Bipolar is an experiment in using the human form as a medium for sound visualisation. It is an audiovisual virtual mirror that warps the participant’s body as they wander through the space. A soundscape designed by Liam Paton is generated from the presence and motion of the participants. The data from this (in addition to sounds from the user and environment) is used to transform the body into a distorted portrait that fluctuates between states of chaos and order.
This piece has evolved from an experiment I made 18 months ago when exploring the possibilities for using the body as a canvas for visualising sound – have a look here for more information on the technology. Since then it has been exhibited at a number of events including Digital Shoreditch, The Wired Popup Store in Regent St, The New Sublime exhibition at Brighton Digital festival and The BIMA awards. There are plans to install it at several more spaces in the coming months.
In the time since the original experiment, Bipolar has gone through several changes and optimisations. The biggest addition is the interactive sound aspect which was designed by Liam Paton, composer and co-founder of Silent Studios. The idea was to build a dark, abstract soundscape to compliment the visuals and react to motion, location and distance. He built the software using Max/MSP and I was able to communicate with it from my openFrameworks app via OSC.
Visually, I wanted to retain the chaotic nature of the original but with a few refinements and optimisations. The main issue with the original version was the fact that the extrusions appeared to be fairly random. Each spike is achieved by extruding a vertex in the direction of its normal but the normals weren’t very smooth. This was down to the way in which the depth data from the Kinect is presented. In order to get round this I implemented a custom smoothing algorithm that took place on the GPU (the vertex normals were also calculated by making a normal map on the GPU) which allowed me to create a much more pleasing looking super optimised organised chaos.
Another addition was some fake ambient occlusion. The original piece could seem a little flat in places, so this effect was added to create what look like shadows surrounding the spikes. I achieved this by darkening the colour of certain vertices surrounding the extruded vertex. The results should be visible in the image below.
At the moment all of the mesh processing is tightly interweaved into the application. I intend to release an addon in the coming weeks that will include most of this functionality along with some simple hole filling.