is attached a shader. Throughout the day, the structure will create a shadow performance on the wall…
What appears in both projects and that I will talk about in my next post is the notion of complex behaviour emerging from a simple repetitive pattern of identical trivial modules.