Percussive Image Gestural System (PIGS)
Rocket's Red Glare at IDEAS
PIGS is a software/hardware/percussive framework developed in Max/MSP/Jitter. It's designed for fluid, multi-layered, visual performance. It functions as a performable, improvisable, instrument; as a software framework for developing future instruments and performances; and as a testbed for working out performative concepts. PIGS focuses on experimentation with visuals that are not bound to traditions of rectangular frames and “movie” structures and on creating visual instruments designed as performable instruments rather than as controllable software. In its initial implementation, it enables a performer to perform visuals as they might perform a musical instrument; to be able to improvise; and to create fluid forms rather than rectangular, movie-like images.
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. 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.
The cultural zeitgeist is increasingly one of immediacy and unconstrained expression, while the zeitgeist of digital performance tools is often that of planning, control, and reserve. PIGS is designed for immediacy, to propose and facilitate a match between the ways we create cinema and the zeitgeist of the immediate. And although initially PIGS software is being performed traditional stage/screen concert settings, it’s intended to eventually expand into a variety of contexts.
"Rocket's Red Glare: Things Exploding on YouTube," an audiovisual improvisation by Amy Alexander (visuals (Max/Jitter), percussion) and Curt Miller (clarinet, computer audio (PD)) is the first composition developed using PIGS.
The visual software is written entirely in Max/Jitter. There are four channels (layers) of visuals, each of which can be controlled by any of various gestural controllers. In slower parts of the performance gestures are drawn continually - in faster, more intense parts, MIDI drums are used to replay the gestures. (The gesture point data is replayed.) Each time a gesture is replayed, it is varied depending on velocity of the drum strokes, sonic spectral data, etc. The variations are spatial, temporal and textural: in other words, faster, more forceful playing might replay the gestures larger, faster, and with more opacity. The videos are both used as both textures on jit.gl.paths and as mattes behind them. A variety of video processing is performed on the videos to allow them to vary between more abstract and more recognizable: this allows us to work with the way videos are used culturally to aestheticize real-world events. Video processing is controlled both by parameters of the gesture/drum stroke and by manual adjustment (Launchpad Mini, Behringer BCR 2000, iPad/Mira.)
PIGS software lead developer: Amy Alexander. Contributing developers: Wojciech Kosma, Curt Miller. Video Assistant: Doug Rosman.