Edison phonograph advertisement (source: Library of Congress)
I’ll be getting out the camel hair brush and putting my 1904 Edison Standard Phonograph through its paces at the Catalyst Club, Brighton, 10 December 2009. Hear some commercial wax cylinders from the early 1900s and witness a live recording of a voice from the audience, straight onto a blank cylinder of carnauba wax.
I’ll also be talking a little about Edison’s life and his interest in the supernatural – particularly his thoughts on capturing the voices of the dead.
Hosted by Dr David Bramwell, the Catalyst Club is a monthly Brighton event that pays tribute to the old traditions of French Salon, debating societies and Gentleman’s Clubs.
“Finally someone has released a rather fantastic mind reading app that genuinely triggers that “wow – how did you do that?” response.” Phillis, Derren Brown Blog.
Ever wanted to read someone’s mind?
With Telepath, you can convince almost anyone you’re a mind reader. Telepath is a new mind-reading iPhone app that the talented Richard Wiseman and I are releasing today. The idea is simple: Someone chooses a picture and mentally sends their thoughts to the iPhone. When they turn over the iPhone, they’ll be astounded to discover their thoughts on the screen.
Here’s Telepath in action …
I hope you like it! This is my first foray into the worlds of app development, Objective C and ESP.
As we say in the video, Telepath can also be used to predict numbers, cute animals, cards and dates – so can even improve your love life. Feel free to guess how it might work – and if you buy the trick from the app store, let us know what you think (but please don’t give away the method!).
Update: Thanks to all of you who have mentioned the app and given it a try. We’re so glad to hear so many of you are enjoying it. And we’re really chuffed with all the positive feedback from magicians around the world.
We’re now getting to work on an Android version – news on that very soon. Meanwhile, the lovely people over at Derren Brown Towers (which features all things magical, scientific and wonderful) would like to see some videos of you performing the trick. Can’t wait to see your magical powers in action!
This dance piece uses a combination of live, solo clog dancing, video loops and audio which plays at overwhelming levels, revealing a danceform that was directly inspired by the machines of the industrial revolution. I’ll stick my neck out and say Lancashire clog is a pre-electronic forerunner of the industrially-inspired techno music of Kraftwerk and the noise music of bands such as Coil.
Lancashire clog is a deeply unfashionable dance form, often regarded as a sub-genre of Morris dancing. It’s something you’d expect to see women dancing politely, on a Sunday afternoon, in ‘traditional’ dresses and bonnets. If you’re put off by the faux nostalgia of the Sunday afternoon clog dancing brigade, see us take Lancashire clog back to its genuine roots, as we evoke the sights and sounds of the industrial cotton machinery that inspired it.
I created this piece in collaboration with performer Caroline Radcliffe who has been researching the history of Lancashire clog for many years.This event is part of discussion afternoon on movement and performance, with Andrew Lavender and Viv Gardner, at the Central School of Speech and Drama.
Some background (from Caroline and Sarah)
Lancashire clog dance evolved in the cotton mills where labourers coalesced with the means of production, devising dances that imitated the actions of the extremely loud and powerful machines around them. The majority of the workforce on the mill floor were women, chosen for what Marx describes as their ‘more pliant and docile character’ to operate the lighter and more repetitive machines. The women devised steps that mimicked and emphasised the highly rhythmic repetitions of the machines in the mill: looms, shuttles, cogs and wheels that were central to the process of industrialised cotton production. Their dance was a way of simultaneously addressing and embodying boredom: Whilst working the machinery with their hands, the female operatives moved their feet in time to the extremely loud noises of machines that would otherwise overpower and isolate them.
Steps were named after particular machine components and actions which they mimic very closely, including the pick, over-the-tops, two-up-two-down, weaving and the cog.
We devised this performance to escape the pastoralised view of Lancashire clog and recontenxtualise it as industrial dance. Here, we’re mixing a solo performance of a dance called the The Machinery, which came from the Lancashire mills, with a collage of sound and video recorded at Quarry Bank, a working cotton mill in Styal, Cheshire. Our piece presents a live performer alongside video cut-ups that sometimes play relentlessly, other times respond to the dancer’s actions. The live dance and video images are accompanied by extremely loud, close-up audio recordings of the mill machines. We want to evoke the overwhelming power of these machines, the endurance of the dancer and the dynamic between human and machine.
Inspiration: The Machinery
The Machinery was originally choreographed by Lancashire clog dancer Pat Tracey, using a collection of steps passed down through her family. These steps date back to the 1820s. Tracey originally devised The Machinery as a group dance for Camden Clog but for the purposes of this project, Caroline Radcliffe has rechoreographed it for solo dancer.
The Machinery will be performed as a part of a research into performance event at Central School of Speech and Drama.
Central School of Speech and Drama
University of London
(nearest tube: Swiss Cottage)
17:15 – 19:15
Friday 4 December 2009
This event will be chaired by Ayse Tashkiran
Spacedog will be performing a couple of numbers at the latest School for Gifted Children – comedian Robin Ince‘s spectacular, celebrating all things scientific.
At the Komedia, Brighton, Thursday 29 October 2009
8:30pm (doors open 7pm)
Info and tickets
To tie in with the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, comedian and writer Robin will introduce a selection of guests including science writers Simon Singh and Richard Wiseman, comedian Josie Long, folk musician Gavin Osborn and Spacedog (please be aware that guests are subject to change).
It should be a fascinating evening – hope to see some of you there!
Rubberworld: research and copywriting on the history of rubber for the Eden Project, 2000.
I’ve been quite the hermit recently as I’ve been locked away in the archives, wading through old lab books, government documents and other curiosities. This is for a book I’m hoping to publish in 2010.
