Research in position tracking: STEIM projects in the past

Local composer Yannis Kyriakides came to us with a project that required detecting position of multiple people in a room. Position tracking is a common problem often solved with video these days. Since we just released the new version of junXion with video tracking, we wanted to experiment with this along with other combination of sensors.

While I asked our hardware staff Byungjun to research about recent projects, I started talking to Nico Bes, STEIM’s current Studio Manager who was also the STEIM’s engineer in the 70’s, about some projects in the past.

Philippa Cullen: pressure sensitive dance floor (1972)

phillippa cullen
Phillipa Cullen dancing with a Theremin

Sometime around 1972-73, Australian interactive dance pioneer Philippa Cullen (1950 – 1975) came to STEIM to build floors that detects the dancer’s movement and translate it to sound. The system was based on two layers of wood with a light bulb and photo cell on the each side. When a dancer would walk on it, the wood would bend enough (especially in the middle) to give a varying voltage signal which was amplified to control a VCS 3 Putney synthesizer. This instrument was used for a improvised performance by Cullen at STEIM. Unfortunately no documentation is left, but Stephen Jones has written some papers that describes a very similar instrument that Cullen showed at Australia 75 in Canberra, March 1975. It’s very likely that she had the original system by Nico rebuilt when she returned from Europe.

I asked Nico to draw the pressure dance floors from memory

Kees van Zelst: Ogenblik (1986)
Kees is our sound and light guy when we do concerts, but he was also a very active percussionist / electronic composer during the 70’s and 80’s. In 1986, STEIM built a special light sensor extension for the Black Box modular system for Kees’s project. This instrument was originally used with dancers but was later shown as an installation as Ogenblik at the Muziek Aktueel…Steim exhibition in the City Museum of The Hague. The system had 8 photo cells to detect the ambient light in the room. When people would walk in front of it, the changing signal would be amplified to control various filters in the the Black Box and also trigger tapes. Also in the installation version, a computer software was written to change the curve of the sensor signal before it went to the sounding devices. During the development of this system, a fully digital version was imagine which later led to the development of BigEye.

Picture of Ogenblik from Muziek Aktueel…Steim catalog

The photo cell sensors

Kees with the STEIM Black Box Modular Synth System

BigEye (1996 ~ )
BigEye was one of the earliest video analysis software available to artists. STEIM’s former software engineer Tom Demeyer created to program, initially stemming from a collaboration with Fred Kolman. Many projects were made with this program, especially to track people and objects, but I will save writing it for now because I plan to sit down with Tom soon to ask more in detail about the video work STEIM did in the mid and late 90’s.

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