Hands-on with the Zoom Recorder

Day one of the video and sound CommLab was fun on many levels- we looked at different works based on sound, technicalities of the tools and lastly worked on the audio scavenger hunt exercise. Zoom recorder turns out to be a very useful device that lets you manage input modes and levels, provides real time audio feedback and records sounds with great details.

I teamed up with Chino and following are a few audios that we recorded:

Barking dogs

Door closing


A stranger telling us a deep dark secret!

Tap water

An Artistic, Strategic Response to Sol LeWitt’s Instructions and Dada manifesto

I took three approaches to work on the strategy prototype and finally wrote instructions for the last one:

Choices shape our lives as we grow, from simple ones such as what all toppings to have on a pizza to substantial ones like deciding a major for master’s degree. This could set a platform to write instructions for a prototype that is generated based on the choices a user makes. It will be an attempt to consequently produce a piece of art that addresses:
1. Why a person appreciates a certain type(s) of Art,
2. What makes one ‘lose interest’ in certain types of art, assuming that as kids we are open to try out all genres and mediums to produce and appreciate art?
Maybe I will work on this concept throughout this semester.

Moving to New York City from an altogether different culture made me spot a number of interesting differences in daily lifestyle of the people. It will be worth a try to write instructions to create a piece of art that highlights the cross-cultural differences that arise as different cultures have different takes on consumption and production of daily goods.

As a response to Dada manifesto and Sol LeWitt’s instructions I thought of creating a strategy prototype that involves art production with repetitive mechanical steps. I am also interested in looking into the results when the final piece of art completely lacks any skilful inputs and relies completely on instructions that could be followed even by a person without any taste of aesthetics. The final artwork, taking inspiration from parts of Dada manifesto, might even look ‘meaningless’ by virtue of the formal attributes alone, and its value would be in the intellectual interpretation.

1. Get a new sketchbook and a pencil.
2. On page 1, draw a free hand circle with any radius.
3. Draw another free hand circle outside the earlier one, and make sure the two circles touch each other.
4. Keep on drawing circles till the page is full.
5. Repeat steps 2 to 4 for all the next pages of the book.
6. Gift it to a close friend of yours on their birthday.

The Fountain (1917)

I found the idea disgusting when I learnt about Duchamp’s fountain for the first time- and paradoxically it therefore appealed to me as a piece of art that strongly portrays beliefs from its manifesto. All art classes I attended as a school-going kid were based on an undertone that practicing and developing skills is a mandatory factor in creating art. Dadaism completely rips it apart with a bold presence of ‘anti-artworks’.

The artist attempted to shift the focus from skillful creation of an artifact to its interpretation, by presenting a mass-produced object that sends a clear message: Art is worthless spam. And as Stephen Hicks quotes, it is something you piss on.

The fountain was exhibited in 1917, and so much has changed in last hundred years with advent of technology. What fascinates me more than the rebellious Dada manifesto is the fact that art critics and societies had to take note of the fountain; it did not just go unnoticed. It appeared on several then-available platforms that successfully mediated the artist’s message. The interpretations of the fountain mostly seem to be based on Duchamp’s communications with fellow Dada artists and art collectors via the letters they exchanged, the journals that published anti-art, and the geographical and production details of the original urinal that was photographed. In this sense, it appears quite fascinating to compare and study the strategies Sol LeWitt might have used to make sure that the procedural and instruction-based art reaches to the masses that would eventually create artworks.

What is interaction?

Bret Victor’s “A brief rant on future of interaction design” sets a great starting point to Physical Computing class as it proposes the Need-Tool-Capability framework to look at interactivity as an extension of human faculties such as vision and motor skills. Many references cross my mind as I write this post- the apes and the monolith in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, a range of interfaces and machines from The Matrix, and even the Ikea assembly instructions manual that I recently received along with the DIY furniture kit.

Roughly, interaction would mean any set of steps an entity follows in order to communicate with another entity. It is a dialog that essentially involves a series of responses from both parties.

In the context of Physical Computing I can think of several ways to describe interaction by proposing a few constraints:

First, one of the two entities is a human! (Or may be a sentient being like a cat). Let’s not look at machine-to-machine dialog as it is either a dull information exchange or a delightful installation that goes on without active participation of human(s).
Second, the knowledge of performing these actions is something that a person discovers accidentally/ learns deliberately by trial-and-error approach or by following instructions/ copies from others/ develops over time as it becomes a routine. In short, this knowledge isn’t directly genetically coded. Humans are just curious about the environment that surrounds them and therefore there is a huge and wonderful scope to design entities that humans can communicate with.

A good example of delightful Interactions would be the Nest thermostat, and I strongly feel that these interactions are useful and meaningful even if Timo Arnall discusses how pathetic an attempt it is to market Nest as an invisible and smart entity. It presents a more legible and human way to communicate user’s needs to HVAC system than what was used as a standard by its predecessors. This factor of diverging from the set practices makes the user curious about the interface and hence initiates a dialog.

Examples of non-interactive systems: Automated systems that work on their own, such as a coffee machine that runs out of ingredients and automatically intakes coffee beans and milk from containers. The process involves sensing a need, using tools and providing feedback to the user; however it lacks initiation of a dialog with the human.

This leads my contemplation to a series of thoughts that I would like to discuss at the next class: Human-machine communications certainly involve the need-tool-capacity model, may involve pleasant micro-interactions, and may lead to a series of signals from humans to machines and vice-versa. Hence these can be termed as Interactive. However, over the time such dialogs may become commonplace. A laptop turns on/off upon triggering the switch and leaves no ripple of delight as it does not surprise an experienced user. It feels amazing to use Nest thermostat while it is altogether a new way to communicate your needs; but not so much after using it daily. Communications that once looked Interactive might seem mere Reactive as they become part of the routine. Does this limit the scope of designing interactive entities?