MGFest 2010 Chicago :: Idea, Brand and Artistic Provocateurs

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mason dixon's picture

Written by John Patterson
President at Hollywood Farms, Owner at Influence Ecology, Founder & President at Chicago Convergence

Seeking "Idea Sponsors," is how Mason Dixon, co-director of the Motion Graphics Festival differentiated the 2010 event. In it's fifth year, MGFest is known nationally as the "premier creative conference for motion design, visual effects, sound design and interface technology."

Chicagoans Mason Dixon and MGFest Directors Julee Wood and Troy Milstead (thru their Audio/Video event engineering company Psymbolic) have been a major source of creativity, not only here, but have produced the festival in Austin, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Orlando, Washington DC and this year, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

What is so unique about the festival is that, although it's focus is motion design, the experience is about discovery, interactivity, education and creativity. "Creativity happens, not in the convention centers and hotel ballrooms, but in the little nooks and dark spaces," says Mason. This art is "not about presenting something, the way television talks to you, but it is very interactive, more of a dialog; a way that people can engage motion design... and the way motion design engages people."

With official plans to be unveiled this month (unique sessions, labs, imagination college, receptions, community pavilion, networking and press opportunities, entertainment & art parties, art directors features, meet-the-team discussions and unconference discussions), MGFest, which used an invented currency (designed by Shepard Fairey the OBEY Giant) for their 2009 circuit, are always experimenting; not just with content - but with the event's very structural nature.

For example, 2010 will see "Artists as Curators," says Dixon, "Chicago has many internationally renown artists... not always known or celebrated here; hidden talents that will provide their unique vision," Dixon claims. The intent is that Artists as Curators will allow the entire experience to unfold organically by all those that participate; in essence every participant becomes an artistic collaborateur. A shorter event than in previous years, MGFest Chicago 2010 is five days packed with potency and promises "an unprecedented degree of event integration."

As with anything cutting edge, "most larger brands don't understand how to plug into the festival because it doesn't fit the traditional model," says Milstead. "We definitely have a menu of ways for large sponsors to benefit from the event, but we also seek their own ingenuity." With participation online and through live events, MGFest connects artists, participants, curators and sponsors not just locally, but across screening events in over 30 cities nationwide; most large-scale metropolitan areas are included providing an artistic experience that falls somewhere between Burning Man, Lollapalooza and Chat Roulette. The festival audience is immense and provides the rich creative soup that fosters the evolution of artistic expression in a digital age.

Psymbolic, also a multimedia label "represents a select roster of audio, visual and multimedia artists available for bookings and commissions worldwide." Julee, Troy and Mason are not only intellects of artistic merit (their experimentation likened to a digital/graphic Bauhaus), but have woven their business into a ever-expanding artist, client, and brand fusion that tests the limits of motion design and artistic experience.

MGFest 2010 Chicago :: September 15-19

For more information on MGFest 2010
For more information on Psymbolic's clients and services


Creating Unique Event Experiences

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psymbolic visuals's picture

Written by Jameson Wallace
Professor, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Advertisers designing retail spaces have coined the term "Experience Design" to describe the full coordination of the digital technology used in the store.

Event producers on the other hand create temporary versions of these designed experiences, and with the proliferation of digital devices into nearly every area of our lives, those that produce large-scale multimedia events are increasingly looking to new emerging media forms to enhance the excitement of participants.

Event producers like Psymbolic's Troy Milstead and Julee Wood orchestrate mediums such as music, video, lighting, digital kiosks, flat panel televisions, mobile devices, camera crews, actors, interior decorating, installations, sculptures and web-enabled interactive custom devices.

"As artists, we strive to create something that engages an audience and captures their imagination without distracting them from the social environment around them." Troy explains.

In 2008 for the first time, the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau integrated live video projection and new media elements into their annual Burnham Bash by working with Psymbolic. This annual event is a gathering of approximately 1,000 of Chicago’s top industry professionals and decision makers as well as distinguished representatives from government, non-profits, civic organizations and the media.

