sineadWho are you and what do you do?I'm a visual artist based in Dublin. Mostly I tinker with things; cameras, electronics, light-bulbs, code, time-and-reality. I also pretend to know stuff about science.

What will you be talking about at Hack Circus: THIS IS REALITY? I'll be talking about how we look at realities, and the machines that help us do so.

What are you working on today? Today I'm working on an artists' residency in rural Finland, a presentation on WordPress, new negatives, and my son's English homework.

Give us one insight about reality based on your work... Size matters.

Name one great project you’ve seen recently. My friend's Twitter Knitter - a 70s knitting machine that's been Arduino hacked to knit tweets. I love it because it's totally pointless and brilliant.

brainfreezeWho are you and what do you do?I'm Chris. I write words for people if they pay me money. Those words include this book, a lot of the content for an actual zombie trial at the Science Museum and far too many tweets.

What are you going to be talking at Hack Circus: THIS IS REALITY? I'm going to be finally answering the question "Are you actually a brain in a jar hooked up to a computer simulation?" Loads of people are acting like this is some sort of really deep philosophical conundrum, but really it's very straight forward and I will finally give you an absolute, definitive answer to that question. Probably.

What are you working on *today*?  Today is divided between writing copy for a website that sells lawnmowers, and editing a short story about an extremely violent 8 bit video game.

Give us one insight about reality based on your work... If you think reality is a story and you're the protagonist, the odds are you're actually somewhere between the comic relief and the villain. You know, apart from me. I'm the protagonist.

Name one great project you've seen recently.  I enjoyed the Tourist Trap game at Geek 2014 in Margate. While everyone else was busy playing retro video games we were given an envelope full of old photographs and given an hour to recreate all of them using only what we could find around the convention venue. Anyone who can get a bunch of complete strangers to go out and start constructing donkeys out of coats has achieved something important as far as I'm concerned.

heatherWho are you and what do you do?I'm Heather Fenoughty, and I'm a composer and sound designer for film, theatre, games and multimedia.

What are you going to be talking about at Hack Circus: THIS IS REALITY? The notion of 'magic reality' and the manipulation of audience perceptions through audio in site-specific theatre, the technology involved (and if I've got time the effect of music and sound on the brain and how that feeds back into the audience members' journeys through the story).

What are you working on *today*? A score pitch for a feature film.

Give us one insight about reality based on your work... Reality is perception; it's the framework or 'matrix' we create in our mind, through which we navigate the world about us. It's pattern recognition and magical thinking, and we're at the mercy of our subconscious minds creating our own personal realities and directing our actions (some might say!).

At a most basic level, audio has a more direct link to the subconscious - evolutionarily, hearing is one of our early warning systems as we'll often more likely hear a threat before we see it - and so, when it comes to storytelling in the open world, in site-specific theatre, setting the scene, manipulating our focus and the level of emotional importance of that focus that our subconscious relays to our conscious, sound design and music is integral.

sicchioWho are you and what do you do?I am Kate Sicchio. I am a choreographer and media artist. Most of my work involves movement and technology. I am also a Senior Lecturer in Dance at University of Lincoln.

What are you going to be presenting at Hack Circus: THIS IS REALITY? I will be performing with Alex McLean. My part of the performance always fails because I can not keep up with the computer generated score. But I also get to mess up Alex's code too.

What are you working on today? Today I was working on the technical side of a new piece and trying to get data from the web to send over OSC using node.js. It almost works. Almost.

Give us one insight about reality based on your work... Working with dance and technology is really about patience.

Name one great project you've seen recently. Currently I am obsessed with Sophia Brueckner and her singing of her code. It's oddly emotional.

AuthorLeila Johnston

me_oct2013Who are you and what do you do?I AM HENRY. I've been getting paid to make stuff with computers for about a decade, and doing it for fun since well before that.

What are you going to be talking about at Hack Circus: THIS IS REALITY? I'm going to be talking about some bots I've made that live on Twitter and impersonate people, and the things that I've learned as a result about how humans respond to software that looks like people.

What are you working on *today*? Today I've been working on an iOS app for Faber and Faber. I worked on  Malcolm Tucker: The Missing Phone a couple of years ago, so it's nice to be doing another project with them.

Give us one insight about reality based on your work... Our monkey brains are as riddled with backdoors and exploits as an unpatched copy of Windows XP. Ask a magician about this one day, or flip through a copy of Mind Hacks, which neatly illustrates a whole pile of quirks in our perception of the world.

