Newest: Percussive Image Gestural System (PIGS)

PIGS is a software/hardware/percussive framework designed for fluid, multi-layered, visual performance. It uses silent percussion to create expressive, improvised cinematic performance. It aims to make live visuals more intuitive and expressive for the performer and more engaging for the audience.

PIGS is a performable instrument. It’s useful for improvising visuals with musicians in live performance — but it’s not limited to that. It focuses on developing an approach to visuals that are not bound to traditions of rectangular frames and “movie” structures — and on developing performable instruments rather than controllable software.


PIGS (Percussive Image Gestural System) Live Studio Jam – People Blowing Things Up on YouTube. October 2016

(Here’s a shorter version for the impatient.)

Current PIGS performance interfaces include iPads, Leap Motion controller, and silent MIDI drums. Real-time gestures are drawn on the iPads and Leap Motion, and can then replayed with variations by striking the MIDI drums. (This in some ways resembles how traditional drums work – each strike of the same drum or cymbal generates roughly the same pitch, but may vary in loudness, choking, etc.) The PIGS system allows for an assortment of variations from the original gesture in both duration and form with each drum stroke. The performer may also use this functionality to create theme and variations or looping structures. Individual drums/video layers may also be set to auto-loop, allowing the performer to improvise on the other drums/layers against the rhythms of the looping background layers.

While PIGS uses musical instruments and strategies as general models for thinking about performativity and temporal structures, care is taken not to attempt to simply translate musical approaches to visual ones: PIGS is designed from the ground up for visual performance. Rather than approaching audiovisual integration as a matter of synchronization of sound and image, the idea is to create an instrument that is performable as a part in a duet or ensemble (analogous to the way various instruments in an ensemble play different musical parts even though they are performing the same piece.) Likewise, while twentieth-century gesture and drawing-based abstract animators like Len Lye and Walter Ruttmann are progenitors, PIGS is interested in combining abstract drawing with live action, and in integrating contemporary visual influences from cell phone videos and YouTube to CGI, concert light shows and holographs.

PIGS made its performance debut in September 2015 with “Rocket’s Red Glare,” an improvisation with Curt Miller (clarinet, computer audio), at IDEAS – Qualcomm Institute, San Diego.

From the IDEAS announcement:
UC San Diego visual arts associate professor Amy Alexander and clarinetist and sound artist Curt Miller, a 2015 DMA graduate of the Music department, perform Rocket’s Red Glare, an improvisational composition derived from YouTube videos of explosions. The IDEAS show will be an introductory performance for the Percussive Image Gesture System (PIGS), an experimental software/hardware visual instrument under ongoing development that allows for emotive, gestural cinematic performance. “The instrument works from the premise that new methods of visual expression can be developed when we think of cinema as fluid and performative, and they can work beyond traditional cinematic constraints of rectangular images and linear playback,” says Alexander. “PIGS uses percussion and music as part of its approach to cinematic performance, rather than attempting to match sound directly to the on-screen image.” The system allows a performer to combine scribble-like swipes and drum stroke gestures in a “theme and variation” framework to perform a multilayered, cinematic composition that drifts between the literal, the metaphorical and the abstract. The visual instrument and performance follow in the traditions of early experimental filmmakers and visual instrument inventor-performers like Len Lye, Stan Brakhage, and Mary Hallock-Greenewalt, as well as those of more contemporary live cinema performance. For the debut of PIGS, Alexander and Miller develop’s Rocket’s Red Glare to play with the public fascination with, and aestheticization of, things that explode. Alexander’s software allows her to use iPads and MIDI drums to perform the videos as fluid forms, using both performance and algorithms to improvise changes. Curt Miller has developed a custom software application that allows him to create a soundscape that is both algorithmic and improvisational, integrating the YouTube sound samples with live and recorded clarinet. The performance will be followed by a Q&A with the artists.

Percussive Image Gestural System (PIGS) is created by Amy Alexander. Software is written by Amy Alexander and Curt Miller with contributions by Wojciech Kosma.
Audio software: Curt Miller
Research assistant: Doug Rosman

Percussive Image Gestural System (PIGS) development has been supported by the iotaCenter, University of California Institute of Research in the Arts (UCIRA), and UCSD Academic Senate. It has been performed at events in the US, Australia, and Canada.

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