NODE08: Forum for digital arts; 5-12th April

If there’s one page on the internet that simultaneously crushes and inspires me, its the projects page of the ‘vvvv’ environment. A node based software, free for non-commercial use, that has been developed at the cutting edge of both commercial events and artistic endeavour, it seems to time-warp its users and their computers five years into the future, realising the seemingly impossible. So when I found out that the users of the software were having their first get-together with the vvvv organisation organising a week long conference of workshops, galleries, a club-night, and so on… well it was simply a case of needing to be there.

Watershed Moment #1 - Hacking a night-club’s lighting rig via WiFi. The first day’s workshop I attended hadn’t been so good, a mix of nerds trying to teach and the subject matter being more basic than the description suggested. However, this was soon blown away when we found ourselves in the fairly deluxe club ‘Velvet’ with its already impressive myriad of lights and club-tech added to with LED tiles, strips and so on. DMX was the topic of the day, and with vvvv it was trivial to hack the whole rig, and thanks to Art-Net’s IP implementation of DMX, we were even doing it over WiFi. This was really a watershed moment for me as a VJ, as while I’ve been working towards making bespoke tour-vj boxes to be handed over to the lighting crew, and thinking about ways to break beyond the tyranny of the screen, whether 4×3 or not, this really broke the whole field open for me: watch out lampies, just as you’re getting video servers, we’re coming with co-ordinated light shows from our laptops designed as one with our video-visualism!

Node08 also had a very impressively curated day of lectures centred around the intersection of tools and art. There was something in there for everyone, but I especially enjoyed Paul Prudence putting his money where his mouth was by incorporating a small performance in his presentation on audio-visual feedback systems, and likewise seeing the super-cool architect / sculptors / mad-scripters theverymany demonstrate live their process of creating physical forms through experimental computation. And it would be rude not to mention the wonderful wild-card in the form of Regine from we-make-money-not-art talking about bio-tech art, whose cultural and ethical questioning in my opinion puts 99% of media art to shame.

Watershed Moment #2 - Mapping visualism to any space: Problem solved. The virtual architecture workshop again suffered from a lack of preparation and a lack of presenter / teacherly nous, but if you’ve ever wanted to break out of the paradigm of a big-tv on stage, this workshop was for you: not musing on what was possible, but just diving straight in with realtime, scalable, 60fps demonstrations on how you can map anything onto anything with vvvv, a 3D model of the architectural space and a bunch of projectors. We’re not talking flat facades here, but whatever curving sinuous spaces you want, and onto those surfaces mapping 2D media or animating realtime 3D through the space. Into this media/architecture/spatial simulation, you just bring up as many vvvv projector modules as you have projectors, type in their specs, and spread them around until you have the best coverage. And bam! wherever you point your virtual projector, out comes a renderer to supply your real projector with the exact imagery required to recreate the virtual in the real. They’ve even got shaders that compute in realtime which projector will give the best mapping for every surface. Unreal. Seeing this has brought forward a project many a project I’ve been wondering just how to achieve: “its possible but” has just changed to “c’mon lets go!”.

Having to leave half-way through to make my way to Geneva for Mapping, I didn’t finish my Arduino workshop, see the club-night and its multi-screen generative glories, and so on, but perhaps beyond such flashy stuff the most enjoyable thing of the festival for me was the three informal pecha kucha / patcher culture evenings. Node08 was a festival where the attendees were invariably just as interesting and represented important bodies of work as those formally invited to present, and so these show-and-tell sessions really were inspirational, diverse and fascinating. Yep, they made the festival. That, and having cake available on the reception desk as you walked in.