Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Butt Dial

One of the many good things about Glasgow is that it's not horrendously far from Newcastle, at least not in the grand scheme of things. I took advantage of my week Up North to add on a weekend Up Almost As North to start work on the next Would-be Nuns and Cowboys performance with Claire Murphy-Morgan.

Aside from a lovely weekend's hospitality from Claire and her still-fairly-new husband Simon, we got on by leaps and bounds with the new work. We started from nothing, or almost nothing, as I presented her with a bit of digital ephemera to get us thinking - the voicemail of the time she butt-dialled me last month.

From that humblest of beginnings, we have a new performance taking shape. It's far too formless to describe at this point and will doubtless change utterly by the time it's ready to be done for an audience, but we have enough to move forward with, and it's really exciting! Plus, as working titles go, you've gotta love Butt Dial. Or at least we do.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Performing digital media design

I spent the past week at the ACM Creativity and Cognition conference hosted by the Glasgow School of Art and the City of Glasgow. The opening keynote by Steve Benford set the tone for a playful, exploratory, but ultimately rigorous and complex mix of creative expression and computing technology. The closing keynote, by Marcos Novak, nearly blew everyone's head apart with the tantalising density of his references - I'm pretty sure that if he had spoken for every minute of the three-day main conference, I would have understood and loved a good chunk of what he had to say. In between the two was a fiesta of interesting people doing some fantastic work. It's got me itching to dive into a new project myself.

In the spirit of reaching out beyond my own work, I ran a full-day workshop on 'performing digital media design' on Thursday. It was structured around a hands-on exploration of the Collect Yourselves! system. The workshop participants and I dived into the devising phase in the morning - a version created specially for the workshop context - and performed in the afternoon. Around and about I gave some background on the theories and practices that informed the project and the Performative Experience Design methodology it emerged from (or gave rise to, depending on how you look at it). We did a little coded performance analysis - just verbally, nothing too taxing for midafternoon - and had good conversations throughout about the tensions between visual and performance aesthetics, the role of improvisation and public engagement, and the dynamics of conversation, among many other things.

A million thanks to Robyn Taylor for helping me out, especially when the tech fell apart for not one but two separate reasons, both of which were unlike any of the ways it fell apart during previous sessions, and neither of which emerged in any of the testing I did in the week leading up to the workshop. I think my next research focus should be to document and theorise the vast array of ways that tech can collapse in a heap. I'll aim to collect at least two near-catastrophic failures for each piece of fieldwork. I figure that's the only way I can guarantee myself an error-free encounter.

(For the record, I did manage to get everything working, but it ate into 15 minutes of our afternoon and cost me any chance to eat lunch that day. It's amazing how far a handful of almonds and a cup of peppermint tea can take you.)

If you're at all curious about the workshop, drop me a line!

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

LiSC talk

Summer seems to be time to talk, and talk, and talk and talk and talk! Last Friday I had the great pleasure of giving a talk at the invitation of the University of Lincoln's Social Computing research centre. What a friendly, interesting bunch of people! Doing some pretty wacky things! I understand they're aiming to promote interdisciplinary research, so I titled my talk

Designing performance into HCI: How to get an interaction design PhD with craptastic coding skills

Now I know that self-deprecation isn't always a good approach when trying to make one's way in the world, particularly the world of academia. And I am not-so-secretly very proud of the fact that I coded the application that formed the heart of my PhD thesis (with help from some extremely patient friends). But the alternate universe where I am a skilled and knowledgeable computer programmer lies at several removes from the one where I am an (insert adjectives here) researcher in performance and HCI. The premise of my talk was that it's possible to get a PhD by doing a modified form of interaction design without coming at it from a computer science background, much less a computer science perspective. (To top it all off, my paperwork tells me my degree is actually a PhD in Theatre. Who knew?)

In any case, I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk about Performative Experience Design with the gracious folks at LiSC!