Darwin: Okay. Today we have Luke DuBois. I am lucky enough to count Luke among my friends. He's a phenomenal artist, but also a really good guy to hang out with. Hi Luke!
Luke DuBois: Hi, how's it going? Darwin?
Darwin: It's going great. Got a bit of a chest cold, but I'm gonna work it out, I guess. For those people who don't know you or your work, why don't you give us a little overview about both your professional and your artistic career?
Luke: Sure. So I'll do my day job first. I'm a professor at NYU, at what is very, very soon to become become NYU school of engineering. And, I run a thing called the Brooklyn Experimental Media Center. And we have a program that we call integrated Digital Media, and it's me and a bunch of other folks. And we teach everything from, you know, sound and video production to things involving Max/MSP to creative software design, to like mobile app development, all that kind of stuff in kind of a experimental research context. So we partner with lots of people outside the university, we make all sorts of cool things. And I ended up there. I started there in 2008, and in my spare time, which is increasingly disappearing, but it's OK. I'm an artist and a composer and an occasional software designer. And I was proud to be one of the, Cycling '74 folks for a long time working on Jitter and Max. And so yeah, I do all kinds of things.
Darwin: Yes, you do. Why don't we just touch, really quickly, on some of what would popularly be considered your major work? So you did the thing with the Presidential State of the Union speeches.
Luke: Yeah. So I've been doing a bunch of stuff, over the last, six, seven, eight years now where it's portraits, right. But the portraits that aren't an oil painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware; what they are is they're portraits that use other sample cultural media, or they use statistics, or they use some kind of data input to make these kinds of snapshots of people and places and things that are really about the United States and how we view ourselves. And so, I did this piece for the 2008 democratic national convention, right, where I took all the presidential state of the union addresses and made eye charts - when you go to the doctor. Yeah. eye doctor eye charts, but instead of letters, the words, right?
And so what you got is you got an entrepreneur for every president and they're the top 66 words of their state of the union and addresses that they use more than any other president. So like George Washington's number one word is gentlemen, George Bush is terror. Ronald Reagan is deficits, Richard Nixon is truly, Abraham Lincoln is emancipation. You get the idea. And it's called "Hindsight Is Always 20/20". The idea is it's a history lesson of America through the lens of political rhetoric. It's also a way to make portraits of presidents without painting them or taking photographs of them, but thinking about what they say, does it make sense?
Darwin: Actually, that's really interesting. And, I was just realizing - because the other work that I think you're pretty well known for is the variety of times smearing pieces that you've done. But you know, in a kind of interesting way, that piece, Hindsight, is actually kind of a time smear as well.
Luke: Yeah. And a lot of them are like that and the way you think of it is like, I do all this - it's pretty tech heavy. Some of the stuff I do feels like you do all this computer stuff and statistics and whatever. But what it really is, is it's about conveying a pretty kind of simple idea and showing people, you know, things that like you could imagine you'd want to know or be able to see, but it would actually be kind of a pain in the neck to do yourself. You know what I'm saying? So like, you can imagine seeing every single Academy Award best picture all at once. But to do that, you would have to hunt down one of the five remaining video rental stores in America, rip all the DVD's into your computer, figure it all out, figure out how to, you know, whatever - it would just, it's hard.
And so, some of those times, for me, pieces, they're very much portraiture as well, like Academy, which is the thing that does what I just said. It's every Academy award best picture in one minute, strung together. So it's like 75 movies in 75 minutes. You know, that I did that in two thousands and whatever, five-ish, six-ish. And it took, I don't know, from like eight hours per film to render, right? So I watched all those damned movies, you know? I feel like I might be the only person I know who's seen every single Academy Award Best Picture. And the same thing, I did this one around the Top 40, around the Billboard Number One songs. And like, yeah, I listen to all like 675 number one songs from like 1958 to 2000 or whatever.
And that was like three whole days of music or something like that. It's like not cool. And you know, but it's interesting because once you transform them the way I transformed them, which is you sort of, time-lapse them almost, you look at the piece I made and it's no substitute for having sat through them all, but it shows you something different. It shows you something that you can't notice by having watched them all. So like with the Academy Award thing, it's like you see the acceleration of American culture that has played out in the acceleration of editing processes in cinema. So the movies from the 1930s, the actors, it's still likes the the Procenium-style acting. They're all standing still in the shots for like 30 to 40 seconds long, there's minimum editing.
And part of that, just the technology that can do it. But, you know, they're all doing their thing and they're gesturing like they're on stage. And then like you hit On The Waterfront and then there's Marlon Brando and the fucker never stands still. He's constantly moving. So in my, my little weird treatment of it, he's blurred. Like, you can't actually see him, whereas when you go back to Casablanca, like you could totally see Humphrey Bogart. He's in every shot and you can totally see Ingrid Birdman. She's in every shot. So, by the time you get to the seventies, by the time you get to the French Connection, like when you see the French connection sped up, you can't even tell Gene Hackman's in that movie. Cause he never stands still - the camera never stands still.
