Tools: Systems and Software

Ultimately, I have chosen to work with video-based systems as my preferred body sampler. While the old Amiga-based systems worked well, they were slow and limited in their resolution ­­ the more pixel sensors you added to the system, the more it bogged down, typically creating a noticeable time delay between action and re-action ­­ precisely the kind of delay you do not want with this kind of work.


BigEye , developed by Tom DeMeyer and Ray Edgar at STEIM , is a program designed explicitly to analyse an incoming realtime video signal and translate that analysis into MIDI data. Its availability on the Macintosh, together with the relative affordability and speed of video-ready Power Macintoshes, makes this program a notable advance on its predecessors. The program can be used simply, using pre-programmed settings and options, but also has a powerful scripting language, increasing its flexibility and expressive potential enormously.


While BigEye's scripting environment is extremely helpful to me, as an artist working with multiple media I need more than the MIDI information alone that BigEye can generate. I have worked with MAX , but encountered problems with running MAX and BigEye on the same machine, and found that most of the processes I needed were available directly in BigEye's scripting environment. As someone who had fallen in love with MAX and used it heavily, almost exclusively in fact, it was difficult to go cold turkey and leave the ease and grace of its user interface behind. Neither MAX nor BigEye, however, allows me to control sophisticated images, so I have made a number of small pieces hooking BigEye to Director This allows me to manipulate images and animations directly with data from BigEye ­­ to control, for example, the speed and direction of a piece of video directly with a physical gesture. These two programs, however, are both processor hogs, and while it is possible to run them both on the same computer, with large amounts of RAM, it is advisable and preferable to run the two environments on separate CPUs. Indeed, this becomes a necessity as soon as you run Director in its full screen mode. Even if you are successfully running both programs on one machine, no screen access to the background program will be available as we are relying on screen output from Director to feed the onstage video .

Director is not the only program that can be run with BigEye. STEIM has two other superb realtime interactive programs, LiSa and Imagine!. LiSa (Live Sampling) is a program that uses the built-in 16-bit digital audio capabilities of the PowerMac to record and playback chunks of digital audio in realtime; Imagine! is currently under development, and is capable of sophisticated realtime image-processing under extensive MIDI control. Both these programs, particularly the latter, are also highly processor-intensive, and need to be run on separate machines.

Fig. 2 shows a typical setup using BigEye and Director, using MIDI as the means of communication between the two machines. Although Director is not terribly MIDI-savvy, it is possible to make it so by using the HyperMIDI XCMD/XFNT originally written as a HyperCard extension. Yamaha recently released a powerful MIDIXtra for Director 5, but this does not seem to address MIDI in as well as it does MIDI out.

Fig 2. Director and BigEye