This summer, we were proud to assist the town of Lac-Mégantic (QC) in the process of reinventing itself. The town sadly gained notoriety in 2013, when a freight train derailment of 72 crude oil tank cars caused a massive fire that destroyed the downtown area and took 47 lives.
We were invited to join the rebuilding efforts by creating a path to connect Lac-Mégantic with its new town centre.
The town, having lost most of its public places, was in need of a space for gathering. Lac-Mégantic is world-renowned for its starry skies (Mont-Mégantic is in fact the first International Dark Sky Reserve). With this in mind, we created a set of giant hammocks (30 x 7 ft.) at the end of our foot-path, for people to come together and look at the sky. The hammocks offer a friendly public space for people to watch the stars, the clouds, soak up the sun, or have a picnic.
As Melissa recently mentioned, Daily tous les jours work has many different aspects. I never thought I’d one day be a weave-your-own-giant-hammock expert, but as we learnt a couple of things along the way, we figured we might as well share them.
So if you’re planning on weaving an oversized hammock for your oversized garden, this article might be the right place to start.
There is an emotional layer to every building. Human stories make buildings more than just assembled hard materials. Imagine you could give a building an anthropomorphic voice – a voice that is sometimes grumpy, sometimes bored, sometimes giddy, to tell its story. The voice would moderate and comment on all the little daily occurrences and events that happened inside the building. Instead of just being an inner monologue, the building would actually talk to its audience over its radio show.
After falling in love with this idea, we set out to create an “Artificial Intelligence Radio”. We wanted to build a likeable smart agent – embodied by a charismatic radio show host voice – that could see, hear, sense its environment and take action by way of a spoken language based on internal reasoning, knowledge, and memories. We also wanted the public to take part in forming the building’s personality and intelligence. That combined with our dilettante approach to A.I., we rechristened the project to “Amateur Intelligence Radio”. Luckily, the acronym “AIR“ stayed the same.
A Transient Destination
The designated site for our tribute installation McLarena, celebrating the 100th birthday of Norman McLaren, was located at the exit of the Saint-Laurent subway station, in the Quartier des Spectacles, in downtown Montreal.
This central location is a lively area with a lot of pedestrian and car traffic both during the day and at night. However, it is mostly a transient space where people largely pass-by and don’t stop.
Even though McLarena was meant to be accessible only at night, we wanted to take this opportunity to activate the potential of this space as a meeting point; a destination to hangout.
As the installation had to live outside, be closed during the day and open at dusk, we decided to use a converted shipping container as our recording booth.
We modified not only the exterior appearance of the container but also built out seating that would serve as a mini public place during the day and as a stage for viewing people’s projections on the wall at night.
The container was hand-painted with patterns from McLaren’s beautifully-detailed original production notes. Each pattern represents a transformation in the movie. The scenography became key to deciphering what would happen in the projections and in the soundtrack.
As in a McLaren film, the tech ingredients behind our installation were quite simple.
Here we relied on Quartier des Spectacle’s robust hardware infrastructure and skillset, so we could focus on what interests us most: creating an experience with technology that is as seamless as possible.
The installation ran on two computers, one for recording people performing the Canon moves, the other for supplying a video composite of all the recordings to the projector. Both software applications were developed with openFrameworks and communicated with each other via OSC.
A study on the difficulty of debugging in 1 cubic meter of space.
in real life
All the technical components for the installation (computers, camera, amplifier, media-server, screen, speakers, etc.) except the projector were squeezed into a cozy claustrophobic compartment at the end of the container. It literally allowed for one person to stand/sit inside the space, while monitoring or debugging. Even though this was not the most comfortable tech control room, sometimes uncomfortable proximity is the best way to effectively operate your installation.
Taking it to the Street
The installation ran for 52 nights from April 11th to June 1st, for three to five hours a night.
Over this period—including the very cold and rainy days of Montreal’s infamous spring season—participants generated a total of 3 200 recordings.
[DANCE MOSAIC VIDEO https://vimeo.com/102942309]
During opening hours, a few ‘animators extraordinaire’ took turns in order to facilitate participation.
On one special night, one of them had the chance to meet Grant Munro, who didn’t show his moves (using his age (91) as an excuse), but expressed how touched he was to see this collective homage happening 50 years after the original film was released.
Norman McLaren’s birthday party is now over, but we are looking forward to opportunities to bring this project someplace else, to give more people the opportunity to take part in this ever-growing McLarena!
PS: Needless to say that not all of the participants followed the instructions. Watching people being creative and coming up with their own moves turned out to be pretty interesting. Here is a small selection of our favorites:
original performance with new interpretation
Norman McLaren’s 100th Birthday Party
Norman McLaren, the famous animator and film director, would have turned 100 years old in 2014.
In order to commemorate his birthday, the National Film Board of Canada teamed up with Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles to create the “Mc Laren Wall-to-Wall festival”: a commission of seven projects, including four monumental projections and three interactive installations.
We were thrilled when we were approached to make a proposal for one of the interactive installations, but also a bit nervous about having to stand on this giant’s shoulders…
We at Daily have been endlessly inspired by McLaren’s work. I have personally always been fascinated by his ability to balance simplicity and expressiveness. His imaginative and innovative approach towards tools as means of expression also plays a big part in what makes his work so captivating.
Our task was to make clear reference to one of his movies. After many hours spent debating which one was the best, we all agreed on an excerpt from Canon (starting at 4:23).
This movie explores a musical canon, a form of “round” in which each singer picks up the words and tune of a song following the preceding singer. Through the combination of animation and live action, this lively musical film demonstrates, without dialogue, the many patterns that a canon can adopt depending on the number of participants and the length of the musical score.
