Saturday, June 26, 2010

An immersive art installation

Ripple is a highly interactive art project located in the virtual world of Second Life. It can be found high above the Tabula Rasa sim, and may be visited by following this link.
Ripple is composed of approximately 600 primitive objects orderly arranged in an architectural fashion which are coated in moving video; video that changes in a fluid, rippling fashion in response to the visitor's touch, accompanied by a wave of specially crafted audio.

This array of objects is enfolded by a faux landscape composed of interlocking sculpted megaprims which Desdemona created from data derived from a scale model which Douglas made.

Come visit. Interact. Play. Experience.

Watch the video

-------(Making-of notes, credits and artists' bios and statements below)-------
A visit to Ripple

The visitor starts standing before a panel.

Touching one of the six panels that show macro images of flowers (and one feather) will instantly change the look of the entire landscape. Fun!

The visitor should make sure that audio is turned up to appreciate our collaborator's sonic environment. As you walk through the landscape, note how the sonic environment shifts and changes as you move through it. Once inside the big chamber, start your media stream (not music, but media.) 

The video is stock footage of all manner of waves: ripples on water, the blood pumping in the body, the light waves of photons, the rippling reaction of a school of fish, colliding galaxies, and of course a hippie's lava lamp. Touch the outside of the chamber and see the reaction. More fun.

The video is stock footage composited by Douglas using After Effects.

Once inside, you'll see a control panel on the platform.

When I was adjusting the parameters of the ripple that runs through the chamber's prims, I was having so much fun playing with the different settings that I decided to share the joy with our visitors. Touch the buttons to change how the ripple behaves, then touch the walls again. Listen - you can hear March's wonderful sounds sweeping around you, emanating from each prim as it moves and changes.

It's also fun to move your camera outside of the chamber and/or moving to a straight-down view. If you click in two places at nearly the same time, note how Desdemona's scripts allow the ripples to pass through one another. And then try clicking in a
lot of places very quickly and watch the madness. Whee!

There's a special Easter Egg just for those who had the patience to read the notecard provided to the visitor. If you look very carefully around the central platform, you can see some very faint spheres:
If you sit on one of these, you will be taken for a dreamy ride around the chamber.
When you stand up from either the chairs or the floater balls, you will drop down to the floor below. There you may dance with your sweetheart if you wish or you can teleport back up the central platform using the labeled devices provided.
  Big thanks go out to Tricia Aferdita of Avalon Town for generously providing the venue for Ripple for many months high over the thriving Avalon Art District. One can read about their many art-oriented activities on their web page. 

  Thanks also to Liz Russotti of Santa Barbara City College for providing the space for us to develop the piece, and to Tayzia Abattoir and Larry Pixel of New Media Consortium for hosting this exhibition in its first incarnation.
  We are also grateful to John Dubinsky of the University of Toronto for granting permission to use one of his remarkable galactic animations. More of these may be seen at his web site.
About the artists

Desdemona Enfield is a master scriptrix and advanced builder in the Linden grid and various Open Simulator grids.  She works with artists, mathematicians, physicists, architects, educators, and product developers. Her collaborations have included DynaFleur at Princeton, the Butterfly and Meteor Shower quest systems at Ode, an astrophysical visualization system at StellaNova,  Pillflower and Dancing with Myself for Nar Duell, the Explore It career exposition for Santa Barbara City College, the Galilean Moons exhibit for the Visualizing Theorem project, D.construct for Splitscreen, stage 4 of the Path exhibit hosted by the Linden Endowment for the Arts, and the scripts which create visualization of the E8 Lie Group that underlays the unified field theory of the physicist R Garrett Lisi.

Douglas Story is the Second Life avatar controlled by the Real Life persona of Dennis Schaefer. Douglas and his work partner Desdemona Enfield create large-scale interactive art installations in SL. These include the StormEye installation, which was part of a real life gallery show curated by the New Media Caucus. The pair has also done collaborations with noted RL and SL architect David Denton/DB Bailey, adding sound design and interactive elements to DB's structures, as well as taking part of group shows organized by Bryn Oh and Misprint Thursday. Douglas/Dennis photographs flowers at very close range in and around Los Angeles.

March MacBain is the digital composing name of musician Emily Wilkins from London, England. Early classical piano studies gave way to a swerve into Punk and a sojourn in Reggae before a thorough exploration of compositional theory and technique. She now operates from her studio in London, creating soundscapes and music drawn from her eclectic musical background - manipulating pitches, rhythms and textures to form cohesive sound/musical structures and exploring approaches that link a variety of aesthetic modes, musical instincts and cold, hard theory.