In follow up to the gala, creative director, Rani Woolpert expressed, "Psymbolic mixed a gorgeous canvas of imagery that played out beautifully in the space. I loved the montages of four images at a time. They were like master canvases. Combined with the lighting, the video canvases you created put guests into a rich landscape of color and a celebration of Chicago as a beautiful city. The space seemed to inspire people."

Rani continued, "I spoke with at least two individuals who have produced events in the Navy Pier's Grand Ballroom who said they had never seen it look like that. I wish you could have seen the look in the eyes of the person I was talking with, who is the president of one of the leading destination management companies in the city. He was just in love with the room. You get the idea. I am still living in the painting, and it is beautiful. Thank you for your professionalism and aesthetic sensibilities. I am so glad you were available for this event! To many more!!!"

Another event being an award ceremony put on by 40 North | 88 West - Champaign County's Arts Council presents the ACE Awards for recognition in Arts, Culture and Entertainment given out annually during the National Arts & Humanities Month.

In 2008, 40 North called upon Psymbolic to create an effective way to capture, display and visually communicate the award ceremony. What was being awarded, the meaning of the award, and the background information about the award winner was visually delivered to multiple rooms of the venue uniting the entire audience. Following the award ceremony, Psymbolic performed again during the after party showing real time visuals coordinated to live performances and diverse music.

In follow up to the award ceremony, director of operations, Steven Bentz expressed, "I want to thank Psymbolic again for the outstanding efforts surrounding last week’s 40 North ACE Awards. Your video elements helped make this year’s ceremony a complete success and something that people around the community are still commenting on." The Champaign News-Gazette, in one of their two follow-up articles praised the "glitzy" production values at the event.

Steven continued, "[Psymbolic's] excellent pre-production and live execution gave the ACE Awards a much greater impact for people attending the event, and we can’t thank you enough for your support. With your help, 2008 was the smoothest, most effective ACE Award presentation yet."

Psymbolic has been invited to design the experiences of both events again this year.

With the ever increasing speed of computer processors and mobile devices, these technologies offer a bold new palette of options for event architects.

"We're living in a time where computers are finally fast enough to be used for high-resolution realtime visual performance." commented Troy. "There's nothing quite like the feeling of introducing something new and witnessing the amazement. The art and challenge is to create visual environments that synchronize with the mood of the moment."

Psymbolic started out as an artist name for Julee & Troy (soon to be renamed V-DUO) and over the past decade Psymbolic has evolved into a Multimedia Label representing a select roster of audio, visual and multimedia artists that go above and beyond to create memorable events.

You can learn more about these newest changes in multimedia event production at Psymbolic's nationally touring Motion Graphics Festival. The Festival offers educational workshops on many of the technologies used to create unique event experiences in addition to showcasing the explosive artists and creators that develop them.

Designing Experiences

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troy's picture

Experience Design (XD) is the practice of designing products, processes, services, events, and environments with a focus placed on the quality of the user experience and culturally relevant solutions, with less emphasis placed on increasing and improving functionality of the design.

Experience Design requires a cross-discipline perspective that considers multiple aspects of the brand/business/environment/experience and seeks to develop the experience of a product, service, or event along any or all of the following dimensions:

* Duration (Initiation, Immersion, Conclusion, and Continuation)
* Intensity (Reflex, Habit, Engagement)
* Breadth (Products, Services, Brands, Nomenclatures, Channels/Environment/Promotion, and Price)
* Interaction (Passive < > Active < > Interactive)
* Triggers (All Human Senses, Concepts, and Symbols)
* Significance (Meaning, Status, Emotion, Price, and Function)

The more in-depth and consistently an event is developed across
these dimensions, the more responsive an offering is to a
participants needs and desires.

pushing pixels & re:listening to Bios & Logos by Mark Pesce

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troy's picture

pushing pixels & re:listening to Bios & Logos a very informative session by Mark Pesce an early pioneer in Virtual Reality.

