Code was something we had to rebuild a bit at Fabrica this year. Although there had been a strong code culture at Fabrica in the past, from the likes of Jonathan Harris, Oriel Ferrer Mesià, João Wilbert, Bethany Koby & Daniel Hirschmann and the late Andy Cameron of course, when I arrived the then Interaction department was down to two or three in number, with Aaron Siegel, head of department, had just started.
As I write now, Aaron's team is now up to 10 people and growing, and spread across a lovely, rangy mix of creative code, hardware hacking, electronics, wearable computing, app design, interaction design, architecture, data viz, media arts and more. It's also transforming into a studio called 'Urban codes', focusing on urban cultures in the age of the network.
While we want each studio to have its own code and interaction design capabilities, eventually, Aaron's team have been supporting most other teams, as well as working on major projects for MAXXI gallery in Rome, and coordinating several of our workshops with external research partners (e.g. with Bridle, BERG and others.) It's fair to say that it's the most in-demand internal resource—as Google Creative Lab's Robert Wong said in a Fabrica Lecture this year, "coders are your best friends."
This studio is also where the Sandbox collaboration with BERG resides, developing things like the aforementioned 'FabricApp' amidst other experiments. Several fascinating personal projects are cooking amongst the researchers here (just earlier today, researcher Akshataa Vishnawath held a short lunchtime workshop which pursues her interest in generative typography.)
But I'll pick out two projects. One of which, the News Machine, has been mentioned before, but it exemplified a lot of what would become the transdisciplinary studio approach: an installation created from multiple perspectives and skillsets, such as journalism, interaction design, industrial design, art, code and so on.
It was built for the Perugia International Journalism Festival, but has lived on since, occasionally booming out across our Agora. It's currently in a bunch of crates about to be unpacked at Sydney Harbour, as it will feature in the Festival of Dangerous Ideas shortly. Its Dr Frankenstein, Fabrica researcher Jonathan Chomko, will be there too. (Thanks also to Aaron for shaping and directing the project, Sam Baron's team for the industrial design expertise, and to Patrick Waterhouse and Enrico Bossan at Colors for their guidance and support too.)
The other project was a collaboration across what were then multiple departments, ultimately called "Objectified mp3" (and actually, it was an early test of how practiced we were at that kind of collaboration.)
We were still releasing music on CD when I got to Fabrica, and I put a stop to that, it being 2013 and all. (Although, one of the most difficult things to do is stop projects sometimes.) We would still release music, just via digital distribution methods instead, such as Soundcloud, Bandcamp, iTunes etc. But given the absence of the compact disk from our lives (and very long time readers know my feelings there) we were interested in what we could create to enhance listening experiences.
Hence "Objectified mp3"—essentially, the brief was to create objects, services or experiences around mp3s. The primary leaders were Francesco Novara, Aaron Siegel and Omar Vulpinari, but at least five teams were involved at varying points.
At least two distinct experiences have emerged so far. The first focused on performance, and was an entirely new musical instrument, emerging from a collaboration between the musicians (Jhon Castano, Francesco and others), industrial designer/architect Ryu Yamamoto in Sam Baron's studio, and coder/engineer Leonardo Amico in Aaron's team.
Jhon's music developed from an interest in the Mohs classification of minerals. Hence the Stone Pad, a new instrument in which stones could be played (underpinned by sensors) to augment performance of the album.
The second outcome was "Sadly By Your Side", an app plus book plus album. The music is by musician/coder Davide Cairo, the app is by developer/designer Angelo Semeraro, and the book is by Matteo Di Iorio and Claudio Fabbro, with help from Christian Coppe and Manuel Favarin.
This garnered significant attention when it was released, being covered in the key sites for this kind of project such as Gizmodo, Wired, Creative Applications and more. It demonstrates the new kind of hybrid experiences that might emerge from the transdisciplinary studio. This video explains all:
The iOS app (by Angelo, in Aaron's studio) plays the album, but uses the iPhone's camera to remix the music based on the listener's immediate environment (using colour balance to shift the emphasis of harmony, melody or rhythm.)
The book features some lovely visualisations of each track by Matteo and Claudio—actually analogue data viz, done with food dye and milk, as it happens, although the effect is almost Rune Grammofon-esque. Here's a "making of" for that aspect:
The data viz is a visual signature for each track which the app can "lock onto", then playing the music as Davide intended. Again, watch the video for a sense of the experience—or download the free iOS app yourself.
This ultimately describes some of the work that will be going on in Francesco Novara's "Sound Interaction" studio, which starts with sound and music but focuses on its interaction with space, with place, with objects, with code and networks, with communities, and so on. Oh, and they also make music, both for internal use—it's so wonderful to have the ability to make soundtracks in-house, instead of relying on dodgy library music—as well as for performance and release. Follow Fabrica Musica on Soundcloud for some of the latter.
Both "News Machine" and "Sadly…" both suggest how code might enable the transdisciplinary studio to entirely develop new experiences. One of Being & Dying's first commissions is with the UK National Health Service, on a prototype of a tablet app for those in palliative care. Sam Baron's studio has also used code on a couple of exhibitions in Lisbon this year, courtesy of researcher David Penuela. Similarly Networked Politics studio will be designging and building a heavily interactive major exhibition next year (working with the great Tellart.) I can't wait to see where our studios go next.
- Code needs to be at the heart of the contemporary organisation
- Use code as the glue in transdisciplinary projects