And so by the time you get to like Chicago and stuff like that, you can't even tell what movie it is. Cause the cuts are coming so fast that it just looks like this weird blur of color. And once in a while there's like Catherine Zeta Jones for like 0.8 seconds and then it's gone and it's like, I don't know. It's it's it's I don't really know it says, but it's interesting. We have this buddy Kurt Ralske. You, you know, is a really great again, like sort of musician/artist/whatever, who has these really great kind of cinema pieces. And a lot of his stuff is based on looking at existing cinema through this kind of computational lens.
And he, I think he actually did the like real numeric breakdown on some of that stuff. Like he can tell you, in 1939, the average length of whatever, you know.I think it was something he did with his students. I just kind of did it really informally when I made that piece, like the 75 movies I used, I kept tabs on it, but I think he did something pretty rigorous with like a few hundred films. Which is kind of cool, you know? But yeah, so those things are like portraits, you know, some of them are videos I make. So I have a bunch of pieces that are looking at: What does it mean to take a portrait of a performance?
So, as this piece called Fashionably Late for the Relationship that I did with a woman named Lián Sifuentes, who was my partner at the time. We did this three-day long film shoot of her three-day long performance on a traffic island. And then we spun the whole damn thing out to like 72 minutes or something like that. So it's like 72 hours in a 72 minutes. You know, if you're at the performance, it's like... You know, like, I have this pet peeve, right? You probably have this pet peeve too, that people think watching a video of a performance is the same thing as being the performance. You know what I'm saying? And it partly gets in music. He gets muddied all the time by the record industry, by the fact that there is this other thing, that's like the studio record where that was the performance.
Because now it's not the same thing, right? Those are like, people are starting to get more and more in line and getting to grips with the fact that music, the recording, art and music, the performing arts are not necessarily the same thing at all. There are people who are good at both. And there are people who suck at one or the other and it doesn't really matter whatever. But it happens a lot in dance and it happens a lot in theater, where you watch the videotape of these people doing Hamlet and you think that was as good as being there. And so, you do want to be able to portraitize or do something about, I do something with performers where you document them.
And so that whole acceleration thing is like another way of doing it. So with Lián, it's like, if were there 4th of July weekend, 2007, on that traffic island, you would have seen a woman doing this kind of self-directed piece of performance art in slow motion. It would have looked like a person moving really, really slow upon the traffic island. And then if you see the movie, you see this whole thing where it looks like she's moving normally and everything else is flying by. Cause I sped up the whole movie. But that's not the performance and I'm not pretending it's the performance. If you missed a performance, you're like shit out of luck, man.
Darwin: I think you're right. There's something. Now people are sorting sort of coming to this idea of the performance being in the moment and trying to capture the performance per se is, just, we're incapable of doing it in any useful way. But I will tell you is Fashionably Late to me was a really a groundbreaker because it was, first of all, it wasn't documentation of a performance - it was more the active participation of an artist in a media arts trick. I thought it was a magician calling up an audience member, but that audience member is a knowing participant in the process.
Luke: Yeah, totally. I mean, that's a little bit about, you know, there's this kind of fun thing that happens when you put on like your filmmaker hat or whatever, and you collaborate with people in the performing arts. Cause they're very suspicious of it. They're "That whole camera thing is kind of the enemy." Cause it's, to a degree, the thing that's putting them out of a job. So, you know, she's like a theater performer. She's not like a movie actress, so she looks at it and she's like, "Okay, what the fuck are you going to do?" And I'm like, "Hey, okay. So we're going to do this kind of weird thing."
That's going to look like something totally different than what you actually did, but it's going to work at the same time and whatever. I did this, I did this one in New Orleans, right after (Cycling's) Expo when we did it in New York, like right after I left you guys, I was in New Orleans. I did this thing where I took like 350 high school marching band kids and split them up into teams. And we did this parade where they were up to a mile apart, all converging on a park. And I set up a radio tower, gave all the drum majors a click track. So they were in sync even though they're a mile apart and they all converge on this place and we filmed the crap out of it. I had like a 60 person film crew and we made a charity DVD to raise money for this afterschool program called the Roots Of Music right down in New Orleans.
And yeah, it was really cool. Roots Of Music is awesome. They're an afterschool program for at risk kids. I'm teaching them marching band instruments. Because if you can get, if you get in a marching band in New Orleans, you can get in a college. It's a really great way up. It's a very, very serious part of the culture there, but also the academic culture there, playing in these bands. And so this bands like the play the Rose Bowl and they play, you know, they do all these grades and, and they actually get paid high school bands and in New Orleans can make money or you can pay musicians. You don't pay them a lot, but you know, you get paid. And I don't think that they get paid to do like a football game and that's the theoretical point of their existence. But I think, you know, they play parades and they play parties and whatever, and it's a gig, you know, you go home with like 20, 30 bucks. And so I did this...