Bios & Logos in text below thanks to Future Hi

A constant challenge I have when writing about the future, especially the singularity, is we are talking about something that by it's own definition is incomprehensible within our human linguistic framwork. I'm constantly searching for words, pictures, ideas, metaphors and models to better grasp whats coming.

According to Mark Pesce, creator of VRML and many other things, this appears to already have an historical precedent.

Things may look as though they’re going fast now, but this is nothing – literally, absolutely nothing – next to what’s about to happen, because (and now we have precedent for it) we’re about to see a technological acceleration on a similar order to the acceleration we saw when the logos separated from the bios. In this case, techne, our ability, is about to be freed from logos, our ability to describe it.

Below is the most interesting description (by Mark Pesce) that I have ever read about the singularity.


The Dawn of Life

To have a discussion of the origins of life on planet Earth, I need to discuss two fundamental texts, books that I would encourage you to read.

The first of these is John McFadden’s Quantum Evolution, in which he takes a look at a hitherto unresearched field – how quantum mechanics influences molecular biology, and, in particular, the functioning of DNA.

DNA enters a superpositional state – that is, it enters as many as ten-to-the-500th universes, in order to find a situation where it can produce some situation where it will entangle itself in the physical world – in other words, can sustain itself.

The improbability of life thus comes to rest on a firm foundation of physics, the first time there’s been any hint that our understanding of the world can help us understand one of the great mysteries of the world – how life came to be.

The second book is the recently published A New Kind of Science, by Steven Wolfram. Wolfram may be the Issac Newton of our generation (people are still debating this point, and will for the next hundred years).

Wolfram defines something called the Law of Computational Equivalence. We think of physics as being composed of formula, such as e=mc2, or F=ma or pv=Nrt. While Wolfram doesn’t call the validity of these formulae into question, he does insist that they’re not enough to describe the reality of the physical world. In addition to these formulae, there are processes, outcomes which can not be predicted in a simple, mathematical fashion, but rather are more like computer programs which need to be executed before their results can be known.

The difference between the world before Wolfram and the world after is the difference between Newton and Darwin.

Newton saw the entire world as a giant clocklike work of machinery and gears, together working seamlessly to create the physical universe.

Darwin envisioned the world as a collection of processes, working through time, to create the nearly infinite variety of forms which populate the natural world. Without process, there is no model for evolution; organisms do not evolve according to formulas, but rather because of their continuous interactions within the environment.

In his book, Wolfram tells us that this is the new model for physical reality, and we need to apply this model as broadly as possible. Nearly all physical processes of consequence in our world take place not in isolation, but as a consequence of repeated interactions in their environments.

What does this mean about the history of Earth? What we know is this: just about as soon as the Earth had cooled enough to allow the formation of some relatively complex chemical structures, life began. The Earth still had an average temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (!) when life began.
Why could life begin? The quantum evolution hypothesis states that these molecules could search the quantum multiverse of 10-to-the-500th power worlds to find a world where they could sustain their interactions, where they could continue to exist.

We’re talking about creating quantum computers today, which can employ these same properties to crack encryption codes or solve other sorts of mathematical puzzles far beyond us now, but it turns out that nature has probably been exploiting this trick all along! And the latest scientific tests show that these simple molecules can enter that weird quantum world, so, as far as it’s been possible to prove the underlying assumptions of quantum biology, they’ve held up.

Once life popped out of the multiverse, it became subject to the new laws unearthed by Steven Wolfram. Within the environment, organisms interacted in unpredictable ways, and every interaction of every organism on any other organism changed both organisms. Some organisms fought with each other, some combined with each other – for example, the mitochondria which provide the power for your body’s cellular processes are the by-product of such a fusion – and from a simple set of rules, endlessly repeated throughout time, we can actually see the grand sweep of evolution emerge out of the physical processes which undergird nature.

The next four billion years of life could be characterized as a continuous set of interactions between different organisms in the natural environment, and every interaction in every environment leaves an impression – an information transfer – between these organisms. Some or even most of these interactions are nearly insignificant, but some of them concern the life or death of an individual member of a species, and, in those rare instances, that species either becomes extinct or a change is made in the species, recorded in the natural memory of DNA.

