With less than two weeks to go, it’s time to say what happened to the wheel and what happened to
the hand – and what other things I’ve done in this mind expanding few months with the Random
String Fellowship. Including the delight of working with Larry Campbell to animate drawings of four
of the characters from the Periodic Table. It is also time to give a massive big thanks to Ludic Rooms
and the fabulous mentors for bringing me alive to so many digital possibilities.
Since the last blog, I’ve googled “fried egg”, “exotic fish”, “planet earth in space”, “plastic bottles”,
“Vitruvian man”, “bowler hat”, “stars +NASA” and “stained glass rose window”. All using the
advanced search facility to select for creative commons licences to use, share and modify images,
and for the large files option. I used these images to make and modify visuals in Photoshop to go
with six poems relating to the wheel theme (turning, change, circular shapes), using my new found
skills of blending and layers (what a breakthrough) as well as in making translucent backgrounds, so
that on projection all you’d see would be the circular shape housing the images and poems.
For each of these poems (haikus) I also experimented with different text styles, using various fonts
and colours, and for one, used the warp text facility, and for two, used my own handwriting via a
pen and writing tablet. None of these text experiments have I done before. Getting to grips with the
visuals of text is a very useful thing for a poet. So I’m very glad to have made incursions with that.
With the images and text together I used gifmaker to convert the still images into animated files.
The next step was searching for “sizzling” and “jumping on a bed” – collecting audio from freesound
to go with the poems. Then, using my new found confidence with the video editing software
“Shotcut” (hadn’t used this before about a month ago), I converted the gif files into an editable
format and added sound to them. Bingo! Poems with sound and image. All ready for projection.
The idea was to make five poems for five fingers. With each finger of the hand activating poems
relating to the wheel. But of course I made six just to make life difficult in choosing one to leave out.
However, as I’ve now abandoned the hand for the wheel project (too tricky – the Arduino I have has
sound capabilities, but not the capability as far as we know, of triggering a video/gif file), so I can
now include all six. I’ve also abandoned (for now) the actual bicycle wheel as the site for projection
and am going instead for straight projection onto a white wall/other flat surface.
At a later stage (after the Fellowship) I’d like to develop this wheel idea – and use the size/shape of a
penny farthing bicycle, as that is a good large size, and it is also a Coventry invention. It may be that
the “Speaking Spokes” can relate to tales from people about cars and bicycles, including the unsung
Eileen Sheridan, the world record breaking Coventry cyclist. It might be something to talk to the
Transport Museum about. I’d also like to develop more circular poems on the wheel theme. It may
be that these could form a giant circular pixilation made out of scores of miniature poems, whereby
touching one would magnify it and bring it to life.
It was written all over her: collaboration with Sherrie Edgar
Sherrie Edgar makes experimental and innovative animations – and I was fortunate enough to have
her skills and imagination applied to a poem I’d made called “It was written all over her”. I thought,
“that’s an interesting expression, it lends itself to asking questions, and seems to be asking to be text
projected onto an actual body.” I’d passed the poem on to Tara Rutledge as something she could use
if she was interested, and she passed it on to Sherrie Edgar. By the time I’d forgotten about it there
was a message in my inbox saying, “I’ve animated your poem”. Sherrie has done such a good job with it.
I can’t put a clip here as it hasn’t been performed yet (she will have the words projected onto
her body), but here are a few screen shots.
This was one of the unintended consequences of the Fellowship. The poem and the idea for its projection came from the Random String Symposium presentation by Klaus Obermaier, and sharing videos of his work and the poem with Tara set things
in motion for Sherrie to experiment too.
What happened to the hand
So. The hand. Developments. I haven’t abandoned it. It’s being used in another project, with its laser
cut gnarly-ness placed in front of an image of the Creation of Adam, as an invitation to touch the
fingers. (I’ve had the image printed and mounted on foam board.) The hand will be deliberately
Heath Robinson-esque, as a counter to the perfection of Michelangelo’s image. The Chaos to his
Cosmos. Elastic bands will be in evidence. Wires showing. The messy side of creation. Thanks to the
expertise of Nikki Pugh there is communication between a sample sound file and the wires – and I
can now wire up the rest on my own.
