Depression Era Thinking

My time at PNCA is capped with a thesis project.  Since the moment I’ve walking in the door of the school, I’ve been brainstorming on what my thesis would be.  I have notebooks of ideas, and a few independent projects that would have sufficed to fill the requirement.  Simply “filling the requirement” has alway been in opposition of how I work.  I want work filled with inspiration, that shines.  Enter Pete Miser.
Pete hit me up in my middle of my thesis proposal year about working on a video in conjunction with the release of a forthcoming album, Depression Era Thinking.  He wasn’t really looking for something specific, and remarked on doing a montage of b-roll of footage (mostly aerial) from the Portland area.  He wasn’t looking for someone to specifically fullfull his particular vision of a “hip hop” video, but instead someone who would look it without sticking to the troupes of a “rap video.”  Despite having been a hiphop dj/graffiti writer, falling into the cliches of hiphop.
With the above in mind, I wrote a treatment divided into 3 acts.  The first gives the viewer an easy access point

The above screentest was used to determine the mood of the video in relationship to the mood of Pete’s new album.  The music is overshadowed with emotional pain.  It doesn’t mire in self-misery but also doesn’t move away from engaging the source of pain; the death of Pete’s mother and two oldest brothers.  This makes for very delicate material to work with.


I was fortunate enough to be contacted by Oregon Field Guide for a project they were working on. As OPB has always been on my list of dream employers, it was very exciting. One of those moments where you feel that your life’s work is taking you exactly where you want.

The project was an OFG’s special, Unprepared (full documentary available at the link).  Unprepared uses Japan’s 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami as a point of reference to talk about the level of preparedness of Portland, and the area surrounding the Cascadian Subduction Zone.  To do this, there were shots from the air that were vital in showing the scope of the problem Portland is facing.

My contributed imagery showed how the city is bisected by the Willamette and connected by a large number of bridges.  It showed the vast petroleum farms on the bank of the Willamette built on dredge tailings.  In the overall scope of the episode, the footage played a small role compared to the aerial footage supplied by manned craft.  This was largely controlled by the bureaucratic climate of the time, which only allowed commercial drone footage to be used if it was pre-existing and shot for fun.  OPB as a rule was not permitted to hire me as a drone operator and commission me to shoot specific footage.  Now that I’m a Part 107, FAA-Certified Commercial Drone Pilot, I expect to do more project-specific work for OPB and OFG in the future.

Aerial footage used to promote Oregon Field Guide’s Unprepared

Gasco Building

My frequent trips past the St. Johns bridge has another landmark dotting the route.  The Portland Gas and Coke Building.  The building is over a hundred years old, and has sat vacant for around half of it’s life.  I had been wanting to do a quick fly around the building because of its distinctive architecture, and the heavy layer of patina.  It’s a striking structure.  As the building has sat there untouched for as long as I can remember, I put shooting it on my B-list.

That changed when I heard the NW Natural intended to tear down the structure.  Citing that the building was too hazardous to rehab, and that the surrounding lands are a superfund site, they started moving forward with demolition.  I knew that I had to go and shoot it as soon as possible.

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ShellNo Protest Coverage

On the morning of July 29th I woke up in the usual fashion.  I laid in bed and scrolled through my social media feeds to read about the day and respond to this and that.  I was flooded with people asking me if I was going to film the protesters.  These protesters rappelled off the side of Portland’s St. Johns Bridge, a bridge I’ve shot via drone on several occasions, my first drone video of the bridge having gone viral.  So, it made sense that people would expect me to shoot this happening.  I am also actively working on ways to use my drone safely for activism work.

I was reluctant to cover the protest due to the amount of news air traffic, and elected to go down only after my frequent spotter Jeremiah Frerichs said he was available.  We headed down to a secluded launch spot on the west side of the bridge and started shooting.

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The footage gained a lot of attention quickly.  The video posted to Facebook got about 33k views in 24 hours, was picked up by several local media outlets and was used to lead‘s story on the protest.

