City towers seem to have a certain resonance these days, which was nicely tapped into by a German project ( www.blinkenlights.de/arcade/live.en.html ) which allowed all the window lights of an office block to be controlled by mobile fones to play tetris or by Berlin VJ Falk, who drowned the building in animation. He speaks here:
How did the Blinkenlights project come about?
Blinkenlights was first put into action in Berlin last year. The German Chaos Computer Club (www.ccc.de) was celebrating its 20th anniversary and thought it’d be cool to light up the windows in of a large building to show their logo. Hacking together the soft and hardware the CCC managed to turn a house in the middle of the city – into a huge computer screen sporting 18 by 8 pixels. The computer used was a pre pentium (I think 386) running Linux online. The lights were cheap construction work lamps and the windows were painted white. 5000 meter cables running all over and glued together.
The second Blinkenlights incarnation in Paris had more windows so the resolution was increased to 26×20, and the addition of grayscale. We now had eight scales of gray, which made the animations smoother and better looking overall. The installation was dubbed ARCADE as it was pretty close in resolution and possibility to the early arcade computer games. What you had in the end was a HUGE very low-res grayscale computer screen.
What was your involvement?
When I saw the first Blinkenlights in Berlin I thought it was perfect for my live video installations and performances. I filmed most of the beautiful animations, later resampling and blending them into my own art. I’d had a long time involvement with the CCC, and showed my Blinkenlights VJ set at last years Congress. The Blinkenlights crew liked it a lot and invited me to do a special Set at the Blinkenlights Berlin Switch-Off Party. Then we came up with the idea of doing a live VJ set on the Blinkenlights Paris installation. My VJ set coupled with an audio reactive levelmeter was targeted to be the high point of the 10 day installation in Paris.
How were people able to get involved online?
People could download a little program called Arcadepaint (the Berlin version was called blinkenpaint) to create animations. Over 600 were emailed in to the Blinkenlights team. You could also stand where you could see the house, and dial up a french phone number and play 4 popular games on the house: Tetris (the number one favorite of the crowd), Breakout, Pong and a lite version of Pacman with one level. Coders could program their own games and features through an open source application interface. An application of this was the audio reactive level meter also showcased on the final night. For viewers there was a high quality live stream the whole 10 days.
How did it actually turn out on the night?
🙂 The installation itself was very nice. I was first put live on the house it all looked much better then expected. Thanks to Sven from the open source Gimp project there was a special Linux MPlayer Blinkenlights plug.in that could convert any live video input to the special Blinkenlightsformat. I had the big limitation that the resolution and the 8 shades of gray made most of my video clips look like random pixels. Only the clips with a lot contrast worked. There was also no way to layer video as this just created a random pixels mess. The house sported 25 frames per second and synchronizing a whole house big video screen to music made a very very big affect on the crowd and myself. As a VJ you can’t ask for more than playing on 3370m2 screen – its world record 🙂 We all are very motivated now – we call it: THE BLINKENLIGHTS EFFECT.
What got the biggest crowd response?
The interactive games! People where playing tetris all night through. The sent in animations that where funny or 3d rotating objects like the ones send in by Australian by the name “spin by ben” – worked very well and where most liked by the crew. I think the dancing people and clear typography effects worked best on the house, and the pure synching with the music made the biggest impression. It has a big impact if you turn on and off a whole house to the beat of very good techno music. It feels a little like making the whole city dance 🙂
What other projects are you working on?
We now start work on the Blinkenlights:Arcade documentation video and DVD. I am planning a next generation club near Berlin, and of course video is at the forefront of the club and there is also a lightweight Blinkenlights version in the thoughts. Together with the worldwide Aveja Video Collective (www.aveja.net) we are planning to release a VJ DVD.
hack the planet // fALk – http://www.prototypen.com/blog/falk/ //