Prototype was a collaborative project I engaged in during 2002. I was responsible for writing a 3D spatialised sound engine and navigation system in Macromedia Director/Shockwave 3D.

Post-rationally I see this project as the beginning of my research interest in Social Navigation. This first experiment in the overlapping of the actual and the virtual, or atoms and bits, ties in very neatly with my current research in to our changing models of space. Prototype is an installation piece that is a very succinct example of theories such as Peter Anders’ Cybrid, Lev Manovich’s Augmented Space and a first step into how the overlapping of the digital and the actual could change our strategies for, and possibly aid, social navigation.

May 2002

Prototype arose through the ‘mixreal’ collaborative project between MediaLab Arts students and Dartington College of Arts students. I worked with three other MLA students: Neil Pymer, Kim Hughes and Lee Richards.

Presented with the theme of interactive spaces, by the tutors, our initial ideas developed from discussions on presence and surveillance, which drew strongly upon video artists such as Nam June Paik, Bill Viola and particularly Bruce
Naumann. Much of Naumann’s work is concerned with the body in relation to space or a specification. These installations were “based on the field of tension between private and public spheres of experience.” Take for example ‘Public Room, Private Room’ in which the viewer’s encounter with their body in relation to the art object is a physical and perceptual experience. The parallel with Prototype is clear in that as digital presence is extended into physical space the translation between the corporeal and the digital forces the user to mentally construct the space around them, which is essentially an artefact of cognition. Much of the initial impetus also came from the analogy of placing a hand on a sheet of glass. Once the hand is removed an impression is left, which gradually fades away. The symbiotic relationship between a virtual space or environment and the realisation of that environment in real space raises interesting questions of social navigation within virtual environments. The Prototype experience involves mapping a virtual environment on to an actual space, but the interconnectedness of the two spaces draw attention to the physical
limitations of the actual compared to the greater (and potentially unlimited) freedom of movement within the virtual.

The presence of both the actual and the virtual user will be experienced through sound in both spaces. Thus the panning and volume adjustments will ‘spacialise’ the parallel users locations, creating an immersive sonic environment in which to navigate and explore. We aimed to explore the representation of user presence through physical and non-physical zones and to draw attention to how we differentiate simulation from actual spaces.
Initially the Prototype model involved the use of a laser grid positioning system to detect the location of the user in the actual space. The user’s location would have then been relayed to a shockwave 3D space to enable the spacialising of
the sound in that space. Time limitations meant that we had to use contact microphones instead. These responded to a foot press, thus locating the user when they step on one. The MIDI interface we used limited us to 12 microphones, therefore we placed them in a grid of 4 x 3.

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Posted by Sam at January 16, 2004 02:10 PM

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