Mills College Signal Flow 2015: Day One!

Originally posted March 6th, 2015

Yesterday was the first day of Signal Flow (and the day I was finally allowed into the space I am using to setup my installation)! It was definitely an interesting setup. I had a buddy help me move the ladder but the rest was all me. It took something like 12 hours but everything is working.

So, what is “everything”? Short answer:

Exploring the realm that separates and connects matter and spirit, American Spiritualism is a tradition rooted in material artifacts and superstition. The Ouija board is an object that conjures both fear and hope: that we can reach beyond matter to find that which has been lost– or forgotten. Interpreted as both parlor game and ritual, what can a talking board reveal about our memories, our regrets, and the American dream?

An interactive touch sensitive Ouija board that triggers 16mm found footage projected onto an 8 foot weather balloon suspended from the ceiling and plays binary representations of each letter, number, symbol, or word as sound patterns.

The long answer:

I built a larger than standard sized Ouija board out of wood, hand painted the letters with homemade conductive ink, tapped copper nails through the board, soldered onto them, hooked each letter, number, symbol, and word up to an individual pin of an Arduino Mega 2560, a 10M resistor, plus a common pin. There is also a ground bus consisting of copper tape along the edges and center of the interior of the board. I wrote Arduino code to measure the capacitance levels on each pin and to send a character representing each touch point to Processing if that capacitance is over a certain threshold. Arduino also measures the time that has passed alongside a set interval of 50 seconds to trigger a video if the interface is left untouched for a certain time.

Whenever Processing receives a character, it is then tested against a  series of conditions to trigger a corresponding video clip from an array and play that video on loop until a new condition is met. In addition to the video trigger, Processing also sends an OSC message to SuperCollider when a character matches yet another condition, and SuperCollider plays a pattern consisting of two frequencies or pitches representing 0 and 1 in a binary representation of each letter, number, symbol, or word.

All video is found footage from the Prelinger Archives. Mostly 16mm home movies.

I am still playing with my code to see if there is a more elegant way to keep things moving. As is, you have to interact with the interface at least every five minutes or so or the video will stop, probably because the longer the Arduino runs, the less practical it is to measure the elapsed time against my interval.

Anyway, here are some photos from the last couple of weeks, preparation, construction, and setup.

An elaborate clamping system that eventually resulted in the most symmetrical wood working I have ever achieved. My previous attempts include only a very wobbly step stool that I made in 6th grade, and that my mom still makes fun of.

First coat of hand painted conductive letters.

After first clear coat. Fun fact: you can paint over conductive paint and still maintain a connection between the surface and paint. This is probably useful to know.

First shot at wiring.

With ground bus implemented. I rewired the entire resistor board after this because I was unhappy with how untidy and potentially problematic it was.

With conductive planchette and LED candles.

The weather balloon suspended from the ceiling. I made a surprisingly effective four point hanging system that is adjustable from a platform in the rafters accessible by ladder.

A more artsy shot of the board.

Some unknown ladies having a fun time on a trolley at some unknown amusement park. All of the footage used is from the Prelinger Archives. I found a bunch of really fascinating 16mm home movies from the 1930s through the 1980s or so. Lots of really beautifully decaying forgotten family vacations and moments.

About 7 people saw the installation yesterday before I got too tired and went home to go to bed because I had to be at work today at 8am. Back to it tonight!