Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Site Unseen Performance, Nov. 9

We are grateful for the engaged and appreciative audience and for their thoughtful comments on the night of the "performance". Hoping we can find another venue where the piece can continue to be available. Thanks to all of our friends for coming, and to those who helped.

If you missed the event and would like to know how it sounded, here is a sample interaction.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dress Rehearsal

Nov. 8, 2009
What this (dress rehearsal) means for us is the actual installation. Looking forward to seeing how the piece works in situ, with all the components working together including image analysis for floor location and accelerometer data live. Just in case this doesn't work for some reason (like Accel. sensitivity, for eg.), we have 4 versions of the piece with varying capabilities that we can swap in, including a pre-recorded, non-interactive recording of 9:30 min. that can just be looped. Although if the computer itself fails, we will need something to play that on.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Rehearsal on Thus., Oct. 15 - got all equipment mounted inside the elevator panel. Mon., Oct. 26, 2nd rehearsal, did another recording with the PS3 camera mounted on our ceiling bracket for position and analysis of those fine points like when does the arrow change from up to down, what happens when no button is pushed, how long between floor 1 and 4 when neither 2 nor 3 is pushed?

Friday, October 23, 2009

the home stretch

We have been working on the physical installation in the elevator during rehearsal (and other) times, including finding or adapting a camera which filters out infra-red light, as the floor number display is hard to read - all elements show up too well - with the IR sensitivity. Everyone at the Cultural Center has been most helpful. In addition, we've created a logical flowchart that shows the passage of audio file information from source to display, and have decided that since the doors are open more than they are closed when the elevator is in actual use, we will play the categories when stopped at a floor, the drones (chants, medical sounds) while the elevator is moving. Voila a sample of what that might sound like:
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and here is the flowchart logic:

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Audio content

We now have six populated content areas (Fiction, History, Law&Order, Medical, Performing Arts, and Self Help) for each paradigm (Disability Consciousness, Medical/Media). Background sound will be provided in each case by repetitive phrases or sounds – in the case of Disability Consciousness, the voices of demonstrators chanting, in Medical/Media, the sound of medical/hospital equipment. The basic premise for the work is encapsulated in a phrase rendered from text by AT&T’s text to speech on line tool:


Which makes it clear that for some, disability is the problem, while for others, the problem is the way disability is viewed and responded to.

There are lots of terrific resources on line. One great series of articles including history and some basics,

Another about the MDA telethon,

A good article articulating points of view on the Clint Eastwood film “Million Dollar Baby” (which we quote from),

And the organization that has helped organize persons with disability and helped articulate their point of view, ADAPT.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Optical Sensing of Elevator State

The two optical methods I had in mind for sensing the elevator's state were video analysis of the elevator display (using a web cam pointed at the display) or mounting eight photoresistors in a frame to surround the display. Since video analysis involves less work I decided to try that first. I made a test patch in PD with simulated elevator display images (see below). My first test was to see if "blob tracking" would be able to distinguish the various elevators states. Clearly, blob size alone will not do. The display images with the same number of segments (2 and 3, either up or down) have the exact same blob size. Vertical blob position values for those same images are indentical too. Fortunately there is sufficient difference in horizontal blob positions to distinguish the six floor states. Now we need to record video of the actual display in the elevator to confirm my simulation and note the dynamics. - Drew

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cab Position and Movement

Since tapping into the elevator control system will not be possible (see August 11 post) we will be using sensors in the cab to detect position and movement. This information will then control the sound files. My initial thought was to use an arduino microcontroller with an accelerometer to sense the cab movement and try to keep track of what floor we are on by counting stops. This will require "homing" the system at, say, floor 1. Here is a data log graph of a test I made using an accelerometer in the elevator of our condo building. Although somewhat noisy, there are clear spikes for starting and stopping. Seems promising but accuracy over time is my concern.

Here's the patch I made for this test using Hans-Christoph Steiner's Pduino object/firmware and Chris McCormick's [s-totalrecall] PD abstraction to record the data.