DNA is the information – and it’s nothing but information – which is the ultimate arbiter of the forms of the natural world; it’s a form of very slow memory. In each one of you, in nearly every one of your cells, is a memory of all the interactions your ancestors have ever had, from the very first cell, down to the present moment – that present moment being a rather long one – about 150 thousand years.

The Dawn of Man

It’s believed that homo sapiens emerged in Southern Africa, just about 150,000 years ago, and although there are now some contradictions to the “out of Africa” argument about humanity’s origins, it seems that the humans that we are all came from this same place, at around this time, slowly diffusing northward across Africa, and reaching the Eurasian land bridge in the Middle East, and fanning out from there toward both Asia and Europe.

Now although we call these first ancestors homo sapiens – meaning they were genetically identical to ourselves – we don’t think of them as human in the same sense we think of ourselves as human. This is for one primary reason: we don’t see the hallmarks of human culture in these earliest human beings.

What do I mean by culture? Well, until last year, we had though that humanity as we know it began about 35,000 years ago, because we found the representative elements of a human culture. However, last year we found equally convincing proof that this actually extends back at least 75,000 years. It could be that, eventually, we’ll see that humanity-as-we-understand-it goes back as far as homo sapiens itself. Who can say?

We mean culture, in the sense of modern humans, because of the existence of cultural artifacts.

Homo Neandertalis, the Neanderthal who preceded the modern human, had a larger brain than ours, and was stronger and able to survive across a wider range of climates. However, the kinds of artifacts the Neanderthals left behind were extremely crude; very basic stone tools, which did not show any significant evolution over the lifespan of the species.

In other words, while the Neanderthals were completely situated within the natural environment, their adaptation to it happened just once, and then stopped.

So now we come to what makes us human: the history of homo sapiens begins, some 75,000 years ago, with some etchings on a piece of rock, nothing more than a series of wavy lines. This may not seem like much, but it’s the first example of decoration.

What is decoration? It’s something that serves no functional purpose – for example, a coat of paint doesn’t change the function of a house – but acts as a signifier of some reality that exists only in the mind of the beholder. In other words, a physical object has become a symbol, standing in for something other than itself.

The thing that separates us from the Neanderthal isn’t brain size, or brute strength, but a symbolic manipulation capability.

In order to have symbols, you need to have a consciousness capable of symbolic manipulation, that is to say a linguistic consciousness. While paleoanthropologists believe that the Neanderthal had some very basic linguistic capabilities, it is believed that these abilities were very limited – perhaps similar in nature to those of a year-old child, capable of identifying objects or actions, but little more.

What we see with homo sapiens is that this linguistic ability overflowed into the entirety of consciousness. The first benefit of this was the emergence of what we understand as language: nearly every human being has an innate capability to take a few symbols and manipulate them infinitely.

For example, although few of us ever use more than about 2000 English words, we can describe just about anything with those words, because we can instantaneously recombine them in any sensible order to create new forms of expression.

That’s what those 75,000 year-old squiggly lines on a piece of stone imply: that our internal linguistic capability, which gave us language, had overflowed onto the material world, and that the material world had been consumed by our linguistic capability.

This is an important point, perhaps the central point I’m trying to make today: everything you look out upon from your eyes, exists less as a physical reality than as a construction of linguistic form.

But there’s another point we need to understand about the consequences of our linguistic capability, because it’s set us on a path toward the Singularity.
Raymond Kurzweil says that his machine singularity is absolutely inevitable because machines can perform computations about 10 million times faster than human neurons can. That’s as may be, but once again I think Kurzweil missed the big story.

For 4 billion years, DNA was the recording mechanism of history, the memory of biology. As soon as we developed language, we no longer needed the slower form of DNA for memory; we could use the much faster form of language, which produced with it a deep sense of memory within the individual – since the linguistic symbols could be contained within the human mind.

