“You two need to meet. You’ll see what I’m talking about soon enough – it all started with The Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.” And that’s how I met Erich.
We were introduced to each other in August by a mutual friend, and creative, Ben Slayter. As this story and the project unfolds, I find it speaks a lot to the power of the technology and modern social constructs. Erich is a lighting designer and lives in North Carolina and teaches at East Carolina University. Within 30 minutes of Ben’s introduction we were already discussing ways to collaborate the fractal animations I was doing at the time with Erich’s lighting and sound design. After just a few weeks of exchanging ideas we arrived at some preliminary ideas for MuPolar.
Between the two of us we shared very similar views on several topics mainly the symmetry and beauty of the natural world, the idea that “nothing” might actually hold the key to everything, and a very similar spiritual outlook. However these commonalities of thought were not limited to the way we thought about things, but is also play an instrumental part in the way we, as artists, create. Combing through articles, and books on the topics I mentioned we evolved the idea of an interactive collaboration to take place on the East Carolina University campus that would include lighting, video projection, sound design and the overall effect of these elements would be controlled by the “viewer.”
The way this came together was that the user would input data. If that data was symmetrical then the viewer would be rewarded, if however the viewer was unable to attach the symmetry of the environment to the data they input then they would be demoted, or punished. The more consistently the viewer could solve the symmetry of the design the more difficult the input pattern would have to be and the more intense and involved the environment would become.
As for the preliminary software that would make this type of interactivity possible we choose Midi Pipe to route our Midi Data coming out of the controller(centered in the middle of MuPolar,) AppleScript to decide what information was received and whether certain criteria, such as a symmetrical patterns, had been met, and QLab to trigger lighting, sound, and video triggers. The result of this setup was that a user pressing a button triggered a light and sound trigger and the data was also passed to AppleScript to decide what state MuPolar was in.
This was the backbone of MuPolar and I have to thank Erich for the incredible Applescript that he developed based on our idea. While all of this programming was being worked on it was up to me to create the video content that would become a large part of the visual experience of MuPolar. To create these visual effects I used a combination of live and digital source material and Adobe After Effects and Cinema 4D to animate. Being that my work is so focused on symmetry and fractal geometry I felt it was appropriate to incorporate that into the animation effects as often as possible. You will notice this kalediscope effect in a lot of the work that came out of this
One huge discovery I made while working in Cinema 4D was that I could digitally map the surface of objects to display video, something that I wasn’t able to achieve within After Effects. Finding this unlocked a HUGE upgrade in the complexity of the animated videos, these video ended up being our 7th level animations. Using basic shapes, MoGraph Cloner and Array’s I was able to carry an even more complex symmetry into the animation. Doing this canabalized existing video I’d created and evolved the entire project, and at a certain point enabled MuPolar to be even more complex then it would eventually be displayed. What I learned from my time in Cinema 4D was that with a different software configuration it would be possible for a user to manipulate the video in real time. This dragged my interest into VJ software, an area that still holds quite a bit of my interest currently. In the end though MuPolar was not the project for this idea.
So far I’ve said a lot to the idea of symmetry but if you recall another aspect of the design was “nothingness,” and the scientific and/or somewhat religious belief that all of creation sprung from nothingness. This is where the viewer experience would illustrate our philosophy. Upon entering the theater the viewer walks carefully through darkness, nothingness. When they arrive in the center of MuPolar they are surrounded by a giant object hanging above them, a sixteen square foot mandala on the floor and a podium with our Midi Controller waiting for them in the middle. Upon pressing a button on the controller the viewer quickly finds out that the large cube hanging above their head is a projection screen, and Level 1 video begins to play with a single light being shone onto the controller.
As the user continues to hit buttons they either find symmetries or they strike out and are prompted to start over from the beginning. The leveling process(AppleScript) triggered all of our light and audio actions from button presses, ambient level sounds and lights(expanding in complexity from one central light on each level,) strikes for incomplete symmetries, and resets. All of which was controlled via Wifi sent to the audio board in the back of house, that was then hard wired to the light board in the middle of the theaters seating section.
The effective of this process was our way of demonstrating the complexity of life that has come from nothing. We start in nothingness, we reach one celled organisms(one light), and we expand all the way up the seven level hierarchy until we reach the complex nature of the entire stage moving with the lighting and an incredibly complex symmetrical video on the screens. At this point the viewer is overcome by sensory overload from all of their senses, probably pretty close to what our civilization faces today. If the viewer is able to complete the final level they are rewarded but ultimately MuPolar collapses back into nothing ready for the next person to enter the darkness.
In the end making all of these things come together was no easy task. Erich’s Advanced Lighting Class, of 8 students, was largely responsible for assisting in the physical construction of the set and lighting rig as a part of their final project. Erich was instrumental in getting the entire project off the ground by having the available time and space to complete the project as well as his extensive work with the AppleScript to drive MuPolar. Countless other people were also involved in creating the ideas we drew our inspiration from. And it can certainly be said that the project would not have been what it was without the students, friends, and faculty at ECU whom came to experience MuPolar. For this I’d like to thank all of you, even the ones reading this, for your input and support.
This was a massive undertaking as I’ve said before and I’m sure I left things out of its retelling which I suppose is only natural. However I want to be completely open with my story of this project, and any other for that matter. So if you have any questions or comments for me I invite you to please feel free to share them.