Spacedog will be performing our latest set at Goldsmiths Great Hall, 16 October 2009. We’ll be performing torch songs, death ballads and eerie English folk songs on a host of instruments, including theremin, laptops, vocals and home-spun musical robots.
We’ll be joining Leafcutter John, the Finn Peters Quartet and Slub for this evening of beautiful musical experiments, featuring humans and computers.
Some footage of Stonehenge, recorded on a handheld DVCam during a short, unscheduled trip, June 2005.
People travel great distances for a close-up experience with Stonehenge. But when they reach these ancient stones, an audio tour, delivered on a handheld plastic stick, competes for their attention.
Audio guides are becoming an increasingly common site in museums, galleries and ancient monuments. They enable you to give facts and figures to visitors speaking many different languages. But I have my reservations about them. In particular, I’m concerned about the way they grab attention, diverting visitors from their immediate surroundings.
Here, for example, you can see many people looking away from the stones – and from each other – so they can concentrate on their audio tour. At the end if the video, you can see a clip of someone who is so involved in the tour and the business of pressing buttons, he hasn’t looked at the stones at all. If you look carefully, you can also see him at the beginning of my circuit around the stones.
These are my personal opinions of audio tours – I’d be interested to hear yours so do comment below. I’m particularly interested in ways to impart facts and figures, without putting people in such a ‘cognitive bubble’. I wouldn’t want to clutter the site with labels. Would a multilingual preshow work better? How about using human tour guides?
Update 11 October: My appearance has been postponed by the venue due to problems with space – I hope to see you there at a later date!
I’ll be bringing Spin Recovery, a small, experimental installation, involving robotic bells, cameras and video projections, to Brighton’s first SoundCurious event. At the Coachwerks, Brighton, 11 October 2009. POSTPONED.
SoundCurious is an ongoing series of curated performances, workshops, lectures and demonstrations examining all aspects of sound and vibration. It’s curated by Alice Eldridge.
My piece appears on the Sunday evening but SoundCurious runs all weekend. Day tickets are available, as well as tickets for the whole weekend. Further details and booking information here.
Over the last few months, I’ve been collaborating with Punchdrunk, the marvellous encounter theatre company, to make a very unusual multimodal effect – one that mixes emerging ideas in perception with a one-on-one theatrical encounter.
I’ll be revealing more about the nature of this effect in a few months, when some formal studies are complete. However, I can reveal we’ve piloted the effect – and have had some encouraging feedback – and have already used it (tentatively) in the recent Punchdrunk show: It Felt Like a Kiss. This documentary, the form of a promenade piece, was devised by Punchdrunk in collaboration with documentary maker Adam Curtis (featuring music from Damon Albarn). It Felt Like A Kiss was created in summer 2009 for the Manchester International Festival.
Hello! You’ve stumbled on my rough and ready page of videos I’ve been collating, as I’ve been exploring the Uncanny Valley hypothesis – a hotly debated theory about our very human fear of almost human objects. Do feel free to comment!
What is the uncanny valley?
When we encounter a ventriloquist’s dummy, a human automaton or highly-realistic computer graphic of a person (see below), many of us feel slightly disturbed, afraid or revolted. It’s a curious reaction as on the whole, inanimate objects seem more cuddly and loveable when they seem more human – we hug ragdolls more than fluffy cushions, for example. Surprisingly, we feel empathy towards objects that look and move like us – but we feel uneasy around mimics that are too good.
In 1970, cognitive scientist Masahiro Mori noticed this phenomenon and plotted human likeness and familiarity on a graph. He said familiarity plummets when objects become too human-like – we become very fussy about deviations from the human form when the mimicry is very good. This drop in familiarity could explain why we find such human mimics so eerie. Mori also noted that an extremely good mimic would be indistinguishable from a real human. We’ve never built robots or dummies that are this convincing but there are some fictional examples, for instance the Replicants in Blade Runner.
Thus, Mori’s graph shows a significant dip in familiarity when objects are almost human but not perfectly human-like. He called this dip ‘The Uncanny Valley’. Mori’s graph has two lines. The solid line considers our reaction to static objects, the dotted one concerns objects that are moving. According to Mori, moving objects are all the more uncanny. And zombies (moving corpses) would be the most disturbing objects of all.
Mori's uncanny valley hypothesis
Mori’s Uncanny Valley graph, drawn in 1970, seemed to be describing a recognisable, subjective experience although – surprisingly to many people who talk about uncanniness – his original graph wasn’t backed up by any experimental data. In recent years, various scientists, most notably roboticist David Hanson, have tried to put Mori’s hypothesis to the test, although none have done so conclusively.The existence of an unbridgeable uncanny valley remains an open question.
Video examples of potentially uncanny artefacts
Hanson works with a material called Flubber to create robotic faces that can present a large range of finely-varying human expressions. His videos are particularly interesting because Hanson refutes the existence of an unbridgeable Uncanny Valley. Hmm…
Computer game and film animation
This animated film uses motion capture but fails to capture the motion of the original actor’s eyes:
Old school: knee pals, dolls, automata etc:
These examples are interesting because they feel uncanny, even though their physical realism is low.
A beautiful, eerie automaton from Gustave Vichy, c1880, restored by automatomania.com. I want one (and have been obsessing over its mechanism):
The Little Girl Giant from Royal de Luxe:
“I’m going to put you back in your box”:
…and Arthur Worsley at work:
Clara 2.0 and Uncanny Valerie
I became very interested in uncanniness when I noticed how disturbed people were by my robot doll Clara 2.0, especially when I shut her into her box at the end of the night. In this video, Clara’s the doll holding the card, Valerie is the doll with the long sparkly dress. I think Valerie is too sweet to earn the title ‘uncanny’ – but I’m working on that…