Since we became a symbol-manipulating species, our forward evolution, in DNA terms, has come to a dead stop. (This has recently been proposed by reputable scientists.) However, our linguistic capabilities allow us to perform acts of memory much faster than DNA, probably at least 10 million times faster!

So, suddenly, homo sapiens is not just a biological entity working within the matrix of DNA and its slow historical recording, but now bursts through and starts processing its interactions within the environment 10 million times faster than ever before.

That’s a great thing. It’s made us the planetary force that we are today. But there’s a big price we paid for it, a price we’re not even vaguely aware of.

For all of evolutionary time, information had to travel the slow route through biology – through the bios - before it would be coded into our DNA. Now we had this additional process – which we call the logos, the Word – which was a completely new thing, and not something that the bios had any time prepare for.

Because of that, homo sapiens can be identified by one specific characteristic; we are controlled not by the dictates of the bios, but the are dictated by the logos.

From its first recognizable moment, humanity demonstrates an entirely new relationship between bios and logos. Information, freed from its need to be embedded in the slow, dense vehicle of our DNA, speeds up 10-million-fold.

This renegotiation of power, between the previously unchallenged bios and the brand-new logos was not something that the bios was prepared for.

Most likely immediately, the bios was overwhelmed by the logos. The natural environment of the first humans was entirely and utterly replaced by a symbol-driven environment.

The post-modern philosophers claim that this is a new thing, that the Disneyification of the world has overloaded the natural world with the mediasphere. But this isn’t a new thing, even if our recognition of it is; as long as shaman and storytellers have been spinning myths that tell us who and what we are, the world ceased to exist as nature, and became a linguistic element in the story of homo sapiens.

However – and this is the second most important point I want to make today – the logos has its own teleology, its own entelechy, its own drive to some final dwell-state.

We assume that we are masters of language, of word and world.

I disagree.

The situation is exactly reversed. We are not in control of words, they control us.

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins got it entirely right when he invented the concept of “memes,” which can be thought of as the linguistic equivalent of genes. Rather than being part of the bios, memes are the carriers of the logos.

OK, so we’ve covered the emergence of the bios, some 4 billion years ago, and the emergence of the logos, perhaps as much as 150 thousand years ago. Now let’s bring ourselves forward into the world we can recognize.

The Dawn of Modern Culture

I set the beginning of the common era to about 500 BC, because of one particular cultural artifact; Lysistrata by Aristophanes, a Greek comedy about how the women of Athens stop a war by denying their husbands sexual favors. If you’ve ever read the play, you know that the attitudes (and dirty jokes) of these women are entirely modern – it’s as if all of the elements of the modern world are entirely present in the work.

We, as a species, have been driven by memes for the last hundred thousand years, and this has forced us further and further away from any direct connection with the natural world.

It’s not as though modern man has had any choice about his alienation from the natural world, and it’s a fallacy to presume that “primitive” cultures are any more closely connected to the natural world than we ourselves are. They too have completely overloaded the natural world with their linguistic natures – else how could the plants “talk” to them?

There may be many discrete forms of alienation from the natural, but they are, in essence, all the same. And they all point toward the same general trend:

We’re being hollowed-out by our memes. That is to say that our interiority, which is an artifact of the slow, quiet progression of the bios, is rapidly vanishing.

The modern conception of interiority is really a creation of the Enlightenment in Western Europe, and was only noted by philosophers as it was beginning to vanish utterly.

So here’s the central point of what I wanted to come to Jamaica to say: the singularity is absolutely inevitable, and absolutely meaningless. The closest analogy we could make would be the whine of feedback you get when you place a microphone too close to an amplifier. The screech drowns everything else out, just as what we are – as individuals and culture – are being replaced by a rising form of activity dedicated to a single goal: making a clear path for the transmission of the logos. We’re improving the fidelity of meme swapping until it asymptotically approaches its theoretical limits.

And the truth is, we’re so far down that path that we have only a little bit more to go.

There are three cycles that I’ve been able to identify for you over the course of this talk:

  • The emergence of life, 4 billion years ago
  • The emergence of a linguistic species, 100,000 years ago
  • The emergence of a technological species, 5500 years ago.

