Tag Archives: kaffe matthews

‘The Marja trio’ – Sonic Bike Experience for Marjaniemi

I’ve been doing more remote install work on Kaffe’s latest piece she’s been building while resident at Hai Art in Hailuoto, an island in the north of Finland. The zone building, site specific sample composing and microscopic Beagleboard log debugging is over, and two new GPS Opera bikes are born! Go to Hai Art or Kaffe’s site for more details.

The Marja trio_score2_KM2013

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Swamp bike opera impressions…


Photo thanks to zzkt

As the coder for “The swamp that was…” bike opera, my view of things was from “inside” the bikes – listening to the GPS data and playing samples. So it was super (and somewhat surreal) to finally become a rider and take one of the bikes (called Nancy) for a spin through the streets of Ghent to experience it like everyone else at the Electrified festival.

I followed the different routes, and tried some out backwards and got lost in the “garden” – the zone of mysterious ghost butterflies and wandering sounds. During the end of the final route shelter had to be sought in Julius de Vigneplein during a gigantic thunderstorm, to the sound of looping saxophones before retreating back to the Vooruit.

It didn’t crash (always my main preoccupation with testing something I’ve been involved with writing software for) and there seemed to be continuous audio from the routes. Once I had ascertained that the software seemed to be working properly I could actually start to pay attention to the sounds which were a very fluid mix, interspersed with sudden bursts of Flemish – recordings of local people.

The sounds are a widely varied mix ranging from digital glitch to ethereal sounds and processed ducks that accompany you as you cycle along the canals. The “garden” is not a route as such but occupies a maze of small streets in the Ledeberg area and populates the streets with many insects, birds and other surprises.

The custom bike/speaker arrangement designed and built by Timelab was satisfyingly loud – pulling up next to other innocent cyclists at junctions with blaring jazz is quite an intriguing social experience. It makes you want to say “I can’t turn it off” or “I am an art installation!” The beagleboards also seem fairly durable, as the bikes have been running for a month now, and the cobbled streets and some areas with bumpy roadworks give them a lot of shocks to cope with.

The “click click” of car indicator relays tell you when you’ve reached junctions where you have to turn, and while our method of calculating direction (by comparing positions every 10 seconds) doesn’t really work well enough, they still had a useful role, saying “pay attention, you need to turn here!”. This installation, and the rest of the festival will be running for another month, until the 4th November.

The Swamp that was, a bicycle opera

Day one on a new project – with Kaffe Matthews, and a collaboration between FoAM & Timelab, “The Swamp that was” is an opera where bicycles become a way to hear stories of the past in the city of Ghent.

I’m picking up the software side of things from Wolfgang Hauptfleisch, which involves using BeagleBoards – low power self contained open hardware ARM computers, a good follow up to my experiments with the considerably more closed NDS and less general purpose Android.


This is my test BeagleBoard xM in a custom laser cut housing from Timelab.

The “swamp” system is based on lua scripts calling proteaAudio for realtime audio processing. Lua has a tiny footprint and is great as an embedded interpreter (despite indexing from 1 and other minor gripes). Everything seems to be up and running, and I’ve set up a project on gitorious with the sourcecode.

Some random things I’ve learned include: flags to speed up dd copying images to extremely slow usb SD memory cards:

sudo dd if=swamp0-1.img of=/dev/sde oflag=dsync bs=1M count=1024

List ip addresses of devices attached to your local router:

sudo arp-scan --interface=wlan0 192.168.1.0/24

I’m using the Ångström distribution on the beagle board, which uses opkg for package management – it took me a long time to figure out the best way to search for packages is simply:

opkg list | grep alsa