Composer Notes

As a real life friend of artist Maya Paris I had heard rather a lot about Second Life. When she told me that Douglas Story and Desdemona Enfield were looking for someone to create a soundscape for their new installation I created my avatar and dived in.
The key factor in creating the sonic environment for Ripple was one of balance. Because Second Life will only play sound files of ten seconds or less, it meant that there was no possibility of working in the way I usually would, which involves a setting down of the musical outline and going on to develop that 'kernel' into a piece that explores all of its possibilities (or as many as I can reasonably find, in any case). Initially I looked at creating a range of tiny, 10 second motifs, musically satisfying in their own right, containing a simple progression that could be looped – and letting Douglas and Desdemona choose their favourite. However, it quickly became clear that looping in this way would mean that visitors to Ripple would rapidly 'get' the motif and become bored by it, or worse still, annoyed by it.
So the focus had to be shifted from that of melody and harmonic development to one of texture. This involved a deep trawl through my synth banks, to find sounds that worked in conjunction with each other – both within each loop and from loop to loop, in order to create a collection that provided sufficient interest whilst maintaining the cohesion necessary to illustrate a particular location. The result is a kind of 'wash', with a base sound that gives way from time to time, and at particular points of avatar position, to a wave of contrasting texture.
During this period my Mac Pro broke down and I was unable to continue for a while, most frustrating, as I had not completed the project by providing sound for the Chamber itself. Various other possibilities were explored, but it was not easy to access a suitable sound that didn't clash tonally with what was already there. On the return of my computer (new motherboard installed) I was able to finish the project with a sparkling, ringing element that plays on interaction with the Chamber.

-Emily Wilkins

Ripple – artist's statement
“The wave paused, and then drew out again, sighing like a sleeper whose breath comes and goes unconsciously.” ---The Waves, by Virginia Woolf, 1931
This project germinated from a seed planted by my partner, Desdemona Enfield. She had a notion whereby we could get around the barrier that Second Life imposes of having only one possible video image on each plot of land, but also of using scripts to make a change between those video images ripple outward from a spot touched, the change propagating out from one object to its neighbors.
I realized that we had a strong visual motif to work with, and as I thought about it more, I began to recognize that waves are nearly omnipresent in the universe around us. Not just the waves on the surface of water, but sound waves, the movement of blood in our bodies, brain waves, shock waves of earthquakes, the ripple of startled reaction moving through a school of fish; the list goes on and on.
I began to collect stock footage, and in the editing process organized it both by color and theme. For example one sequence against a black background depicts a change from the very small (light waves) to the extremely large (colliding galaxies.)
In one of his essays on Zen, Alan Watts uses a metaphor of a wave, observing that each wave appears separate and distinct, but is yet part of the ocean they share. Another dual quality of waves is that though they are in a state of constant change, they also represent repetition and constancy. And of course waves suggest water, with all the connections to the symbolic associations with water: the moon and tides, the dream world, birth, and the fertility and creativity of life.
The placement of the Ripple chamber in a faux natural landscape is a conscious reference (as it was in our previous StormEye piece) to the visionary architect Paolo Soleri's ideas about the place of the hand of man within the natural world. But the landscape is not a mimic of a real-world place; rather it is a fantastic rendition of the very very small interiors of flowers expanded to flow over a landscape the size of a city block. Furthermore, this textural mapping can be changed at the push of a button by any visitor to the piece. Thus the hand of man is not only expressed by the artist's placement of a titanic object in this location, but the power to change the look and feel of that landscape is extended to every visitor: to let him or her extend a touch and wield, if only for an instant, some power of creation.

-D. Story

The Making of Ripple

This project germinated from a seed planted by my partner Desdemona (see the artist's statement above for details.) Here is a shot of a very preliminary test of her ripple script:

This project was a long time in the making. Besides the fact that we were engaged in some other interesting side projects, my original intention for this was much too ambitious. A couple years back I had seen a terrific installation by Selavy Oh in which your avatar would fly through a giant cube, whereupon smaller bits of this cube would fall into the ocean below. You were invited to explore around under this area, as other avatars would be making more prims fall from up above. I loved the nearly visceral sense of being under bombardment.

So with a nod of thanks to Selavy, I borrowed the idea of bombardment. My thought was to construct a series of levels consisting of the ripple prims with video, and catapults up above would fling objects and other avatars down into these levels, crashing through them with with a great deal of sound and commotion. Each contact of a missile from above would instigate more waves through the levels. Here's an early wireframe rendering of the concept, with the 'vase' test bed off to one side:

The space in between the floors was a stunning place to be:

But alas, at 3000 plus prims, all running scripts, the script load on the sim was simply too great, and the ripples were moving in a disjointed and chaotic fashion. The result was a visual mish-mash that was not pleasing to the eye.

We also did some experiments with smaller, spherical prims rippling away:

But in the end, we realized that the original vase shape was the most effective, so we began work on a sculpty landscape to surround it using the same techniques we had used previously on StormEye and DynaFleur Redux. For this, I would make a model using a grid of 32 x 32 blob shapes, and move them into the rough configuration I wanted for the landscape. Then Desde would gather the numerical data from those blobs and use that to generate the sculpty shapes.

Once we got the model working right, it was on to a full-size test. To generate the needed resolution in the shapes, Desde used 9 sculpted megaprims in a 3 x 3 grid. Here's an early test complete with a reference crosshatch as a texture:

Once this was in place, it was just a matter of building guard rails and walkways. And Bob's your uncle, as they say in the U.K.

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