    Let’s take these one at a time, and see how they’re convergent.

    First, the emergence of life, 4 billion years ago, was propagated through the medium of DNA, which acts as the informational carrier for life. This medium was very gradual, but within the last twenty years, the medium of DNA has been translated into linguistic form.

    Think of the human genome, and the images you may have seen of it, not in the twisting double-helix of the molecule, but in the endless series of A, T, G, and C which make up the base-pairs.

    We have recently come to treat DNA as a code, a linguistic artifact, and, because of that, our ability to understand and manipulate DNA is now undergoing the same 10-million-times acceleration that happened when we became linguistic entities.

    Second, the emergence of a linguistic species caused us to be taken out of nature entirely, and the world became a description of things, rather than things-as-they are.

    Although language sped the pace of novelty substantially, it was still bounded by proximity, and the speed of sound. When, around 1840, the telegraph was developed, the speed of information transfer increased well over a million-fold.

    Marshal McLuhan, the great Canadian media theorist, considered this made the entire human species the equivalent of a single nervous system, but even the nervous system is very slow when compared to electric communication.

    The transmission of facts and ideas became instantaneous, and the speed of the development of novelty followed. When ideas move faster, there’s a greater capacity for them to interact, to produce concrescence.

    The history of the 20th century could accurately be described as a series of advancements in communication, beginning with radio and ending with the Internet, each technology successively colonizing the world, and each more rapidly than the technology before it.

    Third, the emergence of a technological species. Let’s take a good look at that.

    Technological artifacts are concretized language; that is, any technology is a bit of language that has been turned into a physical object.

    The first technology that was turned into a physical object was the linguistic technology itself. Writing is the first real technology of importance, because it freed linguistics from their oral substrate, and made the carrier medium much more durable. We have an idea of history from 3500 BCE forward because of the invention of writing, which has created a continuity in humanity.

    All other technologies, are, each in their way, the descendants of writing. Writing was the exteriorization of our drive to communicate.

    We’ve seen the linguistic acceleration of DNA as codes, and the linguistic acceleration of communication as telecommunication, but we’re only now on the threshold of the acceleration of technology.

    Things may look as though they’re going fast now, but this is nothing – literally, absolutely nothing – next to what’s about to happen, because (and now we have precedent for it) we’re about to see a technological acceleration on a similar order to the acceleration we saw when the logos separated from the bios. In this case, techne, our ability, is about to be freed from logos, our ability to describe it.

    What do I mean when I say this?

    There’s an emerging science, known as nanotechnology, which will, before the next few years have passed by, give us a very fine-grained control over the material world.

    With nanotechnology we should be able to precisely design molecules to order, for whatever purpose we might desire.

    This is the coming linguistic revolution in technology, because, at this point, the entire fabric of the material world becomes linguistically pliable.

    Anything you see, anywhere, animate, or inanimate, will have within it the capacity to be entirely transformed by a rearrangement of its atoms into another form, a form which obeys the dictates of linguistic intent.

    It’s very hard for us to conceptualize such a world, and I have continuously been forced to draw on the metaphors of world of magic for any near analogies.

    It will be as if we have acquired the ability to cast spells upon the material world to achieve particular effects. Quoting Terence McKenna:

    “This downloading of language into objectified intentionality replaces the electrons that blindly run, and replaces it instead with a magical, literarily-controlled phase space of some sort, where wishes come true, curses work, fates unfold, and everything has the quality of drama, denying entropic mechanical existence.”

    This isn’t to say that we’re about to acquire the omnipotence we normally ascribe to God, but that our abilities will be so far beyond anything we’re familiar with today that we have no language to conceptualize them. No language at all.

    And that search for a language to describe the world we’re entering is, I think, the grand project of the present civilization. We know that something new is approaching.

    So we have three waves, biological, linguistic, and technological, which are rapidly moving to concrescence, and on their way, as they interact, produce such a tsunami of novelty as has never before been experienced in the history of this planet.