Darwin: I wish I could get 20 or 30 bucks for some of my gigs, man!
I know. And there's like thousands of people there. I mean, it's like they have bigger audiences and pretty much any avant garde musician and they never even leave town. But I did this piece and it was like the same thing. Like if you were there that day, you could have hung out in the park and then you got this kind of weird surround sound spectacle where all these kids came streaming in from all sides. And, you know, there was just this huge mega band in there and you heard them in the distance approaching, or you could have followed one of the bands - [that] is the second line, but then you only got one fifth of the music. Or whatever.
Darwin: Based on the click track, they all ended up converging in the center, all in sync. Yeah. Interesting. That's amazing.
Luke: It was super cool. And it was a little bit like a Charles Ives stunt. Like he, you know, Charles Ives kind of envisioned all these like pieces that would have been a total pain in the ass to execute. But he knew the technology was going to be available: like that, you know, Universe Symphony is six symphonies on six continents linked by radio or whatever, so the same deal. It's like you could totally see him now, if he was still alive, he would totally be into shit like this. He would be down in new Orleans, doing some stunt for Mardi Gras where he would talk everybody into the drum majors wearing an earpiece. So that like at exactly noon they could all play the Star Spangled Banner in sync or something like that.
You know, like that's totally like in that vein. And so I wanted to do something kind of in that spirit and it was really fun cause I got to hang out with probably the most phenomenal musicians I'll ever get to work with. And they were all like fucking 16 years old, you know, they were just like incredible. There were just like incredible musicians and they were - I'm super into it. And it's that, it's really like that. Thing's kind of an exercise in cultural placemaking a little bit. Because, you know, the thing about music in New Orleans is it's such a core part of the identity for that city. And you know, the hurricane kinda - it's not like the hurricane wrecked, though all this marching band equipment got destroyed in the flood.
So all these companies like Yamaha stepped in and replaced it, but it's really that the education system got rebooted after the flood where they chartered all the schools and consolidated them and cut all the high school music programs, which means that the bands were imperiled and kids were no longer playing band instruments or were going to other schools to play in marching bands. And it's really messed up, what's going on down there. And it's really important to kind of sustain that culture. And so, I don't know, it's like making a portrait of a city through the eyes of high school, middle school positions is really cool. I'm doing one down in Sarasota, Florida right now. And I'm doing one with circus performers, local circus performers down here in Sarasota. It's like the home of the American circus. Yeah.
Darwin: I saw something that an upcoming work was at the Ringling museum.
Luke: Yeah. Ringling Museum of Art. So that's on the grounds of the Ringling estate. So John, the youngest of the Ringling brothers, is based down here that has a huge art museum, a beautiful, beautiful art museum. And what's going on is that I have a retrospective show. So we've got the show running from late January through May next year of pretty much everything I've ever done that's worth a damn - all at once, all laid out here. So like, yeah, those eye charts and all the films and a bunch of other stuff, and then I'm doing a new piece and I don't really know what it is yet, but I'm doing this new piece based on local circus performers. So it's cool. But it's the same idea. It's like, you know, portrait thing and it's like a portrait of a performer.
You know, I did this cool piece called Vertical Music where I filmed all these kids - it's a classical piece, like I wrote like this four-minute chamber piece. And I filmed with 300 frame-a-second industrial cameras back at 1/10 speed. And then one's a pretty cool one too. Cause then you can see the strings vibrate and vibrato becomes my microtonal. And like my apartment, it's like a church case all day, all the reverb times expand. And I remember like after I did it, I was like, "This is amazing!" And then I realized it was like the world's oldest Motown trick, you know, like they used to play like Diana Ross at high speeds like a chipmunk into the stairwell and record it and then slow it down. And it sounded like she was in like an opera hall. And so they beat me that one. But yeah, it's good stuff, man. It's kind of fun. I've been rambling.
Darwin: Oh, that's cool. It's great to sort of hear one of the things I like doing with this podcast is kind of diving into people in how people think about what they're doing. And one of the things like you just said was this idea of doing these things and they're sort of portraitures, but they're also sort of Americana in not a kitsch way, which is, which is a really cool thing, because I don't think that there are that many people that are paying attention to that. You know, it's after Norman Rockwell documented what we're all like, we don't want to be changing that anymore.