Tell us about one great project that you've seen recently. I saw Julian Oliver present some of his work recently (this was before the kerfuffle at Transmediale), and it pushed a lot of my buttons. I really like how his stuff legitimately sits in both the critical arts world and the 2600-style hackery camp; he's talking the talk and walking the walk. The thing I enjoyed most was Newstweek, a project where he critiqued our reliance (and trust) of online news sources, then went off and proved his point by making a covert appliance which could be installed in (say) a coffee shop that would alter news as it crossed the local wifi network. And then installed it covertly on a bunch of public wifi networks. Perfect.

Over the next couple of weeks we'll be meeting some of the talented individuals speaking and performing at the next Hack Circus event, THIS IS REALITY. First up, hacker, musician and artist, Alex McLean.

Who are you and what do you do?

I am Alex. I like making things with code, and then immediately deleting them again, a practice known as "live coding". I do this to make live music, which is a major preoccupation, but also do the odd bit of software and installation art, and am a research fellow in the University of Leeds.

What are you going to be presenting at Hack Circus: THIS IS REALITY?

I'll be working with choreography hacker Kate Sicchio, performing a piece called "sound choreography <> body code" and probably talking about it a bit.

What are you working on *today*?

I've been mostly been responding to complaints about the neo-classicist tone of a call for papers I recently sent out, while also running a peer review process, submitting a funding proposal for a live weaving and live coding collaboration, writing some reports, booking a venue for some live art activity in the woods, and getting my software rewritten ready for our rehearsal for Hack Circus tomorrow. So mostly sending and receiving emails and doing a bit of code.

Give us one insight about reality based on your work...

I've spent a large part of my life staring at emacs, and a large part of my research career trying to make this reality a bit richer.

Name one great project that you've seen recently.

Susanne Palzer's "Open platform" performance art project in Sheffield. It's a series of happenings which take place in small places (e.g. cupboards, atriums, passageways), exploring technology without technology. It is based on this platform which is an actual platform, and people come and do digital performances without digital technology. Last time I did some knitting on the platform, encoding Susanne's movements in knit and pearl.

Kicking off the first of a regular series of short interviews on the Hack Circus blog, we chat to artist and speaker Seb Lee-Delisle about his piece Lunar Trails.

What is Lunar Trails?

It's an arcade cabinet, running the 70s arcade game Lunar Lander, coupled with a 3m wide hanging plotter that traces the trails of the players on the wall as they play.

How long did it take to build?

I've been working on the remake of Lunar Lander on and off for quite a while, initially in Flash, and then I converted it to JavaScript a couple of years ago. The physical build of the installation was probably around three months.

What was the process like?

When I first made the online version of the game, I was experimenting with socket servers and I set up a secret page where I could watch people playing the game in real time. I drew a trail as they moved around and Lunar Trails was born!

But the full installation was something I'd been thinking about for a while - to make a real-world physical version of the trails image. So I bought one of Sandy Noble's Polargraph kits, which languished in the box for over a year before I got it working. I enlisted engineer Paul Strotten to help me scale it up and he convinced me to use servo motors instead of steppers. We rebuilt the polargraph and I eventually replaced most if not all the arduino code.

How did the idea change as things progressed?

I don't think it changed at all really, once I'd figured out that I wanted to make a bigger version of the Polargraph. I thought at one point I'd have to use black markers on white (because all the opaque light pens would dry up in minutes – I tested probably 100 different pens!) Eventually we found that silver sharpies worked pretty well and last a couple of hours, and most importantly it meant that we could use a black background, which I really wanted.

At one point I wasn't going to build a full arcade cabinet, and just make a control panel with a screen, but I decided it was too important to sacrifice. An arcade cabinet is the embodiment of an invitation to play, which is really important when you're trying to get the public to engage with an installation!

What made you choose Lunar Lander, or did you always know you wanted to work with that game?

It chose me, really. Discovering the beautiful patterns that people made when they played the game was a happy accidental discovery. But I have always been obsessed by the game. It's so difficult, it really takes practice. And it seems really slow for ages and then it's a mad panic at the end.

Is it important for art to be playful?

It's a recurring theme in my work, it's what I like and it's a good way to encourage participation, but I don't think art necessarily has to be playful.

What do you make of the retrogaming trend?

I think it's pretty cute, I've never been any good at modern console games. Although I'm a bit unsure about pixel art when there are fake pixels that rotate and scale.

Have you seen any other game/art hacks you've enjoyed or been inspired by?

Sam van Doorn did something that has a similar aesthetic to Lunar Trails except using a pinball machine with inked balls that left a trail on a poster. Very cool!

Lunar Trails was on display at the Dublin Science Gallery until January of this year. There's some more info on Seb's site, and lots of nice pictures of it in action on his Flickr stream, here.


Lunar Trails from Seb Lee-Delisle on Vimeo.