Shanghai Traces


Shanghai Traces was a response to the massive beautification campaign that Shanghai underwent in preparation for hosting the World Expo in 2010. During this time, as new skyscrapers were going up and new subway lines were being dug, street vendors were banished from the city center. This piece uses the medium of generative video to evoke the manner in which people move through a city; people constantly interact in unpredictable ways, and every life leaves a trace, however fleeting.

This piece employs a lot of the same structural ideas I’ve been exploring in my videogame audio design work over the years, combining simple random or statistical processes to create endless variation from an economy of materials.

Shanghai Traces was originally exhibited at the Make Over show at Shanghai’s OV Gallery. It has subsequently been shown at True Color Museum in Suzhou, and is currently on display as part of the collection of Glamour Bar, on Shanghai’s historic waterfront. The piece was shortlisted for the Guggenheim’s YouTube Play Biennial of Creative video, and was exhibited at kiosks in various Guggenheim museums. In 2011, the piece will be included in Collision 16, Feb. 18-March 19, at Axioim Center for New and Experimental Media, in Jamaica Plain, MA; it will also be exhibited later this spring at e4c in Seattle.

How did this project use Max?

Photographs of street vendor wares are loaded into Jitter as jxf files and moved from the top to the bottom of the screen, interpolating to a new rotation on each frame as they "fall." For each pass, a random hue and size are chosen, according to a table of possible values. A simple feedback mechanism (using the max operator) ensures that the screen is slowly fading to white, while the objects are constantly writing darker values. The audio uses a similar process, a simple delay (with varying feedback) on small chunks of recorded interviews with street vendors.