Luke: I know we still think we're like that. Yeah. I mean the next, the next one I'm doing, yeah. I'm going to Lawrence, Kansas next June to do this big project on William S Burroughs, right. He lived in Lawrence, Kansas last years of his life. And I don't know what that's going to be like either, but, but this part we're doing a whole festival around it. And you know, that's like, just like a trip, man. It's like Kansas is 50th in the nation for cultural investment. They don't even have a state park, so they don't even have a state tourism board. Cause you forget like, Kansas City's in Missouri, right? So Kansas is like Topeka and Wichita and Lawrence and you know, and so we got this NEA Our Town grant to do this big project around Burroughs.
Luke: That's again like a cultural placemaking thing. We're bringing out all these people and Burroughs is this really interesting, you know, he's not your typical conservative Midwestern guy. So, you know, we're trying to figure out how to go out there and bring out everyone's inner, you know, wife-killing junkie and try to get a whole thing around like, you know, why the hell did that guy spend the last 20 something years of his life in Lawrence, Kansas? And is there a dialogue between him and his work and like the Free State movement, like, you know, Kansas was settled by abolitionists and there's this kind of thing of like, what does it mean to be a Libertarian? What does it mean to be a liberal - there are places in this country where those two things are very much like in sync with one another and then there are places where they're in conflict. And Kansas is one of those places where it's really messy. And it's really complicated where you got your gun collection, but yeah. You're also like college-educated pro-union and pro-choice. You know, and all your friends are gay and it's nuanced and complicated in these really interesting ways. And I bet in a lot more of the country is like that than we, than we admit to or that the media admits to.
Darwin: I think you're right. I mean, here in Colorado, it's, it's , I think, I think one of the things that happens is when you find yourself in that environment, you think that you found a unique place where there are pockets like this.
Luke: It's fun how this all works out. I mean, I did this, you know, I did this thing, the sequel to the Heinz, that piece, right. Was this thing called a More Perfect Union where I downloaded like 21 different online dating sites. I downloaded like 19 million people in 21 different online dating sites. And that was the first thing that kind of clued me and to that incredible diversity of thought and opinion. Cause it's like the people, the things people say the shit you say on an online dating site is really amazing, you know? Cause you gotta write chunk of posts to basically convince people to think you're not crazy and cool. And you would want to like go on a date with them. It'd be worth an evening. And so like you write this paragraph about you and then this paragraph about who you want to be with. So in the first one you lie and then the second one, you tell the truth, but in the one where you're lying, the one about you, you have to make yourself sound like interesting enough, but not crazy.
Darwin: It's gotta be visible in some way.
Luke: Yeah. And so there's this tipping point where I would read them and I'd be like, "Oh my God, that guy's crazy." You know? Or I'd be like, "Oh my God, that woman's nuts." Or they're trying too hard. I kind of should teach a class on how to write dating profile paragraphs.
Darwin: The most attended class ever!
Luke: Because I read thousands of them. But one of the things that happens is they all try to sound exciting. Like no nobody sits there and is like, "I basically sit on my couch, watch The Price Is Right." Which is like true for tons of people, but nobody will admit it! They're all like, "Yeah. I like to go party. I like to go hunt. And I like to go on road trips." But everybody's inner artist just comes out. And those things, if you do anything remotely, crafty, artistic, creative, whatever, that's the first thing you mentioned. We all know that's attractive. Even though most of us, even though we're in music and art and theater programs left, right and center in our school system, all of us know that like, "Gee, wouldn't it be cool if we could date a musician?" Like we're all aware of it. We're all like aware of that whole, you know, we have to buckle down and we all have to do science, technology, engineering and math. We all like kind of intrinsically know that's going to make us a less interesting country. And I'm saying that as an engineering professor, right? So it's all about finding that balance and, and music is a really good one for that. And Max/MSP is a really good one for that. It's like the, you know, the thing.
Darwin: Well, we have to find some way to sorta like get a balance because, yeah. If, if we generate schools full of actuaries, there, we're going to end up losing population because nobody's going to breed anymore!
Luke: Well, it's like Churchill has that line, right? Like during the Second World War, they were going to cut all the arts funding as an austerity measure. And then he was like, "Well then what's the point? What are we fighting for?" You know, and he refused. So they still had the opera, you know, all that stuff during the Second World War.
Darwin: So talking about, let's talk about education a little bit because I'm curious: so you teach at Poly, and you've taught at a number of places over the years. To you, first of all, do you find yourself focusing or drawn to teach like visuals or music and sound or general programming techniques? What are you finding that you're being drawn into by students or by faculty or deans or whatever, what are you being drawn towards doing,
Luke: You know, teaching these days? I teach a lot of classes that are kind of a mashup: a little bit of kind of engineering, like audio and video kind of stuff, a little bit of performance and a little bit of just like looking at hybrid art practice around technology. So it's like, what I try to do with the kids these days is teach a lot of the underlying technology so that they can make their own tools to do what they want. And look at it in a kind of platform-neutral, genre-neutral space. So like I teach this class called Live Image Processing and Performance, which, 10 years ago when I started, it was really like the Jitter class. I mean, it was literally like the "How to be a VJ" class.
