Media & Arts Technology CDT – Queen Mary

Case Study 1: Artistic collaborations

Artist and researcher, Di Mainstone creates body-centric sculptures, designed to initiate movement and storytelling. Many of these wearable artefacts are inspired by technology and often release sound when handled. Di’s body-centric devices have been performed at home and abroad, most notably at The V&A, The Barbican, The National Portrait Gallery, Eyebeam NYC and the Swedish National Touring Theatre.

Since 2009, Di has been collaborating with researchers from Queen Mary’s School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, not least those involved in the Media and Arts Technology programme.

The Hydrochordian

Di collaborated with MAT PhD candidates Louis McCallum and Nandra Karpong in 2011-12 to produce a new musical device for the Dublin Science Gallery.  The device invited visitors to the Gallery to become ‘squeezicians’ – creating sounds by manipulating water through foot pedals and accordion-like bellies of water.

It was seen by over 75,000 visitors to the Gallery over a period of three months as part of its Surface Tension Exhibition, and then went on to an installation an the EYEBEAM Centre for Art & Technology in New York.

This  has led to press coverage via the following mechanisms:

Case Study 2 : Music for children with learning disabilities

Just one of the things young people with learning disabilities can miss out on is the opportunity to experiment with creating music. In many cases this comes down to something as basic as a lack of ability to physically hold, or not having the motor skills to physically control a conventional instrument.

Media & Arts Technology CDT  student Dave Meckin wanted to make an impact on this group through his PhD by using technology to develop musical instruments that would open up new possibilities for young people with learning difficulties to engage with music.

Methods had been tried in the past, but the main tool in use involved projected beams that, when broken by a waving hand, would produce sounds through speakers in the room. The limitations of this tool – in its lack of visibility, physicality and ability to involve more than one player – were things that Dave wanted to address. In addition he saw that there had only been a limited amount of research published on the development and use of existing solutions.

Threeways School  in Bath covers the whole curriculum for children with a broad range of special educational needs. Through a relationship they had built with Martyn Ware (of 80s groups the Human League and Heaven 17) – a visiting professor at Queen Mary working with the Centre for Digital Music (C4DM) research group – Dave was able to work closely with both students with learning difficulties and their teachers.

Dave developed three bespoke instruments – adapted versions of a glockenspiel, a guitar and a drum set.

Case Study 3: Open Music Archive @ BAS8

Artist Ben White has become quite the expert on the complicated area of copyright law. He’s particularly intrigued by the way that, through technological advances, cultural material is more ‘available’ than ever before, but legal frameworks now in place limit its use more than ever before.

The impact of a lack of access to old sound recordings can impede research, as well as limiting creativity and production of new works.

Ben sees his PhD on music information retrieval as a way to begin to address this imbalance. Computational algorithms can be used to detect sounds and slice up old sound recordings. As long as they’re out of copyright, these sounds can then be used either by humans or computers to generate new compositions. But how would the public access these sounds?

The ‘Open music archive’ (www.openmusicarchive.org) is Ben’s collaboration with artist (and lecturer at Manchester School of Art) Eileen Simpson. It aims to digitise as much out of copyright music as possible in order to free it from the constraints of a physical collection, and make it available for future use.  As well as making the sounds available for new research and creative uses, they aim to explain the significance of archives and access to them in our digital world.

The pair were approached by the curators of the British Art Show 8 (BAS 8) to take part in their touring 15 month long exhibition. The British Art Show aims to provide a vital overview of the most exciting contemporary art produced in the UK, and BAS 8 focuses on the status of the object in an increasingly digital world.

This  work was referenced through the following articles and press coverage:

  • The Guardian – 07 Oct 2015
  • Financial Times – 20 Oct 2015
  • Frieze Magazine – 07 Nov 2015
  • Yorkshire Post Weekend Culture magazine 2015.

Case Study 4: Helping the hearing impaired experience music in a movie

Imagine being hearing-impaired and watching a film like The Piano… Alright, you can follow the plot and the dialogue using subtitles, but how much of the emotional content of the film would you lose out on if you couldn’t experience the music?

Antonella Mazzon’s research project ‘Feel the sound’ is looking at how the hearing-impaired experience music and how music is used in film to enhance emotions and mood. Her aim from the start was to come up with a solution that is affordable and also allows the user a degree of freedom of movement rather than being tied to a particular chair, for example.

The result is a piece of wearable technology – a glove that can be used to induce simple emotions such as calmness, happiness, sadness or alarm through use of haptic feedback. This can be used to add a layer previously inexperienced by people with hearing impairments, as well as create a more immersive experience for the hearing.

And her haptic glove is certainly making waves. To date Antonella has exhibited at the largest wearable technology show in the world – the Wearable Tech Show 2015 (held at the London Excel in March 2015 and attracting media attention for the students exhibiting); Utopia of Culture makers (held in Milan, Italy in April 2015); Digital Shoreditch 2015 (in London in May 2015), as well as publishing a paper at INTETAIN 2015, and ACM DIS 2016. Following her paper at INTETAIN, Antonella was invited to write an extended article for the IEEE Consumer Magazine. The work was then reported in the Daily Mail (UK).

Case Study 5 : Planticipation – Green spaces that build community cohesion

Conceived for a hackathon competition hosted at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, Planticipation was created by MAT PhD candidates –Pollie Barden, Katya Knecht, Shauna Concannon and Sophie McDonald.

With more people living in cities than ever before, access to gardens and green spaces is becoming scarce – a privilege for the elite – but evidence of the importance of nature for our health and wellbeing is well established. Planticipation aims to deliver an improved, greener, living environment as well as promoting social connections, and encouraging shared responsibility and action.

The networked communal watering system and sound art installation is designed to be situated throughout a London residential tower block, with a lobby or foyer area which would be converted into a communal indoor garden.

The team won the hackathon with their concept and team member Sophie McDonald is now taking the system forward to implement it in a community in London as part of her PhD research into community cohesion. They have also presented the work at the IEEE Asian Test Symposium at the Institute of Technology, Mumbai, in November 2015. For more information, visit  http://www.planthack.org.

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