Terence is in the second-year of BSc Creative Computing at Goldsmiths. His project, Mediated Perception, is currently shortlisted for DevArt, a competition run by Google and the Barbican Centre to source the best new digital art for the Digital Revolution exhibition.
How did you arrive at Goldsmiths?
After my art foundation in Newcastle I studied sculpture at Camberwell College of Arts, but I dropped out after a year. I was getting really interested in programming, and was frustrated with what I was being taught at college. I felt they were only teaching us about sculptors who made sculptures about sculpture. It was such a relief to come to Goldsmiths because I just wanted to get on and do stuff. In first year we made our own versions of Pong – it’s great that you can just get on with designing stuff that’s interesting.
What are you studying?
BSc Creative Computing is a combination of lectures and labs on core computer science (learning how to programme, and to build databases and websites) and creative computing, which is all about experimenting with graphics and audio. Things like building your own synthesiser and creating 3D graphics, but also looking at the maths behind how people perceive images and sound. I’ve always been interested in Photoshop, so in my first year at Goldsmiths I wanted to learn more about manipulating images, and ended up creating my own version of Photobooth for my end-of-year project (see video).
Terence’s Photobooth project
Tell us about your current project
Over the summer me and my flatmate got really excited about a new virtual reality headset called the Oculus Rift. They’re not available to the general public, so we had to pretend to be games developers to be able to get hold of one. My flatmate, who’s studying Photography at London College of Communication, wanted to use it to create a virtual art gallery. But I was more interested in discovering what it would be like if you could mess with people’s perceptions.
Instead of the user seeing a virtual reality, I attached two webcams to the front of the headset. By feeding these onto the VR screen the user gets a replica of their normal vision. And then once you’ve sorted that out, you can distort and manipulate the ‘reality’ that they see. I’ve been experimenting with using it as a synaesthesia simulator – using music to trigger visual effects like colour shifting, wobble, blurring and temporal layering. But you can also trigger perceptual distortions using head movement, changes in brightness, or the detection of motion and faces.
The low, medium & high audio frequencies control colour shifting, wobble, blurring and temporal layering.
Are there any real world uses for this?
I want to keep an open mind. There’s a lot of people working on augmented reality but it’s mostly about adding information like Twitter feeds, which isn’t that interesting. I’m much more interested in building things and then experimenting freely.
I saw a BBC documentary called The Creative Brain: How Insight Works that features a Dutch researcher who puts people in virtual reality environments where weird things happen, stuff that’s impossible in the real world, like objects floating. Then when the users do a creativity test afterwards, they score much higher than average. So letting people experience things differently for a short time could be beneficial. Maybe my mediated perception project could be a valuable experience. But, as I say, I really don’t know yet.
Have your tutors been supportive of your project?
Mick Grierson, who teaches the Creative Computing course, has been really supportive. He’s encouraging me to make the craziest things I can.
I’ve been working non-stop on this project for the past month or so, but three weeks ago I got very close to giving up. I broke the cameras by accidentally ripping a load of electronics of a circuit board with a hacksaw, and I just went crazy. I’d been working incredibly hard but I had nothing to show for it, so I was completely ready to give up. When I told Mick, he was really distraught and encouraged me to keep going. I pulled myself together, got back to work, and then two weeks later my project was chosen to feature in the DevArt competition! If I win first prize, Google and the Barbican Centre will give me £25,000 to develop my project for an exhibition that tours around the world.