You know, so it was sorta like today, we're going to learn lots about Quicktime movies, you know, next week we're going to learn about effects. And now it's like, I don't even teach them about effects. What I do is I teach them that, when you're working real with real time video or imagery, you know, you got sort of three degrees of freedom, you got color, you got space and you got time. Here's the basic equations or whatever you would use to mess with those three things. Go figure it out yourself. Cause you know, I'm not going to try to explain to you how motion blur works. Because that's not the point, right? The point is to show you like the general math and then we're going to talk about like, why do you need it?
Or what does it do or what is it or how would you use it creatively in a performance, you know? And then you look at scale, like looking at projection map thing, looking at using more than one screen, looking at interface, design, looking at how people perform. I mean a good resource for a lot of this stuff - I use the Cycling site a lot, but I also use like the Creators Project. So like I'll point people to things at the Creators Project, [it] is interesting because some of the stuff on there is like, there are these fantastic artists doing interesting things. Some of this stuff, there is very, very commercial and you learn that there's like really like a continuum now between, you know, like Robert Henke, our buddy in Berlin, he's hearing these crazy audio video performances where he's using basically like a persistence division, laser scanner for the image all the way down to an end.
And it's like out there and whatever the music all the way down to, you know, what the Barbarian group does, which is like, a commercial design firm and there's, and there's like a dialogue there that didn't used to be. There used to be the weird people who would hack stuff together and make it work. And then there was commercial design, which was like using flash to make websites. And they're not like the same stuff. We're in an interesting space now where you can go pretty fluidly through all these different, you know, scenes and audiences and whatever. And people are becoming more and more literate around seeing big public art. That has, like, LEDs and they're interactive. Like interaction design is much more on a normal kind of public sphere than it was in, you know, everything's becoming gamified and whatever. So I teach all this.
Darwin: It's very interesting to me that it's been only recently that experimentalism hasn't been treated like a dirty sub-genre, but instead it's something that informs everybody. I think that that's a really interesting change that's occurred - and it's been recent.
Luke: Yeah, and that's, you know, the place I run it at Poly is,called the Brooklyn Experimental Media Center and Carl, the guy who founded it, was thinking of it in exactly that same vein, like, the word experimental in the arts was like his like shorthand for weird. Like the way people say that, like, "Ooh, that was experimental." They're using it as, like, weird or avant guard, but experimental in the sciences actually has like a really specific meaning. It means you're testing a hypothesis, it's like you iterate and it's a form of research. And there's a way to kind of match those up. And commercial design is actually one of those ways - commercial design is essentially visual art with a scientific method attached to it.
And the idea of iterative design is all about, you know, and building institutional memory around best practices for how we navigate our world and how we make things that are good to look at, but also functional. Right? So like Jony Ive, the guy at Apple, you know, is basically like an artist-engineer, right? And he knows, the engineering brain, users are gonna respond to. And then the creative brain is how far can I push this? You know, to get them to make new stuff or make them kind of think a little bit outside the box. And that's really interesting, you know, but there's ways of doing that in kind of funkier spaces. There's ways of doing that in filmmaking and in visual performance and then, you know, and all those things...
... all those things that like, you know, used to be thought of as kind of experimental art or psychedelia or whatever, like music videos, like all the crazy experimental cinema techniques, you know, they tend to show up first in the music videos. And then they filter up into Hollywood. And, it's just kind of interesting, and it's the same thing with video games, like video games or the internet or the incubator for interaction strategies that then show up everywhere - they show up in design, but then they show up in citizen science. I work a little bit with this thing called The Center for Urban Science and Progress.
And we're doing, all of these research projects around the urban environment. And so we're working on this big thing around noise pollution in New York. And the first thing we realized was to get everybody on board with, doing basically like a massive citizen science field recording, right? We want everybody in New York City to basically start capturing noise so we can categorize it. And so the first thing we gotta do is we gotta turn it into a game. And turn it into something that people get incentivized to participate in in some way. And so the big design challenge isn't how do you open up the microphone on your iPhone and analyze this? The real challenge is like, we're doing these design meetings where we're just like writing all these crazy ideas on the white boards in their class through and being like, okay, so maybe, if you record more than an hour, you get a free download on iTunes.
Now Apple will never go to that. Maybe we can throw a big party in every borough, and maybe we can partner with like Facebook or something like that. We're like coming up all these wacky ideas to try to encourage people to do something that's like technically really simple, which is just like capture and quantify sound, go out and record a construction vehicle or whatever. But it's like, you know, we also want kids with their little Android phones, like, you know, skateboarding around looking for loud... sampling the air conditioners and whatever. So I dunno, we're trying to figure it out now, but it's interesting.