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The video:


As I sit typing this, I’m reading of the protesters being broken up by local officials and the Coast Guard and have asked my wife to come home early to take over parenting duty.

She came home early, and I immediately set out amongst rush hour traffic to get to the far end of town, where the St. Johns Bridge is located.  I ran a couple lights, swerved through traffic, and arrived at my concealed takeoff spot just in time to catch the Finnica pass under the bridge.


When I first flew into the area, I found the space where the protesters had been removed, and parked the drone in that space.  I had thoughts of being one of the first protesters to use a drone for civil disobedience.  That thought was quickly wiped away with the thought of my kids seeing me behind bars.  I then shot photos and videos and got out of there as soon as possible.

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I immediately drove to the OPB Studio and handed over the footage.  As a lover of almost all things OPB, I was happy to give them some of the best looking imagery of the protest.  They were very appreciative and quickly used the photos and video.

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OPB also used the video footage in a quick montage of the events.

The imagery moved onto local print as well.  The Willamette Week ran a story on the protest and optioned two photos.

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It’s always a good feeling to see your work in print.  Especially a double page print.  My jaw dropped as soon as I saw it.  It’s always interesting how tactile media draws a more emotional connection to the viewer, and event the producer of the content.

Screens and Devices.

I appreciated this class greatly.  It took my head out of what was on the screen, and brought it out in front of the screen, and into the space that the screen occupies.  Instead of mearly considering how the viewer considers the content of the screen, I was able to view how the view engages the screen, and the space surrounding it.  It greatly helped me contextualize my medium of choice.

Instead of only seeing the screen, mouse, and keyboard as the interface to interactive computational-based work, I was able to see through the computer as a mere connection between many other forms of interface.  It reminded me of the vest possibilities that were presented in OMNI and Beyond 2000, the past histories where the possibilities had not even been mapped, leaving only the creative to navigate a course.

As with anything, there was room for improvements, thankfully.  A perfectly mapped out course curriculum is stifling.  There was room for student/instructor exploration of the new.  This exploration with an experienced hand, was one of the best educational experiences I’ve had to date.

the need for blogging the work was key to my rebuilding of my personal website/blog.  this professional practice reinforcement is what is latently needed in more classes.  Not only did I learn a great deal about the curriculum, but I now present my findings with my artistic following in a professional, current manner.

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The Wrap

After spending a lot of time considering the video of the users of Reaction to Legalism, I was able to figure out some patterns of behavior.  Some that reinforced the project’s intent, and some that were distractions.  This lead me to correct some deficiencies in the installation, and focus some of the image and sound interfaces to guide the actions of the users a little more precisely.  Previously I had used a blighted door and lock as the UnPles to make the user feel claustrophobic.  This did not happen, and lead the user to think of the UnPles as a problem the needed solving.  This created a tangential narrative, and detracted from the installation’s intention.  For the revision I chose to be a little more blatant.  Using the optically physiological discomfort experience while red and blue light is flashing in contrast, I was able to use the same phenomenon used by law enforcement to cause and immediate sense of disorientation, leading to compliance.  The Artifact was also changed from being something that you only had to lightly bow to use, to having to full on kneel on the floor to use.

It worked, exactly as expected.  The reaction time of the users, from seeking to avoid the UnPles, went from several minutes of “playing around” for a solution, to quickly seeking relief from the oppressive visual and auditory sensations.  The users still submitted to being implicated, despite having previous knowledge of what they might experience.  I also changed the physical interface in a simple, and impactful way.  I used a short throw projector to create a much larger screen on the wall.  This made for a much more immersive project.

There were still some technical difficulties upon installation setup that I think could be resolved if there were a dedicated space for students to build out their projects beforehand.  The processing power of the computer was still an issue.  The audio would “skip” instead of playing back smoothly.  In the case of the Ples, this created a distracting texture, pulling the user out of the calming state of brown noise exposure.  The delay in setup, also removed the possibility of setting up my DSLR for video documentation of the latest rendition of the project as I was eager to get the installation up and running.