A canon is a very specific form of music. Or, as McLaren once put it so eloquently:
What interested us most in Canon is how he managed to create complexity out of very simple elements evolving through time. The simplicity, and the hands-on trial and error approach behind this movie also felt very accessible; a perfect opportunity to invite people to express their creativity!
Plus, the main character—played by Grant Munro, with whom McLaren co-directed the film—has the best outfit ever.
Make it Interactive
Because the choreography is so expressive, we thought it would be interesting to ask people to reproduce it.
To render the experience more collective, we decided to turn it into a game of “telephone,” where one participant would have to reproduce the previous participant’s moves. As the night evolved, the choreography would progressively (or radically) diverge from the original model.
People’s recordings would then be projected monumentally on the building next to the recording booth, turning every participant into the star character featured in the original movie.
Due to its fundamental dance-oriented nature, we quickly found a codename (and eventually the actual name) for the project: McLarena.
Would People do it?
In order to validate the idea, we sketched a quick software prototype using openFrameworks. It would allow us to record people following a sequence (be it the original one or another participant’s). It also allowed us to test different playback rates to see how comfortable it was to follow the leader. It turned out that two times slower was the ideal playback rate.
We tested this very early prototype at the studio to get a variety of footage we could stitch together to try recreating the original movie.
This test helped us identify the key steps of the interactive scenario: read the instructions, record yourself, watch your performance. It also gave us clues about how quickly the choreography would turn into chaos when people were building on each other’s moves. We found a limit of six people per “chain” was ideal; meaning that after every sixth participant, the model to imitate would reset to the original movie.
very very early prototype setup
Variations of the Canon
The sound and visual transformations McLaren developed in his movie were really inspiring and helpful in explaining how a canon can evolve through time. While researching, we stumbled upon his beautiful production notes, in which he shares his insights along with diagrams explaining these transformations.
You can hear each individual pattern here:
Augmentation: the pattern is played slower.
Diminution: the pattern is played over a shorter period of time.
Inversion: each element of the pattern is inversed
Retrograde: the pattern is played backwards
Some of these transformations can also be combined in order to bring variety…and confusion too! We applied them once in a while, when no new contribution was added over a few minutes.
As in most of McLaren’s work, music plays a key role in Canon.
Every new character entering the screen is introduced by a distinct instrumental voice. We also wanted to apply this rule to help differentiate participants from one another on the projection.
After reverse-engineering the original partition (yes we were provided with the original score later on but sometimes life is unfair) we approached the amazing studio Hotel2Tango which took care of the recording.
Although we found it was best to video participants at half speed, the original audio slowed down by half wouldn’t provide enough rhythmic cues. Plus, we really wanted people to dance, so a rhythmic score was played inside to provide participants with a sense of tempo while recording.
The Rhythm Track
Check out Part 2 of this megapost for info on the Design and Tech that went into the project, as well as the final results!
We have been giving many talks and workshops lately, and exchanging with wonderful people from all fronts of the creative field: designers, artists, urban developers, engineers, curators, policy makers…
We are also currently trying to put a little more time in applying to competitions, grants, and R&D funds. Having to fit our projects into defined categories can get pretty frustrating at times. None is ever really a perfect fit, and the whole exercise also feels contradictory with our approach. After all, most agree that innovation happens in between disciplines.
Just got back from Linz.
The Future Innovators Summit gathers people from all over the world in order to collaborate and exchange ideas over 2 very full days. The exploratory theme this year at Ars Electronica was: What it takes to change.
Dtlj was joined by Nova Jiang, Anshul Tewari, and Reyes Tatsuru Shiroku. Respectively, we come from Canada, New Zealand, India, and Japan. Together we combined our affection for robots, social start-ups, placemaking and interactive arts. The summit started with a broad discussion prompted by topics such as nuclear power, the USA, the grid, conflict, sex, handwriting, and golf. We landed on the idea of empowerment through productive conflicts.
One of our ongoing projects is the representation of a large-scale outdoor karaoke, Giant Sing Along.
Just launched once more at the Minnesota State Fair, we held an online poll in preparation asking the public what songs they would like to sing. Based on suggestions, we produced a number of new videos to add to the existing repertoire. There’s a lot of love in every single video we prepare. The more love, the better the seamless sing-along.
In creating our own videos, for a couple of weeks each summer, everybody at the studio has these great tunes running on loop through their heads. Sometimes leading to incessant humming. Sometimes driving co-workers bananas. Sometimes sung at 1/2 speed.
Soon the stars will all magically align and everyone here at Daily TLJ will be “out of production” at the same time. This is an anomaly, because usually production phases of projects overlap endlessly so we never really get a breather. But after having installed, presented, and pushed-out about 7 works this year already, we are now moving towards conception and ideation on several upcoming projects. This also gives us the opportunity and freedom to rethink the way we work, play, and invent.
Lately I randomly found this footage while searching for other things. I quickly put together a short video as a present for Mouna. The note said: We are always working and this is what we look like #failytlj. It was meant as a nice gesture.
Whenever something goes wrong while making a project, the words Faily tous les jours come out. Pretty much all of us at the studio earned Failytlj trophies at some point.
A curious thing about the physics of a swing is that the amount of time it takes to swing a full cycle is independent of your mass or of how high you are swinging. People can synchronize and get melodic rewards ♫♫ on our swings, even if one person swings dangerously high and the other timidly low. Their swing cycle times are theoretically the same because a swing acts as a simple pendulum – a mass attached to a pivot – and all you need to calculate a pendulum’s cycle time is the length of the pendulum and the local acceleration of gravity.