And this media research stuff that we're doing is this kind of like, a really interesting mash up of like all the kind of crap that I do as an artist, but also, you know, all that stuff that came from me being able to program computers really early on and being able to be empowered by having that kind of tool kit of stuff. And that's the thing like Casey Rees, you know, one of the big, the main Processing guys, has this saying that in a hundred years, either everybody's going to know how to program a computer, or nobody's gonna know how to program a computer. And it's all about, like, we've got this huge fight in education in the United States to make sure that it becomes everybody right. Like everybody should know how to program a computer. They're not going away. You know, we got to figure out how to make this happen so that it doesn't become this elite, tiny percentage of people who know how to use this stuff. So I don't know.
Darwin: My question for you about, about teaching creative coding in artistic technology back when you and I first started teaching people how to use this stuff, there was a very easy to understand baseline, which was nobody knew anything. So you started in extremely basic level and held their hands. And you walk through the conditional statements and looping processes and stuff like that. Now it seems to me, when you talk about your teaching practice, you're [saying], "I'll give you the background, it's up to you to consider the, how to deal with the sort of execution." But how do you know that people are meeting some sort of baseline where that actually can be viable?
Luke: Yeah. I mean, that's how you have to kind of do a little bit of that, everything all at once thing. So with our students, we make them take, a custom-rolled computer science class that teaches 'em that stuff, like loops and functions and all that kind of thing. And it would be very, kind of creative context, like they used Processing to do it or whatever. And then, you know, but we teach them a whole bunch of tools. We teach them a little bit of Max/MSP we teach them a little bit of Pure Data. We teach them all that kind of stuff. So they just get around the idea that a visual programming language and a scripting language and whatever, they're all used for different things under the hood. They all have exactly the same crap going on. And there's not that many differences between them.
Darwin: But they're actually sort of is one thing, which that is each one of these things, whether you look at Processing or Max or PD or whatever, each one preferences, a certain kind of thing.
Luke: Oh yeah. That's absolutely true. In terms of what you would use them for, it's just like under the hood, they're all just a bunch of C++ floating around or whatever it is, you know? So it's about, you know,
Darwin: Given what you're saying, it sounds like what you teach is this breadth of activity - you can use Processing because it makes it really easy to attack this or that use Max, or you can use Cinder or whatever. Because they're very sort of specific things - my question, and I ask it not an accusatory way. It's because I don't know the answer. How do you get beyond the, "I've compiled a variation of the demo as my work." And I say that because this summer I happened to go and see a performance where literally what was blasted on the big three-screen thing was a very slight variation of the particle system demo of openFrameworks. Granted, 99% of the audience had never compiled the particle systems part of openFrameworks. So they didn't know I had, and I was like, "You've gotta be kidding me."
Luke: Yeah. That happens. Yeah.
Darwin: And, and how do you help people to simultaneously understand the breadth of things that are available while still going into depth in something?
Luke: Yeah. I mean, that's the challenge, right? I think the first thing you do is you got to make sure that they see as much as they can have things like the traditional problem we used to have before. I remember when the tipping point was when artists started doing like lots and lots of self-publishing on YouTube. Because before then it was actually hard to find out what had been done already. You know, it was sort of a pain in the ass. They were like a couple of books by a Thames and Hudson. There was these kinds of, a couple books on Max, it would once in a while talk about it, but then it was like, you were kind of stuck with like catalogs of exhibitions or you were stuck with like this kind of weird, like everybody had some kind of shitty website with some photos and you had to kind of, okay...
Darwin: I still have a box full of exhibition catalogs simply as my personal memory of what happened.
Luke: Exactly. So it's like with students, you have to show them as much of that stuff as you can to be like, "Okay, so this is what people were doing in the eighties. Don't do this." Or if you do it, you got to figure out a new way to kind of spin it. And, you know, bring in as many kinds of artists talks and videos as possible, but then it's also like, the thing you were talking about about the particle system is like, that's not necessarily like another artist did that. That's like the demo code. So it's like, you also have to get them around the idea that making nominal tweaks to preexisting software is not necessarily like as creative an act as you could be doing. And it's much better to kind of, and we do a lot of pen and paper exercises around this specifically because of this.
Like, I don't let them use the computer to mock up things at first. I make them actually draw it, you know, because cause otherwise they kind of cheat. They're like, okay. So I got the particle system thing from Processing and I figured out how to jack in some Kinect things that I found and boom, I've got my Kinect particle systems thing. And I'm like, "Dude, people have done that already. Don't do that." You know, come up with some other reason for it, you know? So you sort of keep them away from the computer and you say like, they have to be like, okay. So I'm really inspired by the E3 things I saw, I want to talk about whatever. I want to talk about like cool things about narrative and you know, growing up, I was like, you know, my parents are total reality TV junkies.