Her challenging questioning has made me re-think the audio I was going to use. I’ve loaned a Zoom
audio-recorder from Ludic Rooms for the weekend – and will take advantage of my new found
croaky voice to be the creepy sound-track for this Frankenstein. The voice of a bad riddle. I don’t
know yet what the other sounds will be, though I’m veering towards breaking things, crows and
sinister laughter. (Maybe a fairground or roundabout). I’m tempted to play with homophones –
Sistine and sixteen, chapel and babble. My voice (activated by touching one of the fingers) will be
the invitation to deface the floor (actually paper on the table) with drivel, doodles, bibble-babble.
The real interaction will be the voice of the finger getting people to do this – on a stretch of paper
laid out with sixteen pens. (The table like the floor, is counter to the ceiling of the Sistine, the down
to its up).
A night off the tiles: collaboration with Alan Van Wijgerden
Alan is a well-known local film-maker, and he was up for some filming of an animation idea I had,
called “Night off the Tiles”, where the dinosaur bird and the little known ship on the Cullen mural in
Coventry precinct would leave the wall and have a mad night out. The idea, I told myself, was to
make use of the Inkscape programme and laser cutting (the ship was laser cut), both new digital
skills. But really I just wanted to do some hands on stop-motion animation related to one of my
favourite bits of the city artscape, as a kind of rest from screen-based digital, and just, well, because.
I loved moving the pieces and then seeing the stills come to life.
Projection onto boxes and other objects and collaboration with Synthcurious
I’ve been an admirer of the soundscapes made by Synthcurious since I heard their haunting
atmospherics in the CET building. They have taken a couple of my projections/short animations to
make sound for – and I’m really looking forward to hearing the combination.
Since the Fellowship I’ve projected onto an old tape-recorder, material, a chair, bodies, a vacuum
cleaner, washing machine, a teapot and cup and saucer, net curtains, a bath-mat, an old book, a
wonky box and a regular box, plaster-cast lips, walls of Coventry Cathedral and the hollow of a laser-
cut hand; using various animations I’ve made in Synfig and Photoshop, including the eye of the ring-
road. All new territory. Not all of these worked. Some did. Stronger brighter colours are better. The
darker the room the better. Simple regular shapes are easier.
The next challenge is selecting and deciding how to present it. I’ve got cardboard boxes in readiness.
I will wrap them in white paper to make a more effective projection surface and try them out with
simultaneous projections using MapMap software. See what way to arrange and pile them. After the
Fellowship I’ll do some projections on the old stones of the Undercroft at the PVC and see where
else I can do this. I’d like to collaborate to do some projections outside. The Primark building is
beckoning to be a hatchery for a menagerie. I will have to see if this can be progressed in some way.
Animation of Characters of the Elements: Collaboration with Larry Campbell
I’ve saved this to last, as to me, it is most important. For four years I’ve been making a large
(70metre) drawing, comprised of each of the 118 elements, the ingredients of the universe, re-
naming each and bringing it to new life as a character. This has been part of my ongoing interest in
the relationship between order and chaos. It has always struck me that the Periodic Table model of
the universe creates a picture of profound order – which is not my experience of living in the world!
As a consequence, I was driven to bring in some chaos, take the elements out of their boxes and
reinvent them as personalities. Now the drawing is almost complete (only 3 elements left) I’ve
wanted to see what could be done with it. The Fellowship has enabled me to think of ways this
unwieldy set of drawings might be made into digital creations.
Working with the animator-film-maker Larry Campbell, we brought four of these elements to life. I
cannot begin to say what delight this brought me! My part was specifying how the element would
move and selecting the sounds. For the rest I watched Larry’s wizardry. He dismembered the
drawings in Photoshop to isolate various parts of the body. Decisions were made about what
movement each of these parts would make in the 2D and 3D plane – and then the terrible intricacy
of moving the drawings using Adobe After Effects software. Then transferring the files to Adobe
Premiere Pro where sounds were added and final tinkerings made. We’ve made white on black and
black on white versions and versions with and without the text indicating the name of the character,
to see what works best when projected.
Next step is projecting these animations onto boxes, so they can move around the outside of the box
in their new, animated life. I’m hoping that with these examples I might be able to secure funding, so
that Larry can animate the rest, so that we can bring them out to show, and through their showing
ask questions about what we and the world are made of.
With Many Thanks to:
Ludic Rooms: Dom Breadmore and Anne Forgan
To my brilliant mentors, Antonio Roberts and Nikki Pugh
To my fellow collaborators: Larry Campbell, Alan Van Wijgerden, Sherrie Edgar, Synthcurious