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Paragraphie

Manon De Pauw

2003

Paragraphie

Synopsis

Paragraphie is an interactive installation that interprets the rhythm and musicality of a writer’s gestures rather than the sense of what it written.

A chair, a table, some paper and pencils are available for the visitor’s use. To activate the interactive device, one must get down to work: write, draw, scribble, tear, rub, tap... Microphones inserted in the table and amplified in the whole gallery space pick up the sounds generated by the viewer’s actions. Depending on their amplitude, these sounds trigger different video loops that are projected directly onto the table. Virtual hands appear on the writing surface, suggesting actions and leaving traces that are superimposed on those of the participant. This situation explores physical and mental attitudes that often accompany the writing process: a place of frustration and pleasure, communication and withdrawal into oneself. In medical terms, “paragraphie” (paragraphia) is an aphasic transformation of language that results in writing of unintended words or letters. This involves a control loss, a gap between intention and action, between thought and trace.

Documentation

Galerie photo

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Author

Manon De Pauw obtained a BA in Studio Arts from Concordia University in 1996. From 1997 to 2001, she was artistic coordinator of the artists’ centre DARE-DARE, where she gained expertise in the organization and exhibition of performance projects, interdisciplinary practices, and in situ gallery and extramural interventions. She continues to take courses and workshops in dance, performance and movement. The principal theme of her master’s project at UQAM is corporeal language, a research-creation project that integrates performative action and digital video. She lives and works in Montreal.

Technical specifications

Two piezo-electric microphones, attached under the top panel of the table, were partly isolated to avoid ambient sounds and to pick up only the sounds coming from direct contact with the table. It is worth noting that these microphones become more sensitive as greater pressure is applied to them. They are preamplified with a mixer, and then connected to the computer’s audio input (Mac’s Sound Manager). The audio levels (in and out) are first set with the mixer, then with Max/Msp. From the sound amplitude measured by the program, we get a digital data that, according to it’s value, triggers a random video sequence within one of three pre-determined categories. There are 15 video loops in each category for a total of 45 loops. For example, a weak sound produces hesitant gestures, an average sound triggers actual writing and a loud sound provokes impatience and destruction. These 1-5 seconds video loops, programmed with SoftVNS, all come from the same QuickTime sequence (edited down to 3 minutes). Images are sent out from the computer to the projector through a VGA cable using the v.screen object in softVNS.

  • Piezo-electric microphones: Matrix Guitar tuner pick-up MPU-1 that comes with a 1/4 plug. The Piezo sensor, protected by a double shell, is more sensitive once the plastic one is removed. Available on several internet sites.
  • Behringer Eurorack mixing console, model MX802A (www.behringer.com)
  • iMic USB audio interface for G4’s without audio inputs (griffintechnology.com)
  • Development platform: Apple Power Macintosh G4, system 9.2 (www.apple.com)
  • Authoring system: Max4/Msp2 (www.cycling74.com)
  • softVNS Software (http://homepage.mac.com/davidrokeby/home.html)
  • Two preamplified speakers with subwoofer
  • Video projector
  • Hollow table with 1/4 inch thin pine boards (for better acoustics)

Assessment

The goal of this project was to “amplify” both literally and metaphorically the writing gesture, which is usually a solitary and intimate act. I wanted the sounds generated from contacts with the paper to resonate in the gallery space. My intention was also to create correlations between live actions and pre-recorded ones. It was my first experience of integrating my video work with an interactive device. My concern at first was that people would feel inhibited and forced to write something coherent, perhaps even something intelligent. The video images therefore suggest not only writing but also more playful actions like tracing shapes or tearing up paper. These short video loops accentuate the repetitive aspect of the gesture rather than its content.

To make the project more inviting, I privileged a low-tech appearance: a chair, a table covered with used paper and pencils. The only visible technology was the video projector suspended above the table that projected the image of a white sheet of paper on the center of the table in the absence of participants. It was essential that the viewers felt a certain sense of familiarity and writing and drawing are activities are part of daily life. These choices proved to be fruitful ones as the interactions observed lasted longer than expected – up to 15 minutes. The interactivity was conceived to create a range of relationships between the writer’s gestures and the video images. The experience focuses on improvisation and play rather than control and direct correspondence, and its scenario is being constantly re-written by the participant.

In retrospect, although the visual aspect was successful and met my expectations, I realize that the audio aspect of the project had a greater impact on the participants. The sound of their own writing amplified in such a direct and unexpected way fascinated several of them who started to scribble anything just to hear what they sounded like. Unique to each person, these sounds turned out to be very rich and musical. In a sense, the table became a playful musical instrument. While participating, one is also “performing”.

Technically, the system worked relatively well on short periods of time. However, for yet unknown reasons, it had a tendency to crash from time to time. The equipment used didn’t seem to offer enough stability for long term use.

HomeProjects — Paragraphie

© Interstices : Groupe de recherche et de création en arts médiatiques, 2010
© Interstices : Media Arts Research-Creation Group in 2010