And wouldn't it be funny if we had a version of like survivor where, you know, I could shoot like a little version of survivor in this department where we had a webpage and everybody could make their own choices about what happens every episode. And it's like a collaborative author and thing. And then it's like a hot, massive idea. Like it doesn't necessarily make sense, but at least it's like, I haven't seen it before. And like NBC hasn't rolled it out two years ago and it's whatever. And then they execute maybe two thirds of it the best. I mean the most amazing stuff we've been doing research wise at Poly is... I'm starting this year. We started a disability lab. We started an assistive technology research lab, all around client centered design. So looking at people with cognitive disabilities, sensory disabilities, physical disabilities, right.
And having the students do these kinds of service learning exercises, where they work with outside people who have disabilities and come up with solutions for them and really like solutions specifically for them, like not, "I'm going to solve blindness." It's more like I'm going to help Sally, who lives in like a crazy ass walk-up apartment, get down her staircase better and have it take five minutes instead of 20 minutes. And I'm going to do this by creating a kind of sensor now at work. So she can deploy in her staircase. It's in our system and I'm going to put like a little buzzer on her. So when she gets within like six inches of lip of the stairwell, she could feel it.
And like, are we ever going to patent that, no. Are we ever going to monetize that? No. Are we ever going to sell a home kit of that? No, but we're going to document it and come up with a really good best practices system for putting that online so that other people can find it, you know, and if they want to improve on it, they can. And so, like two nights ago we had - they're not actually called this, but I like to refer to them as this, the Hacker Nurses of MIT. There's this group in Boston called Maker Nurse, that is basically all these nurses who did their undergrads at MIT. So they're all engineers. And what they're trying to do is they're trying to take all that informal DIY lore that nurses have like worldwide.
Like every nurse on the planet knows 8,000 ways to make a splint out of duck tape, a couple of the chopsticks and like, you know, a busted up piece of furniture, right? They all know how to do that. They're all taught like generation to generation. How to do that again, like they never patented, they never tried to make money off of it. But maybe they could put it online and maybe there's the best practices protocol for them to put it online in a way that is an Instructable or like an open hardware thing, like an open source kind of thing where other people can [have] like a Github kind of thing, where people could share ideas and actually collaboratively iterate. It's a very cool version of that. And so they showed me the Hacker Nurses at MIT, the Maker Nurse showed us this crash cart that they invented, you know, what a crash cart is. It's like that thing that, you know, it's got all the bandages and all the whatever and whatever. Yeah.
Darwin: Dude, my ex-wife was a nurse, so I have too much history with crahs carts.
Luke: Yeah. So they made this hacker crash cart that has like, a sewing machine and a vinyl printer in it. And a soldering iron and a whole bunch of Makey Makeys and a whole bunch of Legos and a couple of Arduinos and a bunch of little sensor kit parts - so that in like 20 minutes, they can basically MacGyver a thing where like the heartbeat monitor can be attached to a buzzer. You know, you hear it or whatever, just like all these kinds of like little weird DIY things that they can deploy and learn about and kind of create stuff. And there's this whole push now to have maker spaces in hospitals. It's like, there's a place the hospital where the ER staff can have a little R&D lab and they can say like, you know, "We keep having people coming in with this kind of gunshot wound. We need this kind of specific bandage and we just need 50 of them and have them around so that we don't keep fucking doing this from start from scratch every, from chopsticks, every time."
Darwin: Interesting. I've not heard about this at all. And it's
Luke: Yeah, you know, and it's like, it's a type of creative of hardware hacking and creative coding and whatever. It's experimental media, they're basically doing experimental media or experimental practice. It's just around health. And health is one of those places that in the United States is super, you know, regulated and complicated and whatever. And it's not easy to do this stuff, but this woman named Michelle Temple at NYU, she developed an open source hearing aid last year and you wear it like an amulet, you wear like jewelry and it's an an array of passive phase-canceling microphones. So it's super focused; it's kinda like a shotgun mic, right. So it's like a hyper, hyper, hyper cardioid, you know, runs off a watch battery, you plug your iPod headphones into it and you wear it like jewelry and you point it at what you want to listen to. And it's 60 bucks, you know, and if you don't have insurance, your hearing aid is like 400 bucks. It's like, that kind of stuff is really cool.
Darwin: It's into the area that I wanted to ask you about, which is the future of the art technology engineering world. Because, when I scratched down some notes on it, one of the things that I ran into was a lot of this or that things, hardware or software or, or the word "versus" comes up a lot, right. Hardware versus software. Do we go with education, or is it hackerism that we focus on? Is it breadth or depth? Is it code or is it data, you know, a lot of these either or things, but a lot of the stuff that you play around with is both, you know, I think if I look at the visual work you've done, certainly the hindsight piece, but also the time phase piece, it's both data and code that made that made that possible. What we think about here is the ability, the hardware of the Arduinos and the vinyl is pointless without the depth of understanding that comes from being an ER nurse.