Ultimately, I am very happy with the functionality, and the reaction of the project.  I learned a great deal about considering the installation space, and the reactions that users have when encountering the space.  There was a new social aspect to the project that I hadn’t encountered in the initial iteration.  The use of a more influential UnPles, led to users applying peer-pressure to their fellow users to comply. This was unseen in the initial iteration of the project.  It brought out a very substantial talking point about social organization and group psychology.  When the individual is experiencing discomfort, they will influence those around them if they feel it will bring an end to their discomfort, even if it means implicating them into an oppressive environment.  It is the Crab mentality, we will drown one another if it means we have a chance to escape.

I also learned a great deal about showmanship, or the amount of spectacle to add to an installation.  This was proven by the revising of the installation, but also by having the chance to see MSHR at S1 this semester.  Their work was very informative in regards to interactive installation design, as well as the performative aspects of a work.  I also need to give Ben Glas a solid amount of credit.  Our projects ran in a natural parallel regarding Isadora functions, and user reactions.  We were able to bounce ideas off of one another.  His input was an invaluable part of my discovery.


Static, Static, Recursive, Static

Reaction to Legalism had a little problem when first installed.  The artifact would deliver a false read to the MaKey MaKey.  This is why in the final video, you see me sitting there, as I’m manually triggering the project.

After researching, I’ve potentially found the culprit.  It seems the static caused by a laptop’s power supply is enough to cause a false trigger.  This being the cause is also reinforced by the fact that the project was originally designed using a desktop computer.

Recursive error.  Why?  I have no idea.  I don’t believe in flukes, so I’m hoping that this doesn’t happen during the final presentation.

Makey Makey Grounding Out

I was able to find this out due to this post:



The Physical Interface

User Implication Device (UID):

Prostration to cooperation.

Prostration to cooperation.

Nuts serve as leveling devices, and bolts as a cord storage location

Nuts serve as leveling devices, and bolts as a cord storage location

Chair to establish scale.

Chair to establish scale.

Maximum care was taken to not disturb the patina.

Maximum care was taken to not disturb the patina.

Programming Complete

I’ve wrangled Isadora into doing what I want.  When there are no people detected (using blob counting), then the project is in a dormant state.  Once a two people (blobs) have been detected, the “Ples” video plays and an UnPlesCounter (UPC) starts counting down.  Once the UPC reaches a specified value, a crossfade between Ples and UnPles occurs.  Once two people complete the MMc (MaKey MaKey circuit, the video switched back to Ples)  The UPC will not count down again, until the MMc is incomplete.  The project will become dormant once there are no blobs detected.


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Now to get started on the physical interface…

Video Crossfading

This seems to be my biggest hurdle so far.  This might be the solution.

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I was able to take a user made crossfader to get two of the videos to fade from one to another.  I need to make a “stop” for the out faded video upon crossfade completion.  And the crossfade needs also work between 3 videos, depending on the amount of people (blobs).

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I’ve worked out a 3 way, toggling, video crossfader, triggered by the MaKey MaKey circuit completion.  Now to make it more conditional.

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Project Function

Reaction to Legalism.

The project uses the punishment/reward principles of the Chinese philosophy of Legalism.  Collaborative compliance is rewarded, non-collaboration is punished, individualism ignored.

Project Functions:

Ples           Stereotypically pleasant videos and sounds.
UnPles     Stereotypically unpleasant videos and sounds.
Ples+        Brighter, more vibrant pleasant videos and sounds.
MMc          MaKey MaKey circuit completion
PosRef     Affirmation of intended action, positive reinforcement.

  • When no one is around, the project sits dormant, but is always scanning
  • Once one or more people are detected, it triggers the slow transition into Ples
  • If only one person is detected, the state remains in Ples
  • If there are more than one person detected, it triggers a timer.
  • After a specified length of time, set to the timer, there is a slow crossfade to UnPles
  • If MMc, before UnPles, then the slow crossfade to Ples+
  • If MMc after UnPles, then slow crossfade to Ples+
  • Upon MMc, PosRef.



Now that all that is down on paper, I can use it as a reference for building the interface.  It works great as a checklist of actors.

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