by Paul Vanouse, 2005

The Active-Stimulation Feedback Platform is a highly interactive electronic artwork about networks and flows, consent and resistance, desire and aversion.  It is a global simulation, extruded from the computer onto a physical interactive platform, a circle 12 feet in diameter, densely covered with arcade-style push buttons.  Viewer / participants interact with the simulation by walking, crawling and rolling across these buttons.  Their movement's trigger and bias playback of audio samples ("yes" or "no") recorded from 2000 people worldwide. 

Initiated in December 2003, the project was exhibited in progress at the International Cultural Heritage and Informatics Meeting, Haus der Culturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany, Sept 2004, and  premiered at the Beyond Western New York Biennial in the US, April, 2005.

(Adjacent image does not show all installation components, like computer projection (below) that shows which buttons are pressed and which buttons map to which world cities.

Physically, The Active-Stimulation Feedback Platform is a 12 foot, white circular platform approximately 18 inches high.  Mounted on the surface of the entire platform are 2000 red arcade-game buttons, spaced about 2 inches apart.  A conical speaker hangs above the platform.  Electronics, described later, reside underneath the platform.
     Each button is mapped to a different world city--the 2000 largest cities in the world. This mapping has been achieved by taking an existing map of the world, then treating each land-mass as a separate graphic object.  The computer program then makes the land masses "attract" one another (each land mass can move/rotate one pixel per program cycle trying to maximize its proximity to other land masses).  The land masses tend to form a nearly circular "pangaea" continent.  Lastly, the 2000 cities are mapped to buttons on the circular platform, roughly corresponding to their location in the new global continent.
      Physical geography in the work is de-stabilized and nothing delineates existing borders, which can be roughly gauged by different accents but not always definitively.  Certain adjacent relationships remain between countries sharing land-borders, but new ones are also formed, and these are in fact underdetermined.  Since the simulation that condenses the land-masses finds different "stable" states each time the program is run in some cases Europe may be central to the land mass, and at other times India or Africa.

(Fig 2) Computer projection showing depressed buttons. 
Red indicates "yes" and Blue indicates "No"

(figure 3) Active-Stimulation Feedback Platform at Big Orbit Gallery, Buffalo, NY.

2000 volunteers living in (or recently emmigrated from) each of these cities is recorded saying three simple words "Yes", "No" and "Maybe", in their native language, and the individual files (3 from each person) are stored as sound files in the computer and associated with the 2000 buttons.  Each button, when pushed plays either a "yes", "maybe", or a "no".
     The computer biases each button (whether it will say "yes", "maybe", "no") according to varied simulations.  These simulations are reminiscent of cold war war-game scenarios stemming from military think-tanks, and more recent economic forecasting stemming from economic think tanks. For instance, the recent invasion of Iraq could be seen as biases of "yes" emanating from US cities, while most European buttons would be biased for "no". Similarly, global justice movements could be modeled. The simulation--extruded into real space on the ASFP--may eventually be dynamic. That is, that depending on the regions of the globe that are activated (by pressing their buttons), they could influence neighboring regions.  Currently, the frequency of a buttons activation controls audio level at which the sample is played.  Public opinion data was obtained from the 2001 World Values Survey.  Questions include: "Would you ... attend a demonstration," "join a strike," etc.  The project will eventually incorporate web-based surveying as well (allowing on-line participators to vote "yes" or "no" for their city--responses would be tallied/averaged.)
Users interact with the system by first borrowing a tyvec unitard from an attendant.  Four or more participants may fit onto the platform at any one time. They experience the system by sitting, walking, crawling or preferably rolling around on the platform.  Rolling is especially stimulating as feeling and hearing the spring-loaded buttons click beneath one's body weight is similar to the experience of rolling across bubble-wrap--triggering a polyphony of "yes" and/or "no" responses.  Participants can see the social content of the simulation that they are entering into as the question flashes on the central projection screen.  Their movements can be either intentionally attempting to influence the simulation, or merely trying to survey the global state of the system.

(figure 4) Active-Stimulation Feedback Platform_Service Area.

(figure 5) "Sandwich-style" construction method allows the platform to be light and strong, and electrical connections to be embeded bewteen layers.

Computer simulations are typically used in economic modeling, military war game scenarios, viral epidemic statistics, population studies and consumer polling.  This artwork seek to reclaim such chaotic, predictive algorithms as a method to muse on varied possibilities of global feedback.  While it is in the wake of failed global efforts to constrain warfare that the project was initiated, it takes inspiration from the newly operationalized networks that formed in the process.  The attitude of this work is neither purely deconstructive nor cyber-utopian but does hope to inspire cooperative behavior across the simulated globe platform and perhaps even the real one.
     While new technology often remains trapped in western frameworks (such as English and Indo-European languages), this work is conceived with the idea of a polyphony of simple words from all major languages.  Linguists note that "yes" and "no" are some of the most basic utterances that are generally recognized even without familiarity with the language. Thus as already hinted at, the project is sympathetic to neo-humanist ideas of nomadic/diasporic, polyglot, networks as inherently empathetic structures capable of inspiring social progress.
The Active-Stimulation Feedback Platform  utilizes a parallel network of electronics attached to a computer.  In short, groups of 16 buttons are attached to one of 125 16-bit shift registers, groups of 16 shift registers are attached to one of 8 micro-controllers, each micro-controller sends midi-data of "on buttons" to an 8 input midi box, this midi box communicates with a computer via usb. While gauging the position of bodies in a defined space may be simpler using a video camera interfaced to the computer, such a passive interface is less tactile, intentional or stimulating for the participant than the 2000 button platform. The computer programming environment used to handle midi input and play up to 32 simultaneous audio files is MAX/MSP.

(figure 6) Custom interface box (shown without top cover) --showing 2 of 8 microcontrollers and connectors.  The box has 64 inputs for shift registers and 8 midi outs that are sent to an 8-channel midi unit and then out via usb to the computer.


More Images (high resolution jpgs)


Thanks to:
Dr. Thomas Furlani
Dr. Ron Inglehart
Matt Kantar
Eve Killaby
Dr. Thenkurussi Kesavadas
Peiyun Lee
Arzu Ozkal
Rich Pell
Xavier Perrot
Pritul Shah
Igor Vamos

Supported by:
Interdisciplinary Research and Creative Activities Fund, University at Buffalo
New York Foundation for the Arts, Artist Fellowship
U.S. Embassy, Berlin, Federal Assistance Award

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