Luke: Yeah, totally. And that's a lot of what it is like these you're going to see increasingly like people are... So like what did the internet get us? Right? It's like, you know, the internet got us in the nineties to the two thousands, the ability of people to seize their own means of production. It's like anybody can publish, right? Anybody could put out a record, anybody can have an art gallery online, whatever. Maybe the next phase of it is people can seize their own means of working with all the big data. So like, I can make these maps, I can make these eye charts. You can do your own statistical analysis right? In the comfort of your own living room, on problems that you see in your community. And so that's like things with like the New York City open data project, right?
They basically got a website where anybody can download anything they want about like the 311 system or maps of the city where all the fire hydrants were, all stop signs, where I was, where all that stuff [is]. You know, so it's about like lowering the bar for access, for people to really investigate their worlds using data. But there's a physical thing to that too, which is that the bar of entry for engineering, and using microcontrollers to sense and activate your world, like the internet of things they call it sometimes or ubiquitous computing which is like getting lower and lower every day. And I think, you know, honestly, I think there are, we know is actually like this kind of funky piece of like middle ground that will probably disappear in the next few years.
And, and we'll all be using Linux on a chip. It's like the Raspberry PI thing is probably what's really going to be, because those things can have real operating systems and real compilers, and you can talk to that thing just like it is a computer. It really is a computer. It's not this kind of half computer. So I think people are gonna, you know, assuming Casey wins his war and in a hundred years we can all program computers. What that means is we can all... Oh, you know, mommy wants a really awesome holiday light display on the house. So I'm going to bust out my, what will be then $5, you know, Linux on a chip board, which has a bunch of digital IO. I'm going to wire up a whole bunch of string of LEDs that I just got in the basement. It's like, my father always had all these power tools around and all this lumber lying around just in case he needed to like fix something, or put up shelving or whatever. We just had all that stuff. So now it's like, now it's going to be like these big, Rubbermaid bins of like electronics gear, maybe.
Darwin: What my garage already looks like.
Luke: I know. And I'm much more positive about looking at the future that way then looking about it in the kind of Ray Kurzweil singularity way. Like I'm not super jazzed about the idea of us becoming some mass network, consciousness empowered through robotics and technology. Like I'm not really looking forward to that world, but I am looking forward to the world where your seven year old kid can build a robot.
Darwin: I absolutely agree. And what's funny is I don't hear a lot of people saying that, that there's this there's this almost this like reverence towards Kurzweil in this view. And I'm like, "That's not a future that sounds interesting to me at all!"
Luke: No, it's like, it's the end of AI. It's like that 20 minute coda at the end of AI where there's all these weird translucent robots wandering around at the bottom of the ocean or whatever. It's like that. That's not good at all.
Darwin: Realistically, what I really want is I want a $5 computer that'll write a really good dating site bio for me, so I don't have to.
Luke: Oh, totally. Yeah. Any day now, any day - have you seen the tea party insult generator? That's pretty good. That's not good for you.
Darwin: I saw a post of it up on Facebook, but I didn't...
Luke: It's one of those, you know, super hilarious, it's like the Band Name Generator: lefty, fascist, RINO, double crossing, establishment, socialist, whatever. It's good. It's good.
Darwin: Luke, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. This was fabulous. I had this list of things we were going to talk about, and we talked about almost none of them because we went off on a really great direction. I have to actually dig into this idea of the New York open data. I didn't even know that existed and that really puts New York on the bleeding edge of things. Because I've gotten to know people, you know, I know somebody who works for a gas company and they were like "The amount of data we have about the world based on the location of our gas lines is amazing." I would like to have access to that, but it's, but it's not available. And it's really interesting to hear that new York's really pushing the envelope on some of this stuff.
Luke: Yeah. I mean, he's about to leave office, but we have a mayor who for 12 years has been about trying to bring corporate business metrics to New York. And a lot of that has been around making sure that, you know, there's a data clearing house and there's a chief data officer and all the information is in the same freaking format. Before, like 15 years ago, if you wanted to know about how many 911 calls were made around gun violence in New York, that was like a Freedom Of Information Act request, right? That was like four to six weeks of you haggling with the NYPD to get that information. And now there's like a website and there's like a SQL query string.
You can figure it out. And so now it's just about every community activist in America needs to learn SQL. Now the challenge is flipped to us as educators. Now it's like, we have to know. So that's the way they're going to give it to us. We have to figure out we have to go from there. Let's take it from there and figure out how to make sure everybody knows how to get it. And that's where it gets cool. You know?
Darwin: Well, it's really interesting. Thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it. And have a great day!
Luke: All right, man. Thanks for talking to me.
Copyright 2013-2020 by Darwin Grosse. All right reserved.