My other thought for detecting elevator position and movement is to optically read the display inside the cab. A combination of techniques may be necessary. More on that in a future post. - Drew

Concept Development

The content for this installation comes primarily from recordings of interviews, disability rights protests, synthesized speech and media clips. Our intention is to musicalize these sources by breaking them down into rhythm and melody (tempo and pitch). We will be mixing our various sources in real-time with the elevator's state (cab position and movement). Aspects of the audio layers to be controlled will include start/stop of clips, volume and mix. Elements, such as interviews, will be foregrounded while others, such as protest chants, will be backgrounded. Musicalizing voices has been fun and challenging. I've been listening to the early pioneers of electronic music like Charles Dodge which takes be back to my sound art classes in grad school with Bob Snyder. I'm using PD (a real-time graphical programming environment) in my experiments with beat and pitch tracking. - Drew

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Technical Progress - Physical Installation

Today was a significant juncture in the technical development of the piece. We met with our cultural center point person, Nate, building engineer, Brian and elevator engineer, Mike. Although we had hoped to access the elevator control room and tap into the elevator data (movement and position info) as well as the speaker system, we learned that would not be possible for liability reasons. Our backup plan was to put the equipment on top of the lighting canopy in the elevator cab and use sensors to detect movement and position.

Mike positioned the elevator so we could see exactly what was above the canopy and above the elevator cab. As he climbed on top of the elevator cab it looked like a scene from Die Hard. He showed us the hatch doors where we could run power down into the cab. I really hope I never have to be hauled out of a stuck elevator - there are many obstacles - not sure how it could be done.

Unfortunately there was very little room above the canopy inside the elevator so Mike suggested installing the equipment above the cab. The problem with that is we would only be able to access the equipment with his help and we need unlimited access for development and troubleshooting. However, Mike was very helpful in finding a solution within the cab. He showed us a small but adequate space behind a wall panel. Perfect! We will have an accessible and secure location for the installation.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Disability Pride Parade Interviews

Today we recorded interviews for Elevator Music at the Disability Pride parade in downtown Chicago. Here are some photos of folks who we spoke to about issues of disability in their lives in categories like Fiction, Self-Help, Medicine, History, etc. Again, the idea being a reference to the history of the Cultural Center when it was the library.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Elevator Music #1

“Elevator Music” (forthcoming at the Site Unseen show, Chicago Cultural Center, Nov. 9, 2009) can be said to have begun many years ago. Drew Browning, diagnosed in college with a neuro-muscular condition after many years of misinformation, began to develop a disability consciousness and to participate in actions to secure civil liberties for persons with disability. In the early 80’s, he was one of several members of Chicago ADAPT (which then stood for American Disabled for Accessible Public Transportation) to chain himself to fellow protesters in their wheelchairs, blocking traffic downtown on State St., in order to call attention to the shameful lack of access to public transportation and the inadequacy of the para-transit system. This eventually resulted in a class action suit against the CTA, which succeeded, providing lift equipped buses and some, still spotty, access to the El. He has continued working with ADAPT on other issues including home health care vs. nursing home confinement, computer literacy and access for persons with disability, and accessibility issues at the University of Illinois Chicago.

This lived experience is the basis for “Elevator Music,” which raises the issue of disability in the context of identity. In a setting that not coincidentally provides vertical access to the multi-story building, a mix of sound files determined by the elevator’s position (which floor it is on or headed for) is heard by the passenger. One side of the elevator plays sounds that center around disability consciousness – interviews with and excerpts from writings by persons with disability, sound from demonstrations – and on the other side, one hears writings by those looking at disability from the outside, from the medical model (centered around the notion of cure as the ultimate good) or the pity model (think Jerry Lewis and the MDA telethons).

These sounds fall into categories traditionally adopted by libraries and booksellers such as Fiction, History, Self-Help, Law & Order, etc., recalling the former function of the Cultural Center as Chicago’s main library.

Finally, although music in elevators is not so common anymore, it is nevertheless an interesting phenomenon in public places where it IS quite common such as shopping malls and grocery stores; or while on hold on the telephone. It is typically intended to soothe or entertain, but in either case to remain in the background of one’s conscious perception. Our elevator music cloaks sometimes aggressive and (for some) disturbing statements in a palatable, musical form.

Disclaimer: as almost everyone knows, sometimes what you have in your head is not what actually occurs. Changes in design, organization, expression, methodology, technology may take this piece in a different direction. The only way to know for sure what it will be like is to come see (hear) it!