Fascinate Conference 2013

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the Fascinate Conference hosted at Falmouth University’s Tremough campus. It was a 3 day event which sought to showcase and explore the use of technology within various creative disciplines.

As a creative developer, I am always interested in exploring broader interpretations of the interface between computers and humans. The conference seemed an ideal place for me to do this whilst also gratifying my interests in art, music and other multimedia.

A showcase ran on Wednesday afternoon with an exhibition of installations along with a slickly scheduled series of performances, featuring music, visuals and dance, created and combined with the latest technology.

My favourite exhibits were the Tangible Sequencer and Servo Harp from Ollie Williams. These were both polished products where the technology was very transparent and showed an incredible accomplishment for 2nd year student.

Hannah Guy’s “Glow” installation contained a projected animation on the subject of light pollution. Augmented by audio and a temperature controlled environment meant a very relaxing, immersive experience from a very simple application of technology.

I liked YAPI (YouTube Application Programming Interface) from Mattia Bernini, which projected a constant stream of videos culled from YouTube onto a structure, which surrounded the viewer like a large helmet. Chatting with the creator gave an interesting insight into daily cultural shifts in YT uploads.

Dave Griffiths treated us to a trance themed Live Coding performance, which I thoroughly enjoyed. His visual programming Fluxus environment was projected for us all to see, giving an interesting reflection of the rhythm, structure and the creation of the performance as it happened.

I revelled in the soundscapes created by Howlite for his Confluence performance. The subtler rhythms and sounds generated using Max MSP were quite compelling. Visually, the performance was not that exciting, but this enabled concentration on the audio.

On Thursday, the conference kicked in, with keynote speeches from luminaries of music, visual art, architecture & theatre. The common theme was the use of technology and each keynote chaired a series of presentations / papers from people practising within the relevant discipline.

I attended the Pervasive Media, Architecture and Augmented Reality tracks along with a workshop introducing the use of NodeJS for participatory creative applications/experiences.

I really enjoyed all the keynotes, it was great to see some highly respected and skilled artists talk about their work and practice. I was fortunate enough to encounter Stanza, a long time favourite of mine, before I realized who he was, so I got to enjoy some conversation with him that was unencumbered by my awe of his incredible volume of work that challenges a lot of things we accept blindly.

I think my favourite track was the architecture one, purely because the quality of the work done by Ruarri Glynn and his students from Bartlett stood out in its variety and integration with technology. I am a sucker for anything robotic and seeing the creative application of robots was inspiring. Fearful Symmetry and Performing Ecologies by Ruarri Glynn both demonstrated incredibly simple interfaces between man and machine. Ling Tan - a master’s student - left me awestruck at the breadth and quality of her work and imagination as she showed us her work with wearable prosthesis and gave us a futuristic narrative of where the technology may go which was both humorous and thought provoking.

For me, an emerging theme seemed to be; for ideas, in any form, to become pervasive, then quite often the initial concepts were watered down before they became acceptable to the masses. I question whether this is a good thing in many circumstances and I don’t believe it happens all the time. I feel strong ideas will often resonate with the masses, but these ideas will be the simplest ones that easily become adopted. Many of the installations, work and performances at the conference showed ideas, which would probably have to undergo radical changes to become accepted, but it’s also encouraging that many of these ideas won’t be changed or accepted by the masses. They will hopefully remain gems to be sought out, distinguished from the everyday clutter of Che Guevara t-shirts, Starbucks and iPhones, something to be relished by the person making the discovery.

In my own work, I sometimes find myself throwing out radical ideas, (my pen was hyperactive during the conference), but many of these ideas won’t make it to the screen, or other media. However, they get mixed into the pot and some of them get refined or blended with other ideas in my efforts to produce interfaces, or other beautiful things.

Lessons learnt or reinforced by the conference are that making the interface transparent is vitally important and that there is such a thing as too much information.

I had a great time at Fascinate 2013, met some really interesting, smart and creative people, had some intelligent conversation and got a look at the wider application of technology which will inspire and hopefully drive my work. I hope that the conference build on their success and I will be excited to see what they might offer in years to come. If you need to take time out of work and refresh yourself in terms of creative inspiration, I would highly recommend going to a future conference.